DIFFERENTIATING THE SPIRIT FROM THE SOUL
Scripture Reading: Heb. 4:12; 1 Thes. 5:23; Matt. 16:24-26; Luke 9:23-25; Rom. 8:6; 2 Cor. 3:17
We have seen clearly what the condition and the function of the spirit are. Now we must learn how to differentiate the spirit from the soul. Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Joints are the bones, and marrow is within the bone. Just as we differentiate these two things, we have to differentiate the spirit from the soul.
It is difficult to differentiate the spirit from the soul. This is because we are fallen people. As we have seen, the spirit of fallen man was deadened, and it lost its function. This means that the human spirit within fallen man did not function. From our youth, even from the day of our birth, we did not exercise our spirit. If we do not exercise any organ of our being for a certain time, it becomes useless. An expert once told me that if we do not use our eyes for three months, they will lose the function of sight, and it will take a long time to recover our vision. As fallen people, our spirit was deadened, and for a long time we did not use it. However, we were very accustomed to using our body and our soul. Therefore, after the fall of man, the human mind became overdeveloped. Now the mind is always too active. Even after we are saved and our spirit is made alive and renewed, we still are not used to exercising the spirit.
Today’s psychology does not even recognize that there is a spirit in man. The science of psychology only recognizes the body and the psyche, that is, the soul. The Bible, however, reveals to us that we have a third part, not only a body and a soul but also a spirit. First Thessalonians 5:23 says, “The God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our soul comprises the mind as the leading part and the emotion and the will. Our spirit, which was deadened, is made alive, regenerated, and renewed. However, we are still not used to the exercise of the spirit.
More than twenty years ago we lived in a small town in northern China. Like other homes in that town, ours had no electricity, so we used an oil lamp for a long time. One day electricity was installed in our home. At that time I visited people almost every day beginning early in the morning, and I came back in the evening. Whenever I came back home, the first thing I did was to put away my bicycle and pick up a match to light the lamp, even after electric lights had been installed. When I did this, our children would laugh at me. When I saw them laughing, I said to myself, “Foolish man, throw the match away.” Then I went to the switch to turn on the lights. For many years I was used to picking up a match to light the lamp. Now electricity had been installed, but I was not used to it. Today the heavenly “electricity” has been installed in our spirit, but we are not used to exercising this part. We are still used to “picking up the match” in our soul.
DENYING THE SELF BY DENYING
THE NATURAL MIND, EMOTION, AND WILL
How can we differentiate the spirit from the soul? As Christians, the regenerated ones, whenever we are going to do something, we have to learn the lesson to deny the soul and the self. If we read Matthew 16:24 through 26 and Luke 9:23 through 25, we can see that the soul is the very self. These two passages clearly tell us that to deny the self is to deny the soul. When I was young, I asked people what it meant to deny the self. I simply did not know what to deny. Eventually, by reading the Word and through experience, we came to know that the self is the soul. Matthew 16:26 says, “For what shall a man be profited if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul-life?” whereas Luke 9:25 says, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?” These passages prove that the soul is the self.
As we have pointed out, the soul is composed of the mind, emotion, and will. Therefore, we now have the answer to the question, “What do I deny?” To deny the self is to deny our own mind, emotion, and will. The mind, emotion, and will added together equal the soul. If we subtract the mind, subtract the emotion, and subtract the will, there is nothing left. We should not speak merely doctrinally but practically. To deny the self is to deny the mind, the emotion, and the will. When we go to do something for God, for a brother, or even for ourselves, as children of God, reborn persons, those who are learning to walk in the presence of the Lord and please the Lord, we have to learn the lesson to deny our self in whatever we do.
Someone may say that after we deny our natural mind, natural emotion, and natural will, nothing will be left. It seems that this is true, but it is not altogether true. There is truly something left, that is, the spirit. We may not be able to place it, but we still have to exercise it. We must deny the mind, emotion, and will and try to exercise something else (not, of course, the body). Put this into practice and try it for two or three days. Eventually, something will come up from the spirit. Even in the ministry of the Word, many times I have denied what I know, what I like, and what I have decided to speak. Sometimes after I did this, I became blank, having nothing within, but I still stood on the ground of denying all these things. Then after a few hours something sprang up from deep within and became clear to me, sometimes right away but sometimes gradually, bit by bit. Then I knew what I had to minister.
When I come to visit a brother, for example, I have to learn the lesson to deny my mind, my emotions, and my will. When I get into his home and begin to speak, there is nothing of the mind, emotions, or will. I have denied them and given them up. At that time I will exercise not my body but the hidden part, the inmost part, silently praying, “Lord, what should I say?” In my mind I may have many things to say, from Genesis through the Psalms to Malachi and then from Matthew through Acts and Romans and on to the book of Revelation. In addition, I may be desirous to talk, especially about international affairs. This is my emotion, so I must take the cross. My mind full of the Bible knowledge must be crossed out, and my emotion which is so willing to talk about Europe, Asia, and Africa must be put on the cross. Then after five minutes I may still have nothing, so I still look to the Lord. Gradually, something comes up from within, that is, from my spirit.
I can tell you a number of real experiences like this. Many times, as I was about to give a message, I denied my mind, my emotion, and my will. Then as I was going to the platform, there was nothing within. A responsible brother announced a hymn, and everyone sang it, but I simply looked to the Lord: “Lord, what is Your mind? What must I speak here?” While someone prayed, I was still looking to the Lord, and during more singing and praying I continued to look to Him. Then after the prayer I had to stand up. I simply went to the platform and said, “Let us read,” but I did not know what to read. While I was speaking, “Let us read,” I was still looking to the Lord. Then I said, “the book of John.” Still I did not know what chapter to read. Even as I said, “John,” I was not clear. Then I said, “chapter 14.” This illustrates the way to differentiate the spirit from the soul. The way is to deny the natural mind, the natural emotion, and the natural will.
A brother and his wife may quarrel in the morning. Then in the evening the brother may ask someone what he should do about it. What he must do is cross out his mind, his emotion, and his will. Then he will know what to say to his wife, and whatever he says will be from the spirit. Before this time the brother may have had many reasons ready in his mind and emotion with which to reason with his wife. The more he considers his reasons, the stronger he becomes, and he finally makes the decision to go to his wife in that way. This is the self, and this is the soul. The brother should not do this. He should go to the Lord and contact Him. If he goes to the Lord in this way, he will learn the lesson. Something within will cross out his mind with its many reasons, his emotion, and his natural will. He may say, “Lord, if I cross out all these things, I will have nothing left. What shall I do?” The Lord will say, “You will be gone. You will be crossed out, and I will come out.” Then gradually something will come up from his spirit, and he will know what to say to his wife. Whatever he says will be from the spirit.
We should not try to figure out if something is of the spirit or the soul, saying, “This is too shallow, so it must not be of the spirit, but this other is deeper, so it may be of the spirit.” We can never figure out what the spirit is in this way. The way to differentiate the spirit from the soul is to deny the self, to always deny our natural mind, our natural emotion, and our natural will. Then we will see what is left and what will come out.
(Dealing with Our Inward Parts for the Growth in Life, Chapter 9, by Witness Lee)