(This started out to be a piecing together of three previous articles on the subject, that I thought I would be able to “knock out” in a morning. Four days later, I believe it has finally come together. I ended up using some parts from all three, but essentially re-writing everything plus many new things, making this a completely new word, including some new things to me, that just popped into my mind as my fingers were tickling those laptop keys. All praise to God!)
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 these questions. 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.
I naturally shrink from too much “defining” in these realms which are to me quite ethereal, when juxtaposed with hard-edged facts and the supposed solidity of the physical universe. (I don’t have problems with the “realms” themselves, just the ability to communicate them in an articulate manner.)
I don’t know higher mathematics but I know basic math and our world works because those things are always true, 2+2=4 and so on. I can even relate on the macro-cosmic level with Einstein or the microcosmic world with quantum mechanics, and though those laws are more fluid, we have found a way to use them that makes our modern technology possible.
So I see, in that realm, that definitions and specialties and organizations are absolutely necessary to keep it all going. Somebody has to know how to mine the stuff; somebody has to know how to take the stuff mined and turn it into useful material; somebody has to know how to combine all those useful materials to make things for our world, and somebody has to be there to receive and use all the stuff that comes from that system. Even though it looks quite chaotic sometimes, still it all seems to hold together pretty well and go on day by day by day.
When I drive on the freeways, especially in big cities – Atlanta is 70 miles from here and is like this – every time I go there I am convinced that the world is running on unseen miracles every day on the freeway. I don’t know why there aren’t a thousand accidents and fatalities a day just in the city of Atlanta. Cars speeding mere inches apart side by side with each other, frighteningly little front-back distance, racing, changing lanes, everybody trying to get a leg up and get wherever they’re going in a mad hurry, most people far exceeding the inner city 55 mph speed limit, usually 80+ if they can, near-misses constantly, the occasional crackup and bad accident, but the vast majority do it day by day by day, and get through unscathed.
My dad paid for private driving lessons for me (after he tried teaching me and I hit a parked car) when I was 15. After a few practice days around the lot, the first place the instructor took me to drive on public streets was the inner city freeway of Atlanta. But he didn’t tell me that when he had me go out onto the roadway for the first time. We were headed south, toward downtown, on Piedmont Road from Buckhead. We drove a few miles toward town, then at North Avenue he had me go right toward Georgia Tech and “The Varsity,” (world’s biggest drive-in). As soon as we passed The Varsity he calmly said, “Turn right here.” It was the on ramp to the I-75/85 freeway!!!
No doubt with an involuntary quiver in my voice, I mourned, “But, it’s the freeway!”
He replied, “Yes, I know!” He had nerves of steel I think. Well, I made it and have been driving on those freeways for 46 years or so, and I have nerves of steel, too, but these days I only have to exercise them for that occasionally.
Why did I stray there? I wondered that myself, too, and then it occurred to me that this little freeway “parable” is exactly what I am talking about. But I won’t say it until the end. Funny God!
First the world of definitions. Like I said, they are, or can be, important. To “define” something is not necessarily to limit it, as in “put borders around,” but rather to give it particularity in my consciousness, in my understanding. I’ve been kind of rebellious and in the past I have probably railed against “defining” more from that “put borders around” way of looking, but now I am seeing it a little differently. It’s alright. We’re allowed!
However, there is a little hitch when we get into things that are essentially intangible, i.e., soul and spirit. Scripture is not particularly consistent in the usage of the words. And then there’s “heart,” another rather intangible word, because we all know it is not talking about our physical heart, and no one has ever seen or detected the intangible one. It is used “in the world” in the same way. It means something different in the context, but everyone knows the “heart” of a lover is something poetic, intangible, in the realm of feeling or sense, known only to the one experiencing it. How could we possibly describe it?
