By Fred Pruitt
I’m writing you this e-mail after reading your excellent article on discerning soul and spirit. I wanted to ask you a question because we run into the same issue when we speak with other Christians concerning the difference between the two.
When reading your article I noticed that you put the will in the spirit which is my friend and I believe is true. However, most of our friends do not agree with us and say the will is in the soul and give us the following reason: Since we are perfect in spirit and are being perfected in soul; the will by necessity must be in the soul because we don’t always make the right decisions and spirit being perfect would not have that problem. Could you give any clarity on this issue?
Thank you very much for asking this question. While it might seem as if we are dealing with only “academic” matters, i.e., definitions and such, this issue is really much closer to home than a set of “correct definitions” would be. It is to the very heart of our personhood, and how we live as expressions of Christ in the world.
So I will start off first with this whole idea of gradual “self improvement” or “perfecting the soul,” as some say. I cannot think of anything in the New Testament that talks about our gradually getting to be “better people.” Not one passage that I can think of. The NT is an “is” book, or an “I AM” book, and you will not find one word in it that indicates we should be working on ourselves, and somehow develop “godly” behavior, habits, thoughts and feelings. It’s just not there. Even Paul’s famous and always quoted word, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” which to some is an indication of improving ourselves, Paul dispels the notion with the oft overlooked next phrase, “for it is God who works in you to will and do of His good pleasure.” It is God, Christ in us, Who is doing the willing and the doing!
The NT speaks in terms of “You are,” rather than, “You should be.” Paul talks about “putting on Christ,” and in another place Paul says we “have put off the old man,” which he further explains is our complete and instantaneous liberation from the misdeeds and illicit lusts of the “old man.” “HAVE PUT OFF!” he says, meaning it in the past tense, as something already done and completed, not by a process of rummaging around inside ourselves and our past in order to find all the wrong stuff in us and bringing it to the surface so that we might get rid of these things one by one.
Peter uses the same phrase again in 2 Pet 1:14 when he says he is about to “put off” the temporal house which was his body and soul in this world. In every case when the biblical writers use that phrase or concept, we may understand it to mean something rather instantaneous, something more akin to a clean cut-off from one thing, and an instantaneous turn toward and in another. Like repentance. All repentance means is a change of direction. We have made it into some sort of sackcloth and ashes ordeal, but it isn’t that at all, though depending on what the change is about, it may seem to be that way in the beginning. But when Jesus came saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” He was meaning that right now, in your midst, the kingdom of God has come (in Him), and the only prerequisite for seeing it is a change of direction in our sight.
And of course we know we do not gradually come into the kingdom of light, nor gradually leave the kingdom of darkness. Paul says we have been “translated” into the kingdom of His Son, after having been once and for all delivered from the power of darkness. There is nothing gradual about that. It is done the moment we see it. (And was truly already done before that, but it becomes alive and active in us at our point of recognition.)
These NT terms, “put on,” and “put off,” do not mean what we would normally think they would mean. It sounds funny to “put on” Christ as if He is a suit of clothes, and at the same time to think we could so easily “put off” the old man with just a simple recognition of that fact. But that is exactly how it is. To “put on Christ,” of course, is not meaning we “try to act like Jesus,” but that the very life in which we live and move and have our being is Christ alone. The “putting on” is simply our recognition by faith that it is true in us. This is not a life of pretence, where we try to act like Jesus would act. Instead this is a life of recognizing the truth that already is, such as Jesus’ word about and to us in the Sermon on the Mount, when He said, “You are the light of the world.” He does not say you should work and work and pray and go through a process to become the light of the world, but no, just a simple, “You are!”
Likewise, in Romans six, that great chapter which is again talking about that total cut-off from one thing (being servants of sin) and being raised to newness of life, our “members,” (and here he is meaning the totality of our human selfhood, spirit, soul and body), are now the instruments of righteousness. There is no striving to make that happen, no working on ourselves to become instruments of righteousness, but instead an instantaneous renewal of our minds from one sight (sin consciousness) to the other sight (righteousness consciousness), through our baptism into Christ. And it goes on through all the New Testament. 2 Cor chapter 5 is plain in saying that if we are in Christ, then we are wholly new creatures, and all things are of God. Through Christ becoming sin for us, we have become forever free of its grip, and then rise as the righteousness of God, imparted as a gift from God because it is Christ our righteousness in us. Paul is declaring a present moment Truth or Reality for all who are new creatures in Christ. As He became sin for us we became righteousness in Him. Period.
People might say, well, you don’t seem to be acting like a “new creation” would act, but we cannot let that deter us from the Word of Faith God has given us. How would the “new creation” act? No one knows, for it is one who is born of the Spirit, and the Spirit is like the wind, which no man can follow either to its source or to its end.
