THE SOUL LIFEPrint This Page.
The soul is man's self-consciousness. We are conscious of our own existence. This consciousness is the soul. The soul is the organ of our personality. All of our personality is part of the soul. All of the elements that constitute us as human beings, our intellect, mind, ideas, love, sensations, judgments, will, and so forth, are all part of the soul. Everything that man's personality encompasses belongs to the soul. The Bible often uses the word heart when referring to our true self. It may be that in the Bible the heart and the soul mean the same thing. The soul is our heart, our true self. The Bible often calls man a soul, as if man is nothing but a soul. For example, Genesis 12:5 uses the word ``souls,'' and there are numerous other scriptural passages that use soul for man. This means that the soul is the personality, including all the elements of the personality. To understand a man, we have to understand his personality. The existence, characteristics, and life of a man issue from his soul. This is why the Bible calls a man a soul.
However, in addition to the intellect, love, will, and sensations in the soul, there is also the life of the soul. This life is man's life, the natural life of man. In the Bible, many places use the word soul interchangeably with the word life; many passages translate soul as life. For example, the word translated life in both Leviticus 17:11 and Revelation 12:11 is soul in the corresponding original languages. This is because in the original languages there is no difference between the words soul and soul-life. Hence, the various elements contained in the soul are the elements contained in the soul-life. This soul-life is man's natural life, which includes the intellect, love, sensations, and so forth.
THE COMBINATION OF THE SOUL AND THE FLESH
Before we go on, we must first understand the relationship between the soul and the flesh. In the Bible, the flesh, as far as the lust of our flesh is concerned, is our sinful nature. The soul is our life. When we speak of our new life and new nature, it is as if life and nature are the same thing, but strictly speaking, there is a difference between life and nature. It seems that life involves something more than nature. Every life has its own nature. The nature is the natural principle of that life; it is the inclination and desire of the life. While we were sinners, our life was the soul and our nature was the flesh. We lived by our soul, and the inclinations and desires of our living were according to the flesh; we walked by the flesh. More simply put, it was the flesh that decided how we walked and the soul that supplied the power to walk according to that decision. The flesh, the sinful nature, gave the suggestions; and the soul, the life, supplied the power. The flesh instigated, and the soul executed. This is the condition of every unbeliever.
At the time a believer receives the grace of the Lord Jesus' substitutional death on the cross, God puts His life within him and resurrects his spirit. This new life brings with it a new nature. From that point on, there are two lives within the believer, the spirit and the soul-life. There are also two natures within him, God's nature and the flesh.
These two natures, one new and one old, are mutually exclusive, contradictory, and incompatible one with the other. Daily the new and the old struggle with one another, vying to rule over the whole being. A Christian who is on this level is an infant in Christ; he is fleshly. His experience at this stage is very unstable and painful, repeatedly alternating between victory and defeat. Later, he begins to realize the salvation of the cross and learns that if he believes that his flesh has been crucified with the Lord on the cross, he will overcome his sinful nature, that is, his flesh will be as silent as if it were dead and will no longer harm him. Since his flesh, the sinful nature, is crucified, he will have the power to overcome sin and will realize in his experimenting the promise that says, "Sin will not lord it over you" (Rom. 6:14).
Through this, the believer will enter another realm. Sin will be under his feet. Although there will still be the passions and lusts of the flesh, they will not be able to attract him anymore. The believer will now think that he is completely spiritual. When he looks back, he will see many who believed at the same time that he believed, yet they are still bound by sin. He will be self-flattered, thinking that he has reached perfection, the highest plane of the spiritual life, and that he is fully spiritual. Actually, he is not so, but far from it. He unavoidably remains a soulish Christian.
A SOULISH CHRISTIAN
Why is he a soulish Christian? We have seen how the cross works and how the believers' flesh, the sinful nature, has been crucified on it. However, the life of the soul still remains. Although all sins come from the flesh, and the soul is merely directed by it and acts as its puppet, the soul is inherited from Adam, and though not fully defiled, it is unavoidably affected by Adam's fall. It is true that there is a difference between the natural being and God's life. And though the filthy flesh within a believer has died, his soul remains the power behind his living. Although the nature of sin has died, the life of the self remains. Hence, inevitably, the man is still of the soul. Now, although the sinful nature, the flesh, has died, the soul remains the power behind man's conduct. In other words, although the flesh can no longer direct the soul, the soul remains the power behind man's living. Now that God's nature has replaced the flesh, naturally, all the inclinations, desires, and proposals should be righteous and no longer filthy as they once were. However, it is still the former soul-life that is executing the proposals and desires of this new nature.
This soul-life includes the mind, the emotion, the sensations, the will, and so forth. These functions (the mind, the emotion, and so forth) are the common possessions of the natural man. Hence, for one to depend on the soul-life to execute the propositions of the spirit is to accomplish the supernatural divine goodness through natural worldly strength. To put it plainly, it is to meet God's demand with one's self-power. At this point, on the negative side, a believer may have already overcome sin, yet on the positive side, he is still childish in practicing righteousness. There is the danger that he may fail to develop the God-given life of the Spirit which is already within him and to apply the life-power of this Spirit to execute all the dictates of the new nature. Actually, at this time, the spiritual life is still in the infant stage and is not yet mature; it is still incapable of expressing all the virtues in God's nature. This results in a believer trying by his own natural, soulish power to fulfill all the requirements God has placed upon His children. This walk and work is a mixture of the things of God and the things of man. It is to express the heavenly desire with the earthly strength! When a believer walks in such a way, he is not yet spiritual. Instead, he is soulish.
