Too much of what passes for Christianity in the West is not of the Spirit but of the soul. It’s the Christianity of dynamic personalities, brilliant thinkers, assertive leaders, and so on. But little of it is of the Spirit of God. If you read my previous post on this issue, you’ll know what I mean
One of my favorite authors is Watchman Nee. He provides a uniquely Asian perspective untainted by Greek thinking. For that reason, he comes out of left field for many Evangelicals ill-equipped to process his writings. I think the following, from Nee’s The Release of the Spirit can be understood by anyone, though:
How do you react to this message today that your outward man seriously interferes with God and must be broken by Him? If you can begin talking about it freely and easily, it surely has not touched you. If, on the other hand, you are enlightened by it, you will say, “0 Lord, today I begin to know myself. Until now I have not recognized my outward man.” And as the light of God surrounds you, uncovering your outward man, you fall to the ground, no longer able to stand. Instantly you “see” what you are.
Once you said you loved the Lord, but under God’s light you find it is not so-you really love yourself. This light really divides you and sets you apart. You are inwardly separated, not by your mentality, nor by mere teaching, but by God’s light. Once you said you were zealous for the Lord, but now the light of God shows you that your zeal was entirely stirred by your own flesh and blood. You thought you loved sinners while preaching the gospel, but now the light has come, and you discover that your preaching the gospel stems mainly from your love of action, your delight in speaking, your natural inclination. The deeper this divine light shines, the more the intent and thought of your heart is revealed. Once you assumed that your thoughts and intents were of the Lord, but in this piercing light you know they are entirely of yourself. Such light brings you down before God.
Too often what we supposed was of the Lord proves to be of ourselves. Though we had proclaimed that our messages were given by the Lord, now the light of heaven compels us to confess that the Lord has not spoken to us, or, if He has, how little He has said. How much of the Lord’s work, so-called, turns out to be carnal activities! This unveiling of the real nature of things enlightens us to the true knowledge of what is of ourselves and what is of the Lord, how much is from the soul and how much is from the spirit. How wonderful if we can announce: His light has shone; our spirit and soul are divided, and the thoughts and intents of our heart are discerned.
You who have experienced this know it is beyond mere teaching. All efforts to distinguish what is of self and what is of the Lord, to separate what things are of the outward man from what are of the inward man—even to the extent of listing them item by item and then memorizing them— have proved to be so much wasted effort. You continue to behave just as usual, for you cannot get rid of your outward man. You may be able to condemn the flesh, you may be proud that you can identify such and such as belonging to the flesh, but you still are not delivered from it.
Deliverance comes from the light of God. When that light shines, you immediately see how superficial and fleshly has been your denial of the flesh, how natural has been your criticism of the natural. But now the Lord has laid bare to your eyes the thoughts and intents of your heart. You fall prostrate before Him and say: “O Lord! Now I know these things are really from my outward man. Only this light can really divide my outward from my inner.”
So it is that even our denial of the outward man, and our determination to reject it, will not help. Yes, even the very confession of our sin is for naught, and our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood. How foolish to imagine that we could expose our sin! Only in His Light shall we “see” and be exposed. It must be His work by the Spirit, not our efforts of the soul—that is, not out of our own mind. This is God’s only way.
That so few Americans (or Westerners, in general) get to that stage of brokenness is one of the tragedies of contemporary Christianity.
Why do we run away from from the kind of brokenness that allows us to stop operating out of our soulish man and operate our of our spiritual man instead? A few causes come to mind:
We are too dedicated to making money and not so interested in growing in Christ. Yet to be spiritually mature, we cannot serve both God and mammon.
We love our way rather than God’s way because God’s way may ask more of us than we care to surrender.
We don’t believe the Bible when it says that the life of the spirit trumps the life of the self.
We are too busy with foolish, perishing things.
We hate silence because the Lord may speak to us in a whisper and reveal how meager we truly are.
We don’t believe that the Body of Christ is necessary, that we need our brothers and sisters in Christ just as the eye, hand, and heart need each other. We would rather be unmovable, unteachable, self-sufficient islands.
