The Human Soul:
Understanding the Mystery of Man
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 15 June 2002
Who are you? Why are you the way you are? What is the purpose of your existence? How can you come to really know yourself and to know God? I ended my sermon last week by reminding everyone that human beings are very mysterious creatures. We have impulses within us that are very difficult to understand. A part of us is constantly reaching for something we don't really understand. There is a longing within. No matter what religion you believe in, or whether you believe in something at all, there is a mystical aspect of man that baffles us all. Even communist atheists unconsciously acknowledge this mysterious side of man. It is the source of our idealism, and idealism comes from God, not man. And it certainly is not an evolutionary impulse, were such even to exist. Does anyone know of any animals that have idealism? Of elephants who want to make a better world for elephants? Yet communism sought, and still seeks, to create a paradise for all human beings, even if the methods are somewhat brutal and God is excluded from the picture. Even the nazis were idealists. The whole concept of having an "ideal" means, in effect, that we are striving for something that is bigger and better than us, and the source of that can only ever be something that is bigger and better than us too.
The great Baptist preacher, Oswald Chambers, identified seven aspects of the human soul which he called "powers", and these he placed into three categories:
Take your mind as an example. There are times when you experience a sudden creative urge. Suddenly you see things you never saw before. New ideas pop into your head. This is called expansion. Writers are like that. They get all kinds of ideas. Then comes the business of sifting through all these ideas, picking out those which are likely to work, and throwing the rest away. This is contraction. Finally, there is the knack of seeing things from different angles - understanding different people's points-of-view. This might be described as rotation.
Even our physical body goes through similar processes. From the day you are conceived in your mother's womb until you're about 23 years old, you are expanding fantastically. At the same time the body is constantly changing - your body is being changed all the time. The cells that make up your body today are entirely different from the ones you had ten years ago. Indeed, there probably isn't a single molecule in your body which you have today which you had ten years ago. That's a kind of rotation. And finally, as all old people know, you begin to contract or shrink ... you get smaller.
Wherever you look in the world of living things and processes, you will see these three principles at work. Young people are interested in all sorts of things but as they mature they start cutting things out that are not as meaningful. We learn from comparing and contrasting.
Let us start with the powers of contraction, and by these powers I mean the powers that work on the interior of our souls. Our whole existence has its beginning in the spirit (ruach) and its struggle to realise itself - to be what Yahweh made it to be. The soul is the combined body and spirit together and has its own awareness. Sometimes we are aware of our bodies - or an ache or a pain, or a nice sensation. At other times, especially when we are asleep, we may become aware of our spirit, the invisible part of ourselves. But at yet other times we are aware of the two as though they were one - and that we call the "soul" (nephesh). When Paul spoke of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thes.5:23), that is what he was referring to. In the resurrection, the distinction between body and spirit disappears - we will simply be "soul", what Paul calls a "spiritual body" (1 Cor.15:44), a body ruled by the spirit even though it is a single entity .
When I talk of "contraction" what I mean is that the soul has the power to contract into itself. If this is an act of self-will, and not just a response to pain or suffering, then contraction is a choice based on the ego. A soul that chooses to think only of self may be said to have contracted or be in the process of contraction. By contrast, a soul which is striving away from itself and is reaching outwards beyond itself, may be said to be "expanding". And by "rotation" I mean that the soul has the power of expressing itself by the restlessness of becoming. Thus a soul striving to be kinder to others may be said to be both rotating as well as expanding. A soul withdrawing from people may also be said to be rotating but is contracting rather than expanding.
Now this is just a simple mechanical way of expressing a complex truth. As you all by now know, the human soul is not a simple thing. It is very, very complicated. So these labels are just convenient ways for us to get a handle on things. For instance, it is dangerous to talk about gravitation as though it were a "thing" which is possible to isolate and put in a bottle like a jar of jam. Gravitation is the explanation we give to certain things we observe take place. To say that Yah'shua (Jesus) "broke the law of gravitation" when He walked on the Sea of Galilee would not therefore be entirely accurate. He simply introduced a new series of facts for which the Law of Gravitation could not account. The soul, in its turn, will discover new facts (such as supernatural healing) which our limited scientific models cannot explain, but for which there is an explanation when you have understood what is going on.