Those of us who are native English speakers may be at a disadvantage when it comes to these definitions, because other languages may have different words that have more clarity than the variety of meanings for the English word “heart.” We’ve just got this one word that has to mean so many things, and we’re all supposed to know the difference! It is like the word, “love.” In Greek, three different words speak of three different kinds of love: “Eros,” sexual and romantic love; “Phileo,” brotherly or friendship love; and “Agape,” Divine, non-possessive spiritual love.
Taking Apart the Parts
It struck me in considering what many say and teach, how the Bible in a sense gives us the “parts,” and then it’s up to the Spirit in us to make it a “whole.” When I first learned about the workings of soul and spirit in the union life days of the early 1980s, it was as if we were in shop class learning how the parts of an automobile go together, what does what, and how.
Norman stressed how important it was to understand those workings, to understand the Word that “divides asunder soul and spirit,” as the writer describes it in Heb 4:12. To understand it, we took it apart and began to identify the qualities of the two. We had been given the parts, but the parts do not work separately from one another. Instead, they work as one integrated whole. Like an automobile does not run on pistons alone, nor with just a carburetor or a transmission, but the whole machine working together as one whole with each part doing its bit. It is the same with us in the three “parts” of our humanity. They are one integrated whole – either a whole in unrighteousness or a whole in righteousness. The “soul” doesn’t go off and do one thing, the body another and the spirit something else.
We are one human person, in this life a makeup of spirit, soul and body, each doing its part as one whole. For educational purposes we dissect the “parts” — i.e. the soul is the seat of the emotions, feelings, intellect, the human psychological makeup; the “spirit” the most inner part, the place of God in us, where we are will, inner knowing, and inner desire or love. We will get into and explore the definitions a little later.
Those are the “parts” which, working together, are the one whole working. We do spend time studying the “parts.” There is a learning time and we have to practice a bit with it – “Oh yeah, this is just soul, oh, yes, this is spirit.” Of course that’s a right process and very helpful in the Spirit’s education of us. And we are reminded continually that HE is the Teacher, and leaves nothing left out, and He Who also brings all things to fruition in their time. So there does come a day when we don’t think about that anymore. We forget in operation what is soul and what is spirit. We just are. We just “BE”!
The Problem of the Gradual Improvement of the Soul
So I will start off first with this “truth” commonly held by many, of gradual “self improvement” – by “perfecting” or “working on” the soul. Protestant, Independent or Catholic, it is embraced by nearly all. From the extreme Catholic view that sanctity is tied directly to participation in the sacraments, works of piety and self-denial, to the extreme evangelical view focused almost exclusively on sin and works of darkness, in an attempt to dispel them, which the devils love, since they are the center of attention.
Most are somewhere in-between, and may believe in eternal salvation after death, but also sadly believe, having been taught, that they can only “try” to live godly lives, but sin can, and most assuredly will, get them anytime it wants, because they can never overcome it, but God overlooks it and receives us by His grace. (I don’t have a problem with the last statement. We are not speaking of “imputed” sin here.)
Thus, they live an Old Testament view of life on earth, that if we follow all the religious rules and regulations, our crops, our families, our pocketbooks, our minds and hearts will all be blessed to overflowing. They also believe the opposite, and it is incredible how many confessed Christians live in this belief, that if we do not do those things with all diligence and sincerity of heart, God will send plagues, sickness and poverty.
I believed all that for a time. We had so many things go wrong during a period of years a while back, that I wondered from time to time if we were under a curse! But no, it was the Loving Hand of the Father, for blessing, hope and faith, and here we are now. We could not have gotten here, except we had gone there!
But regardless of the ways in which it is couched, some version of this truth has been embraced by the whole human race from its beginnings on this side of the Garden. It is still subterranean in all of us, which is why it is so normal to our thinking and rules the minds of most.
But I am glad the answer is greater than this problem we have presented. The real Truth of the matter is brought into light and consciousness by the very means of this mistaken understanding, to which all of us have fallen prey at one time or another in varying degrees. The answer takes us into the depths of the heart of so many other truths of the Father, because when the Spirit overtakes us with it, it is a huge high-dive springboard into the unbounded liberty of the Spirit.
