THE DANGER OF A BELIEVER’S BEING SOULISH
When believers have not reached or are not willing to reach what God wants them to reach, they are inevitably in danger. Since God’s goal is for the believers to live in the spirit, not in the soul, neither in the body, if they do not live in the spirit, they will suffer loss. There are at least three kinds of danger:
A. The Danger of Being Suppressed in Spirit
All works of the Holy Spirit are done in the spirit of man. The order of God’s working is first to have the Holy Spirit moving in the human spirit, then to shine as light in the mind (soul), and then to have His work being carried out by the body. This order is very important.
Since a believer is born of the Spirit, he should walk by the Spirit. Only in this way will he then be able to understand God’s will, work with the Holy Spirit, and overcome all the schemes of the enemy. The spirit of a believer should be very living. Believers should know how to follow the activity of the spirit and not quench its action, thus letting the Holy Spirit carry out His work through the spirit. The Holy Spirit needs the cooperation of the human spirit so that He can make the believers victorious in their ordinary everyday living, always ready, able to work on command. (Before long, we will talk about the problem of the spirit.)
However, many believers do not understand the work of the spirit and cannot distinguish between what is spiritual and what is soulish. Sometimes they even misinterpret what is spiritual as soulish, and soulish as spiritual. Consequently, they greatly utilize much soulish ability to live and work, and even suppress the life of the spirit. They actually walk according to the soul, but they think that they walk according to the spirit. This kind of foolishness causes one’s spirit to be unable to work together with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, this stops the work of the Holy Spirit on him.
When a believer lives in the soul, he always walks according to the thoughts, imaginations, plans, and visions of his mind. He seeks after all the happy feelings and walks according to those feelings. The end result is that if he often has the experience of these feelings, he will be happy. If he does not, then he will feel weighted down as if he can not even crawl. Therefore, this causes him to not live in his spiritual life but to live in his feelings, changing his living according to feelings. This is to say that a believer no longer acts and behaves according to the central point, the spirit within him, but is attracted to live in the feelings of his outward soul and body. Thus, the spiritual consciousness is overcome by the soul and body. This causes a believer to become very dull to the consciousness of the spirit. As a result, all the consciousness he has is that of the soul or of the body, thus causing him to lose the true consciousness of the spirit toward God. In this way, the cooperation of the spirit and God will be lost. The growth of the spiritual life will be suppressed and impeded. The spirit will be unable to work to make the believer obtain ability and guidance to fight the battle and to worship. If the spirit does not have the complete freedom to rule within a man, if a man does not draw out the power of the spirit and live a life in this world which lets the Spirit be the master of everything, he cannot grow into maturity. Since the consciousness of the spirit is very fine and delicate, unless a man learns how to follow and discern this sense, how will he be able to detect it, especially when there is an additional outside disturbance of the feelings of his soul-life, which are rough and tough? Not only will the feeling of the soul confuse the consciousness of the spirit, but it will also suppress it.
B. The Danger of Shrinking Back
into the Sphere of the Body
Many of the things we see in Galatians 5 as "works of the flesh" are naturally the lusts which issue out of man’s body. However, not a few of them are also the work of the soul. "Factions, divisions, sects" (v. 20), etc., clearly issue out of man’s soul, that is, his personality. Because the believers have many different thoughts and opinions, these things result. But what we need to pay attention to is that these issues of the soul are ranked together with the sins of the body: "fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,...bouts of drunkenness, carousings"! This reminds us how deeply connected the soul and the body are. Actually speaking, there is no possibility that the soul and the body can be separated. This is because the body we now have is the "soulish body" (1 Cor. 15:44). Therefore, if a believer only seeks to overcome his sinful nature but does not seek to overcome his natural life, then, even though he might have the experience of temporarily overcoming his sins, it will not be too long before he again falls into the sphere of the body and of sin. Of course, he may not commit any filthy sins again, but the word sin is what he cannot get rid of.
We should know that the cross is the place and the means God uses to deal with the "old creation." The cross does not count how many items there are in us to be dealt with. Rather, it deals with the whole "old creation" in itself. A believer cannot come to the place of the cross only to receive the grace of the substitutive death without also receiving the deliverance of co-death. Once you receive the Lord as your Savior by faith, whether you understand only the aspect of the substitutive death or you understand more, His Holy Spirit works continuously through the new life within, spontaneously making you hate sin and leading you to seek after the other aspect of experiencing the co-death. If you keep resisting the desire of this new life, although you will not lose the life, you will lose the enjoyment of the blessing of that life, that is, "the joy of your salvation." Likewise, if you know the power of the salvation of the cross which enables you to overcome the sinful nature, the Holy Spirit will keep leading you to go ahead and pursue the experience of overcoming the natural life. The cross will not leave its work half-done. The cross will not stop its work. Rather, it will work deeper time and time again. If the "old creation" has not been completely crucified in experience, the cross will never stop working. Its goal is to destroy completely that which is of Adam.
If a child of God has received grace and experienced deliverance from sins but does not go further and seek to overcome the natural life, and continues to live in his soul-life, he will see that his soul once again joins together with the body, leading him to go backward and causing him to again commit the sin from which he was once delivered. As with one sailing against the flow, if he does not advance, he will go backward. If the cross does not work deeper in us, then before long what has been accomplished by the cross will in effect become as though it had not been accomplished. This tells us why many believers, who have once had the experience of being delivered from sin, later experience backsliding. If the life of the old creation continues to exist in the believer, he will join together with the nature of the old creation before too long.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 13, by Watchman Nee)