SOULISH AND SPIRITUAL
Verse 14 says, "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."
Soulish men are those who have not been regenerated and who do not have a new spirit. They do not have an intuition; what they have is only the mind, emotion, and will of the soul. They can reason, judge logically, and express what they like, but they cannot "receive the things of the Spirit of God" because they do not have a regenerated spirit. In man’s intuition God reveals His things to man. Even though a soulish man can think and observe, he lacks the capacity of the intuition. As a result he cannot receive what God reveals. Whatever man originally has is useless. Although man has many things in himself, none of them can replace the work of the intuition. God has not intentionally tried to be particular. He has not purposely exalted the spirit and intuition, which He gave to man through regeneration, above everything that man originally possessed. However, because man is dead in his spirit toward God, He cannot communicate Himself and His things to man. There is not a single organ in man which can receive God’s things. Among all the things which comprise a soulish man, there is not one which can fellowship with God. Even the mind, intellect, and rationality that is highly esteemed by man is as corrupt as man’s lusts; none of them can understand God. Not only is it impossible for unregenerated ones to fellowship with God with their mind, it is even impossible for the regenerated believers to fellowship with God without using their regenerated spirit. It is equally impossible for believers to use their mind and observation to understand the things of God because it does not change in function after regeneration. The mind is still the mind, and the will is still the will; these cannot become the organs for fellowship with God.
Not only is a soulish man incapable of receiving these things; he also thinks that they are foolishness. This again turns us to man’s mind. According to man’s mind, the things that are known through intuition are foolish because they cannot be rationalized. They are far beyond human feelings and contrary to the worldly mentality. They even contradict man’s common sense. Our mind likes what is logical and analytical and what suits its natural psychology. However, none of God’s acts are according to human law. Therefore, they are foolishness to him. The foolishness spoken of in this chapter refers to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus on the cross. The message of the cross not only speaks of a Savior who died for us, but of all the believers who died with Him. Everything that belongs to a believer’s self has to pass through the death of the cross. If this is only an idea, the mind may receive it; but if it is something to be put into practice, the mind rejects it.
Since the soulish man cannot receive, he cannot know. Receiving is first, and knowing is second. Whether or not a person can receive is determined by whether he has the Spirit. Whether or not a person can know is conditioned on whether he has an intuition. He must first have the Spirit before he can receive the things of God. If he has the Spirit and has received the things of God, the intuition has a chance to know these things of God. Other than the spirit of man, no one can know the things of man. A soulish man cannot know because he does not have a new spirit. Hence, he does not have the intuition to know.
Later the apostle says that a soulish man "does not receive" because the things of God are "discerned spiritually." Do we see that the Holy Spirit is repeatedly emphasizing that man’s spirit is the organ for fellowship with God? The focus of this portion of the Scriptures is to prove, indicate, and clarify that through God’s Spirit, man’s spirit is the basis for fellowship with God and for knowing the things of God. There is nothing else besides the spirit of man.
Everything has its own function. The function of the spirit is to discern the things of God. We are not annulling our mind, emotion, and will. They all have their functions and stand in a secondary position. They should be restricted; they should not be in control. The mind should be under the restriction of the spirit; it should act according to the will of God which is known through the intuition. The mind should not suggest a thought by itself and demand that our whole being act according to its thought. The emotion must also obey the command of the spirit. All of its love and hatred should be according to what the spirit wants and not according to what it wants. The will should also follow God’s will as expressed in the intuition. The will must not ignore the will of God and have other desires. If the mind, emotion, and will are all being kept in a secondary position, a believer will advance swiftly in his spiritual progress. If this does not happen, the mind, emotion, and will become the masters, and the place of the spirit will be usurped. Spontaneously there will be no spiritual living and spiritual usefulness. The spirit must be given its own proper position. A believer must wait on God’s revelation in the spirit. If the spirit is not elevated, a man will not be able to discern what is only discernable to the Spirit. The previous verse refers to communicating spiritual things to spiritual men because only those with a keen spirit can know the things in the spirit.
Verse 15 says. "But the spiritual man discerns all things, but he himself is discerned by no one." A spiritual person takes the spirit as his center, and his intuition is very keen. The mind, emotion, and will of his soul do not disturb the quietness in his spirit. His spirit is able to perform its duty.
"The spiritual man discerns all things" because the intuition obtains its knowledge only through the Holy Spirit. "He himself is discerned by no one" because others do not know how the Holy Spirit touches his intuition and what the senses in his intuition are. If a believer can only gain knowledge through his intelligence, only those who are more intelligent will discern all things. If this were true, scholarship and worldly education would become indispensable. These ones would also be discerned by others because whoever is their equal or whoever is more intelligent would understand their thoughts. Spiritual knowledge, however, has as its base the intuition of the spirit. If a man is spiritual and has a keen intuition, his knowledge will be unlimited. Even though his mind may be slow, the Holy Spirit can bring him into spiritual reality. His spirit can also enlighten his mind. Revelation by the Holy Spirit is often beyond the expectation of man.
Verse 16 says, "For who has known the mind of the Lord and will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ." Here is a question. No one in the world has known the mind of the Lord to instruct Him, because all men are of the soul. The way to know God is solely through the intuition. Then where can we find one, without the spirit, who has known the mind of God? This question confirms the last sentence in the previous verse. A spiritual man is "discerned by no one" because no one has yet known the mind of the Lord. "No one" refers to the soulish man. The spiritual man knows the mind of the Lord because he has a keen intuition. The soulish man cannot know because he does not have the intuition. Hence, he cannot fellowship with God. Since the soulish man cannot know the mind of the Lord, he cannot know the spiritual man who fully submits to the Lord’s mind. This is the meaning of this verse.
"But we," means that we are different from soulish men. This "we" includes all the saved believers, even though there are many who are fleshly. "But we have the mind of Christ." Those who have been regenerated, whether infants or adults, all have the mind of Christ. We all know the intention of Christ because we all have obtained the resurrected intuition. This is why we can know and already do know what Christ has prepared for us in the future (v. 9). The soulish man does not know, but those who have been regenerated can know. The difference is whether or not one has the spirit (Jude 19).
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 13: The Spiritual Man (2), Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)