Discerning Between Soul and Spirit (Part 1)

soul spirit balancing actThe phenomenon of social media has brought to the forefront a problem we have in Christianity: our inability to discern whether shared ideas are coming from the soul or spirit. In this series, we will look at what we can do to keep from buying into and spreading soulish opinions. We will also look at how discerning between soul and spirit assists us in prayer and prophecy. Our goal should be to operate more consistently from the spirit than the soul.

“Soul,” as I will be using the term here, refers to natural-minded thinking: what comes of intellect and logic alone. “Spirit” refers to the part of us which is able to connect and commune with God, to understand His ways. God has given each of us a soul, made up of our mind, will, and emotions. The soul in itself is not bad — but because sin has marred it, if the soul is left to itself, it can come to very wrong conclusions. It needs to be ruled over and assisted by our spirit.

Being soul-dominated is not limited to indulging in a sinful lifestyle. Having a soulish mentality can also lead us to self-righteously champion Bible truths on a purely intellectual level, thinking that we have the counsel of God, but missing the mark by a mile. My pastor referred to this as applying truth based on the tree of knowledge of good and evil, rather than on the tree of life (Genesis 2:17; 3:1-7; 3:22-24). It is possible to be right, and yet not be righteous.

An example of soulish thinking I frequently see is Christians justifying and even encouraging unkind speech and actions. The argument goes something like this:

Jesus was not “nice” in how He spoke to the Pharisees. He even called them names. So, as a Christian of righteous principle, I am free to “tell it like it is” (translation: be mean) in how I talk to and about people. I am just doing what Jesus did — calling out hypocrites and Pharisees.

The “Pharisees” referred to are usually believers who do not see things from their viewpoint — and of course, theirs is the right one! There’s a problem with this mindset, however. It is just as pharisaical as those it attacks. And if we agree with it, we’ll find ourselves thinking, “Yeah! Give it to ’em good!” But here’s where the difficulty lies: we are not all-knowing, as God is. Jesus could clearly see what was in the Pharisees’ hearts, while we do not have that advantage. All the facts aren’t known to us, so we can easily misunderstand people’s motives.

The Pharisees were legalists. They operated completely in the soul realm, according to their intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures. Mercy? They had none. Compromise? They felt comfortable with their own. They just didn’t approve of other people’s versions. Jesus, on the other hand, always listened to and moved with the Holy Spirit. His purpose in rebuke was not to condemn the Pharisees, but to radically stir up them and those they held in bondage to see their desperate need for a Savior.

Colossians 4:6 counsels us, Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every man.” Salt with no grace irritates and burns. But Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He knew how to answer every man, in every situation. He did it with redemption uppermost in His mind.

Whether realizing it or not, the soul-motivated person accuses for selfish reasons — to maintain his own comfort, to get his way, to build up himself by putting down others, or to gather a following. He assumes he knows the motives of the person he condemns. However, the Spirit-led person, like Jesus, is motivated by a goal of redemption.

On the surface, opinions or arguments coming from the perspective of the soul can be pretty convincing — especially when crafted by someone who is skillful with words. Well-presented logic appeals to our natural mind. Unfortunately, some Christian leaders with large Internet platforms are speaking from the soul, not the Spirit, and because they have such weighty influence, it is easy to accept what they say unquestioningly — and then parrot it to our own circles of influence.

Why does any of this even matter? First of all, because if we speak in agreement with soulish things, it is a terrible witness. Nonbelievers around us recognize that we are not speaking like the Jesus we say we represent. And for those of us who function as intercessors, if we do not correctly discern soul and spirit, we can easily become entangled in praying from erroneous perspectives brought on by unquestioningly accepting whatever we are told by people of influence.

So, how do we discern soulish thinking and avoid it? We’ll talk about that next time.

Next: Discerning Between Soul and Spirit (Part 2)

 

Growing in the Prophetic (CD or mp3 set),
by Lee Ann Rubsam

 

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