Understanding Soul and Spirit – Major Key
Part Two: A Little Deeper and Longer Look
By Fred Pruitt
“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.” (Heb 4:12)
(Several years ago, a friend asked me to explain the difference between Norman Grubb’s model on spirit, soul and body, and Watchman Nee’s model. They are similar but differ in some aspects. So here below is a portion of what I wrote him back. As always, we remind ourselves we are not merely shoring up our doctrinal p’s and q’s, proving ourselves correct and others not. I’m only telling how these things work with me. Learning the soul spirit difference has been one of the major sources of the greatest liberty I have experienced in this life. This is really a “Truth” that sets us free!)
As a young Christian the spirit/soul issue didn’t come up that I remember. I know it was mentioned in the charismatic church but I don’t remember it being in the forefront of my consciousness. Though I do remember there was a whiff of curiosity about it, because I had seen, again in pastor’s office, Watchman Nee’s ‘The Spiritual Man,’ and I think that’s where Nee expounds somewhat on that realm. So I WAS interested, but it was not the soul/spirit issue that intrigued me as I remember, but rather “becoming the spiritual man.” It was a moot point anyway, since I never got to read it, and haven’t until this day, other than excerpts.
So my first real “teaching” on the subject was Norman’s. You have probably read it yourself in your reading of Norman’s books, but I want to comment on it. Before that, however, I wanted to talk a little bit about what Norman did, I think, as the Spirit brought these truths through him.
As I’m sure you know, Norman had many influences, though he consistently said Jacob Boehme and William Law were his main lights after the Bible, but there was also Kierkegaard, many of the mystics, the classical Christian writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and a few odd ones which are surprising.
What I think Norman did with all that stuff, rather than focusing on any one of those influences particularly, and putting all his sharings in the strict interpretations of their particular “doctrine,” was to filter a lot of that stuff down to a great simplicity. The simplicity of “what works.”
With that in mind, here is NPG’s model of spirit, soul and body.
Spirit is will (spirit will — mindset), love (or heart or desire), and knowing (inner consciousness, inner mind, I AM THAT I AM).
Soul is emotion or feelings, and rational mind or intellect.
We don’t need to define “body,” really, since it is obvious, but it is important to know that the “soul” (speaking in NPG’s model) is “tied” to the body and its functions and needs especially.
There is another common model of spirit, soul and body in evangelical churches, and I call it the Nee model. Though I’ve never read it from Nee myself, others have explained it to me. It seems the main difference, and maybe it is not a difference, is that the Nee model puts some of those faculties NPG described as spirit, in soul.
The first time I encountered that (the Lord likes throwing some curve balls my way sometimes), was at a brother’s house in Louisiana. We were holding a little session, and one of the people there started talking about his different “wills,” a “spirit” will and a “soul” will, that one must work to align, etc. In a sense I was not really prepared for that encounter, because had I begun to answer him on that level, I had no ammunition really, except, “Norman said it.” He was speaking out of Nee’s model, and told us that he was. So it would have ended up with a little battle between, “what my ‘teacher’ says,” vs. “what your ‘teacher’ says.”
And before we might approach a solution to this dilemma, there are also the added scripture terms, “outer man” and “inner man,” as well as, “natural man” and “spiritual man.” It can be quite confusing! And there is simply no set of scriptures that clearly explains all these things. There is validity in the Nee model, and validity in the NPG model. How do we reconcile these things?
And that is really the beauty of it! One does NOT have to figure it out! It is completely “livable” even without a deep understanding of it. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge and understanding are much to be desired! And wisdom even more!
Therefore, I am going to champion NPG’s model because of its simplicity, and ultimately reject the Nee model, mainly because it ends up being dualistic, and the fact that nearly everyone I’ve ever met who has been “taken” by that model, maintains some sort of separate personhood. That is the reason I say the Nee model ends up being dualistic, is because of the tendency to turn the “soul man” into another person, instead of what it is, the servant of spirit. In fact, I do not really believe in the “soul” man, only the “spirit” man.