We have to realize that not all soulish experiences are evil or filthy. The flesh, insofar as the sinful nature goes, produces filthy and sinful things, but the soul is not necessarily like this. The soul-life is simply our original life, that is, the life that makes us a living creature. This life, once detached from the sinful nature, the flesh, may not always be evil in its thoughts. Many people have their original, inborn goodness, patience, love, and gentleness. These virtues come by birth. They are part of what the soul-life possesses. However, with some, these virtues are buried under the flesh and are not seen. Still some are not as blatant in the manifestation of their flesh. Their original virtues shine out a little more than others'. After a Christian has crucified his flesh, he is in danger of one thing: executing the new propositions of God's nature by the power of the soul-life. To speak plainly, this is to do good by our own strength. Such a one may be partially successful. This is exactly where he deviates. When believers find it effective to "exercise their self," they will think that they have reached spiritual maturity. They do not realize that they are doing good by the power of the soul. They may be doing good, but they are still soulish.
HOW TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEENBEING SPIRITUAL AND BEING SOULISH
The answer to this question is very long. Here, we can only mention something in brief. We have seen that from the time of our regeneration there are two lives within us. One is the soulish life, and the other is the life of the spirit. With these two lives, there are two natures. One is the flesh, and the other is the nature of God. We have also seen how one of our two natures, the flesh, was crucified, and the other, God's nature, is invested with the full authority to rule over our whole being. The question of the two natures is solved. But the question of the two lives still remains. Both the soulish life and the spiritual life now live within us simultaneously. Although the spiritual life itself is very strong, the deep-rooted operation of the soulish life rules our whole being. Unless a person is willing to give up his soul-life and to allow the spiritual life to live and to operate, there will be little chance for the spiritual life to develop.
A spiritual Christian is one who allows the Holy Spirit to operate within his spirit. He accepts the Holy Spirit as a person dwelling in his own spirit and allows the life given by the Holy Spirit to supply him with all the strength he needs for his walk. All the principles of his living are no longer guided and affected by the mind or the emotion. Instead, he is living dispassionately in the spirit.
The soulish Christian is just the opposite. Although he has the spiritual life, he does not derive vitality from his spiritual life. Instead, his daily living still has the soul as its life, and he continues to be guided and affected by the mind and the sensations.
A FULLY SOULISH MAN
The Bible has many things to say about a soulish man. What it says often coincides with the human experience. First Corinthians 2:14 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." The "soulish man" here refers to an unregenerated man. Whatever a soulish man may be, this verse clearly points out to us his deficiency. Although this refers to an unregenerated soulish man, the regenerated soulish believer has the same kind of experience. The soulish man is controlled by the soul and is suppressed in his spirit, just the opposite of the spiritual man. Although such people may be very intelligent and thoughtful and can propose wonderful theories and ideas, they are completely at a loss concerning the things of the Holy Spirit of God. The soulish Christian lacks the spiritual discernment; he is completely ignorant of the Word of God. Even when he knows something, what he knows is but book knowledge, something obtained through his own mental power. He is not able to search all things through the Holy Spirit, nor does he have any power of discernment; he cannot differentiate between right and wrong. His knowledge comes either from his memory of what others have said or from his own conjectures. He is not able to receive direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. How different this assessment is from the concept of the world! The world thinks that man's intelligence and intellect are almighty, that every truth in the world can be grasped with the brain. However, according to the record of the Scriptures, these things are vain. It is regrettable that many Christians have tried to seek after the deep things of God recorded in the Bible using the faculties of their mind. They may understand something in their mind, but God says, "A soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God"!
James 3:15 also speaks of a soulish wisdom. "This wisdom is not that which descends from above, but is earthly, soulish, demonic." This soulish wisdom comes from the soulish believer. It seeks to expound God's truth with the intelligence of the soul. After a believer is regenerated, he will see by his new knowledge his own extreme ignorance concerning the Word of God, the Bible. Yet, most are not willing to wait patiently for God to give to them "a spirit of wisdom and revelation" to guide them into all truths. At such times, believers tend to be hastened by their own foolishness to exercise their own mental power, trying diligently to understand the teachings of God. Even those who have been believers for many years may not be free from this kind of practice. This kind of wisdom is soulish because it is secured through the power of the soul. This soulish wisdom serves mainly as a basis for criticizing and condemning others. Therefore, the apostle said that soulish wisdom causes one's heart to have "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition" (v. 14). On the contrary, spiritual wisdom is "wisdom from above" and is "first pure, then peaceable, forbearing, compliant, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, without hypocrisy" (v. 17). The wisdom given to us by the Holy Spirit in our spirit is pure in motive; it has no improper design. In practice it is peaceable; there is no rivalry. The nature of this kind of wisdom is forbearing, compliant, and merciful. In content, it is impartial and without hypocrisy. In result, it bears much good fruit. How different is this from the soulish wisdom! Yet, the disputes causing many denominations and the divisions causing many sects are advanced in the name of "bearing testimony for the truth"! The soulish Christian often exaggerates differences, creating a disparity of opinions, resulting in divisions in the church of God.
