Basic Principles of the Experience of Life, by Witness Lee

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God clearly told man that he should not take the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but man made the decision to take it. This shows that the soul is especially independent in the opinion and in the will. Since man became independent in his mind and will, his soul became the self. If five brothers come together to coordinate, one brother may be very strong in his will, strongly making decisions in certain matters. The other four brothers may not agree with his decision and may even be forced to argue with him. This brother is very much in the self and full of the self, but the others may also be in their opinion.

We should not think that to be a Christian coming together with others is easy. In 1922 Brother Watchman Nee and another young brother were the leading ones in Foochow, Brother Nee’s hometown. On one winter day they wanted to have a gospel meeting. Brother Nee came to the meeting place before the meeting started, and seeing that the weather was very cold, he closed the door. After a while, the other brother came to look around the meeting place. He thought it was awkward to have the door closed, so he opened it. After another short time, Brother Nee saw the door open and closed it again, but after one or two minutes the other brother came and opened it again. The other brother insisted on having the door open even though the weather was cold and the wind was blowing. This was his opinion. Eventually Brother Nee said, “I will let it go. I do not care if it is open or closed. Brother, let us go to pray.” To come together to practice the church life is not easy if we do not learn the lessons.

The opinion is the manifestation, the incarnation, of the self, and the self incarnated is the opinion. Whenever we have an opinion, we should be on the alert and remember that this opinion is the self incarnated. The opinion and the will are dangerous. The self within us is expressed sometimes by the will but most of the time by opinions. We have opinions as the manifestation of the self simply because we are independent from God. If we were dependent on God, we would not have opinions; all our opinions would be gone. The more we are independent of God, the more we have opinions as the manifestation of the self.


Matthew 16:21-26 is a good illustration of the self. Verses 21-22 say, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, God be merciful to You, Lord! This shall by no means happen to You!” Regardless of what God’s will was, Peter loved the Lord and did not agree with His dying. This was Peter’s love for the Lord, but it was his love in his self-opinion. Verse 23 continues, “But He turned and said to Peter, Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.” This indicates that whenever we have an opinion, we have Satan. This is terrible! Peter did not set his mind on the things of God. He did not have a dependent mind. Rather, his mind was independent of God. The independent mind is the opinion and the self. Verses 24-26 say, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; but whoever loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it. For what shall a man be profited if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul-life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul-life?”

If we read this passage carefully, we can realize that in the soul there is the self, in the self there is the mind, and in the mind there is the opinion. Just as sin is something of Satan in the body, the self is something of Satan in the soul expressed mostly through the opinions. If we learn this lesson, whenever we come together we will be afraid to have opinions. This is not only so in the church life but even in the family life. There is trouble today in families simply because the husband has the husband’s opinion, the wife has the wife’s opinion, and within both of the opinions there is Satan. The result is sometimes separation, then divorce. If all the wives would learn the lesson to depend on God and give up their own opinion, do you think there would be divorce? How nice it would be if all the husbands also would give up their opinion and depend on God. The trouble is simply due to the fact that each one expresses an opinion, everyone is independent of the Lord, and everyone is full of the self, opinion, and reasoning.

If we learn the lesson in our family life of being dependent on God, when anything happens, the husbands, wives, and all the members will not express an opinion. Rather, they will say, “Let us go to God. Let us seek the Lord’s mind.” In this case, there will be no trouble. This is the right way. If we learn this lesson in the family, when we come to the church life, we will act in the same way. We will say, “Brothers, let us go to the Lord. Let us pray and wait on Him.” We will all be subdued by the Lord and dependent on the Lord. We must not say, “I feel,” “I think,” or “In my opinion.” This is the self.

Self is a dangerous matter. In Matthew 16 there are four items—the mind, the soul, the self, and Satan. The mind is of the self, the self is of the soul, and within these is Satan. In the mind, or in the opinion, of the soul there is Satan. Before verses 21-26, Peter had been under the revelation of the heavenly Father (vv. 16-17), but just a short time later he was utilized by Satan. In one moment he spoke something from the heavenly Father, and a moment later he spoke something from Satan.

Now we can see the meaning of the self. Self is the very essence of Satan in the soul, making the soul independent of God to express its self-opinion and self-will. This is the best definition of the self. Whenever we are independent of God and have an opinion or will, we have the self with Satan, who is in the self. If we realize this meaning, and we apply it to our daily life, we will see that day by day this is the problem with every one of us. Why are children disobedient to their parents? It is simply because their soul, their mind, their will, is independent from the parents. They have their own opinion, and they even have their own will. That is the self, and Satan is in the self.

(Basic Principles of the Experience of Life, Chapter 12, by Witness Lee)