Abram had his name changed to “Abraham” a year before Isaac was born. Abraham as we all know means, “father of many nations.” Abraham took the name and called himself that, though doubtless to many he looked like a fool. How can someone who has no true heir from his wife be a father of many nations? I’m sure many laughed at that. But God calls things which seem not to be to actually be the truly real, and considers that which we consider “real,” to be misleading because what we see outwardly, though it is real, it is not the whole picture. Therefore we believe BEFORE we see; it’s the only way. So no matter how we look, we begin to believe what God says about us, and to see with God’s eyes our completion and total acceptance in the NOW of our lives. He is continually saying of us, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased!”
Well, then, where did this come from? I am convinced that this self-improvement idea came about as a means to “explain” why we don’t “look and act perfect,” (according to human reason and preconceived ideas of Christ), even though we may believe that in our inner spirit we are already perfect. This has been the whole history of the church in my opinion, from the apostolic days until now. It has even happened in our union fellowship, where we learned in the beginning to see ourselves as God sees us, “whole, complete and entire, needing nothing,” but because of often preconceived notions of how Christ would act, some backed off the “Yes I am” reality which is the heart of the New Testament and the true reality of our lives in Christ, in favor of somehow adding some more steps to living in the perfection of Christ already provided and lived in us by means of His indwelling Spirit, Teacher, Comforter, Upholder and Guide.
People received Jesus by the Spirit, but almost always we go through a time, like the Galatians who Paul wrote, where instead of acknowledging Christ in EVERYTHING, even in our own thoughts, words and deeds, in our separated consciousness we attempt to become more pleasing to God, by trying to order our lives into the imaginary mold we created for ourselves, or a model we may have taken from others, regarding what “Christ-like behavior” in thought, word and deed would look like.
And I hate to say it, but it is a sad fact that much of the visible “church” promotes this self-improvement idea in order to “make merchandise of us.” ( 2 Pet 2:3) To be just plain crass, it is often mainly about the money. Because you see in this system of preacher and laity, as long as the preacher can keep the people working on themselves — which is endless and a course from which we can never graduate — then they keep showing up at church and tossing money into the plate. They “need” the preacher like an athlete needs a coach or manager, to spur them on in their continual strivings and efforts, and to continually exhort them to more and more works and activity “for God.”
But even in that environment, liberation comes when we see God’s declaration of Who we are, that we are He living, and He expressing His own pure divine quality of Life by means of us, and that this reality is all-pervasive, i.e., this divine quality of life is fully active in all areas of our humanity, spirit, soul and body, and that He is pleased with us because we have been thoroughly cleansed in every way and are whole, clean, pure, perfect and entire in every way in every aspect of spirit, soul and body. It is Christ Who chose us and chose to live in us — therefore how could it be that He would not establish His perfect Kingdom there (in us), since He has willingly chosen us to be His very means of expression? Of course He does all that He promises and we live in perfect wholeness because He is perfect wholeness. And this all begs the question of those who promote this “continual perfecting of the soul into a more Christ-like expression,” which is this: why would God tell us to clean up that which He has already pronounced clean? Even the Romans on whom the Holy Spirit fell as Peter was speaking were pronounced “cleansed” by the Spirit to Peter, in his vision on the housetop. If God already considers them cleansed, and even clean enough to be containers for his eternal Spirit, (and we know God does not indwell an unclean vessel), why would we than lay something else on them to further perfect themselves? It is quite contrary to the whole nature and spirit of the Good News. This gospel, or “good news,” is most fully appreciated in the present moment reality of the kingdom of heaven which has grown up in us, where we realize that our entire personhood has been taken into the depths of the Godhead, where nothing unclean can even approach, much less take up an abode there.
Now let’s get to the human “will” since that was your original issue.
The first and main reason why I speak of spirit and place our human will there in the spirit, is that our “spirit” is that which is most “like” God, because God is Spirit. And our spirits are called in scripture the “candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly,” and we are the offspring of “the father of spirits.” (Heb 12:9). It is spirit that makes us persons, for as the scripture says we are created in His image and His image can only be displayed or manifest in spirit, because He IS Spirit, and we are derived spirits or created spirits in Him. He is the universal “I AM” and we, through Christ, are the little particular “i am’s” that He created in order to accomplish His loving designs.
Therefore, since we are at the center of our being “spirit, and God is Spirit, and we speak of God as a spirit who wills this and wills that, then that part inside us that is most like God must be the place of full transaction with Him. Our spirit lives are our real lives and this is our center where our heart determines our lives, or our innermost choices are made. This isn’t what to have for dinner or what to watch on TV tonight, but instead we are speaking of the Holy of Holies within us from which all the issues of our lives spring. As Proverbs says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
You see, it is just here that we begin to get a clue to our answer we are seeking here. If it is established in us that we have been wholly translated from one kingdom to another in our new birth and subsequent walk in Christ, then we begin to have a vantage point from which we may see this understanding of ourselves. We have made our real choices in our spirits, and the rest of life is based on these foundational choices. Even our choice for Christ was not made by us independently, but even as we said it we were speaking in the Holy Spirit, for as Paul said, “No man can call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” He answers before we call. He is the voice in us before our brains move our tongues.