It is not an argument over a doctrine in an academic sense. It just boils down to bondage or liberty. Both are total. There is no such thing as partial bondage; nor is there such a thing as partial liberty. Those who believe they are in partial bondage, might as well go ahead and realize their partial bondage makes a whole bondage.
Consider a slave. What is the difference between freedom and bondage to a slave? Anything less than complete and total autonomy, anything less than full independence from the slave master, anything less than a total cut-off from the former life, with the former master no longer in the picture whatsoever, would still be bondage to a slave! That is the issue.
The New Testament is an “is” book, or an “I AM” book. Admittedly, certainly there are passages that seem as if they encourage believers into adding to themselves spiritual attributes, e.g. 2 Peter Chapter 1:3-8.
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; knowledge; temperance etc., …. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Let’s consider this for a moment. Peter’s first statement, really the foundation or anchor of this passage, unequivocally states that He HAS given us “all things” having to do with our spiritual lives. We have no lack. Peter even tells us that we have been given incredible, unbelievable promises, by which we partake of the Divine Nature, and that we have escaped the corruption in the world!
If all that IS true, and it is, why does he then go on to say, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue … etc., …”???? The “beside this” seems to sweep away the “all in all” nature of what he had just stated, and it is as if he is asking us to “add back” what already should be there.
Most of us do not see that in the beginning, so we do not ask that question, innocently thinking this is a list of qualities or attributes we need to develop in ourselves, because we have always thought that way. Which leads to the next logical question: how do I add those qualities to myself?
Does anyone really and truly have a clue? … Anybody?
Oh, I know there are countless books, lectures, seminars, teachings, sermons, systems and sure-fire plans that promise to develop or teach us how to develop these things, perhaps about the same number of helps out there for becoming real estate barons with no money, or how to have a successful marriage in 21 steps. They fill the book stores, both secular and “religious!”
Someone said it to me the other day, not really to me particularly but to the group in a meeting – I’ve heard it so many times before – “Well, we know our spirits are perfect, but our souls still need work so we must be diligent and open to the Lord to work on our soul’s progress ….”
One wants to say sometimes, “How’s that workin’ out for ya?” but that’s TV psychologist Dr. Phil’s line, so I’ll have to think of another one.
But really, seriously, to those who are working on their souls: How is it going? How would you rate your progress thus far? If you do not believe you are where you should be, what do you think has caused it? How many of those seven qualities Peter lists have been fully developed in you? Or, as the kids say, are you “there” yet? Or, how many feel like the disciples when Jesus first met them from the shore as they were getting in from all-night fishing on the sea of Galilee, having “toiled all night, and caught nothing.” (Luke 5:5). That last one was me.
The New Testament speaks in terms of “You are,” rather than, “You should be.” Paul talks about “putting on Christ,” (Eph 4:24), and in another place Paul says we, “have put off the old man,” (Col 3:9), 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.
Paul, not once in all his epistles, ever advocates or presents to us a process of rummaging around inside ourselves and our past in order to find all the problem areas left by our old master’s reign in us and bringing them to the surface so that we might get rid of these things one by one. Jesus never said it, nor Peter, nor Paul, nor any other writer in the New Testament. Then where did they come up with that idea? Who would want us fully focused on ourselves and our personal spiritual process? I can think of at least one who would just LOVE to keep us working on ourselves the whole time of this life. He even provides the daily condemnation, accusations against us and reminders about the law, in other words, the fuel required to keep it going!
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 instantaneous, something more akin to a clean cut-off from one thing, and an instantaneous turn toward and in another. By no means is it meaning a long process of re-education and behavior modification.
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 regarding some issues. But when Jesus came saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” He was meaning that right now, in our midst, the kingdom of God has come (in Him AND in us if we see it), and the only prerequisite for seeing it is a change of direction in our sight. Instead of looking and focusing on one way, we look and focus on another way!