But that flies in the face of my everyday life, doesn’t it? All day long I am mostly taken up with things having to do with “soul life,” e.g., eating, drinking, thinking, health, work, finances, marriage, kids, car repair, etc. Isn’t that all in the “soul realm?”
Yes and no. Yes, it is all “soul” stuff. And yes, there is a mental process and a decision making faculty which acts on that level. It is not about deciding eternal things, but things like where we will park or what we will wear. It has been called a “world consciousness,” not necessarily meaning it to be a bad thing, but simply the “consciousness” that we must have in and of this world if we are going to live in it. Norman called it a “self-consciousness,” not meaning it as a negative term, but just simply what we are saddled with in this life. We will never get out of it, nor are we to expect to, because we could not relate to this world or the people within it, if we did not live in it ourselves.
The “no” part, is that it does not originate in soul. Nothing does. “Soul” is not its own master, nor is it a source of anything. Any “activity” in the soul is stimulated by spirit. The “I” that speaks when we are in our “self” or “world” consciousness, is the same “I” that speaks when we speak the things of God by the Spirit of God – Christ as “I.”
Adam became self-aware, i.e., a “living soul,” when God breathed His breath into him. And that is where we have the sure source of our understanding. “Soul” consciousness is an outworking of spirit reality, not the other way around. Soul did not begin to know itself and then entered into spirit. Spirit entered into the “man” God made, and he then became “a living soul.”
Now right there is spiritual “proof” for the whole outworking of God and His processes. When spirit moves in, self-consciousness (which we can loosely call “soul”), begins. Spirit is the source of soul. And it is always that way!
When we were the kidnapped children of the false one, we did “his lusts.” Where was it expressed? In soul, in tangibility, in feelings, thoughts, in physicality. Soul expressed spirit, in our former case, the “spirit of error.”
Same soul. Same faculties. Which spiritual source?
God Is Knowing:
I think I stand on solid ground when I put all the important stuff, as Norman did, in spirit. God is spirit. Never once that I am aware of, is it said, “God is soul.” God says His name is, “I AM THAT I AM.”
Therefore, basic “I AM,” is Spirit. God is “I AM,” inclusive of all the other derived, little “i am’s,” and that is spirit. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” (1 Cor 6:17). He is “father of spirits,” as it says in Hebrews 12:9, and my favorite, “The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.” (Pr 20:27) Isn’t that verse something? Great meaning there! This “I AM” is also, is the ultimate of “knowing.” I can say (speaking as if God is speaking),“I AM THAT I AM” because I am aware and KNOW that I AM. I am here. I exist.
This same inner knowing that is the heart of God, is also in our deepest center as well. Norman used to always say, “all of life is inner consciousness.” It took me a long time to grow into understanding that. We are what we are on the outside, which is perceptible to us, because of who we are on the inside, which may or may not be perceptible to us. If we are children of light and walk in light, we radiate that light outward, whether we know it or not, and we usually do not, because the light does not radiate for us, but out to others.
We cannot even see our own form, but only images in mirrors or photographs. The fact that our faces look “out,” and our eyes see “out,” is clear proof that we are not to be about ourselves in this life. Everything is geared to this “going out.”
However, the kingdom of darkness is exactly the opposite. If the light in us is “darkness,” (Matt 6:23), then instead of radiating light, the “light” in us which is darkness seeks to draw everything into itself to magnify itself, like a spiritual “black hole,” because it lets out no light, since there is no light.
God Is Love:
God is love. What is love? Paul describes God’s love, that it seeks not its own, does not envy, does not judge, etc., but those are attributes, not the love itself. What, exactly, is love?
“For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” (Deut 4:24)
Passions burn the hottest, when they are the strong desires to have someone else fully as your own and be one with them, whether we are speaking sexually or more metaphorically – do they not? There is something in the heart of God that is a FIRE!
Every time I think about it, I marvel and wonder that this earth, this “solid planet” we live on, is at its center a rolling mass of magma burning with the intensity of the sun inside the inner belly of this planet.
Yes, there is the light of the Sun coming from 93 million miles away with the perfect sunlight effects to make our world come alive. Besides making our crops grow, the Sun also stirs up the winds and the sea, creating all our surface weather.
