Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), by Watchman Nee

More excerpts from this title...


Why is this? It is because, even though the cross has worked and dealt with the sinful nature of the believer, the soul-life is still existing! Although all sins issue from the sinful nature and the soul merely follows its direction to execute its command, nevertheless the soul is, after all, inherited from Adam. Although the soul is not altogether defiled, it cannot avoid being affected by the fall of Adam. It is natural and quite different from the life of God. The defiled old man within the believer has become dead indeed, yet his soul is still the strength of his living. He is freed from the sinful nature, but the self-life still exists. Therefore, he cannot avoid being soulish. Although the old man no longer directs the soul, the soul is still the strength of his living. Since God’s nature has replaced the sinful nature, spontaneously all the inclinations, desires, and ideas are good, unlike their former filthy state. However, the execution of the ideas, directions, and desires of his new nature continues to be by the same soul-life.

A life which depends on the soul can execute the direction of the spirit by natural (earthly) strength in an attempt to accomplish supernatural (divine) goodness. To put it plainly, the strength of self is used to fulfill God’s demand. In this condition, even though the believer has overcome sin on the negative side, he is still immature in doing righteous deeds on the positive side. However, few are willing to sincerely acknowledge their weakness, immaturity, and uselessness and depend upon God. It is in his human nature that man considers himself to have strength. One who has not been humbled by the grace of God will never consider himself to be utterly useless. It is because of this that he has no heart to trust the Holy Spirit for doing righteous deeds but depends on the strength of self (soul) to correct and to improve all his former conduct. Thus, the danger at this time is that he tries to please God with his own power and does not know how to exercise the life of the soul, which is given to him by God and is already in him, to increasingly strengthen the life of the spirit through the Holy Spirit in order to follow the dictates of the new nature. At this time the spiritual life is newborn and has not reached the stage of maturity to be able to express all the virtues of God’s nature. Besides, it is not truly able to do it. Therefore, because of the lack of patience, humility, and a heart of dependence, a believer does not know that regardless how good according to the human viewpoint his own efforts may appear, he can never please God. He consequently applies his natural, soulish power to fulfill God’s requirements for His children. Such deeds and works are the mingling of what is of God with what is of man, expressing the heavenly wishes by the earthly strength. Since the deeds and behavior of the believer at this time are such, he remains not spiritual but soulish.

Many do not understand what the soul-life is. Simply put, the soul-life is what we commonly call the self-life. Many believers make the big mistake of not distinguishing sin from self. They think that sin and self are the same. However, they are different both in the teaching of the Bible and in spiritual experience. Sin is filthy, opposes God, and is utterly abominable. Self, however, may not necessarily be filthy, may not necessarily oppose God, and may not necessarily be abominable. On the contrary, many times self is quite honorable, wanting to help God, and quite lovely. For example, to study the Bible is a very good thing. We know that to study the Bible is not sinful. But very often when studying the Bible, one can do it by his own efforts. Although it is not sinful to understand the Bible with one’s own intelligence, it is the work of self. Although it is not sinful to labor in order to save people, to do it according to one’s own ideas and methods is surely full of self. At least we know that pursuing spiritual growth is surely not sinful, yet how often is such pursuit out of the fleshly self, perhaps because we do not want to fall behind others, or because spiritual growth may give us many advantages, or perhaps we may have some personal gain. To put it more clearly, it is known to all that to do good is not sinful. However, many good works are full of self. Sometimes the good works are the natural goodness of an individual and not what is given to him by the Holy Spirit at the time of regeneration. For example, there are many people who were merciful, patient, and meek before they believed in the Lord and were regenerated. Their mercy, patience, and meekness are natural, fleshly, of the self, and not of the spirit. Therefore, even though they may be merciful, patient, and meek, which is neither committing a sin nor sinful, they are filled with the works of the self-life. Sometimes believers perform good works not by utter dependence on the Spirit of God but by their own strength.

(Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), Chapter 10, by Watchman Nee)