(1) Self-Comprehending. The first power of contraction is self-comprehending. Here are two illustrations from scripture:
"If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known ..." (Deut.13:6, NIV).
"After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself" (1 Sam.18:1, NIV).
These verses indicate the power of the soul to comprehend itself as an individual separate from every other individual. Just watch your own experience, and you will recognise this soul power at once. When a child begins to be self-conscious, it is thus power that is awakening, the power to contract into self and to realise that it is different from its father and mother and from other children. The tendency to shut up the life to itself increases. This power shows itself in feelings of isolation and separation, alternating between pride and shyness. Self-consciousness drags down the harmony of the soul. In some people it lasts a long time, and some people never get beyond this manifestation of this power of the soul, that is, the power to contract into themselves, the power to be different from everyone else. They have not gone on to realise that they have the power to expand, that is, to come into contact with other souls without being afraid or timid.
This is the first power in a natural soul. But what happens when this soul is born again in the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit)? How does this same power continue to express itself? Well, the power of self-comprehension in a born again soul shows itself in its opposition to sinfulness. Watch the swing of the pendulum in your own life, and in the life of anyone born again in the Ruach (Spirit). That life begins to go in the very opposite extreme of the way it lived when in the world. In other words, if it was occupied with money when in the world, it will go to the opposite extreme in the new life. If it was occupied with power, it will seek after humility. And so on. This is the first recognisable power of an individual soul.
(2) Stretching Beyond Itself. Let us consider the following scripture:
"Do not hand me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence" (Ps.27:12, NIV).
A soul that is stretching beyond itself will cause it to first find out, not the forces in agreement with it, but those who are different from it. It discovers that other souls seems to be in opposition to it. The boy who has become self-conscious always imagines that every other boy is his enemy, and he suspects any boy who wants to become his friend. This power of the soul also makes a man realise that he can do pretty well what he likes with his body - a dangerous moment in human life. Or again it makes a man realise he is able to deceive everyone else. There is no restriction at all when this power first dawns. It can cause us to say: "I realise I can satisfy my bodily appetites when I choose; I can also cunningly deceive everyone else. If I am a servant, I can defraud my master or mistress. If I am a business man, I can easily defraud the public". You see, this power of the soul can be seen worked out to its complete issue in the life of the world. That's what we mean by "worldliness".
But when this power becomes spiritualised by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), it shows itself in opposition to sinful craving. Yah'shua (Jesus) says, in effect: "If you are My disciple, you will easily be defrauded, but you will not allow yourself to be defrauded from the simplicity of the Gospel". Knowledge of evil broadens a man's mind, males him intolerant of all sin, and shows itself in intense activity. A bad man, an evil-minded man, is amazingly tolerant -- tolerant of everything and everyone, no matter whether they are good or bad, Christian or pagan -- but his power of action is paralysed entirely. He is tolerant of everything - the devil, the flesh, the world, sin, and everything else. Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) never tolerated sin for one moment, and when His nature is getting its way in a soul the same intolerance is shown, and it manifests itself "not with lip service" (Mt.15:18) but with action. If I am a servant, I won't serve my master or mistress with this power of my soul realising I have power to deceive - I will use it to show that I belong to Yah'shua (Jesus). Neither shall I use this power of my soul to do what I like with my body - "not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart" (Eph.6:6. NKJV). "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God" (Col.3:22, NKJV). Who, then, are you trying to please: God or man?
In a spiritual soul, this power of the soul will show itself in intense opposition to all sinful cravings. A soul that is born again does everything - from sweeping a room to preaching the Gospel, from cleaning streets to governing a nation, for the glory of Yahweh. This second power of the soul enables it to stretch beyond itself, and as a result, the whole mainspring of the soul's life is altered.
(3) Self-Living: We now move from contraction and into expansion, and into the power of the soul called self-living. Let us consider two more scriptures:
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep" (John 10:11, NKJV).