But below us is also what is almost an “eternal” fire, that is daily issuing itself out into the surface world, that also daily affects our atmosphere, weather, and many other things. It is also creating new land everyday, as we can see with certain volcanic islands, which grow day by day before our eyes!
All of this, whether in the earth below, or from the Sun above, starts with FIRE! Even we ourselves, in the physical, have an inner “fire.” Human beings are consistent within a degree or two of a constant inner fire, inner temperature, regardless of outer conditions. 98.6 F is “normal,” and that is usually my operating temperature. Whether it is 95 or 35 outside, inside I am 98.6, if my body is functioning properly.
But the moment the body dies, the heat begins to drain out of it, until it reaches room temperature, like everything else. No more life, no more inner fire, and what had been a living organism while there was a Life inside it, begins to putrefy. No fire, no life. No life, no fire.
The fire must have something to fuel it to keep it going, and even to temper it so that it does not consume everything. Which way will it go?
God is love, God is fire, because fire comes from love and love generates fire. Our God is a “consuming fire” and it is said his angels, his ministers, are “flames of fire,” (Heb 1:7), and man’s spirit is fire – The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord ….
Love cannot be “love” except there be an object to love. Love does not simply exist in an uncaring mystical bliss recognizing nothing except itself. Love is moving; love is dynamic; love has to reach out; love has to reproduce itself; keep itself alive by re-begetting itself in an ever expanding effluence of desire. Love and desire cannot be taken from each other. That is the first attribute of love – it is a desire to go out and find the object of its affection. It is a drive – love must love, desire must desire.
Up until now I have been treating “love” and “desire” in a neutral fashion, ascribing to them neither good nor evil. Because this love-fire that has to reach out and find the object of its affection and possess it, can either be in a “for you” love-desire, or a “for me” love-desire.
This fire is the source of the glories and unbounded blessings of heaven, just like giant turbines turning generating electricity (by friction – heat, fire) are what make our world possible. But turned around into self-glorification, that same fire becomes in us the fires of wrath. It is like taking the energy of the fire into a nuclear meltdown consuming everything around it to feed its fire, rather than generating gentle light and precious sounds and indescribable colors, that come from the right use of fire. The fire-source is the power-source!
That is the origin of evil in the universe, when Lucifer sought the power source for himself and turned that love-fire in on himself in self-worship, and claimed equality with God – “I will be like the Most High,” and even in that fire to ascend higher than God, “I will ascend higher than the stars of God.” (Is 14:12-14).
That same fire that is the love-fuel to the manifold blessings coming through Father Son and Holy Spirit, producing light and gentleness and color and warmth and nurture, turns into wrath in everyone who seeks to save himself (in a denial of God), for the purpose that they might be divested of that wrath while still in this life.
This is what “God’s wrath” is. It is not God getting really mad at everybody up in heaven from His Throne. God does not live in wrath. He only lives in love. He does not see evil. William Law called God the “eternal will to all goodness.” There is nothing “wrathful” about God! Yet there is wrath, and it has its origin in God because it is taking the created “fire,” which is meant to be a source of power, beneficence and drive as an expression of the “other love” of God, and turning it inward in self-deification and self-elevation, and that produces the fire’s “negative” effects, defined by Boehme and William Law as, “pride, covetousness, envy and wrath.”
That kingdom eternally consists of the pride of self-sufficient self, covetousness (wanting what others have), envy (being mad that they have it and you don’t), and finally hatred, rage, anger or wrath, which produces violence of spirit, soul and body. No one is locked there, and may hear the Lord’s Word at any time and turn the other way, toward the Light, and we see those the Lord gives us in this way. We see the Father drawing them.
But no one cannot make the guaranteed promise, though some do (but how could they?), that after this life there is “another chance.” That is quite a promise to make to people who are currently living in their hells. In our effort to have God be “nice,” the failure to offer them the free grace available if they want it, and the water of life to quench the inner fires of wrath they are living in right now in this life, where Hebrews says, “Today is the day” to believe, is an unbearable tragedy. It does absolutely nothing for a person; we may be “nice” and want to spare their feelings, and we may want them to know God is “nice,” but it leaves them in HELL in their current moment!
