Soul and Spirit – Keys to Life
Most of us struggle a lot in our beginning days in Christ. For some of us they go on for years before we find ourselves operating on a more or less “even keel.” But whether the struggling days are short or long, they are always in the Lord’s perfect timing for each of us (Ps 31:15a). We cannot get “ahead of” or “behind” the Lord. Wherever we are, He IS. Wherever He IS, we are.
A major part of that struggle is that most of us also feel great self-condemnation during that time. It is always the Lord Who determines our steps (Ps 37:23), but because of our youthful understanding, we still think it’s up to “us” to “overcome.” So we spin our wheels trying and, to ourselves, never measuring up. We take two steps forward and three back. (So it seems!)
It is mostly that “back and forth” that causes the “struggle.” We do not realize that the back and forth struggle is part of the path. No, we think something is wrong with us. One day I would wake up and walk with joy and believe God was with me. Others days for no apparent reason I would wake up in a funk and God would seem far off. I could not identify a reason for either state. For a while I thought it had to do with how much I prayed, read the Bible, witnessed, etc., but finally had to be honest and say the condemnation continued whether I read and prayed or not. So I realized this problem of self-condemnation and “low Christian self-esteem,” did not come from inadequate devotions or even or even from my good or bad behavior. Of course if I “messed up,” I would feel double condemnation, but even without that there was always a constant level of self-accusation and self-deprecation parading around in my inner thoughts and understandings. I couldn’t figure it out. I thought something was wrong with me. I thought I should be able to do better.
We all know and can quote Romans 8:1,“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” but sometimes that rings hollow. Or, maybe our condemnation takes a break for a while, but when we’re in that struggle we always know it’s coming back again, along with all sorts of constant temptations. Therefore, any moment of “victory” (times when I don’t feel awful about myself), is tainted by the realization that it is not going to last. The tough stuff will come back and we believe we’ll fall for it again simply because we always have fallen for it. We believe our history of falling more than the Word of God and God fulfilling His promises in us. Instead of being “overcomers,” (1 Jn 5:4), “reigning in life,” (Rom 5:17) and living “life more abundantly,” (John 10:10), we feel the opposite. It’s hard to come before the Throne of Grace boldly when we can find no boldness in us. But, how could we, if we believe we continually do a less than adequate “job” being good Christians and probably never will “measure up?” (Heb 4:16).
There are two major issues going on here.
The first concerns the Spirit’s education in us in coming to a more mature understanding of spirit, soul and body – and particularly the “soul” as it regards the issue of condemnation. In Hebrews 4:12, the writer says, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
“Dividing asunder of soul and spirit” is the issue we are addressing. “Dividing asunder” simply means understanding which is which. What spirit is and what soul is. When we come to understand how we are composed and how we operate as selves in Christ, which is what the Spirit teaches us, we begin to rest and relax in it. A major key for that lock is knowing the difference between soul and spirit, and recognizing the inner bastion of Spirit in us by Whom we live and walk in the Spirit even when we are continually barraged in soul.
Without going into either great detail or overly technical definitions, I boil down the soul-spirit differences to this way of looking at it.
Soul is the seat of the emotions or feelings, and also intellect or reasoning (rational) mind. For the most part, soul is the locus of our conscious life in the world. What I mean by that is that soul is the bulk of our conscious consciousness (outer thinking), because through the Fall we became outer people and soul transacts in the outer world. Soul feels the pains, the frustrations, the joys, the sad things, whatever hopes there are and everything else in the world of senses, as well as whatever is reasonable or rational about this world.
Likewise, soul makes up our reasoning mind, the main thing (outwardly) that distinguishes man from animals. And of course that “mind” is also necessary to transact in this world. It was just not meant to “take over” as our persona and be the boss of us, like it did in the Fall. Man forgot spirit, and lived mental and emotional lives, believing the outer world was both source and manifestation, knowing no other. At no time has that thinking been more prevalent than in our time now.
One of the major keys of living a Spirit life is found here. Because of the Fall, mankind was hoodwinked to believe that this “soul” life, i.e., our personal “world” consciousness, was the sum total of who we are. We only knew soul; spirit was hidden. So we thought soul was all there was.
