Basic Principles of the Experience of Life, by Witness Lee

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There is a great difference between the soul and the spirit. As we have seen, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, supported by Genesis 2:7, shows us that we are tripartite, of three parts—spirit, soul, and body. Hebrews 4:12 shows us clearly that the spirit and the soul need to be divided and distinguished one from the other. It says, “For 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.” In this verse we see that the spirit and the soul can be divided.

There is the need to divide our spirit from the soul and our soul from the spirit. Hebrews 4 begins to deal with the service of Christ the High Priest. When a priest offered sacrifices to God, he always used a cutting instrument to divide the parts of the sacrifice. We are the sacrifice to God, and the Lord Jesus is the High Priest. He has the word of God as the sharp two-edged sword, which can divide the human soul from the human spirit. To be sure, if we are with the Lord and in His word, the Holy Spirit will divide our soul from our spirit by the word. He will show us through the word of God what is of our soul and not of the spirit. Through the word of God the Holy Spirit always reveals to us the difference between the soul and the spirit.

We may illustrate this by the way we love the brothers. A brother may pray, serve, work, and travel together with two other brothers, but he may love one brother more than the other. The first brother loves the second, and they are dear to one another; when they meet, they seem to touch something together and they inwardly stand with one another. However, this is not real love. If the first brother is with the Lord in the spirit and in the word, the Holy Spirit will show him that his love is not something in the spirit. It is something in the human life; it is something of the soul, the self, and not something in the spirit. When he realizes this, he will even condemn his love. When he is with the Lord in the morning, he will say, “Lord, forgive me. I have a love in my self, from my self, and for my self. It is a false love, a love in my human self and soul and not from the spirit.”

Sometimes when a brother ministers in a meeting, he may notice someone shaking his head in disagreement and may become disgusted with him. In 1942 there was a church in one of the biggest seaports in northern China, and one of the leading ones sometimes ministered to the people there. His high school aged son was saved, but he was still very naughty. Once when the father was ministering in the meeting, his son sat in a corner expressing his disagreement with him. The father simply had no patience with this. He stopped ministering, turned to his son, and said, “I will deal with you at home!” This was not something from the spirit. It was something from the father’s human life, his human soul and human self.

If we are in fellowship with the Lord, the Holy Spirit many times will show us that we have something which is good, about which there is nothing wrong, but it is not of the spirit but from the self, in the self, and out of the self. As we have illustrated, we may love a brother and stand with him, yet we love him by our soul, by our self, and out of our self. Human love is good, yet often it is merely human, soulish, and of the self. While we are in fellowship with the Lord, many times, even all the time, the Holy Spirit will show us what is from our self, what is good yet merely human. He will show us that it is something in the soul and of the soul, but not in the spirit.


There is a great difference between the soul and the spirit, and the soul can be divided and should be divided from the spirit. Moreover, 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 shows us that unless the soul is subdued by the spirit and submissive to the spirit, the soul is against the spirit and contradicts the spirit. These verses say, “But a soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually. But the spiritual man discerns all things, but he himself is discerned by no one.” Soulish implies the meaning of natural or psychological. A soulish man is a natural man, a man living in the soul. The soul is absolutely impotent in spiritual matters.

In these two verses we can see two kinds of persons: the soulish man and the spiritual man. The soulish man, and the soul itself, cannot understand or receive the spiritual things and even considers the spiritual things foolish. The spiritual man, however, discerns the spiritual things and likes to receive the spiritual things. It is by the spirit that we understand and discern the spiritual things, and it is in the spirit that we desire to have the spiritual things. If we are soulish, we simply cannot understand the spiritual things, we do not like anything spiritual, and we even think that the spiritual things are foolish. Thus, the soul itself is a contradiction to the spirit. We can realize this by our experience.

(Basic Principles of the Experience of Life, Chapter 8, by Witness Lee)