Do you ever suddenly realize that you’ve been talking to yourself? Maybe you only talk to yourself silently, but whether you do it silently inside your own head, or out loud, we all talk to ourselves. In fact, if you think about it, there is a constant conversation going on in your mind every day.
You ask yourself questions, you argue with yourself, perhaps you even criticize yourself. The constant chatter that goes on in our minds can sometimes get us down. Is this voice really you? If it is really you, then why do you disagree with yourself? Ever heard someone say, “I had to talk myself out of that.” If you are you, how can you talk yourself out of something?
The truth is, we are not just one person. The Apostle Paul explains this to us in Romans 7:22-24:
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?Romans 7:22-24
Paul makes it very clear in this passage that there are two men at war within him. He refers to one of these men, the one who delights in the law of God, as the inward man. He then refers to the law of sin, fighting against the inward man. This law of sin is also referred to as the natural man 1 Cor 2:14. Jesus Himself references these two opposing forces in Matt 26:41
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Again, two opposing forces. Jesus names them the flesh and the spirit. For the sake of this study we will refer to them as the self and the soul.
If there are really two, which one is really us? Which one is our true identity? If they are always in disagreement, as Paul says in Romans 7, how can we ever know who we truly are, or what we are truly supposed to be doing?
Wanting to know the answers to these questions is the first step to truly becoming the Christian that God intends for you to be, to become the human that God wants you to be.
Asking the Question
Sometimes the most important step is just a question. A question reveals curiosity, and curiosity is the opposite of apathy. As long as you are curious about spiritual things there is hope for you to improve your spiritual life.
The moment you become apathetic, growth stops completely. So, what question are we asking here? Who am I? Who am I really in the eyes of God? How can I be the Christian God wants me to be when there are two people battling inside? Which of those is really me? Am I the self or am I the soul?
The Creation of the Self and the Soul
To begin to understand self and soul we must go back to the Garden of Eden.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.Gen 2:7
In the first half of this verse we see man’s biology. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” At this point Adam had everything he needed biologically to survive on earth. He had all of his vital organs, his blood, the right amount of water vs sodium, his glands and every chemical and hormone he would need to control this thing called a body. Biologically he was perfect.
Adam was a masterpiece of creative design. If you have spent any amount of time studying biology, you know how even down to the tiniest particle of each of our cells, we are an intricately crafted work of art. Each cell operates an amazing little factory producing energy and proteins which our body knows exactly how to use.
When Gen 2:7 says that God, “formed man of the dust,” it means that He formed every particle of every cell, every strand of DNA, programmed to perfection. But as Adam lay on the ground there in the garden, he was not complete.
Think of it this way. Imagine someone has created the world’s most advanced computer. This computer can do things that no other man-made invention has ever been capable of. It will change the course of human history. It has all the programing and mechanics inside of it to work perfectly, but it is just sitting there on a table. Everyone is raving about what all it is capable of, but there is a problem. It isn’t doing anything. All is dark and silent. What’s the problem? The problem is that no one has bothered to plug it up. No one bothered to connect it to the energy source. Without the energy source it is useless.
This is the same for Adam in the Garden. When you get to that first comma in Gen 2:7, Adam is a useless piece of perfection. He can’t do anything. At this point Adam is purely self. He is only human. Ten fingers, ten toes, a mouth, a nose, ears, eyes, a heart, blood, lungs, organs, chemicals, cells, everything he needs to be self, because that is all that self is; the biological human matter.
Something is missing. Just like the computer was missing its energy source, up until we reach that comma in Gen 2, Adam too is missing his energy source, the thing that will give him the potential to be more than self. It is not his blood, his organs, his water or his hormones. It is, “the breath of life.”
“…and (God) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The word became is very important in this verse, because it insinuates that up until that moment, Adam was something else. He was self, he was human matter, but once God’s breath of life entered, he “became” a living soul. Something entered Adam. As the breath of God entered Adam so did something else very important; his soul.
Now that we have established the fact that each of us is really two beings, the self and the soul, we can start to understand why we behave the way we do. Why is this important to understand? It is important because once you understand why you behave the way you do, then it will be easier for you to allow the Holy Spirit to help guide you into a more spiritual life and away from a selfish life.
When Paul talked about the “natural man,” in 1 Cor and Jesus talked about “the flesh” in Matthew 26, they are talking about the self. This is the human matter that was created in the garden of Eden. There is much about this self that can confuse us and hinder us as we journey through life.
Emotions are a mysterious part of us. Emotions were created by God and in many ways they are the one thing that makes us different from all of His other creations. Certainly different from the plant world, and also very different from the animal world. Many people believe that animals do feel emotions. That’s not the subject of this study, so I will let someone wiser than myself try to answer that one for you.