What is one of the main aspects of soul stuff? It is that it is temporal. Though it has roots in spirit (without God’s Spirit, Adam would not have become a “living soul” [Gen 2:7]), soul life rolls up and down and back and forth with the tide of its feelings and changing rational understandings.
Soul is often “reactionary.” It “reacts” to stimuli of various types, which are also transitory in nature. Soul cannot judge right judgment, because it cannot see the whole picture. All it can detect is its feelings, emotions, and its way of temporal understanding.
However, even without having the whole picture, soul still reacts to temporal things, both pleasant and unpleasant. We’re just fine with the “positives” that soul can bring – affections, edifying emotions, empathy, kindness – but not so much with its negatives – fear, dislike, irritations, expressions of anger, etc. But one major key to “soul life” is first to make peace with it. Just like Jesus asked, “Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit to his stature?” regarding their physical life, He can ask the same thing about the soul issue. “Which of you, by taking thought, can control his soul reactions and expressions?”
The answer is the same to both situations. We cannot cause our bodies to grow taller by our thinking about it. It is the same with our souls. Why not? Because it would be “soul” trying to control “soul.” That would make “soul” an independent entity in itself, with the power or ability to mold itself. Soul is always an expression of something or a reaction to something, but never the thing in itself. When we operate “properly,” (of which we will speak more below), soul is the servant of and expresser of Spirit. We cease trying, because we know it is the Lord’s. That’s the key to it all! To realize that our souls are the Lord’s, and are watched over by Him day and night forever, is beginning to find the “rest for the people of God!”
For years when I read that scripture, I thought it meant “after we die.” “Oh how great it’s going to be, when we get to the other side!” What I did not realize, however, is that the author is talking about the “rest for the people of God,” for our “now” lives, not later on in the bye and bye. NOW, TODAY, we can rest in the Lord! How – by ceasing from our “own works” just as God did from His.
“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His.” (Heb 4:9,10).
Only two verses later he brings in our topic as the key ingredient to the life of rest – the Word of God in “the dividing asunder of soul and spirit,” and “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Why is that? Well, first, we have to understand spirit, too, but for the moment the main thing to realize is the temporal nature of most of the issues with our souls. By “temporal” I just mean they are passing. Feelings of sadness, joy, sorrow, pain, guilt, elation, satisfaction, happiness, etc., come and they go. They are not permanent, and in NO WAY are indicative of our spiritual condition. In any given day, I might “feel” elated, depressed, apathetic, excited, anxious, hopeful, despairing, angry, joyful, fearful, hurt and so on and on. That parade will continue I am certain.
Spirit is the heart, out of which all the issues of life spring. That is why Proverbs advises us to especially watch after the clarity of the heart, for we are whatever our heart (where are the inner eternal affections) is. In this heart place, innermost place, “I am,” and this is where we are united in Spirit with the Father and the Son, and out of which comes our identity – “I am.” That is the first aspect of Spirit – knowing. This is not speaking of empirical knowledge, which would be in the soul mind, but inner knowledge, which is not objective, but inner being.
The world primarily uses the word “know” and its forms to have to do with facts and understandings that are objective facts, descriptions of things apart from us. It’s just stuff “about” stuff.
When the Spirit uses the word “know,” it is meant in the way God means to “know.” Adam “knew” Eve, his wife, and she conceived. They became “one flesh” in sexual union, which produced a child. So the biblical meaning of “know” is to be “one with” or “mixed with” what is known. God doesn’t HAVE truth, HE IS Truth! God doesn’t have Love, He IS Love. God doesn’t have sons; He is ONE WITH His sons. He knows them, not objectively – out there away from Himself – but subjectively, both in Himself and in the sons. So this inner place of spirit in us, is the True Holy of Holies. In our deepest and most pure identity we dwell as spirits, the inner fire of self. This is where the Spirit of God comes and takes up residence in us, where God’s Spirit dwells within our spirits as the True Life and True Identity inside. The tabernacle and temple were parables always pointing as this consummation of selves, Deity Spirit indwelling human spirit.