"And the Yahweh said to Satan, "Behold, he (Job) is in your hand, but spare his life"" (Job 2:6, NKJV)
These passages refer to the one power in man that neither God nor the devil can touch without the man's permission. Satan has power up to a certain point, but he cannot touch a man's life, and whenever Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) presents the Gospel of Yahweh to a soul, it is always on the line of "Are you willing?" There is never any coercion. Yahweh has so made us that there must be a free willingness on our part. This power is at once the most fearful and the most glorious power. A human soul can withstand the devil successfully, and it can also withstand God successfully. This self-living power is the essence of the human spirit, which is as immortal as Yahweh's Ruach (Spirit) and as indestructible. Whether the human spirit be good or evil, it is as immortal as the Elohim (God). This power of the soul enables it to put itself on the same level as God ... and is the very essence of Satan. The power that can either make a man of equal status with Yahweh or of equal status with the devil is the most terrible power of the soul. Yah'shua (Jesus) is referring to this power when he says: "No one takes (my life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself" (John 10:18, NKJV).
When the soul is born again and lifted into the domain Yah'shua (Jesus) lives in, this power shows itself in opposition to sinful passionateness. "Passionateness" means something that carries everything before (in front of) it. The prince of this world is intense, and the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is intense. When Paul talks about the flesh and the Spirit (Ruach) working in a man's soul, he expressed the intensity by using the word "lust", a word which means "passionately desires". The Ruach (Spirit) lusts ... passionately desires the whole life for Yahweh -- the mind of the flesh lusts ... passionately longs for the whole life back again into the service of the world system. In the spiritual realm "passionateness" also means something that overcomes every obstacle. When the writer to the Hebrews talks about perfection, he means this overwhelming passion which carries a soul on to all that Yahweh has for it. "Be filled with the Ruach (Spirit)" (Eph.5:18) - this is the key word of life. The Bible indicates that we overcome the world not by passionlessness, not by the patience of exhaustion, but by passion - the passion of an intense and all-consuming love for Yahweh. This is the characteristic in a born again soul -- opposition to every sinful passionateness. We must insist in our own mind that Yahweh does not work in vague, gentle impressions in a human soul, but in violent oppositions which rend and tear the soul, making it -- instead of a place of harmonious happiness -- exactly the opposite for a season. This experience is true in every soul which is walking with God. When we are first introduced to the life of Yahweh in Christ there is violent opposition to everything that used to be prevalent, and that it is so is not a mistake - it is what Yahweh intends, because there is the force of a totally new life.
(4) Spirit-Penetrated: The fourth of the seven powers, and the last which I am going to look at today, is the power of being spirit-penetrated. Our last scripture illustrates this well:
"With my soul I have desired You in the night, Yes, by my spirit within me I will seek You early" (Isa.26:9, NKJV).
What I mean by "spirit-penetrated" is the spiritual power in man which struggles to express itself in his soul. The spirit of man in an unregenerated, unsaved nature is the power of mind not energised by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) and which therefore has no "life in itself". It proves itself to be utterly futile in edifying and lifting up the body, and produces a great divorce between the ideal and the real. Every kind of intellectual exercise is a snare of Satan unless the spirit of the man has been renewed by the incoming of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). A man's intellect may give him noble ideas and power to express them through his own soul in language, but it does not give him power to carry them into action. The charge of idolatry is very apt here. We are apt to ridicule, or pass over with a smile, the descriptions given of idolatry in, say, the Book of Isaiah, where the writer refers to a tree being taken and one part being used to cook a man's food and the other part carved into an idol before which the man bows and worships. Yet this exactly what men do with their ideas. The intellect forms ideas for guiding man's physical life, and then takes other ideas and worships them as God. And if a man has made his own ideas his god, he is greater than his own god. This is not such a terrible power, perhaps, as the self-living power of the soul, but it is a power that will work havoc unless the soul is right with Yahweh. It is the power that produces internal hypocrisy, the power that makes us able to think good thoughts while we live a bad life, unconvicted.