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. (Col 1:14). 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 New Testament 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 pretense, where we try to act like Jesus would act. The operative word there, is “act.” Basically, we are told in our ignorance, out of the ignorance of those who teach us regarding growth and sanctification, to perform an acting job. The best “actors” are those everyone recognizes as the most “spiritual” and “closer to God” than the ordinary folk, who aren’t as proficient at acting as they are. I know. I used to be a pretty good actor in the things of God.
But of course that way is a complete falsehood. Instead, this life is simply 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 (see also 2 Cor 5:17-21). 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” (1 Cor 1:30) within 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. All I know to believe and say, is, “the Father that dwells in me, He does the works.” (John 14:10c).
Let’s look again at that passage from 1 Peter, cited above. The NASB (New American Standard Bible) translates it slightly differently from the King James:
“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.”
There is something quite different, the way it reads in NASB, from our normal idea of “adding” those qualities to ourselves. And this meaning is in context with what Peter had stated just a couple of sentences before, that we already have all things we need pertaining to godliness, because we partake of the “divine nature.” Peter is saying that all those qualities are “included” in Christ, and exhorts us through our faith to acknowledge them. Notice how one seems to be contained within the one that preceded it. “In your moral excellence, knowledge, in your knowledge, self-control, in your self-control, perseverance, etc.”
This is exactly what I have been talking about for a long time – consciousness! Like Adam naming the animals. Naming the animals gave them particularity in his understanding and consciousness. Until he named them, they were just hardly noticed creatures that ran all around the Garden. But when he calls one a bear, suddenly he notices that he begins to see other bears that he hadn’t really noticed before.
It is the same with the attributes Peter lists. The reason Peter brings them up is NOT, I repeat NOT, so that we can devise a system whereby we might acquire these properties. There is absolutely nothing anyone could do to “develop” these qualities, because if we could, we would be right back to “acting” again. These are divine qualities, belonging only to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No work of man can by any means produce the Divine qualities. Only the Spirit can produce them in us, for it to be genuine. Flesh cannot produce spirit. It is always the other way around.
However, even though we have understood it that previous way, what Peter is really saying to us, is to diligently in our faith, recognize each of these properties one by one, each coming out of the other and the Spirit Who dwells in us. Just like the rivers of living water which come out of those who believe, even so are these qualities already in residence in those who believe. It is the “believe/faith” part that gives them recognition in our consciousness, thus in some sense fully activating them through that recognition. They require no practice, just the daily living of being our new selves in Christ in spontaneity and overflowing life. We will always be tempted to think they are not there, but if we are in Christ they most certainly ARE there. That is our daily exercise of faith.
God changed Abram’s name 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. The reason for this is because what we see outwardly, though it is real, it is not the whole picture. Therefore we must 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 with God’s eyes begin to see 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 perfectly,” (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 for some, total freedom seemed to be too good to be true, so they 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 receive Jesus by the Spirit, but almost always we go through a time, like the Galatians who Paul said had “fallen from grace,” where instead of acknowledging Christ in EVERYTHING, even in our own thoughts, words and deeds, even up to and including everything in our souls, in our separated consciousness we attempt to become more pleasing to God, by trying to order our lives into an imaginary mold we create 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 in this non-Biblical 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. Further, that this reality is all-pervasive, throughout the whole of our being. This divine quality of life is fully active in all areas of our humanity – spirit AND soul AND body.
In the Only Begotten He has communicated to us that He is eternally pleased with us, because He has thoroughly cleansed us in every way! (John 15:3). The Spirit has taught us, so that we know that we 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 also chose to live in us in order to bring about our salvation and eternal purpose — therefore how could it be that He would not establish His perfect Kingdom there (in us), since He has willingly chosen us, you and me, 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 another question toward 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 then lay something else on them to further perfect themselves?
The whole idea is abhorrent! 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.
End of Part One