So God “knows” us, which means He is “one” with us. (1 Cor 6:17; John 17:11; 20-23). Just as Jesus was, through Him we are “one with” the Father, and have the same testimony as Jesus, once we see it: “I and My Father are one.” (John 10:30), And “The Son does nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do, the same does the Son.” (John 5:19).
Spirit is also Love or Desire. Both are outworking, to go out of themselves to bless and edify. That is God in His center and the inner Truth out of which He eternally operates. And it is also our center as well, since God through the Spirit lives in us and as us, always with this same love drive in the center of our being, which acts as an inner Spirit urging to give out the things God gives us to others, whether material or spiritual blessings. It was God’s great Eternal Love and Desire that caused Him to speak the Creation into existence as the house where His precious sons would live and be eternally blessed of the Father.
Finally, in this short review, spirit is inner will, i.e., spirit choice. It is this to which the “keep thy heart with all diligence,” referred. Spirit will is where our life choices come from, not what we’ll watch on TV tonight or have for dinner. In that regard it is probably better to describe spirit “will” more like a “set of mind” than spontaneous continuous choices.
The first issue that comes to mind is that it is in this inner sanctuary where our inmost transactions with God are made. Transactions in this place are spirit – fixed – once we see it. In our outer thinking we might think we want to be a plumber one day, and the next day change our mind and decide we want to be a painter. That’s how the outer works. It is changeable by the day or hour.
The inner choice, i.e., “who we are” is fixed, once God seals it. As the Psalmist cried, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.” (Ps 57:7). I especially like this one because it states our point: “Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD … Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid.” (Ps 112:1,6-8).
This last quote clearly demonstrates what I am communicating. No matter what “soul clouds” bubble up on the outside, whether fears, doubts, condemnations, threats, trials, tribulations, challenges, etc., the Spirit man is “not moved forever.” Why? Because he always feels strong, always is certain, never feels any “doubt?” No, it is just the opposite. We continue to feel and experience the ups and downs of the soul, while walking in faith that our foundation below us is solid ground and not shifting sands. The spirit person believes and operates on the facts of God’s promises as true in us, and REFUSES to take condemnation because he knows what is eternal, and it is from that eternal that he lives, and not on the ups and downs of the temporal.
EVERYTHING truly from God in this world is inner. God is the author of the temporal also, but we have to always know and remember it is temporal, impermanent and subject to change any moment. So we do not look to God’s promises to be fulfilled primarily in outer things. When we can begin to see and stand on the eternal things which are already true in us, then we understand what Jesus meant when He said believing on Him was like building a house on solid rock, instead of shifting sand. Again, that is not primarily talking about the afterlife, but TODAY’S life!
We are God’s house! (2 Cor 6:16). Every reference to “temple” or “tabernacle” in scripture eventually points to the temple of the human self, where God REALLY takes up residence. God doesn’t live in the church building down the street. He lives in the people who go to commune with Him in the church building, and that is the key! God’s plan from Adam onward was to live in us, to indwell us and be the True Quality of Life within us. Not as an apart-from-us “influence,” but as “one” with our very selves so that His Life in us is the impetus and stimulus for the fulfillment in us of the New Covenant, which the prophet Ezekiel so clearly and wonderfully outlines in this passage:
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ez 36:26-28).
The truth about who we are in Christ is found here, as well as Galatians 2:20, 1 Cor 6:17, John 10:30, 1 John 4:17, 1 John 3:1-3, Col 2:10 and many many more.
“Christ as a Son over his own house; whose house we are.” (Heb 3:6)
One of the most often used phrases in the synoptic gospels is, “Why did you fear, O you of little faith? Be not afraid, only believe.”
There is no more reason for fear. Even though we might “feel it,” we realize we live in perfect love, no matter what. Whatever can or may come our way, we will overcome, because we realize the permanency of His Eternal Life within us!
Let me underline this! God is for you! When I say “there is no more reason to fear” I’m sure all our minds can immediately come up with a whole bunches of arguments against that. But I am speaking the truth. There is no more reason to fear. We live by the power of an indestructible Life! (Heb 7:16). Because of that, we live in victory because the victory is REAL, not just something we say!
“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:57,58).
(This has been an adapted version of an earlier article, “A Review of Soul and Spirit.”)