Dying to Soul-life Images of the Word of God
Dear Loved Ones,I want to write you today about the meaning of being a Living Sacrifice—from a new perspective—one that begins to bring into focus what we have talked about concerning the true nature of the Word of God versus its "forms" as they come to and through us as flesh and blood. (The word "blood" here will be very significant.)
In the Old Testament we read of the animal sacrifices. It says in Leviticus that “the life of the flesh is in the blood." The Hebrew word here translated "life" is also the word for "soul" ("nephesh"). So the verse says: “the soul-life of the flesh is in the blood."
Soul-life is natural life. This life is in the bloodstream, yet separate from the blood itself. This soul-life is lost when the blood through which it courses is spilled, producing physical death. It dissipates into unknown realms. The "soul departs" as we say. So the animals died. This was the sacrifice.
In the New Testament, we are said to be living sacrifices. Watch this carefully because there is a literalness here that few of us comprehend. It is a literal something that happens inside our systems. Jesus said: "If any man will lose his life for my sake, he will find it." Again, the Greek word translated "life” ("psuche") is also the word for "soul."
Jesus is saying, “If any man will lose (sacrifice) his soul-life for my sake..." This is our natural life. As with animals, it is found in our bloodstream. When our blood is shed, this natural soul-life is released from our bodies, producing physical death. Our life "departs;" we die. What remains is buried in the ground, void of soul-life, subject to rot.
This natural soul-life is our “animal life," i.e., the same life all animals have. It is this life in our bloodstream that attunes us to this present world through our senses. It is this life which empowers our natural capacity to think, to will, and to feel desire and emotion. Everything we have capacity to perceive relative to this world is due to the operation of our natural soul-life coursing in our bloodstream. Everything we think and desire with all the accompanying aromas and atmospheres of soul (like "nostalgia") is the functioning of our natural soul-life.
Soul-life is not Life in the final sense. It is not self-sustaining and is subject to loss, destruction, and death. Why? Because soul-life is separated from God who is true, self-sustaining, Eternal Life. What is soul-life then? Soul-life presents an image of true Life. Soul-life is a mirror of God-Life, but in final reality, is only death.
Relating Soul-life to Eternal Life
Soul-life is to Eternal Life what a photograph is to reality. Soul-life is a "motion picture" of real life in God. A movie looks and sounds real. But in the end it is not. A movie creates an illusion of life through light, sound, and motion of a strip of film. But the movie comes to an end, and a film strip is subject to destruction (like burning?).
So is the relation between soul-life and Eternal-Life. In its separation from God, soul-life is as dead as a reel-to-reel film lying on a table. Yet like a film, it gives us an image of true Life through our five senses. Since natural soul-life is a dead image of something else real and eternal, we can also call it "image life."
Soul-life in our blood is furthermore tainted by "sin," i.e., a strain of nature that is openly contrary to the nature of God. Soul-life is permeated with a clear strain of evil. Therefore, not only does soul-life give us a knowledge of goodness through its imaging of God's Life, but it also gives us a knowledge of evil. (The soul’s subjection to the knowing of good/evil and its nature as an image life are one and the same effect that occurred when man first sinned.)
All of us have struggled with that bent toward evil in our blood. This is sin. But even where we have natural thought and feeling for what is good, desirable, and pleasant in life now, it is still only image life separated from God. Our natural sense of goodness (or rightness) brings us no closer to God's Life than our sense of evil; and all sense of fulfilment through our natural sense of goodness is very short-lived.
Whether good or evil, therefore, soul-life is death to us. And as a force that functions totally independently of God, all soul-life is sin to us, even in its goodness.
Losing Soul-life: The Meaning of Living Sacrifice
Having described soul-life, we’re ready to consider what Jesus meant in saying, "If any man will lose his life for my sake..." We’re ready to discover the literal meaning of being a living sacrifice.
We observed that soul-life is found in the blood. When blood is shed, the soul is released producing physical death. This is what happened when animals were sacrificed. But Paul calls us to be living sacrifices, and Jesus calls us to lose our soul-life while still functioning in our present bodies.