We love our religiosity, even if it takes us away from God and leads us away from brokenness rather than toward it.
We treat the Holy Spirit as an optional, impersonal force rather than as a necessary, fully-vested person within the Trinity who differentiates the Church from the rest of the world’s religions.
We are unwilling to lead a life that depends on the Spirit of God for each second of our existence because such a life feels “risky.”
We fundamentally don’t believe God is real, that His promises are true, and that He offers a better way.
So we love our souls but not our spirits. Therefore, we live a sort of half-born-again life.
The cry of each man and woman’s heart must be “Lord God, break me down so that the light of Christ’s Spirit shines through me like a beacon. Not my will, but yours be done. Not my soulish effort, but the work of your Spirit. Let me be led by the Spirit at the cost of everything else in my life.”
May that be our prayer at all times.
I look around I see a Church in the West led by soulish people and not spiritual people. People who don’t know the voice of the Lord through the Spirit. People who are adrift for that reason, making it up as they go along, relying on their personalities and talents to minister. People who are destined to fail for that reason.
What breaks my heart is that there are so many of us.
7 thoughts on “Soul Man, Spirit Man – Part 2”
Dan, thank you for this. Seriously.
I remember reading “Dark Night of the Soul” and the first time it was like reading a foreign language… but this year I took it out again and read that and Watchman’s “Latent Power of the Soul” and I swear, my eyes were so opened I sat silent for days.
My pastor said something a few weeks ago that had me thinking, we were talking about there being an internal shift in people. I’d asked him outright what it took for him to get from the legalistic background we’d both been raised in, to “here”. To a place where I see the outward manifestation of a life encountering God.
Now he tends to focus on mind/behavior and his sermons show that… and I agree with him on what he puts forth, but I also believe it is much more than that… It’s a faith issue also… and some people just don’t have the faith to let go. To truly let go all the way. To become truly broken requires a lot of faith in my opinion. I know it took me years to get here, and I have a way to go still.
But I agree with you on the brokenness, however we want to title it, I know brokenness is the key. It leads to being able to stand before God and have those encounters that change us. Again my pastor said something that had me thinking, “I can see who has encountered God, you can too.” You can see them with your spirit eyes, and with your flesh eyes when it manifests itself.
What I’m seeing with both puts me on my knees. We need to turn off the tv’s. It’s just enforcing a state of mind that we need to get away from. Renewing our mind is so much more important than seeing the latest reality show. You want reality? Stare at the cross!
Thanks again Dan. You challenge me and give me a lot to think and pray about. I count you as one of my sharpening stones for speaking such truth.
I wanted to clarify. It’s not all mind/behavior. My pastor said there are two things that have to happen for us to get total freedom…
1. Totally believe that Christ has the power to liberate you.
2. Have the Faith to go all the way with Him.
I was resting on this… and well… we try to do that in our soulish ways… we try to have what we consider faith from the depths of our soul.
But the spirit changes the soul. Period. I’ve been praying all month now, for God to make my own spirit evident to me, and to make me very aware and alert to His spirit and the interactions of the two.
Hard to learn in this society. The greek thinking. I think you hit the nail on the head….
– again; You sure opened up THE most important topic of these times, now.
A lot of christians do not know these fundamentals, of how they were created; and therefore are so gullablile to ‘do good and be good and say the right words ‘- while it is only an action of the carnal mind.
And for this reason, almost everything He said in His Word, is being downgraded to human, carnal understanding.
It is therefore not ‘translucent ‘ anymore; it has no power, and it does not open the skies to have a vieuw on His world, and what Hé means with what He says…
What satan is doing, every minute of each day, is tampering with our minds; in a prelude to even wÃ³rse..