What many people do not realize, though, is that our emotions are, for the most part, chemical reactions. The chemicals, or hormones, which God placed in our bodies, were placed there for the survival of our species and for community building. Our good God knew that humans would thrive best in groups. The smallest group being a husband and wife, then the larger group of the family, and then ultimately a larger group being the community.
The emotions that we experience are all linked to a chemical reaction in our bodies. These chemical reactions can almost always be linked to some form of survival. Hunger, mating, protecting, and achieving, just to name a few.
Through our senses we begin to experience an event. Our senses send those signals to our brains and the brain decides what sort of event this is. Is this danger? Is this an opportunity to grow the bonds between my mate and I? Is there a need for me to protect my child, or another child? Is my life or livelihood being threatened somehow? I could list a million different scenarios that our brain can interpret.
What does the brain do with this information? It takes the information and signals glands in the body to release the appropriate chemical which will spur the self onto action. That action may be to spend time with your spouse, protect your child or defend your possessions. Our minds do not take the time to analyze all of this while it is happening, though. We simply “feel” and emotion. We feel desire toward our mate, or anger over our livelihood being threatened, fear and anger over our child being threatened. What we are feeling is the chemical coursing through us, spurring us on to whatever action needs to be done right then.
God created our emotions with great precision and design. Problems arise, however, when we allow our emotions to become our god. When we allow the emotions to step in and do the work that the Holy Spirit is meant to do. Many people do not understand how to put emotions in their proper place.
Let’s take, for instance, a woman who is married. The Word of God and the Holy Spirit lead this woman to be faithful to her husband. Her husband has been traveling for work, and she has been alone for a few weeks. She is lonely and growing sad from being away from her husband. She meets a man in the grocery store. The man is very handsome and begins to pay attention to her. He disregards the wedding ring on her finger and begins to flirt.
This woman’s emotional/chemical system is going to react to the attention on a very basic level. If she were just operating at this level, the level of self, she might take the man up on his offer for dinner. However, if she is operating on a higher level, the level of the soul, then she will govern herself according to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God not simply by the chemical reactions taking place in her body.
God created our emotional/chemical system so that we could survive here on earth. He knew we would need powerful motivators to help us find food, secure a mate, continue to repopulate the world and to protect our families and communities. These chemicals were placed in our bodies so that we did not become apathetic and die. However, because the emotions/chemicals are so powerful, God also gave us His Word and His Holy Spirit so that our soul could lead our self.
Thoughts are another powerful aspect of the self. This can also be one of the most confusing aspects of the self. It is very easy to confuse the thoughts of the mind with the leading of the Holy Spirit. The thoughts can be swayed by many things.
The thoughts can be greatly affected by the health of the body. Have you ever been sick and suddenly all of your thoughts are doom and gloom even if you are normally a very happy person? Under great physical stress of sickness the thoughts can even turn into hallucinations. This is a perfect example of the body affecting the thoughts.
The thoughts can also be affected by events taking place outside. Have you ever been having a perfectly good day and then suddenly you notice someone look at you strange? Even just a strange look from someone can send your thoughts blazing into a million directions. Why did they look at me like that? Are they mad at me? Did I do something wrong? What’s their problem?
The thoughts are shifting things that are strongly tied to the emotions/chemicals in our body. We can say that, for the most part, the thoughts are the voice of self. Even when not much is going on, the thoughts just roll around and churn in our brain most of the time. When these thoughts are antagonistic, negative or sinful we know that our self is out of control, not in submission to God and not at peace with God.
Just as problems arise when we allow emotions and chemicals to lead us, so do problems arise when we allow just our thoughts to lead us. Our thoughts, outside of the leading of the Holy Spirit, cannot be trusted to lead us and help us govern our lives.
Observe your thoughts for one day. By the end of the day you will notice that your thoughts can swing dramatically in opposite directions. In the morning you may be thinking very positively, ready to take on the world. By evening you seem like a completely different person. You are grumpy, negative, and angry at the world. Would you vote for someone who acted like that out loud to be your leader? No, you might even think that person had real problems. The truth is we all have real problems with our self. Self cannot be trusted. The emotions cannot be our guide and the thoughts cannot be our guide.
It is important to know that since self is not who you really are, you are not a slave to these thoughts and emotions. In fact, most of these thoughts and emotions have nothing to do with The Holy Spirit at all. They are just the self-rambling on and on. When you think of your thoughts like this, you can step back and just observe them. The real you can step back. We can identify the real you as the soul.