Jude testified of the same thing: "These are those who make divisions, soulish, having no spirit" (v. 19). This word refers to unregenerated people. However, the fact that soulish men cause separations is seen among believers also. The characteristic of a soulish believer is that he is often the instigator of separations and rivalry. We are not saying that everyone has to believe the same thing. But the distinction between a spiritual believer and a soulish one is that while the former realizes his differences with others, he will not separate himself from other children of God just because of these differences. But with the latter, a little incompatibility will cause him to separate himself and to reject others.
THE CHARACTERISTIC OF A BELIEVER HAVING HIS SPIRIT AND SOUL MIXED TOGETHER
Who are the believers who have their spirit and soul mixed together? The soulish men whom we spoke of previously are those who are fully soulish. However, there are believers who are more advanced than these. They have been released from the power of sin. They are no longer minding the flesh and walking according to flesh. They have heard of the excellence of the spiritual life and may even have tasted it once or twice, yet they have not received within themselves a deep work of the cross and of the Holy Spirit. As a result, they are still looking to the natural, original life, that is, the soul, to supply them with the power for their living. They are still soulish, yet believers in this stage are often filled with gifts from God. Because they have so many gifts and so many "third heaven" experiences, they have a high esteem of themselves (however deeply hidden in their heart it may be) and consider themselves matchless spiritual men. They do not realize that they are still soulish men having their spirit mixed together with their soul.
Those believers whose spirit and soul are mixed together are in reality soulish. Yet in their knowledge, they seem to be spiritual. For this kind of believer, the spirit and the soul are combined as one. Although his soul has been separated from his flesh (the sinful nature), his spirit is not yet separated from his soul. Formerly, while he was fleshly, his soul was closely attached to his flesh. One was his life, and the other was the nature of his life. Now, in the same way, his spirit is attached to his soul. One contributes the propositions, and the other, the power. The body is the outer shell of the soul, and the soul is the outer shell of the spirit. We should remember this: the soul is the shell of the spirit. As such, the spirit is surrounded by the soul and is constantly affected by the soul. The soul includes the mind, the emotion, the sensations, the will, and so forth. Since the spirit is surrounded by the soul, it seems to be buried within the soul. Therefore, it is often affected by the mind and the sensations. A regenerated person should have an unspeakable peace in his spirit, but because his spirit is not yet separated from his soul, a little agitation will disturb the peace and tranquillity in the spirit. Sometimes the soul is filled with joy and influences the spirit, apparently making it joyful as well. Such a believer would think that he is the happiest person on earth! Yet when he is agitated, he would think that he is the most miserable man on earth! This is the constant experience of the soulish believer.
This kind of believer has a fairly, if not extremely, common characteristic: when he hears about the teaching concerning the separation of the soul from the spirit, he is very eager to know where his spirit is. Yet, despite desperate searching, he does not seem to feel the spirit. Because many believers do not have the genuine experience of being in spirit, they naturally do not know what is their spirit and what is their soul. Because their spirit and soul are so tightly interwoven and because they are unable to differentiate between the spirit and the soul, they consider their own soulish experiences, such as joy, vision, a fiery love in their heart, and so forth, as matchless spiritual experiences. Actually, it is better for them to consider that they have no spiritual experiences at all, than to suffer loss through confusing the soul with the spirit.
Because such a believer exercises much of the power of his soul-life in carrying out the suggestions of his new nature, it becomes possible for the soul-life to work and act without passing through any rejection. Since the believer is not aware of the inadequacy of the power of the soul-life in carrying out righteousness, he accepts everything as long as it is not from the flesh, thinking that it is from the spirit. He thinks that, other than the flesh, there is nothing else that needs to be rejected, that besides the flesh, everything is spiritual. For this reason, the soul-life is given the full liberty and opportunity to work. This is why we see so many believers seeking to overcome the flesh and sins, but few believers seeking to overcome their own life, which is the soul-life.
Although the soul includes many things, a soulish believer is controlled mostly by two elements, his mind and his emotion. The will controls him to a certain degree, but not as much as the mind and the emotion do. If one does not know how to control the soul, it becomes possible for the mind and the emotion to work. Those believers in this stage are controlled mainly by their own mind. They love knowledge and love to seek after the truth. They cannot be satisfied until they understand something completely in their mind. They love intriguing thoughts. They like to know more because they think that what they know is what they possess. They are also controlled by their emotion. They seek to feel the Lord's presence and to have feelings of joy. When they feel a burning fire within their heart, they can walk a hundred miles and can go on in leaps and bounds in their spiritual journey (outwardly speaking, of course). If they do not have this feeling or if they feel depressed, they will become sluggish and will not go on at all. They want good feelings. The good and bad feelings in their heart determine the highs and lows of their outward spiritual state. They are also controlled by their will. They have not received the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill in them the promise of Philippians 2:13. They think that determination is the beginning and end of all works. They make many resolutions and set many rules and regulations, only to be brought into more bondage. None of these help them to make a true advance in the spiritual life.
