The spirit is the inner man; it is the repository of God; the soul is the outer man; it is the repository of the ME – the fleshly nature; the body is the vessel that is operated by the soul. Just as the soul drives the body, the spirit is meant to drive the soul, but if the spirit is dead, the soul operates independently, using the senses such as feeling, seeing, hearing and touching to direct the body in its activity; this is fundamentally what happens with animals, but in a Christian, the rule of the soul must be broken and completely destroyed so that the Holy Spirit inspired spirit can direct the life.
“Put off the old man…which is corrupt…..and put on the new man, the one being created by God in holiness and righteousness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
The old man, who is represented by the unredeemed soul, must go and make way for the new, which is the redeemed soul governed by the spirit which is, in turn, enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the superiority of the power may be of God, and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
The “treasure” is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. This passage is an allusion to the story of Gideon, whose 300 soldiers hid their lamps in earthen vessels as they crept up upon the enemy. At the signal, the earthen vessels were broken so that the light could shine forth and the enemy fled. In us too, the earthen vessel, the outer man, the soul, the seat of the flesh, must be destroyed so that the light can find an outlet.
“But if also our outward man is being destroyed (passive) yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
On conversion to Christ, the independence of the soul must be destroyed and it must become subject to the spirit of man, which itself is subject to the Holy Spirit of God; if the soul, in which reposes the fleshly principle in all men, is not destroyed it will rule the spirit and lead to carnality and deception. Tragically, this is what happens to many Christians. The inner man cannot be renewed while the outer man remains. The writer to the Hebrews said much the same thing;
“The Holy Spirit making this clear; the holy way has not yet been revealed while the first tabernacle still stands” (Hebrews 9:8).
The “first tabernacle” is both a reference to the old religious practices as well as the old man; what it is saying is that both religion and the flesh obstruct progress on the “holy way”.
“….that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened in power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16).
Paul’s prayer is that we might be strengthened in the “inner man”; this is the spirit of man; it needs to be strengthened so that it will overcome the fleshly principle of the soul and rule the man.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains single; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
What happens when the grain falls into the ground is that the outer shell breaks open and releases the germ of life inside. While Jesus was talking of the necessity of His death, He was also referring to the necessity for those He calls to follow Him to be broken in the outer man, where dwells the fleshly principle of the soul.
Brokenness is the path to life, light, fragrance, blessing and beauty; “Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17); it is the path of sacrifice; it is our cross upon which, like our Master, we must be broken. He was broken in the body; we must be broken in the soul; if the soul is not broken then we are like the unprofitable servant who hid the talent given him by his Lord and who was cast into outer darkness as a result (Matthew 25:24-30). Consider the lives of Jacob, David, Peter, Paul and any of the great saints recorded in the scripture. They were all men broken in their outer man, who were thus able to release the life of the inner man.
Brokenness is what is most resisted by Christians and modern Christianity is a place in which they can find refuge from the necessity for brokenness; yet should we not also drink from the cup that the Father gives us?
It is the soul that resists taking up the cross and following Christ Jesus; it is the soul that Jesus was talking about in the parable of the sower as choking the Word and leading to fruitlessness; the deceitfulness of riches, the cares of this world, the pleasures of this life and the desire for other things; it is the soul that harbours, nourishes and nurtures the flesh.
Mark 3 tells the story of the man with the “withered” hand; the Greek word is zeran and means dry, useless, paralysed. “Stretch forth your hand” Jesus said (Mark 3:5); and when he did, the man’s hand was “restored”. If he hadn’t done what the Lord told him to do, his hand would have remained in its “withered” condition.
We must act on God’s word to bring it about; of what use is mere mental knowledge of the Word of God if the soul remains unbroken? If the outer man remains whole, then everything is only in his mind, and utterly useless to God or to himself.