Even just the conscious effort of stepping back from your thoughts to observe them can bring you into a more peaceful state. Try this. The next time you feel like your thoughts or emotions are raging out of control, consciously take a moment to stop reacting to the thoughts, feelings and events. Step back internally and just observe. You instantly feel more peaceful and in control. You know why? Because you, the real you, is taking the seat. Your real power lies in a soul being led by the Holy Spirit.
Most people barrel through their days never embracing the power of their soul. The thoughts get all the attention because the self is so loud. The emotions get all of the attention because the self is so pushy with those chemicals. Where is the soul during all of this? It is there, quietly being ignored.
The soul is a fragile thing. So fragile that it needs salvation. The soul needed the blood of Jesus to save it. The soul is also very valuable. Why does God want our soul? Why does the devil want the same thing? The soul is fragile, valuable and needs attention. The more attention the soul gets the stronger it can become and the more in tune it can become with the Holy Spirit.
When our soul is strengthened, and our soul is being led by the Holy Spirit, then we have entered what most Christians refer to as a spiritual life or a spirit led life. This is dramatically different from what most people live. Most people live a self led life, being controlled by their basic emotions/chemicals and the often neurotic thoughts of their own mind.
Just as our bodies can be in better or worse health based on how we take care of it, our soul also can be in better or worse shape depending on how we care for it.
Matthew 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Here the writer refers to the soul as being eternal. It cannot be killed, but it can grow weaker or stronger.
“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”3 John 1:2
The writer here refers to the soul prospering. If something can prosper, then it can also not prosper. What makes the difference? The difference is how we care for our soul.
Strengthening the Soul
So, if strengthening our soul is the only way to move beyond self and become the Christian God intended for us to be, then how do we do that? How do we strengthen our souls? One of my favorite passages concerning this is the 23rd Psalms. This was one of David’s love letters to God. The entire passage drips with love, made all the more special with the knowledge that David was himself a shepherd once.
Let’s look at this passage bit by bit and see how this relates to strengthening our souls.
V1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
First let’s think of the setting of this passage. David refers to God as the shepherd and himself as a sheep. The very most important aspect of strengthening your soul is to keep yourself in the rightful place. We are in submission to a shepherd. This shepherd knows more than we do. He knows better than we do. He is leading us. We are not leading ourselves.
When we acknowledge this, and keep ourselves rightfully placed under our shepherd we, “shall not want.” This means we can rest content and grateful because we know that we have all we need in Christ our shepherd. Maintaining a constant sense of gratitude is essential to living a spiritual life.
V2- He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
This verse speaks to the need of time alone with God in a peaceful setting. It is impossible to lead a spiritual life without spending time, daily, alone with God. Get a good picture in your mind of the Lord, your shepherd, leading you beside still waters, making you to lie down in green pastures. This is a place of solitude. There is only you and the Lord.
You must strive to make this happen on a daily basis. We are often tempted to say, “I don’t have the time.” We all have the time, it is only a matter of how we are spending that time. Make time to be alone with God each day so that you soul can grow stronger.
V3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
We are all going through tough situations. The difference between the spiritual person and the person being led by self, is that the spiritual person takes these challenges to God. During those quiet alone times with God, take your challenges, your sorrows, your conflicts, your most personal issues to God. Lay these before Him. Listen for God’s guidance and most importantly, leave these issues at His feet.
Our souls become weaker and weaker as we try to drag around all of our problems and worries with us each day. This is not what God intended. He wants to bear our burdens. The self wants to shoulder the burdens. The soul wants to give them to God.
V5a. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
This is another way we strengthen our soul; let the Lord fight your battles for you. The self loves to battle. Battling shows that you are strong and surviving. The self is all about survival on the most basic level. You want to move above this, transcend this basic level. On the higher level, you let God fight your battles. You let God deal with your enemies.
V 5b -6 …thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The last thing you can do to strengthen your soul and move beyond self, is to inhabit the joy of the Lord. Sometimes we get so stuck in being negative, selfish, angry and defensive that it becomes comfortable. To be joyful actually feels strange to us. We would rather inhabit something bad that feels comfortable, than journey off into something better that seems unfamiliar.
The Lord intends for us to inhabit joy. He wants us to be dwelling in His house spiritually. He wants our soul communing with him. In His presence there is joy. You can rest here and enjoy the joy of the Lord.
Overcoming self is not an easy task, but it is possible with the help of our good God. When we show a little effort, the Lord comes behind us and piles on everything else we need. Our self will keep us operating on a basic, survival level. There is nothing spiritual at this level. In order to move beyond this, so that we can become the Christian that God intends for us to be, we must move up. We must rise up to something better.