( today, I found an article, in what they designed a chip to release dopamine, ‘ in case of depression ‘-
but the real goal is, ofcourse, that this ‘chip ‘ will – in short time ! – be FORCED to people (!), and release your own dopamine – your personal ‘happyness drug’ – after obeying any correct command of theirs…remember the ‘ soul cage ‘..? )
– it means that, when christians do not understand that they will have to ‘renew their thinking ‘, by dieeng to Self, –
( and to start to learn to live by the eyes of their renewed heart ),
they WILL be taken out by Satan, in short time.
The carnal mind is ab so lu te ly useless –
but every month passing, it is harder to die to it
– because of the pressure, the prince of the air ( mind) is forcing
..I wait for more of Your articles; hope, they will be picked up by other blogs, as well !!
I’m Chinese and principally go to a Chinese Church. I also live in Britain, whose Church also seems to face so many of the same problems that you point out in the American Church. What is very interesting for me is how several Asian ministers and leaders, with whom I have had personal contact, live out this Asian perspective that you and Watchman Nee write about. For instance, an astounding Singaporean minister (who helped me most in returning to my faith) preaches such a strong message about the importance of following the Holy Spirit, the utter uselessness of the self compared to God’s power and the necessity of dying to self, and on top of that he also lives it out too – e.g. he doesn’t prepare for a sermon in the conventional Western sense of making notes and looking for suitable Bible verses, but rather spends all that preparation time (and probably more) in nothing but prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide his words. And his sermons are maybe not the most entertaining ones I’ve ever heard but they are perhaps the most important ones I’ve heard, both in terms of theology and lifestyle. His strong message of dying to self, for instance, is one which I never hear in Western churches or even among Westernised Chinese pastors. Yet as you’ve pointed out so many times, dying to self is one of the most important things that the Western church needs to hear and live out.
Consequently, this Singaporean has lived a life filled with miracles, signs and wonders; he has been engaged in some serious spiritual warfare – the devil obviously knows who he is; in short, he’s living a life straight out of Acts, today.
What I guess I’m saying is that everything you’re saying is so true, and so tragic, because I have heard firsthand what God can do through ‘Spirit Men’ even today, and we just don’t have any of that in the West. I used to think that the Western church sounded like the Church in Laodicea of Revelations – ‘because you are lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth’ – but sometimes it seems to me that we’re more like the Church in Sardis – ‘I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.’
I trust that the unknown author of the excerpt I am about to post will be happy for her/his offering to be shared and hope someone will recognise it and provide its source.
†˜God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world’. Galations 6:14
They were living to themselves; self with its hopes, promises and dreams still had hold of them, but the Lord began to fulfil their prayers.
They had asked for contrition and had surrendered for it to be given them at any cost, and He sent them sorrow; they had asked for purity and He sent them thrilling anguish; they had asked to be meek and He had broken their hearts; they had asked to be dead to the world and He slew all their living hopes; they had asked to be made like unto Him and He placed them in the furnace, sitting by as a refiner and a purifier of silver until they should reflect His image; they had asked to lay hold of the cross, but when He reached it to them, it lacerated their hands.
They had asked they knew not what nor how, but He had taken them at their word and granted them all their petitions. They were hardly willing to follow Him so far or to draw so nigh to Him. They had upon them an awe and fear as Jacob at Bethel, or Eliphaz in the night visions or as the apostles when they thought they had seen a spirit and knew not that it was Jesus. They could almost pray Him to depart from them or to hide His awfulness. They found it easier to obey than to suffer, to do than to give up, to bear the cross than to hang upon it. But they cannot go back for they have come too near the unseen cross and its virtues have pierced them too deeply within. He is fulfilling to them His promise †“
†˜And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me’ John 12:33.
But now at last their turn has come. Before they had only heard of the mystery, but now they feel it. He has fastened on them His look of love as He did on Mary and Peter, and they can but choose to follow. And He stays them even against themselves. Many a time their foot had well nigh slipped but he in his mercy had held them up and because it is His will and not theirs that is done on them and in them, even while they yet live on the earth they walk as †˜more than conquerors’, †˜seated in heavenly places in Christ’.
Such are they throughout the ages †˜who follow the Lamb withersoever He goeth’.