What's going on here? We’re being told that it is possible for us to lose soul-life without shedding blood or having to lose physical life in the process. Not only is it possible, but we are called to this. To Paul and Jesus, loss of soul-life is the mark of discipleship.
But how is this possible? How can we sacrifice our soul-life and lose it out of our bloodstream without physically dying? I mean, if the soul-life departs, where do we find life to replace it that our bodies may continue living?
Ah! That is what our Eternal Life is all about. This loss of soul-life is possible to people who have another kind of life on which to draw for replacing soul-life. We have Eternal Life in us already. When we were "born again," we received the seed of God's Eternal Life within us. This is the real life. Unlike soul-life with its dead images of thought and emotion, our Eternal life is that self-sustaining Life that can never die. It’s the "stuff" God is made of! It is the life of Jesus Himself that was found in His bloodstream.
When we lose our soul-life from the bloodstream (however that is done), the Eternal Life of Jesus moves into our bloodstream to take over. It actually replaces our blood with His blood. As this process continues, we lose more and more of our sin nature belonging to the soul-life.
We also lose our false images of this life—our mind, will, and emotions undergoing a transformation as they are flushed out and replenished with Eternal Life. This Life then projects the character of Jesus through our mind and emotions, producing what Peter calls the "saving of the soul," and Paul calls the "renewing of the mind." (It is also the literal fulfilment of what Jesus meant when He told us to “drink His blood.”)
This is the literal meaning of being a “living sacrifice.” There is a literal transference of life forces that is exchanged in our bloodstream. We lose—give up, sacrifice—our natural life force in exchange for replenishment and usurpation of our souls by the eternal Life of Jesus already resident in us. This is why Jesus said, "If any man lose his life for my sake, he will find it.” The "it" is our Eternal Life as it refills our souls after the departure of our soul-life.
This exchange of life forces is a resurrection-function administered by the Holy Spirit:
“If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He shall also give life to your mortal bodies." Rom. 8:11
Execution of Soul-life by the Word of God
The Holy Spirit's job is to lead us step by step into each area where He requires us to sacrifice soul-life so He may appropriate Eternal Life to replenish it. This consistent replacement of Eternal Life is what produces the steadily increasing manifestation of the image of Jesus through our renewed thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.
By this we see how we are to be always “dying.” It is not figurative. It is literal. We are to be continually being drained of natural life force as surely as if our blood itself were being shed. This daily dying through loss of soul-life is imperative, for it is impossible apart from it for our Eternal Life to be appropriated so we can experience true righteousness and freedom from sin.
Now the question is, “How is this transfer accomplished?” What is the agent that activates this process?
The answer is: the Word of God. By explaining how the Spirit uses the Word of God to effect this spiritual “blood transfusion,” we can bring into focus the difference between the Living Word of God and the forms of the word as imaged through flesh and blood which we discussed last letter.
Soul-life and the Imaged Word
Last letter, we identified two modes of the Word of God: The Living Word indwelling our hearts, and the forms of the Word as projected through the limitations of human personality. This is the Word mediated through flesh and blood.
These two modes of God's Word correspond to the two modes of life we have discussed in this letter:
· The Living Word of God corresponds to the Eternal God—Life within us. They are the same. We are born-again of the seed of the Word of God which lives and abides forever (I Pt. 1:23).
· The forms of the Word as mediated through human personality correspond to the natural soul-life in our blood. Both the form and the life are image. Again, the two are one. Every form of the Word is nothing other than the Living Word as imaged through soul-life in the blood.
Last letter we said we ought to be progressively coming out from under subjection to the legal forms of the imaged word and into the grace of pure unmediated communion with the Living Word. This letter we are saying we ought to be giving up soul-life in exchange for Eternal Life. The two processes are one.