The most pitiful thing is that believers at this stage are usually self-satisfied and very stubborn in holding on to their experience. They think that all their knowledge is spiritual knowledge. They boast of the riches in their ``brain-bank.'' They think that their occasional ``third heaven'' experiences are spiritual experiences. They indulge themselves in feelings, in fiery sensations, in joy, and in the presence of the Lord; they think that besides this, there is no higher spiritual living. Yet they would not admit humbly that outward matters still distract their hearts and disturb their peace. Their conduct is an outward performance that comes from much scheming and planning and does not match their inward condition.
It is when God opens their eyes and makes them aware of the more abundant life reserved for them that they become willing to seek for the way to annul the soulish part of their being. But it is not an easy work to lead one to such a state, for the heart of man is deceitful above all things. Although many times a believer says with his mouth that he seeks the spiritual life and experience, nine times out of ten he is for himself, for his own fame and glory. It is extremely difficult to find those who are truly seeking to be spiritual. In order to reach this stage, the believer has to pass through much training and scourging from God so that he will come to realize that he has stolen God's glory and has used God's gift for his own self-exaltation. In everything his heart will be shown to have taken the self as the center. Such a believer will feel ashamed of himself; he will feel remorseful and sorrowful about himself. He will realize that such trust in the soul-life will only lead to failure. Since he has passed through a practical judgment before the Lord, he is now willing to ask God's Holy Spirit to annul his soul-life and to fully separate his spirit from his soul. Once the Holy Spirit is given a chance to work, He will surely work. In this way, a believer will be brought out of a state of the spirit and soul in mixture to a state of perfection in the spiritual life.
THE DIVIDING OF THE SPIRIT FROM THE SOUL
Here the teaching of Hebrews 4:12 becomes crucial. It is there that the Holy Spirit teaches us to experientially divide the soul from the spirit. The dividing of the soul and the spirit is not merely a doctrine; it is an experience which all believers can and must have in their lives. In Hebrews 4 the Holy Spirit relates to us the ministry of the Lord Jesus as the High Priest. It also tells us the relationship between the believers and the High Priest. Verse 12 says, "For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Verse 13 goes on to say, "And there is no creature that is not manifest before Him, but all things are naked and laid bare to the eyes of Him to whom we are to give our account." The intention of the Holy Spirit here is to show how the Lord Jesus fulfills His work as the High Priest with respect to the believers' soul and spirit. Here the Holy Spirit considers a believer a sacrifice on the altar. In the Old Testament, when a man offered a sacrifice, he tied the sacrifice to the altar. The priest then killed the sacrifice with a knife and cut the sacrifice into two parts with the knife, piercing and dividing even the joints and the marrow. Everything that was inside the sacrifice, that was originally hidden from man's sight and knowledge, then became exposed and laid bare before men. After it was divided, the priest would then burn the sacrifice with fire and offer it to God. The Holy Spirit used this picture to show the Lord Jesus' work in the Christians, and the Christians' experience in the Lord. As the sacrifices of old were divided by the priests so that the joints and marrow were all laid bare and separated into two parts, in the same way the believers are now being divided in their soul and spirit through the word of God by their High Priest, the Lord Jesus. By this, the soul will no longer affect the spirit, and the spirit will no longer be controlled by the soul. Each will be separated from the other, and it will be possible to distinguish what is the soul and what is the spirit. There will not be any confusion or contamination anymore.
The priests of old divided the sacrifices with a knife. The present High Priest, the Lord Jesus, divides the believers' soul and spirit with the word of God. The priest's knife was very quick and sharp and was able to divide the sacrifices into halves; even the joints and marrow (which were so tightly joined together) were pierced through and divided from one another. The word of God, which the Lord Jesus now applies, is sharper than a two-edged sword. As such, it is able to clearly separate the soul from the spirit, which are so intimate within man.
After we examine this passage carefully, we see that it is by two things that a believer's soul and spirit are divided. The first is the cross, and the second is the word of God. The sacrifices had to be laid on the altar before the priests could cut them in half. We know that the altar of the Old Testament is the cross of the New Testament. Unless the believer is willing to come to the foundation of the cross and is willing to be crucified with the Lord, he cannot expect the High Priest to divide his soul from his spirit with God's sharp sword, His word. The laying on the altar comes first; the dividing by the knife comes afterward. A believer must first come to the cross before he can expect the Lord Jesus to fulfill His priestly ministry of dividing his soul from his spirit with His word. Hence, all those believers who desire to experience the dividing of the soul from the spirit need to take heed to the Lord's call to Golgotha. They should lay themselves down unreservedly on the altar, trusting in their High Priest to exercise His sharp sword to divide their soul from their spirit. As those who desire to offer acceptable sacrifices to God, we have to lay on the altar. It is the priest's work to cut with the knife. We should fulfill the requirement on our side and should entrust the rest of our experience to the hand of our faithful and trustworthy High Priest. At the right time, He will give us the full spiritual experience. Now let us consider how He calls us to the cross.
