LIVING IN THE SPIRIT
In the last three chapters, we have seen the way Jesus lived on earth - in humility, holiness and love.
The danger now is to think that we can imitate Jesus in these areas and thus become like Him. The glory of God is to be manifested through us, not through an imitation of Jesus, but through our partaking of the divine nature.
Many non-Christians in the history of the world, who have had an admiration for Jesus, have tried to imitate His humility, purity and love, and have done a fairly good job of it. But it is like the painted fire, that gives no warmth.
Imitation diamonds can look so much like the real gems, that only an expert can detect the difference. But they are only pieces of glass, worthless in comparison. And man is an expert at imitation - even in the realm of imitating Jesus.
How then are we to escape deception? How are we to know whether we are merely imitating Jesus or actually partaking of the divine nature?
There is only one way, and that is by allowing the Holy Spirit to use the Word to expose and separate the soulish from the spiritual in our lives (Heb. 4:12). If we do not distinguish between the soulish and the spiritual we can be utterly deceived and not even know that we are deceived.
What believers need to understand most of all in our day, is how the power of their mind, emotions and will can hinder the working of the Holy Spirit. Where we do not distinguish between soulish and spiritual activity, not only is there the possibility of our being deceived by our own hearts, but also by evil spirits, who counterfeit the work of God.
Most believers are totally ignorant about the difference between soulish and spiritual activity, because they have not developed in their spiritual lives to the point where further progress becomes dependent on differentiating between the soulish and the spiritual.
A 9th-standard student may not know the difference between differential calculus and integral calculus (and probably considers them both to be the same), because he has not advanced far enough in his study of mathematics, to the point where further progress is dependent on distinguishing between these two forms of calculus.
If you are content with being considered upright and kind and gentle and compassionate by man, then you will not go beyond being a `soulish' Christian, and beyond a mere imitation of Jesus.
Paul divides Christians into three categories:
(i) the spiritual man (1 Cor. 3:1);
(ii) the soulish man (1 Cor. 2:14-literal translation); and
(iii) the carnal man (1 Cor. 3:1).
This corresponds to the threefold division of man's being, mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 - spirit, soul and body.
When we are ruled by the desires of the body, we are carnal. But we can overcome those desires and yet be only soulish - ruled by the desires of the mind and the emotions. The spiritual man is the one who is ruled by the Holy Spirit and whose soul and body are under the Spirit's control.
Although the soulish man may not necessarily be "hostile towards God" as the carnal man is (Rom.8:7), he still cannot receive or understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), for they are foolishness to him. Even the distinction between soul and spirit when presented to him will appear as foolishness and unnecessary splitting of hairs, because he is soulish and is content with being soulish, for he has a good testimony before men. He who seeks the honour of men can never advance beyond being soulish.
In these days of large-scale deception in the Christian church, with multitudes of voices and manifestations, all claiming to be from God, it is essential, as never before, that we distinguish between soulish and spiritual activity, if we are to keep ourselves from the wiles of the evil one.
"The first man Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45).
We who have been delivered from the headship of the first Adam and transferred to the headship of Christ (the last Adam), need to understand what it means to cease living from the soul and to live in the Spirit.
It is not enough that the carnal element of our flesh be rendered inactive. The soulish element, though less ugly, is just as dangerous to spiritual growth, and must be dealt with too. We must seek to be saved increasingly each day, not only from the power of sin but also from the restless activity of our souls.
Soulish people will never be able to understand why Jesus spoke as He did on certain occasions. Once, when He was in the midst of a crowd and was told that His relatives wanted to meet Him, Jesus pointed to His disciples and said that they were His closest relatives (Mt.12:49,50).
His relatives and others must have considered that to be a hard and inconsiderate statement. But Jesus did not desire to have any soulish attachment to His relatives.
His disciples too could not have understood why Jesus had to be so hard in His rebuke of Peter, when He said to him, "Get behind me, Satan."
Soulish people can never make such statements, for they are always wondering what others will think of them.
We may have overcome the sins of the flesh. But the question that comes to us now is whether we are going to live by the resources of our human, soulish life, in seeking to be like Jesus, or by the power of the divine life.
Are we going to be made perfect by our own abilities or by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:3)?
Soulishness is a hindrance to spiritual growth. When Peter tried to turn Jesus away from the cross, he was doing so with intense human love for Christ. But Jesus identified it with the voice of the Devil. He said to Peter, "You are minding what partakes not of the nature of God (spiritual) but of men (soulish)" (Mt. 16:23-Amplified). The soulish Christian is one whose way of thinking is still governed by the `life of Adam.' There may be intense human love and even a desire for righteousness, but it is not divine.
