July 8, 2016

Soul vs. spirit

Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian martyred for his faith, wrote several books about his understanding of the body, soul, and spirit nature of man. He believed the soul houses our human faculties to make decisions (will), to think and plan (intellect), and to feel (emotions).

The human spirit goes deeper. From birth, it is inactive and separated from God, but can respond to evil spirits or can become alive to God through faith. It houses our ability to connect with the spiritual realm (God ideally), the ability to perceive good and evil (conscience), and the ability to have faith (in Christ).

In Nee’s understanding, the unsaved man lives by the power of his soul. He is dead/inactive toward God so makes decisions based on what he knows and feels. However, the saved person has the added faculty of an awakened spirit which gives input to his soul. This enables decision-making based on what the conscience tells him through faith in Christ who has enabled trust in God’s words.

I like Nee’s tidy analysis (more complex than my simple definitions). While Christians recognize the need for that dead spirit to be made alive in Christ, we still tend to be soulish. That is, relying on our brains is common. Being governed by our emotions is also common, as well as letting those ‘I-wants’ rule our decisions. I’ve also noticed that Christian denominations focus some of their teaching one of those three faculties.

For instance, there are some who emphasize emotions and feelings (such as some Pentecostals), others who put great stock in the will (holiness churches), and others whose focus is human intellect (many Baptists). There are exceptions, yet I see the same tendencies in myself. Learning to listen to God, following my conscience, and walk by faith goes contrary to living according to my emotions, intelligence, and my will.

Many Christians would not agree with Nee, but all agree that each faculty of our soul must be submitted to the Lord. The Bible is clear that emotions like fear and desire must bow to Him. I’m not to trust my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5ff) and as Jesus said, I’m to say, “Not my will but Your will be done.”

Chambers points to this verse to emphasize his thoughts on the human will . . .

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Chambers says don’t give up our will, but exercise it by being willing to obey, willing to receive God’s Spirit and respond to Him. Nee would put it this way: Say no to our will and yes to the will of God.

Is this splitting hairs? Or are both of them talking about surrendering what I want to do to the Lord’s commands of what He wants me to do, just using different words to say the same thing?

“Choose you this day whom ye will serve” sounds like a deliberate calculation, not something I’d just drift into easily. It is between me and God also. I do not need to find out what others think (even though godly counsel is important) because there are times that God’s directions to me will not make sense to anyone else. For instance, I knew God wanted me to study for a degree, but few could see any reason for that. I couldn’t either; I just knew that is what He wanted.

Chambers says God will not explain what He is doing, but He will explain Himself. That is, when I am puzzled, or faltering, He will remind me of who He is, His grace and power, His love for me, His desire that I be like Jesus. How He does it and the path where He takes me is not mine to know. He pushes aside all intellectual knowledge so I have no pro/con lists to make, nothing to get emotional about, and am left with two things to base my choice on: my I-wants or His character.

More evidence for the division between soul and spirit is described in Hebrews. This verse even says that the Word of God makes that division . . .  

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Through His Word, God divides the soul and the spirit. He shows me how my old nature governed by my intellect, emotions, and will is not the same as the new nature. I’m not to abandon my soul and its abilities, but put all of it under the power of a spirit made alive, a spirit that can hear God, discern good and evil, and trust the Lord. I’m to use my soul’s abilities to manifest God’s will in daily life and decisions.

I agree and don’t agree with Chamber’s choice of words. God gives me the ability to choose, but in making those choices, I need to totally surrender my will in favor of His.


Darrell said...

This was one of the "heavier" devotions. And I agree, we need to surrender our wills in favor of His. The minute I choose to obey Christ, I am choosing not to obey myself. There is nothing other Christians can tell me, except to take it to God and do the next thing. I want to know what He will do with my decision...but my decision is all I need. He will take it from there. I have no idea what He wants...how He will work it all out...and it's not up to me to know. I am only to be loyal to Him. Let go of the vine...exercise my will to obey...heed truth...yield to the Holy Spirit...and move forward. Trust that I don't have to know where He is leading...but only that He is leading. Remain loyal to Him...work it out.

Elsie Montgomery said...

Well said, Darrell!