In Matthew 10:38 through 39 the Lord Jesus says, "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his soul-life shall lose it, and he who loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it." These verses call us to lose our soul-life for the Lord's sake. The soul-life spoken of here is man's original life, that is, the organic life that makes us a living creature. This life is the life commonly shared by all men created by God and is different from the spiritual life. This life is the life that we brought with us when we came out of our mother's womb. It is absolutely different from the spiritual life which we received at the time of regeneration. The spiritual life is the very life of God Himself; it is divine, supernatural, and is not possessed by man before his regeneration. For His sake the Lord Jesus calls us to give up the soul-life and to crucify it on the cross.
We have said that the soul-life includes our love, emotion, mind, will, and so forth. The soul-life that the Lord Jesus mentions here includes all these things, but in Matthew 10 it seems that the Lord Jesus is paying particular attention to the matter of love. In the previous verses the Lord Jesus mentions an enemy being of one's own household. He mentions how the son will be set against the father, and the daughter set against the mother, and the daughter-in-law set against the mother-in-law. When God's will is contrary to the opinion of our own household, we can do nothing except set ourselves against our most loved ones for the Lord's sake. This is a cross. It is a crucifixion. According to our soul-life, we love those whom we want to love. We like to listen to them and act according to their will. When those we love rejoice in their hearts, do not our hearts rejoice with them? But here the Lord Jesus is calling us and charging us not to disobey Him for the sake of man's love. At times, God's will may conflict with man's will. Although a certain person may be our most loved one or may be the one who loves us the most, and although hurting such a one is something that we would normally be most reluctant and unhappy to do, for the sake of the Lord we should take up our cross and crucify our love. We should never forget the meaning of bearing the cross; it is not just a suffering but an advance toward the place of crucifixion. The end of bearing the cross is crucifixion.
The Lord Jesus calls us this way in order to remove from us our natural love for men. Hence, in verse 37 He says, "He who loves father or mother above Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter above Me is not worthy of Me." In Luke 14:26-27 He says, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, and moreover, even his own soul-life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." The Lord used the word hate to show the disciples the kind of attitude they should hold toward the love that issues from the soul-life. Strictly speaking, when believers love their kinfolks, their relatives, or their lovers, they should not love them because they are their loved ones. They should not love others just because these are their lovers or their father, mother, brothers, sisters, wife, or children. This kind of natural love comes from the soul-life. The Lord Jesus wants to remove all of our direct love toward men. The Lord has no intention that we would not love men. His intention is that we would not exercise our own love to love men, but that we would love with His love. What does this mean? It means that we should not love men because they are the ones we would love or because we have some special relationship with them. We cannot love someone just because he is a parent, wife, child, brother, or sister. This kind of natural love should be stopped. From now on when we love these people, it should be because of a new relationship in the Lord. We should love them only because the Lord loves them. We should not love them because we love them. For the Lord's sake, we should love others only through His love received from His hand. Simply put, the Lord's teaching here is that our love toward others should be under His control. If the Lord wants us to love, we should love even someone who is our enemy. If the Lord has not told us to love, we should not love even if someone is our closest relative.
To experience this, the soul-life must pass through death. This bearing of the cross, obedience to Christ, and rejection of our natural affection will cause the believers' natural love to suffer and to feel pain. This suffering and pain is the way to lose the soul-life with respect to its activities of love. When, on the cross before God, the soul-life loses its own love, it will indeed give room for the love of God to be poured out in our hearts. Subsequently, all of our love will be out of God who is abiding in us.
The Lord Jesus wants us to hate our soul-life. We should hate our own life and should not allow it to have the opportunity to act freely with respect to human love. We were those who simply loved whomever we loved. But the Lord wants us to take up the cross and to hate what we love. The Lord's demand and our own intention are diametrically opposed to each other. Those whom we formerly loved we must now hate. We must not only hate what we loved, but must hate the loving organ, which is our soul-life. This is truly a cross. If we will truly take up the cross in this way, we will afford our High Priest the opportunity to divide our soul from our spirit in the matter of love. Then everything soulish will no longer control or affect the spirit, and we will love others in spirit. This is the same way that the Lord Jesus loved His own household while He was on earth.
In Matthew 16:24 and 25 the Lord Jesus again mentions the relationship between the soul-life and the cross. "Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; but whoever loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it." In these verses, our Lord is calling His saints to come once more beneath the cross and to commit their soul-life to it, so that they would lose their soul-life. Superficially, what is mentioned here is the same as what is mentioned in Matthew 10. But in Matthew 10 the emphasis is on the part of the soul-life which pertains to love, while in chapter sixteen the emphasis is on the part of the soul-life that pertains to man's "self." If we read the previous verses, we will see that the Lord Jesus was telling the disciples of His coming suffering at the cross. Peter, in an earnest love for the Lord, told Him, "God be merciful to You, Lord" (v. 22). He cared for man's will and was not willing to see his teacher suffer in His flesh the pain of the cross. He did not understand that a man must first care for God's will, even at the expense of death on the cross. He did not know that one's love for God's will should far exceed his love for himself. It was as if he were saying, "Lord, if You die on the cross, You may have kept God's will and accomplished God's goal, and You may have acted according to God's plan, but what will happen to You? Are You not going to consider the suffering that You will face in keeping God's will? Lord, be merciful to Yourself!"