And not only that, but to divert them from necessary repentance (turning toward God), while falsely promising “grace” in the afterlife, which we do not have the authority to determine, is really an ultimate presumption. “Don’t worry about it. You won’t die spiritually and live in separation. It doesn’t matter whether you turn to God or not.” It reminds me of another voice, a long time ago, speaking to the woman when she was looking and desiring a certain fruit, though she had been given the commandment that to eat of it, would cause her to die. But a friendly, “nice” voice said, “You shall not surely die.”(Gen 3:4). Surely we do not speak out of that voice!
It is the same “nice” voice, expressing genuine “human” concern, that through Peter tried to get Jesus to not go through with His commission and its end at the Cross in Jerusalem. Peter tried to get Jesus to think better of it, in his “nice” concern, and Jesus turned to him and hit that nail on its head when He said, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matt 16:23).
God needs no defense, no one to protect His reputation, nor anyone to apologize for Him. His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And no one sits in judgment of Him, nor is anyone able to mitigate His truth as He has spoken it.
But that is not our discussion here. Though when speaking of love as “fire,” this is part of it.
God Is Will:
Finally, God being Spirit, God is “will,” or (speaking from the crudity of human understanding), God is “Spirit choice.”
It is this faculty that in every spirit being, turns it this way or that. It is the faculty that decides between “me for you,” or “you for me.”
We are not able to determine a “moment” when God made a “choice” about Himself, though there are multitudes of Biblical moments when God expresses “will” regarding this world and the people in it. So we have to speak of God in some sense as if He is human, because it is only in this sense we are able to have any understanding.
It is too much to go into a full explanation at this moment, but let me just interject here, that “choice,” or even “will,” implies alternatives and limitations. The alternatives are obvious, either we choose this or we choose that. But what is not so clear, is that in making a choice between alternatives, this or that, I place myself in a limitation because I chose “this,” and not “that.” Again marriage is a perfect example. Before I was married, I was not “limited” to only my wife. In that sense, I was “free.” But in taking someone in particular to be my spouse, I have willingly limited my freedom in order to keep my marriage vow, to “keep only unto her.” I have unlimited freedom within the “borders” of my marriage, but there are borders.
So in a way we cannot possibly understand or grasp even a little bit, God has forever “chosen” to be “other love.” The greatest example of this we see in Revelation, where we see in the center of God, in the Throne, there is eternally a “lamb as it had been slain.” (Rev 5:6).
What kind of God is this? A slain lamb in the midst of the Throne? What it is telling us, is the “attitude” of God, the attitude that simply says, “I will die for you.” I think it quite a telling thing that this little helpless lamb sits in the throne, instead of a throng of great warriors, who have won the day by slaughtering thousands, or a great conqueror, who is able to subjugate whole races of people to him. No, none of that, just a weak little helpless lamb bleating in Heaven, and that is the mighty power of God!
Scripture says God “cannot lie,” even though we know God can do all things. Why can He not lie? If God is truly God, and there is no one who preceded Him, then it follows (again in the crudity of human understanding), that He is “self-determined” to be Who He is. In other words, somehow, some way, God eternally “decided” that He would not be a self-lover, but an other-lover. And also that the ultimate expression of Himself would be an embodiment of that other-love, through the One Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the whole family of eternal sons is raised up. That is the reason it says that, “God cannot lie.” It is part of His own self-limitation to be for eternity the “will to all goodness.”
Now, in the same way these things operate in God in the Spirit, they operate exactly the same in us in the Spirit.
In our innermost being, these same properties I have crudely described “about” God, are working the same way in us. We live and operate in our inner “knowing,” whether we are aware of it or not.
We are driven by the love-fire of God, whether we know it or not. It is our fire, too! (Because we are His!)
And finally we live in a union of wills, Spirit-to-spirit will. Union, almost more than anything else, implies only one will, one determination, one heart and mind. To say we are in union with Christ and then to turn around and say for whatever reason, “I do not will what God wills,” is a total contradiction. Union of persons means union of wills.