How does this power show itself in those who are born again of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit)? The power shows itself in opposition to secularity. Take your own experience, those of you who are spiritual - spiritual in the Biblical sense, identified with the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus) in a practical way. It resists the pull into carnal depths and moves the soul into spiritual heights. Attractions to worldly things vanish - its habits, mannerisms, ethics, and morals - and it makes us truly love the ways of Yahweh as expressed in His Torah (Law). When you first experience this power, you at once start drawing lines between what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable behaviour. A partnership forms between your willpower and the Ruach (Spirit). The Ruach (Spirit) tells you to go one way, your carnal nature another. You know something is wrong because the Word and the Ruach (Spirit) tell you, but another part of you wants to rebel. You are at war - the will working against the carnal nature in alliance with the Spirit of Yahweh. But the more you cooperate with Yahweh, the more the Ruach (Spirit) penetrates you, until what you are doing becomes "natural" and the battle is won. Then your soul is fully penetrated. Then the division between inner and outer disappears and the soul finds an inner harmony. Restlessness gives way to peace, frustration to satisfaction, sorrow to joy.
When you enter such a struggle, it is the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) in a soul beginning to utilise the powers of the soul for Yahweh; and as the soul goes on, it comes to a full-orbed condition, where it manifests itself as in the life of the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus) and all becomes sacred.
If you obey the Ruach (Spirit) which Yahweh gives you and practice in your physical life all that He has put into your life by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), when the crisis comes you will find that your nature will stand by you instead of becoming an opponent. So many people misunderstand why they fall. It comes from a very simple but fallacious idea which says: "Now that I have the grace of Yahweh, I am all right." But that is wrong. Very wrong. The grace of Yahweh is given to mercifully help us overcome in our daily struggle to "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" (Phil.2:12). Salvation is not accomplished on Day #1 - on the day we receive Yah'shua (Jesus) as Lord and Saviour. That we may call "alpha-salvation" or "beginning salvation" but it is not the spiritual work completed in us: that great work involves the exercise of allowing, through struggle, the Ruach (Spirit) to penetrate us so that we become soul-penetrated. And that word "penetrate" is not a gentle word - it is strong and active. An arrow penetrates a heart. The Ruach (Spirit) certainly bathes us in love but that is not enough: the Ruach (Spirit) must also penetrate through, dividing the soul up into an internal combat zone until righteousness has prevailed and our nature has become altered to resemble that of Christ Himself. That is what Yah'shua (Jesus) meant when He said that He had come to bring not peace but a sword (Mat.10:34) - a struggle. That is what His words bring. That is what the Word of God does - it divides the expanding soul into two parts - a good and an evil part, and sets the one against the other much as the truth divides households (Lk.12:53), until the Christ-nature prevails, penetrates and overwhelms the carnal, devilish nature. God's grace is not enough - our own nature has to be transformed by it.
Paul says that he did not "frustrate the grace of God" (Gal.2:21, KJV), that is, receive it in vain. And if receiving it is not enough, then what is enough? If we do not go on practising day by day and week by week, working out what Yahweh has worked in, when a crisis comes God's grace is there all right, but our nature is not. When our nature has not been brought into line by practice and consequently does not stand by us, and down we go, we invariably blame Yahweh and others. We must bring our bodily life into line day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment - and that includes our mental and emotional life - then when the crisis comes we shall find not only Yahweh's grace but our own nature will stand by us too, and the crisis will pass without any disaster at all. Indeed, exactly the opposite will happen - the soul will be built up into a stronger attitude towards God.
Next week I shall gives some practical steps in identifying and working with the carnal nature so that the soul can be properly penetrated by the Ruach (Spirit) and then we will conclude by looking at the three soul powers associated with the principle of Rotation. In the meantime may I encourage you to reflect on the four powers that have been discussed today - the two contracting powers of self-comprehending and stretching beyond self, and the two expanding powers of self-living and being spirit-penetrated. You may be surprised - both pleasantly and unpleasantly - by what you find. And may you find grace and joy in your overcoming. Amen.
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