THE SOUL AS LIFE
We have already seen that the soul is our inherent life. It is the power that makes it possible for us to live, to have our being, and to exist. (All these refer to the aspect of the flesh.) Our soul is our life. Both "creature" and "living creature" in Genesis 1:21 and 24 are "soul" in the original language. Therefore, this soul is the life which man has in common with other animals. This life is the inherent life of man. Before we were regenerated, we lived by this life on the earth, and it is this life which every man has. The word for soul in Greek, which is the original language, is psuche, meaning "animal life." Therefore, this soul-life is the kind of life that makes man a living creature. This soul-life belongs to the natural. This life is not necessarily sinful since many believers have already overcome sins through the old man being crucified with Christ. However, it remains natural. This life is the life of man; therefore, it is very "human." Consider how a "man" can be a "man." His life is totally the life of "man," which may be good, lovely, and humble. Nonetheless, it is merely "human."
This life is altogether different from the new life the Holy Spirit imparted to us at the time of our regeneration. What the Holy Spirit gives us is the uncreated life of God Himself, but this other is the life of man. What the Holy Spirit grants us is an extraordinary life, but this other is a natural life. What the Holy Spirit gives us is the eternal zoe, but this other is the psuche.
Life is manifested through action. Life is the power within man which causes the members of the whole body to move. The activity of man is the expression of this life. That invisible power behind human activity is the latent potential of this life. All we "are" naturally is included in this life. This life is our soul-life.
SOUL AND SIN
All that the soul-life does is supply power to execute whatever is commanded. If the spirit reigns, according to the direction of the spirit the soul-life exercises its will to decide and to follow what the spirit commands. If sin reigns in the body, according to the temptation of sin the soul-life exercises its will to decide and to carry out what sin desires. The soul-life works according to its master. It is only responsible to execute all the commands. Before the fall of man, it provided all its energy for the spirit’s direction, but after the fall, it entirely follows the coercion of sin. Ever since man became flesh, this sin which reigns in the body has become the nature of man, enslaving the soul which is the life of man. This causes man to entirely follow sin in his walk. Thus sin is the nature of man, and soul is the life of man.
When we talk about our life and nature, it seems as if we consider life and nature to be the same. But strictly speaking, there is a distinction between life and nature. Seemingly, life is broader than nature. Every kind of life has its own nature. Nature is the natural principle of life, which is the inclination and the desire of life. While we are yet sinners, our life is the soul and our nature is sin. We live by the soul. As far as the inclination and desire of our living are concerned, it is according to sin that we conduct ourselves. To make this point clearer, the decision to conduct ourselves is of sin, and the strength to follow this decision to conduct ourselves is from the soul. Sinful nature proposes, and the soul-life energizes. Sin counsels, and the soul executes. This is the condition of every unbeliever.
When a believer receives the grace of the substitutional death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, although he is still ignorant of the fact of co-crucifixion, God puts His own life in him to quicken his spirit. This new life comes with His new nature. Henceforth, in the believer there are two lives—the life of the spirit and the life of the soul, and two natures—the nature of God and the nature of sin.
These two natures—the old and the new—are different. They are in discord and cannot be reconciled. The new and the old contend all day long, trying to control the entire man. During this stage, the Christian is a babe in Christ and is fleshly. His experience at this time is very changeable and also very painful, alternating between victories and defeats. Later on when he knows the salvation of the cross—that if by faith he reckons the old man as crucified with Christ—he can be freed from this sin, causing the body to be paralyzed and to be as silent as death. Since the old man has been crucified, he has the power to overcome sin, and in his experience he proves the promise that "sin will not lord it over you."
Now the believer enters into a realm where sin is under his feet. All the passions and lusts of the flesh can no longer attract him. At this time, in this condition, the believer virtually thinks that he now is completely spiritual. As he looks back and sees many of his fellow-believers who are still entangled by sin, inevitably he is elated and considers himself to have arrived and reached the highest stage, being completely spiritual. Actually, it is quite different from what he thinks. Even up to this stage, inevitably he remains:
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 11, by Watchman Nee)