“Thus it is written; ‘the first man Adam became into a living soul; the last Adam into a life-giving Spirit’” (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Man is made in the image of God – that is, he is a spirit. He is also triune in nature, being spirit, soul and body. Connectivity to God is through our spirit with His Spirit; this is how He connects with us and we with Him; our spirit is where God dwells. Our body is not independent, it is driven by the soul; it cannot function without the soul; the body dies when the soul departs. The soul, instead of functioning independently, is meant to be ruled by the spirit which, in turn, is meant to be ruled by the Holy Spirit.
Because of inherent sin, we are dead in our spirit when we are born and are ruled by our soul under the domination of Satan; when we are “begotten again” our dead spirit is quickened into life and our soul is redeemed from the kingdom of darkness; the ransom price has been paid. Thence, a struggle for mastery of the believer begins between the new-born spirit and the soul, which is the long-term occupant of the body, for unless and until it is broken, the soul will be master. But the purpose of the Holy Spirit in making a union with our spirit is to govern the soul, so that the spirit and soul together can direct the body as a means of fulfilling God’s desire.
This is what happened in the life of Jesus, with the exception that He was not born of the seed of man and thus, was not a victim of inherent sin. Nevertheless, being subject to the same temptations as all men, He had to bring His soul under the rulership of His spirit, and was able to be “made perfect in obedience”, “doing only those things that were pleasing to God”. This is how the son of man became the Son of God. This is how we, too, are meant to become sons of God and brothers, by adoption, of Christ Jesus, which is God’s desire and purpose in calling us and choosing us.
God seeks to work in the spirit of man to bring him to eternal life; Satan, who “comes to kill and destroy”, seeks to work in the soul of man to bring him to destruction. Paul spoke of this in his allegorical reference to Isaac and Ishmael (Galatians 4:24-4:29). Ishmael was born according to the flesh, or soul, and Isaac according to the promise, or spirit. “But, just as then, the one being born according to the flesh persecuted the one according to the spirit, thus also now” (Galatians 4:29).
This then, is the battleground, and these are the adversaries; soul and spirit, Ishmael and Isaac, Satan and God; upon the outcome will depend our eternal destiny; salvation or damnation. The only way the redeemed spirit of man can express and replicate the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is God’s desire, is through breaking the soul power of man, and this the man himself must determine to do, for only he can do it; it is only through the exercise of his free will that man can choose to deny his soul power and instead, choose to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in his own spirit.
It has to be said that the odds are stacked against the spirit of man since he must choose to follow something that is invisible, untouchable, irrational and supernatural. On the other hand, the soul is the seat of the senses and is located in the natural where it can feel, touch, taste, see and hear. Moreover, both God and Satan use the primary same resource – the Holy Scriptures; One to guide into truth, the other to lead into deception. It is the Word of God lodging in the soul that leads to deception; it is the Word of God lodging in the spirit that leads to truth.
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, inspired and directed 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 independence of the soul remains unbroken? If the outer man remains whole, then everything is only in his mind, and it is utterly useless to himself, and he to God.