When God made man, He made him spirit, soul and body (1 Thess.5:23). Man was made to be the temple of God. And when God gave Moses the pattern of the tabernacle, the same threefold division was seen in it - for it symbolised man as the dwelling-place of God.
The tabernacle had three parts. One part was open - the outer court - and this corresponded to man's body, which can be seen. The other two parts - the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place - were covered; and these corresponded to the invisible part of man - soul and spirit respectively.
The presence of God was in the Most Holy Place. From there He talked with man. In regeneration, it is our spirit that the Holy Spirit makes alive, making us one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor.6:17) - even as a husband and wife become one flesh. God's intention in this is that through His Holy Spirit He might now rule over our redeemed soul and body. If we see this and submit to God in this His purpose for us, we can become spiritual men.
Man's soul consists of his mind (thinking faculty), his emotions (feeling faculty) and his will (deciding faculty). He cannot contact God with any of these, just as He cannot touch God with his body, for God is Spirit (Jn.4:24).
As the material world can be touched only with the body, so too the spiritual world can be contacted only through the spirit. If we do not distinguish between soul and spirit, we can be deceived by the counterfeits of Satan in the soulish realm that masquerade as the work of the Holy Spirit.
With our soul by itself, we cannot know God. A clever mind has no advantage over a dull mind when it comes to knowing God, for the capacity of a man's soul gives him no advantage when it comes to what has to be received in his spirit. The spirit and soul are totally different. So, to try to know God through one's soul is as foolish as trying to see through one's ear!
Consider how we study the Scriptures. We use our body (eyes) and our soul (mind) when we read God's Word. But our spirit can still be dark as midnight, if the Holy Spirit does not grant revelation on the meaning of the Word. Bible-knowledge only proves that you have a good mind - a powerful soul. Your spirit can still be blind. God hides His truth from the clever and the intelligent, and reveals them to the humble (Mt. 11:25). The blindness of the theologians of Jesus day is the clearest proof of this (1 Cor. 2:7,8).
Our emotions also are a part of the soul. God cannot be felt by the emotions. Emotional exuberance is not spirituality, but merely the excitement of the soul. It can exist side by side with the deepest sin in an individual, even as intellectual sharpness can co-exist with sin.
The prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel were highly emotional, shouting and raving and dancing (1 Kings 18:26-29), but they were not spiritual. Such expressions can be found in highly emotional Christian meetings too, but they have nothing to do with true spirituality.
Judas Iscariot was probably the cleverest of the disciples, but his soul-powers did not help him to know the truth of God. The scholars in Jerusalem also could not understand what Simon Peter, with his lack of education, understood by Divine revelation (Mt. 16:17).
We cannot know God by the power of the soul. The soulish Christian is the one who attempts to do so.
The soulish Christian can appear to be humble, but he is always conscious of his humility. True humility is unconscious of itself. The soulish Christian has to make an effort to appear humble, whereas true humility is always spontaneous and effortless, for it flows from within.
The soulish Christian can also appear to have a zeal for righteousness. He can take the whip and chase people out of the church, and even thunder away against sin, imagining himself to be a prophet. But he seeks the honour of men for his actions. He always has one eye on the opinions of men. There can also be a more subtle variety of soulishness, where a man may say, "I don't care what anyone thinks about me." But the fact that he wants others to know that he does not care for their opinions reveals his soulishness.
The soulish Christian can appear to have great compassion too. But it will always be human and unwise. For example, a soulish Christian may, in seeking to be loving, send regular material aid to a needy man, who may actually be a prodigal son, being disciplined by God. Such help will actually be a hindrance to that man's turning to God. The soulish Christian however will get a satisfaction, imagining that he is serving God, not realising that he is actually fulfilling the Devil's purposes by his `acts of love.'
The above are just a few examples among many possibilities. But it should suffice to show us the desperate need of distinguishing between soulish and spiritual activity.
Soulish fruit can look like the fruit of the Spirit, and many have been deceived. We can be deceived ourselves.
Plastic oranges and bananas have fooled many people sitting at a dining table. But they are only decorative and have no nutritive value. So too with soulish imitation of the virtues of Christ.
All that has been said thus far does not mean that our soul is of no use. God Himself created the soul of man, and He has appointed a function for it. We do need to use our mind and our emotions, but true spirituality begins with our humbling ourselves under God's mighty hand, and yielding our will (which is the door to our spirit) to God utterly. It is outside this door of our will, that Jesus stands and knocks for entrance (Rev. 3:20).
