The Spirit in the Epistles, by Witness Lee


In the same principle, when you read expositions of the Bible, you can find many commentaries on Romans. We may say that it is rare for any Bible expositor not to write a commentary on Romans. Nearly all Bible teachers have written commentaries on Romans. There are very many expositions of Romans, but it is amazing that you can hardly find one that points out the spirit of Romans. Martin Luther was the first famous writer of a commentary on Romans, although a better publication written by him is his commentary on Galatians, which is his masterpiece. However, whether it is his commentary on Galatians or on Romans, Luther points out only the matter of justification by faith in those two books. It is true that Romans has the matter of justification by faith, just as you have two big shoulders, but these two big shoulders of yours are not the life within you. Justification by faith surely is a great item in the book of Romans, but it is not the soul of the book of Romans. The soul of Romans is spirit and life.

Although the book of Romans has a very specific line with a very focused train of thought, you still can find many peripheral matters that are necessary in order to provide a background for the central matter. However, these peripheral things have become veils that prevent Bible readers from seeing the spirit, the life, of the book. Therefore, when we come to read the Word, we should learn not to be hindered by the peripheral things. Instead, we should penetrate the peripheral things to see the life and the spirit within. This is how we will study Romans now. We will simply point out the crucial matters.

Christ’s Designation as the Son of God Being in the Spirit

The first place in Romans that mentions the Spirit, or spirit, is chapter 1. The first four verses of chapter 1 say that the gospel promised by God in previous generations is Jesus Christ, who is of two aspects according to His divinity and His humanity respectively. According to His humanity, He was the seed of David; according to His divinity, He was the Son of God. The matter of His being the Son of God was confirmed by the Spirit of holiness; this Spirit confirmed that He was the Son of God. Therefore, you see that in its introduction Romans points out this Spirit. Christ Jesus, who is the subject, content, and center of the gospel, was the seed of David according to His humanity and the Son of God according to His divinity, which is altogether a matter in the Spirit.

Paul Serving God in Spirit

The second place that mentions the spirit is also in chapter 1. Verse 9 says that Paul served God in his spirit. The spirit mentioned first is the Spirit of God, whereas the spirit mentioned second refers to Paul’s spirit. Before he was saved, Paul served God in letter, but now he served God in spirit.

Service Being in Spirit and Not in Letter

The third place that mentions the spirit is at the end of chapter 2. There it says that what God wants is not the outward service in form and letter but the inward service in spirit. Service is a matter in spirit, not in letter (v. 29).

Dear brothers and sisters, why are we told at the very beginning of Romans—which to Martin Luther was a book on justification by faith—that Jesus Christ, who is the subject and content of the gospel, is in the Spirit? Why does it say that we should serve God in our spirit and that our service today is not in letter but in spirit? Please remember that the spirit at the end of chapter 2 is hard to explain. It is clear that 1:4 refers to the Spirit of God, and it is equally clear that 1:9 refers to the spirit of man. But what is the spirit mentioned in 2:29, which says “in spirit, not in letter”? This is hard to say; no one can explain this. Eventually, we have to accept the fact that this is the mingled spirit, which is the mingling of two spirits. It is the Spirit of God as well as the spirit of man, and it is the spirit of man as well as the Spirit of God.

What does Romans speak about? If you could ask Luther, he would say that it is about justification by faith. Some people might tell you that the first section of Romans is about justification by faith, and the latter section is about sanctification, and that it is here that we need to be in spirit. Why then at the beginning of the first half of Romans is the spirit already mentioned? This implies that what the book of Romans covers is altogether the story of the spirit. The gospel of God is the story of the spirit, service to God is the story of the spirit, and every experience we have before God is a story of the spirit.

(The Spirit in the Epistles, Chapter 14, by Witness Lee)