Before his conversion, Paul had much experience in serving God. He passed many in his zeal for the law, and even considered himself blameless in his effort to please God.1 However, something was wrong. In his misguided desire to do God’s work, he persecuted Christians, approved of their killing, and directly opposed the Son of God.
As he begins to expand upon the gospel of God, Paul speaks of his new service:
For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of His Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you always in my prayers.
Paul’s previous service was marked by his zealousness and self effort. The Recovery Version note on serve in this verse illuminates a contrast:
The Greek word means serve in worship; it is used in Matt. 4:10; 2 Tim. 1:3; Phil. 3:3; and Luke 2:37. Paul considered his preaching of the gospel a worship and service to God, not merely a work.
Romans 1:9, note 1
As one who serves God, I realize my own tendency to serve by simply working for God as hard as I can. This beautiful phrase serve in worship has helped refocus my service on the One I serve. Is my service in one setting and my worship reserved for another? If so, it comes short of the service Paul describes.
Paul continues to describe his service as “in my spirit,” concerning which the Recovery Version note says:
Not the Spirit of God but Paul’s regenerated spirit. The spirit is different from the heart, soul, mind, emotion, will, or natural life. Christ and the Spirit are with the believers in their regenerated human spirit (2 Tim. 4:22; Rom. 8:16). In this book Paul stressed that whatever we are (2:29; 8:5-6, 9), whatever we have (8:10, 16), and whatever we do toward God (v. 9; 7:6; 8:4, 13; 12:11) must be in this spirit. Paul served God in his regenerated spirit by the indwelling Christ, the life-giving Spirit, not in his soul by the power and ability of the soul. This is the first important item in his preaching of the gospel.
Romans 1:9, note 2
This matter of the spirit, emphasized by Paul in this book and throughout his epistles, is absolutely vital to Christian living and service.2 As Paul worshipped his God in service, his actions and living were now according to the Christ who lived in him, the breathable Jesus who had changed him completely. Paul’s effort to work for God by his considerable soul power had come to nothing. Instead, he proclaimed the good news of God in his spirit!
- Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:4-6.
- For more on the distinction between soul and spirit, I recommend this post from HoldingToTruth.com.