THE DECAYING OF THE OUTER MAN AND THE RENEWING OF THE INNER MAN
Verse 7 of chapter four says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” No doubt, we are the earthen vessels, and the treasure within us is Christ, the embodiment of the Triune God. How can this treasure within us be prevailing, manifested, and ministered to others? There is no other way but by our brokenness through the working of the cross.
The Soul Standing with the Body or the Spirit
Verse 16 says, “Therefore we do not lose heart; but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” Here is a great problem in our study of the Word: What is the outer man, and what is the inner man? We may be quick to answer that the outer man is the natural man, and the inner man is the spiritual man. However, if we answer in such a hasty way, we will make a mistake. It is not easy to expound a verse or chapter of the Scriptures, and it is easy to interpret in a loose way. The right way to expound any part of the Word is to understand its context. We need to read the entire context of 2 Corinthians 4. According to verses 10 and 11, outer man refers not only to the soul but even more to the body. Verse 10 says, “Always bearing about in the body the putting to death of Jesus.”
Strictly speaking, the outer man in this chapter refers to the body, but it includes the soul standing with the body and controlled by the body. It is the body connected and incorporated with the soul. Under God’s sovereignty our body is always put into suffering. The body together with the soul is always being consumed. Most of the sufferings of the apostle Paul were the consuming of his body. He suffered very much in his body. According to verse 9, he was “cast down but not destroyed.” This means that when he was persecuted, his body was cast down, but he himself was not killed, not destroyed. All of the things mentioned in this context refer mostly to the suffering and consuming of the body. However, the soul has much to do with the body. When our body suffers, our soul also suffers. If we do not have some kind of suffering in our body, it is difficult for our soul to suffer much. The soul suffers mainly through the body’s suffering.
What then is the inner man? Strictly speaking, the inner man here does not refer to the spirit alone. It refers to the soul, our inward part, with the spirit. Romans 8:6 confirms this. It says that our mind, the main part of our soul, can stand with the flesh or with the spirit. If our soul stands with the flesh, it becomes a part of the outer man. If it stands with the spirit, it becomes a part of the inner man. This is the meaning of the outer man and the inner man in 2 Corinthians 3.
Being Renewed through Sufferings
The outer man is the body with the soul. This has to be consumed. The inner man is the soul with the spirit, and this has to be renewed. By our experience we can realize this. When we are suffering, perhaps from a certain kind of sickness, this is a suffering through the body. At this time, however, not only our body is consumed, but our soul is also consumed, while at the same time, our soul is revived with our spirit. Before the time of suffering, our soul was very much involved with our body. However, after a period of suffering, our soul turns much to the spirit. The relationship between the soul and the body is consumed, and the relationship between the soul and the spirit is revived and renewed.
If persecutors beat us and put us into prison, we will no doubt suffer in our body. At the same time, our soul which is related to the body, will also suffer. If our soul were not related to our body, it would not suffer when the body suffers. Our soul suffers when our body suffers because the two are “married.” Because our soul is related to the body, the Lord raises up suffering for our body in order to turn our soul away from the body to the spirit. Therefore, after our sickness or imprisonment, that is, after our suffering in the body, the result is that the soul turns away from the body to the spirit and is transformed. It is purified from a relationship with the body and brought into a revived and renewed relationship with the spirit. Then our mind, will, and emotion are revived, strengthened, and renewed spiritually.
Before we suffer, our soul is too attached to the body and too much for the body as a part of the outer man. Therefore, the Lord needs to deal with the outer man to cause the outer man to suffer, that is, to be consumed. The more the outer man is consumed, the more our soul turns away from the flesh to the spirit. On the other hand, the soul is renewed and revived with the spirit. This is the proper meaning of decaying and renewing in verse 16. Then our soul will not be so attached to the body, that is, to the flesh. Our soul will be purified, adjusted, renewed, and turned to the spirit to cooperate with the spirit and be incorporated with the spirit. This renewed soul—the renewed mind, will, and emotion—is suitable to express Christ for the spirit. Once again, this is a word not of gift or knowledge but of a living ministry.
(General Sketch of the New Testament in the Light of Christ and the Church, A - Part 2: Romans through Philemon, Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)