“Not my will, but thine be done.” That’s the verse everybody uses to “prove” we have a separate will from God and have to work to align it. But that is not what the verse says. Jesus makes no effort to “align” His will with God’s. He simply rejected a “my” will. There is only One Will, the will of the Father in heaven. When we are in His Kingdom, just like we would in any kingdom, we live according to the will of the king. In a system like that, there is only one will, the king’s will.
And that is a little parable about our living now in the kingdom of heaven (though we do not yet see it fully, even though it is already in our midst). Jesus was not struggling against what “He” wanted to do, as opposed to what God wanted Him to do. When did Jesus – ever – say He did any other will except His Father’s? That was the only true inner will He recognized. This separate appearing ‘human will,’ the “will” that wanted to get out of what was coming, was not really Him. He recognized only the Father’s will as valid, and the struggle in the garden against great temptation, was in getting that straight there just before the Temple guards came to arrest Him.
What then of the soul?
As I have said often, soul is not its own boss. It is where Spirit-expression is brought into temporal visibility. It has no life of its own, and is completely and totally driven and moved by spirit, either spirit expressing from inside ourselves, or spirit expressed through others that first touches us on our soul level.
Soul is part of the house where Christ lives and manifests Himself. Hebrews says we are His house, (Heb 3:6), and that means He owns the whole of this house He has come to live in, and the running of this house we can leave to Him and to the servants appointed to help Him. Soul has all kinds of expressions, emotions, reasonings, hurts, depressions, joyousness – a whole host of stuff! And sometimes it all seems to be running amok!
We are not fully free until we realize this soulish part of us is not wayward, does not stick out of Christ in us, as if it is outside the house we are that He lives in, nor is it left on its own to flail about in this dry and thirsty land we live in. No, now that He has moved in, it is Christ’s soul now! It had been the devil’s soul, with all the same attributes and faculties, but used wrongly to express self-for-self. Now it is Christ’s soul, used rightly to express self-for-others. It cannot be otherwise, because “our conversation is in heaven.” (Phil 3:20) James asks can sweet and bitter water come from the same fountain, and of course the answer is no. We are the sweet water, and once His, we cannot help but be it, the “savor of Life,” in them that believe! (2 Cor 2:15,16).
Which brings me back to my freeway parable.
Bottom line, I know a lot about “soul,” and a lot about “spirit,” and that is all well and good. But I have to know how it “works,” so I can work it! In Norman’s model mentioned above, soul being mostly involved in temporal things and reacting temporally, the point of it was not so much to make solid ironclad definitions of these things, but to know the difference first of all between eternal and temporal, and to give us a little bit of knowledge about what these things are and how they work, and finally to bring us into a simplicity of “the Father that dwells within Me, He does the works.”(Jn 14:10)
Earlier I mentioned the chaos of the freeways around big cities, in my case, Atlanta. And then I said that even though it looked like there was enough danger for 1000+ accidents or fatalities a day, still most people made it through every day, despite the chaos and the danger.
That’s what “soul” life is like. It is scattered, chaotic (in emotional or intellectual highs and lows), sometimes seemingly self-opposing, and very often looks “wrong” by its reactions or consternations. This is where EVERYBODY cracks up, where soul (reactions, feelings, psychology, intellectual confusion, etc.) is often seen as the enemy within my very own being, since it seems such a wayward part of us, and we do not seem to have much of a tight control over it.
If we think that, and we are in Christ, we are in for a treat. God came into the whole of us! It is His house, to do with as He pleases, including the soul. It no longer belongs to us (actually never did), but to Him, and He determines its times and expressions, not the world, not the devil, not the circumstances of our lives. None of those things instigate us whatsoever, because we are not reactors to life, but instigators of life. Soul filters the world back into us by the Spirit, and soul filters Spirit-expression back out into the world.
Just like the unseen higher power at work on the Atlanta freeways that keeps it all going miraculously with little loss of life and property, we have that same unseen “higher power” within us, and the chaotic freeway that is soul life, His perfect expression.
So, to conclude, we are Christ in our form, and because of that, that is what our “soul” expresses. The “divine nature” that is within us! The chaos of soul, stressful though it may be, is the road to our destinations.
God bless us every one!