The Lord's answer to him reveals that such a thought of pitying oneself is from Satan. Then He seems to tell the disciples, "Not only will I have to go to the cross. Even you who are following Me and who desire to be My disciples must also go to the cross. As My way is, so shall your ways be. Do not misunderstand that I am the only One who has to keep God's will. You who are My disciples must keep God's will as I do. As I have not cared for Myself but have unconditionally kept God's will even to the place of the cross, in the same way you must not care for your own soul-life but must be willing to give it up and to do what God wants you to do." Peter told the Lord to "be merciful" to Himself. But the Lord's answer to Peter is that he should "deny himself."
There is a price to pay in keeping God's will. The flesh cannot help but tremble at this thought. When the soul-life takes a firm rule in us, we are not able to rejoice in God's will. When we hear God calling us to the cross, calling us to deny ourselves, to sacrifice, and to lose everything for His sake, our soul-life unconsciously responds with self-pity. The soul-life makes us unwilling to pay the price and to submit to God. Every time we consciously choose the narrow way of the cross and choose to suffer for Christ's sake, the soul-life takes a loss. It is through this that we lose our soul-life. Only by this, can we have the spiritual life of Christ reigning in us in a full and pure way. In this way we will be able to perform a work that is acceptable to God and a benefit to the world. If we consider the previous verses, we will understand even further the evil of the work of the soul-life. Peter spoke this word right after he had received God's revelation, understanding the mystery that cannot be understood by man. The Father revealed directly to Peter that the humble Jesus he followed was the Christ of the living God. But after he received such a revelation, he was immediately overcome by his soul-life; he exhorted his teacher to be merciful to Himself! Hence, we must realize that supernatural revelations and wonderful knowledge cannot keep us from being overcome by the soul-life. On the contrary, the higher the knowledge and the more supernatural the experiences, the more hidden is the soul-life and the harder it is to remove it. If it is not dealt with by the cross, the soul-life will continue to remain in man and will never go away.
Self-pity, self-love, the fear of suffering, and shrinking back from the cross are expressions of the soul-life. The greatest goal of the soul-life is to preserve its own existence. It is very reluctant to suffer anything. This is why the Lord calls us to deny ourselves and to take up our cross. In this way we will lose our soul-life. Every time a cross is put before us, it calls us to give up ourselves, to have no more love for ourselves, and to lay down our lives for others through the power of God. Here the Lord says that the cross is ours; we receive it individually from God. When we set ourselves to do God's will, God calls us to take up the cross and bear it. This cross is ours; it is specially prepared for us by God. But it is also joined to the cross of Christ. When we are willing through the spirit of Christ's cross to take up our own cross, the power of Christ's cross will enter into us and enable us to lose our soul-life. Every time we bear the cross, we crucify the soul-life once more. Every time we dodge around the cross, we nourish our soul-life and keep it going.
We should notice that what the Lord speaks of here is not something that is done once for all. In Luke the word daily is added to the expression concerning the bearing of the cross. Hence, this kind of death is a continual one. We know that our death to sin is an accomplished fact, it has been completed. All we have to do is acknowledge and receive it. But the death of our soul-life is another matter. This is not an accomplished fact. Rather, it is an experience which we have to achieve and gain day by day. This does not mean that we will never die nor that we must die slowly. It means that the death of the soul-life is not like the death to sin. Our death to sin was accomplished by Christ on our behalf. When He died, we died with Him. But the death of the soul-life is not an accomplished fact. We have to bear our own cross daily through the power of the Lord's cross. We must be resolved to deny ourselves and to put the self to death. This kind of work must be done daily by walking according to the Lord's will, by taking up our own cross. By this, the soul-life will lose its power.
Our Lord spoke similar words in Luke 17:32-33. But there it refers to the things of the world: "Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his soul-life will lose it, and whoever will lose it will preserve it alive." Here the Lord tells us again how the soul-life is to be forsaken. But what the Lord is emphasizing here is the attachment of the saints' heart to earthly wealth. The Lord tells us that we should remember Lot's wife. In her danger she still remembered her wealth. She did not return back to Sodom; she did not even walk back an inch. All she did was just turn back her head a little. But how much this one turning reveals. This turning of her head speaks a long story concerning her heart.
A saint may forsake the world and outwardly part with everything, yet within him he may still crave the things that he has given up for the Lord. This is the work of the soul-life. A saint who is consecrated to the Lord may not go back to the way of the world and may not try to gain back what he has given up for the Lord. Yet if his heart still lingers on these things, it shows that he has not seen clearly the place the world occupies on the cross. The work of the soul-life may not necessarily turn men back to the way of the world. All it has to do is cause the saints to privately hold dear in their hearts those things they need to forsake or have already forsaken.
