Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), by Watchman Nee


If the believer is so self-confident as to perfect the work of the Holy Spirit with the strength of his flesh, he not only will not be able to attain a perfect spiritual living but also will always be drifting about. Soon afterward, he will also see that the sins which he had overcome previously are coming back. Perhaps when we read such a word for the first time we are surprised. However, it is true that wherever the flesh is serving God, the power of sin is strengthened therein. Why were the Pharisees so puffed up yet still the slaves of sin? Was it not because they had so many righteous deeds and served God so zealously? Why did the apostle reprove the Galatians? Why did they have the deeds of the flesh? Was it not because they wanted the righteousness by works? Was it not because they wanted to perfect by the flesh the good work which the Holy Spirit had begun? The danger for a young believer is that when he understands the salvation of the cross from the flesh and sins, he stops short of putting to death his self and his strength for doing good. Eventually, he falls again into the sins of the flesh. The greatest error of a believer is that after having overcome sins by the Lord, he does not continue in the same way to sustain this. Instead, unconsciously he tries to sustain it with his own works and determination. Perhaps this is effective for a little while, but soon he finds himself falling into the former sins again. His present sins may vary somewhat from his former sins, but just the same they all are sins. At this time, he is either discouraged, knowing that he is not able to have a long-lasting experience of victory over sins, or he becomes a hypocrite, trying to hide his sins and not honestly confessing that he has sinned. What is the reason for such failure? If the flesh can be your power to do good, so it can also be your power to sin. Whatever is of the self, whether good or evil, is merely the expression of the flesh. If it does not have the opportunity to sin, it is willing to do good. But since it has the opportunity to do good, soon it will sin.

It is here that Satan deceives the children of God. If the believers would maintain the attitude of the "flesh" being crucified, Satan would have no way because "the flesh is the workshop of Satan." If the "flesh"—not only a part of the flesh—is really under the power of the Lord’s death, then Satan will be unemployed. Therefore, Satan is willing to allow the believers to put to death the sinful part of the flesh, but he deludes the believers into retaining the good part, realizing that if the good part of the flesh remains, the life of the flesh will be kept. Then he still has the workshop to do his work, so that eventually he will regain that which he lost. He knows that if the flesh can overcome the Holy Spirit in the matter of serving God, the flesh can also obtain and maintain the victory in the matter of serving sin. This is the reason why many believers fall back to serving sin after they have been freed from sin. If the Holy Spirit is not actually in complete and uninterrupted control and directing them in the matter of worship, He will not have the power to direct and control them in their daily life. If I have not denied myself toward God, neither will I be able to deny myself toward man; I will not be able to overcome hatred, temper, and selfishness. These two matters are linked together and cannot be separated.

Since the believers in Galatia did not know this, they fell into the state of biting and devouring one another (Gal. 5:15). They not only wanted to perfect by the flesh what they had begun in the Spirit, but they also desired to "make a good show in the flesh" (6:12), to boast in the flesh (v. 13). Naturally their successes in the aspect of doing good by the flesh were many, but their failures in the aspect of the flesh doing evil were also many. They did not realize that as long as the flesh can serve God with its own ability and its own ideas, it can serve sin as well. If the believer cannot forbid the flesh to do good, neither can he forbid the flesh to do evil. The best way to not sin is to not do good by the self. Since they do not realize the degree of the corruption of the flesh, in their foolishness they want to utilize the flesh, not knowing that whether the flesh follows the lusts or boasts in doing good, it is similarly corrupt. On the one hand, they want to perfect by the flesh that which the Holy Spirit has begun, but on the other hand, they want to eradicate the passions and the lusts of the flesh. Consequently, they cannot do what God wants them to do.

(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 9, by Watchman Nee)