When we are willing to say as Jesus did in the days of His flesh, "Not my will, but Thine be done," only then can we live as Jesus lived. Then God can rule our spirit. And our soul will become the servant of the Spirit of God. And then our body too will be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. Only such a man can be called `a spiritual man' or `a Spirit-filled man'.
Conversion, being baptised in the Spirit and the exercise of spiritual gifts do not make a man spiritual, as is amply evidenced by the example of the Corinthian Christians. They exercised all the gifts of the Spirit, yet they were in bondage to the sins of the flesh, and gloried in their intellectual knowledge and their emotional raptures. They were not spiritual.
We have seen that in the tabernacle, the presence of God was in the Most Holy Place. Between the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place hung a thick curtain (veil). It was this that cut off the glory of God from shining through into the Holy Place. This veil symbolised the flesh (Heb. 10:20). It is as the flesh is crucified (the veil rent) that God's glory shines through into our whole personality (our soul).
If we faithfully walk along the new and living way through the flesh that Jesus has inaugurated for us, then the life of God will shine through our personality and will be manifested through us more and more.
Then the Scripture will be fulfilled in us, which says, "The path of the uncompromisingly righteous is like the light of dawn that shines more and more - brighter and clearer - until it reaches its full strength and glory in the perfect day (when Christ returns)" (Prov. 4:18-Amplified).
It is thus that the Holy Spirit transforms us from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18), until we become fully like Jesus on the day that He returns (1 Jn. 3:2).
We have seen that Jesus never did His own will. In other words, He never lived by the guidance of His mind or His emotions. He lived in the Spirit, and His human soul was subservient to the Holy Spirit. Jesus used His mind and emotions extensively, but always as servants of the Holy Spirit, Who was Lord in His life. Thus the glory of God shone through Him, unhindered in all its fullness.
The Bible teaches that all our life and labour will be tested by fire, in the day that Jesus returns to earth (1 Cor. 3:10-14). The test of fire will determine whether our work was soulish or spiritual. We are exhorted to build with gold, silver and jewels that can survive the fire, and not with wood, hay and straw that will be reduced to ashes.
What does it mean to build with gold, silver and jewels?
Romans 11:36 gives us the answer. There we are told that all things are "from God, through Him and to Him."
All creation originated in God, is upheld by His power and is meant to glorify Him. But Satan and man have violated this law.
However, only that which originates in God, and is done in God's power, for God's glory, is eternal. All the rest will perish, being reduced to ashes at the fire of the judgment seat of Christ.
So, that which originates in man's soul (from man) and is done through human power, for man's honour, is wood, hay and straw, even if it is called Christian work!!
On the other hand, that which originates from God, and is done through His power, for His glory, will be found to be gold, silver and jewels in the day of judgment.
The final day of testing is not going to test the quantity of our work but the quality. The material we have used will matter more than the size of our structure. The origin, power and motive of our labours are going to be far more important in that day than how much we did or sacrificed.
Jesus is our Example in this matter of not living by the soul, but living in the Spirit. He never acted on His own initiative, or through His own human abilities or for His own glory. He did only that which originated in God, and did that in God's power and for God's glory.
He repeatedly told His disciples, "Whoever wishes to save his soul-life shall lose it: but whoever loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it." These words of Jesus concerning hating (or losing) the soul-life are repeated seven times in the four gospels (Mt. 10:39; 16:25; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:24; 14:26; 17:33; Jn. 12:25).
Surely this must be one of the most important things that Jesus taught if the Holy Spirit has seen fit to repeat it seven times in the four gospels. Yet, very few believers have understood what Jesus meant.
How are we to distinguish between the soulish and the spiritual in our lives? The answer is: By looking unto Jesus, the Living Word, as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures, the Written Word.
We are to judge ourselves, not by the light of our own soul, but by God's light (Psa. 36:9). And that light is found in Jesus (Jn. 8:12) and in the Word of God (Psa. 119:105).
Jesus, the Word made flesh, says, "Learn from My example.....and you will find rest from your soulish activity" (Mt. 11:29-Paraphrase).
We also read that "The Word of God divides and shows us what is soulish and what is spiritual" (Heb. 4:12-Paraphrase).
And so it is to Jesus, our Example (Forerunner) and to the Word of God as our Guide, that we are to look for light in this area. Perfection is found in the earthly life of Jesus and in God's Word. So let us look at these carefully.