When the soul-life has indeed been lost, nothing in the world will move that saint's heart anymore. The soul-life belongs to the world. This is why it cannot give up the world. Only when a saint is willing to put the soul-life to death will he be able to steadfastly obey the Lord's ``sermon on the mount.'' Although there is no explicit mention of the cross in the sermon on the mount, we know that unless the saints have genuine experience of dying with the Lord—not only to sin, but also with respect to the soul-life being put to death—there will be no seriousness in obeying the sermon on the mount. The reason for this is that unless the cross has worked deeply in the soul-life of the saints, any outward conformation to the sermon on the mount will not have an inward echo in the heart. A saint who has lost his soul-life can spontaneously and sincerely take off his outer garment and give it to him who would take away his inner garment. A saint who has committed his soul to death is one who has been cut off from the things of the world.
The condition for receiving spiritual life is for us to forsake certain things. Only by this will we truly gain. In the spiritual realm, we are not reckoned rich by how much we have gained; the richer we are, the more we have to lose. We should not measure our life by our "gains"; we should measure our life by our "losses." Our true measure is the measure of wine that we pour out, rather than the measure that we have kept. Those who lose the most have the most to offer. The power of love is seen in the sacrifice of love. If our hearts are not yet separated from the craving of worldly wealth, our soul-life is not yet on the cross and has not yet passed through the work of the cross.
Hebrews 10:34 speaks of a group of believers whose possessions had been plundered. Yet they "accepted [it] with joy." Not only did they accept it willingly, but they accepted it with joy. This is the result of the work of the cross. The saints' attitude toward their possessions indicates whether their soul-life is living or being put to death.
If we truly desire to have the soul separated from the spirit, we must allow God to work on us concerning these things. Then our heart will be truly severed from everything of the world, and we will no longer have a heart like Lot's wife. This indifference to the riches of the world is one condition for us to attain to the perfect spiritual life in Christ. It is only when the Holy Spirit reveals to the saints the reality of heaven and the fullness of the spiritual life that they can despise the things of the world. The reason for this is that there is no comparison between the two. This is the experience of the apostle in Philippians 3. At the beginning he counted "all things to be loss." In the end he "suffered the loss of all things" (v. 8) that he might gain Christ. The end result of this was Paul's knowing the power of Christ's resurrection. This is the perfect life. Many times we do not realize how strong our soul-life is. It is only manifested when we are tried in material things. Many times it seems to require less grace to lose one's life than to lose one's riches! The things of the world are indeed the acid test for the existence or death of the soul-life.
If God's children are too concerned about their food, drink, and dwelling, they need to receive the deeper work of the cross so that their spirit will not be surrounded and affected by their soul. In this way they will be delivered from everything worldly, and their spirit will be able to live before God unhindered. If a person is concerned for the things of the world, it means that his soul-life has not been lost, and he has not yet passed through the work of the cross.
In John 12:24 and 25 the Lord Jesus again mentions the question of the soul-life. "Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his soul-life loses it; and he who hates his soul-life in this world shall keep it unto eternal life." Later the Lord Jesus expounds the meaning of these two verses: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. But He said this signifying by what kind of death He was about to die" (vv. 32-33). This chapter records the greatest moment of the Lord's life. Lazarus had been resurrected. Many Jews had believed because of Lazarus. Even some Greeks were coming to see Him. It was also at this time that He entered into Jerusalem and was welcomed by the people. Hence, in man's view, at this time there seemed to be no need of the cross. It seemed as if the Lord Jesus could draw all men to Himself without going to the cross. But He knew that there was no other way to save men except by the cross. Although His work was prosperous outwardly, He knew that unless He died, He could not give His life to others. If He died, He would draw all men to Himself and would dispense life to all men.
Here the Lord presents clearly the lesson of the cross. He likens Himself to a grain of wheat; unless it dies in the ground, it remains one grain. But if He were indeed crucified on the cross, He would give life to many. Here the Lord Jesus presents the qualification for all fruit bearing. Unless one dies, he will not bear fruit. Other than death, there is no other way to bear fruit.
But our purpose is not just to study what the Lord Jesus is in Himself. What we are emphasizing is the relationship this has with our soul-life. The grain of wheat in verse 24 refers to the Lord Jesus Himself. But in verse 25 He points out that the kind of death He was to suffer and the result it was to produce would not be limited to Himself alone. All His disciples had to follow in His footsteps. He then tells us what the meaning of the grain of wheat is to a Christian. He points out that this grain is a symbol of our soul-life. As a grain of wheat will not live unless it dies, in the same way one will not bear fruit unless the soul-life dies. What the Lord emphasizes here is the matter of fruit bearing in our work. Although a believer may be quite powerful in his soul-life, this power will not help him to bear fruit. All the talents, gifts, knowledge, wisdom, and power that issue from the soul-life will not help a believer produce many grains. As the Lord Jesus had to die to bear fruit, in the same way a believer must die before he will bear fruit. To the Lord Jesus, although the soul-life is powerful, this power is useless in helping God bear fruit.
