THE CONSUMING OF THE OUTER MAN
Christ has been laid as a foundation within our being, but we are not in agreement with the structure to be built upon that foundation. In this kind of situation, we need the outer man to be broken. Under the sovereign hand of the Lord, there is the breaking of the outer man. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 Paul says that the outer man is decaying. Some translations, such as the King James Version, say “perish,” and Darby’s New Translation translates this word as “consumed,” which seems to be a better rendering than “perish.” To be consumed means to be torn down; that is, the outer man is torn down. This tearing down is that we may no longer live by the outer man. This is not an easy job because from our birth we were raised and educated to live by our self. Therefore, to give up our self is not easy. Yet the giving up of our self is the teaching needed by today’s Christians.
The Normal Christian Life, which was first released in spoken form by Brother Watchman Nee in 1938 or 1939, has become quite prevailing throughout many of the Western countries. This book is primarily concerned with the foundation of the Christian life. However, another book entitled The Release of the Spirit, a series of messages given about ten years later by Brother Nee, contains something as a structure built upon the foundation. Hence, the later messages are a development of the earlier ones. The breaking of the outer man and the release of the spirit are the messages needed by the church today.
First, we must know what Christ is to us. This is the foundation. He is our life and our portion. He has been put into us as the treasure. This is the foundation. Now if we are going to build upon this foundation, our outer man must be consumed so that we may live not by the outer man but by the inner man. The inner man is neither Christ Himself solely nor the human spirit itself alone. The inner man is the human spirit regenerated and indwelt by Christ and mingled with Christ.
Today we need to cooperate with this consuming work. The more we cooperate with this work, the more problems we will be saved from. If we struggle, going against this breaking-down work, we will experience more problems. We need the real willingness to say to the Lord, “Lord, I have been regenerated, and I now have You within me as my life. I am clear that I have to give up my own life, the soulish life, that I have to take You as my life, and that I must live by You. Lord, I am willing to cooperate with You.” Such a prayer will save us from a lot of trouble.
DENYING OURSELVES TO LIVE BY CHRIST
We should not look to the help of teachings alone. Teachings alone will not help us. There is only one thing that will help us—to realize that Christ is within us as our life and that we must learn to live by Him, not by ourselves. The teachings as well as the gifts are not so effective. We need a silent faith, the faith within to realize that Christ is such a living One within us. We also must learn to deny the self. One of the central teachings in the four Gospels is that we must deny the self (Matt. 16:24-26; 10:39; Luke 9:23-25; 17:33; John 12:25). In the Epistles to walk by and live in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25; 3:3; Rom. 8:4-5, 13) and to live by Christ (Phil. 1:20-21; John 6:57) are mentioned frequently.
There is no other way to enjoy Christ. We must learn on all occasions, daily and at all times, to deny ourselves. Although we may have heard this word many years ago, we must take it today in a living way. If we deny ourselves, turn to the spirit to contact the Lord, and live by Him, we will see the consuming of the outer man and the renewing of the inner man. We will see a real decrease of the self and a real increase of Christ. Then we will enjoy Him, and we will realize that His grace is really sufficient in our daily experience (2 Cor. 12:9). With this kind of experience, regardless of what happens, there will be the inner strengthening, supporting, and all-inclusive supply, which is the sufficient grace. This inward grace will become the strength, the power, which is made perfect in our weakness. The weaker we are, the more we will realize the grace which is constantly strengthening us into the inner man. In Ephesians 3:16 Paul prayed that the saints would be strengthened with power into the inner man that Christ might make His home in their hearts, that is, that He might take over their entire being.
Our need is just to cooperate with Him. God’s intention is that we would put our natural life, the soul-life, aside all of the day and take Christ as our life to live by today. We have a natural life and a spiritual life. God’s intention is not to adjust or improve the natural life, but His intention is that we deny the natural life to live by the spiritual one—to live by Christ. Regardless of the circumstances, our need is to learn to live, move, behave, and have our being by Christ, not by our self. As a result, we will enjoy Him and realize that He is really the treasure within us. We will sense His preciousness and sweetness day by day and hour by hour. We will also sense how sweet He is, taking care of us in all kinds of circumstances, and we will realize in our experience that His grace, which is just Himself, is so sufficient.
Ultimately, we will testify like the apostle Paul that we are “well pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions and distresses, on behalf of Christ” because when we are weak then we are powerful (2 Cor. 12:9-10). We are weak in our old being, but there is another One living within us. This is the central message in 2 Corinthians. The many biographies and autobiographies and the history of many of the saints confirm that there is only one lesson to learn—to put aside the natural life and take Christ as our life to live by Him. As regenerated persons we must put ourselves aside and take Christ as our life in a practical way.
We must live this way not only with outsiders but also with our own folks, our own family members. Deny yourself and take Christ as your life. Let the outer man be consumed and the inner man be increased all the time. If we would practice this, Christ would be so real, living, precious, and sweet to us. Praise the Lord! In 2 Corinthians the treasure, the power, and the grace are Christ Himself, who is so precious, sufficient, powerful, and near to us.
In the Lord’s recovery we do not need forms, nor do we merely need doctrine or gifts. We need to learn to live not by ourselves but by Him as the life-giving Spirit indwelling our spirit. We have two men within us. We must learn to live not by the first man, the outer man, but by the second man, the inner man. This is the way for us to enjoy Christ all of the time. We must take this word not as doctrine or knowledge but as something to put into practice. Then we will see the difference. We will experience Christ as such a living One who is so real, sweet, and precious.
(Christ our Portion, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)