Living by the Spirit requires releasing your spirit. Releasing your spirit requires humbling your soul.
In early adulthood, I read The Release of the Spirit, by Watchman Nee. A Chinese Christian of the 20th century, Nee described people as three-part beings – spirit, soul and body; or, in Nee’s terms, inner man, outer man and outermost man.
By contrast, the Greek thinking that we in the West often embrace sees only a human dualism – body and soul. The Greek view considers the biblical terms soul and spirit to be different names for the inner, intangible person.
Nee taught that spirit and soul are different aspects of the inner person. His teachings fit with Paul’s reference to “spirit, soul and body” in 1 Thessalonians 5:23:
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (italics mine).
Nee’s views also align with the statement in Hebrews 4:12 that God’s word divides between spirit and soul:
“See, the Word of God is alive! It is at work and is sharper than any double-edged sword – it cuts right through to where soul meets spirit” (CJB).
“. . . penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit” (AMP)
Two decades after I read The Release of the Spirit, a friend handed me the book, Blessing Your Spirit, by Sylvia Gunter and Arthur Burk. I had just passed through the hardest seven years of my life and was trying to process and to heal from all that had occurred. The teachings about spirit and soul in Blessing Your Spirit, coupled with page after page of spirit blessings, provoked a seismic shift inside me. For one thing, the blessings propelled me toward healing. Also, as I looked again at soul and spirit, I suddenly saw how God had been working in my life. A jumble of random puzzle pieces instantly fell into place.
The seven-year fast
I realized: I had just experienced a seven-year fast!
God led me into it. He set an assignment before me. To take it up, I had to deny myself – to lay down the desires of my heart, indefinitely. Not understanding and not wanting to go where he pointed, I obeyed. I chose what, deep in my spirit, I knew my Lord was telling me to do.
God gave me grace to complete it. For months, stretching into years, my soul rebelled and fought to have its way: “This doesn’t feel good! This makes no sense!” I often cried. “Can I quit now?” I repeatedly asked. Yet I stayed on the path. Propelled from deep within, I finished the course.
God accomplished his purposes through it. He humbled my soul – and released my spirit. In an article called, “The Seven-Year Fast,” I tried to put what had happened into words. In part, I said:
The deepest part of me, my spirit, is in hot pursuit of God – deeply loving him; accurately hearing him; eagerly desiring to know him, honor him, follow him.
My redeemed soul wants to do the same thing. Yet, on its own, my soul cannot discern or choose the right way. However, when my soul is subject to my spirit and my spirit is filled with the Spirit of God, I willingly, joyfully, make right choices.
Ah, but my soul loves to play the usurper. Like a spoiled child, it wants to be in charge. It thinks it knows best. It assures me it can discern accurately and choose wisely. It boasts that it is protecting my own best interests when in fact it is sabotaging me.
Again and again, my soul will “figure out” a situation and instruct my body to act on its wishes, all the while telling my spirit to sit down and shut up …
BUT GOD saw my constricted spirit, crying out to honor him. He saw my confused soul, sabotaging the very things it wanted to do. The Lord put me in a position where obeying him required choosing to act on my spirit’s yes when my soul was screaming NO. Continued obedience required clinging to God, spirit to Spirit – and trusting that even when my grip failed, he was holding me – while my afflicted soul used every means in its power to get its way …
Every time I chose to side with my spirit, I grew stronger in spirit – and humbled my soul a little more.
My seven-year fast has ended, yet Nee asked a question that remains: “Can God be fully released through our spirit?” That depends on choices we each make every day.
Will we allow the Lord to break our soulish “outer man” so his life in our spirit can come forth? Will we choose to live from our spirit, or from our soul?
- An Old Testament picture: When Gideon’s men smashed the jars they held aloft, the torches hidden inside the jars blazed forth, and 300 men routed a vast army.
- A New Testament picture: When Mary broke the alabaster jar, valuable perfume poured out, and Mary anointed Jesus.
As we allow the Lord to break and humble our soul, his life flows out. His anointing is released in us. His light is released through us.
Listen from your spirit as he speaks:
This is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke … Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive (Isa. 58:6, 8 NET).
God’s life welling up in us shatters yokes that have kept us from being who he has made us. Our real identity begins to emerge. We truly live life.
God’s life flowing out through us sets captives free. We truly give life, cooperating with our Lord to break heavy yokes off others whose spirits we touch. Nee said, “When the spirit is released, it supplies the needs of the world.”
Quotations from The Release of the Spirit, by Watchman Nee (Sure Foundation Publishers, 1965), p. 81.
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