Here we see that the Lord Jesus was making a clear comparison between the soul-life and the eternal life, the spiritual life. He shows us that the soul-life loves itself. This means that the soul-life is self-centered. Hence, He charges the saints to take the attitude of "hating" their own soul-life. This ``hating'' is realized in the putting to death of our soul-life on the cross. There is a reason for us to handle the soul-life in this way. If we do not, we will suffer loss, an eternal loss. If the soul-life reigns within us, it will forever control the spirit, and the spirit will not be able to express the pure and divine life of Christ. This mixture of the soul and the spirit will deprive us of our fruit bearing, which can only come from one who is spiritually pure. Self-love is the greatest characteristic of the soul-life. If we do not put our self-love to death through the cross of the Lord, our spiritual life will be affected by it daily and will manifest impurities.
We have seen how the Lord has called us to the cross to put our soul-life to death. Unless we place ourselves on the altar in this way, our High Priest will have no way to apply His sharp knife to divide our spirit from our soul. We must allow the cross to work before we can receive the work of our High Priest. We should follow the example of our Lord Jesus. When He died, He "poured out His soul unto death" (Isa. 53:12). At the same time, He committed His spirit to God (Luke 23:46). What He did is what we must do. The soul-life must die. If we truly pour out our soul-life unto death and commit our spirit to God, we will soon experience being resurrected by God and have the fullness of the spiritual life in the glory of resurrection.
If we truly put our soul-life to death through the cross, our High Priest will divide our soul from our spirit with the word of God.
THE WORD OF GOD
What we must do is lie on the altar. It is our High Priest's job to apply the sharp knife to us to divide our soul from our spirit. If we have truly committed ourselves to the cross, our High Priest will surely fulfill His ministry and divide our soul from our spirit. This is His work; we do not have to worry about it. When He sees us fulfilling the condition for His work, He will surely divide our soul from our spirit at the most appropriate time. Now we have to consider the practical steps by which we, in coming to the cross, allow the Lord Jesus to divide our soul from our spirit through the word of God.
THE PRACTICAL STEPS
We have spoken of the working of the High Priest as a result of our accepting the cross. Now we want to consider how, in practice, we can have our soul divided from our spirit by the Lord Jesus.
1. Knowing the Necessity of Having the Soul Divided from the Spirit
Without this knowledge, there will not be the proper seeking. A saint must seek the Lord that He might show him the hatefulness of a life with a mixture of the soul and the spirit. He must know that in God there is a higher and deeper life that is perfect in spirituality and unaffected by the soul. He should know that a life with a mixture of the soul and the spirit is a life of loss.
2. Seeking to Be Divided
Moreover, he must genuinely seek to have this joining of the soul and the spirit divided. He must have the intense intention in his heart to see these two things divided.
3. A Specific Submission
If a saint desires to have the experience of the dividing of the soul from the spirit, he must be very specific and must put himself on the altar of the cross. He must be fully willing in his heart to accept the result of all the working of the cross. He must be willing to be conformed to the Lord's death and must wait until there is a dividing of his soul from his spirit in his experience. Before he has this dividing experience, he should continually place his will on God's side and should actively and aggressively set his preference on this dividing. In his heart he should desire that the High Priest would not stop His hand until the dividing work is complete.
4. Standing on Romans 6:11
The saints must be careful not to fall into sin while seeking for the experience of the dividing of the soul from the spirit. The basis of the division of the soul from the spirit is our attitude of being dead to sin. Hence, the saints must daily take up the stand of Romans 6:11 and consider themselves "dead to sin." In their will they must specifically choose not to let sin "reign in [their] mortal body" (v. 12). Only then will they be able to stop the soul-life from continuing to sin through the flesh.
5. Praying and Reading the Word
The saints should study the Bible by prayer and meditation. They should allow the word of God to penetrate deep within them so that their soul will be purified by the word of God. If the saints will truly walk according to God's word, the activities of their soul-life will be stopped. This is what 1 Peter 1:22 means when it says, "Since you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth."
6. Taking Up the Cross Daily
If the Lord is to divide our soul from our spirit, He must make us bear the cross according to the needs in the environment. If the saints will bear the cross daily, if they will unceasingly seek to experience victory over sin and the self, not giving room to the flesh for a minute, the Holy Spirit of God will quietly divide their soul from their spirit.
7. Walking according to the Spirit
All these are the conditions for being preserved. They are also the clear conditions for the soul and the spirit to be fully separated. The saints should seek to walk according to the spirit in everything. They should distinguish what is from the spirit and what is from the soul and should resolve to follow everything that is from the spirit and reject everything that is from the soul. They should learn to know all the workings of their spirit and follow them accordingly.
These are the conditions that the saints have to fulfill. The Holy Spirit needs our cooperation. If we do not fulfill our part, the Lord will not be able to fulfill His part. If we have done what we should on our part, our High Priest will divide our soul from our spirit through the power of the cross and the sword of the Holy Spirit. Then all the things that belong to the emotion, the feelings, the mind, and the natural strength will be separated from the spirit one by one, and there will be no more mixture. When this happens, the spirit of the saints will be able to ascend to the heavenlies and will be joined to the Lord's Spirit as one in their experience. In this way, the saints will be used by the Lord; they will become channels of life and will bear much fruit. The saints themselves will have a peaceful spiritual life, hidden with Christ in God.