But back to our understanding of our will in the spirit. Another verse in Proverbs 23:7 says this: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” It is a verse often used to tie our spirituality to our thought life, but it is really saying something deeper than that. If we look at the whole scenario it is speaking of, we find that what the real message of this passage is, is that whoever we are within us is whoever we manifest in our lives. The perpetrator in the verse is someone who flatters in order to gain something over others. He has wicked motives though he speaks in a friendly flattering manner. But the observer sees through his hypocrisy, and thus the scripture says, “As a man thinketh … so is he,” not in order to exhort us to better thought control, but to understand that whatever the heart of a thing is, so it shall be seen to be. Nothing can be hidden. A pretense is always found out. So, the final message of this is that, if you are Christ within, that is who you are out in your world. It is the air you breathe and the walk you walk and talk you talk. Just by being you. And visa versa.
So the heart then is the center of all things, and this is our innermost place within us, the holy place, which is pervasive throughout the entirety of our being, yet found only in the stillness and faith. And that is where our real choices are made. That is where our lives are coming from, from the moment the “bread of heaven” comes to live in us. We are no longer living an earth-only life, but now a life in and of the Spirit regardless of our conscious progress. Heaven comes down and fills my soul and never leaves.
Soul, then, is not something that needs improving, because once the Lord comes in, He takes everything as His own, even our own soul reactions and distractions. He takes all of us, every bit. We don’t have to wait one moment to believe Him when He says we are complete, that we are righteousness in Him, that this is a present moment continually renewing every moment reality, of Christ in us, an everbubbling spring in the middle of us that never runs dry.
This is the life that overtakes us and it is coming out of our middle where we said to God, “Please come in and live here, and be my life in the world.” We asked Him in some way to do that and He has done it. He has come to be our very selves, and our very selves are spirit selves in union with Deity Spirit, Christ’s Spirit, Holy Spirit, and there are our choices fixed that determine our lives.
Our soul might decide what it wants to eat, where it wants to spend the evening, and goes through ups and downs of emotional and mental gymnastics. We experience true freedom in Christ when we realize He has freed us in soul and body as much as in spirit, so that we may let the waves of the soul express as they do, and we find God is manifest there, too. Because “as a man thinketh (chooses) in his heart, so is he.” In our hearts we have taken Christ, and said He lives there, and have also said that He has revealed Himself as living in the world as us, and so this is what our lives are expressing. We have “chosen” Him in spirit, and He then comes in and has taken the reins of our complete humanity, leaving no part out, and lives out His life in us as He pleases. As we learn who we are we realize in a more and fuller way that He and we are one, and we are doing what He is doing.
Again, this has been a choice we have made in transaction with God in the Spirit, our innermost place of fellowship with God, and this is the true faculty of choice. It determines all the other, “lesser” choices of our daily living. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
Get the heart right, and everything else will turn out right. It’s really that simple.
And because we know we are in Christ and He in us, then the heart IS right, because He is the heart!
So then we walk boldly by faith, believing nothing but what He has said, which we have in our heart of hearts “chosen” by His choosing in us, that we are complete, whole and entire, even in this present moment. There is no “work” to be done to perfect our soul faculties. God doesn’t need one bit of help with that, thank you very much! When my soul faculties became His in my new birth by my inner choice of joining with Him in Spirit-spirit union, He took them as His own. God takes responsibility for what He has made. He has called it good. The fact that a contrary voice in the universe arose declaring God a liar, that everything was not good, does not change the truth one bit. He made everything and then pronounced it all as good. And He is the single creator of our lives in Christ, and we are able to relaxed walk in Him every moment because He is the ever present always flowing river in us, working in us out from our spirits through our souls and bodies to bless the world. We are fully this in our new birth, though it takes some time to realize it. We have taken Him in Spirit, and He has taken us. It is in His taking of us that we realize that our humanity, no matter how it may look to us or to others, God has nevertheless taken residence there and chosen to call that place “holy” and worthy of His presence, a place out from which He is content and yearning to shine into the world. We are each this, and we find then that in Him the whole idea of will and our having a separate human will is swallowed up when we inwardly see that we are one with Him, and in that oneness with God through Christ there is also a oneness of will. That is, we will what God wills. He is now our life and He is willing through us. His willing becomes our willing though for all practical purposes it is “our” willing, because it is no longer a matter of putting down fleeces, or going through long arduous decision-making processes, to determine if something is “God’s will” or not, but we learn that as we walk through the day making all sorts of choices in the temporal, we are God in Christ living in and as us and with us as one making all these temporal choices.
We must come to this place where we see we are not only kept, not only upheld should we slip, but that we are also joined in His purposes, spirit soul and body, and we are more than kept, we are more than upheld, but we are CAUSED to walk in His ways. It is our will that we should walk in His ways and it is a will that is joined with the eternal will of God and it bears fruit in us for the whole world when we realize that every part of us is used perfectly by Him, sometimes with our understanding and sometimes not, but always nevertheless perfect Christ expressing Himself perfectly through and as the unlikely temples or our broken-looking weak selves.
To read a further article on this topic: Making Sense of Spirit-Soul-Heart