As we lose soul-life, we come out from under the images of God's word sustained by that life. We become free from our own thoughts, interpretations, narrow understandings, and expectations surrounding the word. As soul-life is replaced by Eternal Life, our dead form-images of God's word are replaced by the resurrection power of the Living Word. The laws of the humanly-perceived word are replaced by the grace of the Living Word.
Let's look then at how the Spirit uses the word to effect life exchange.
Mixed Hearing, Mixed Belief and Mixed Obedience
When we hear from God—whether through scripture, or prophet, or our own spirit—we hear with two sets of ears according to the two modes of life in us. We hear God with our hearts according to His Living Word in us. We also hear God through the filter (veil) of our natural life according to the limitations of our natural thoughts, understandings, desires, and expectations.
This filtered word is an image of the true word. This image is law, carrying a certain weight of bondage. The image word is the "translation" of the Living Word according to our knowledge of good and evil.
Once we hear the word with both sets of ears, we respond in obedience to them according to the two modes of life in us. We obey with our heart which has no power other than to say "Yes, Lord." And we obey with our natural soul-life according to our image of the word. We take action based on our understanding of what we are to do in legal response to what we have heard.
Because of who we are, we are unable to distinguish within us our two modes of life. We cannot help therefore but to respond according to both our eternal man and our natural soul man. We act in faithful response to the word in our hearts and to our image of the word in our soul-life. Our hearts respond out of grace. Our souls respond out of “legal faith" tied to expectations and/or a sense of obligation.
God’s Voice to the Spirit Man & the Self-Execution of the Soul Man
Now watch what happens! God's Word (commands and promises) are given to our inner man, not to our soul-life. Therefore, when our soul-life responds to obey, it fails! It fails to fulfil the command. It fails to see the fulfilment of its legal expectations. It is this failure of our soul-life in its response to its imaged word that produces its death! In a sense, our soul-life “commits its own suicide” by its response to the word of God to us.
In this is fulfilled the meaning of Hebrews 4:12,
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul [image] and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
In reality, this dividing of soul-life from spirit occurs as the soul-life falls on the edge of this sword through its obedience and faith unto its own death.
Depending on how much natural life is staked on a particular command or promise, there can be incredible suffering involved with our failed attempt to respond to God. There is personal suffering internally with damaged thoughts and emotions. Above all there is incredible strain on one's relationship with God as he becomes cornered into questioning God's faithfulness... All of this suffering is what signals to us the dying of our natural soul-life—and our release from the power of sin within it. (I Pt 4:1)
The Spirit’s Saving Replenishment of the Soul and Fulfilment of His Word
As our soul-life dies and we lose our imaged understandings surrounding God's word, then the Holy Spirit applies the grace of the Living Word to our lives. We come out from under bondage to consciousness of God's expectations concerning His commands, and our expectations concerning His promises.
The Spirit brings to pass through us fulfilment by grace of His commands to us, and He brings to pass apart from us the fulfilment of His promises to us—exceedingly abundantly above what we were able to ask or think. In short we see the true life of grace replace the imaged-life of law that we have lost for His sake—"He that loses His life for my sake will find it."
Dying to the Imaged Word—the Deepest Living Sacrifice
Being a living sacrifice is tied directly to how much we believe God. The more specifically and deeply we are willing to believe God's Word, the greater a sacrifice we will experience, the greater our loss of soul-life with our legal understandings of the word, the greater our suffering, the greater our being misunderstood and ridiculed by others.
But the overall point I want to make in this letter is this:
Being a living sacrifice means not only dying to our relationship with this world through loss of soul-life, but also dying to our images of the Word of God sustained by that soul-life: our “interpretations,” our understanding of the meaning of God’s promises and commands to us. This is part of being a living sacrifice—dying to all relationship with God’s Word based in soul-life. Not only is it part of being a living sacrifice, it is the hardest part.
Why is it the hardest part? We already understand that we are to die to our own relationship to this world and to sin. This is not new. Such death-to-self teaching has been around for centuries. The Word of God testifies to this. As hard as it is to die to this world as such, at least we understand this is to be so by the Word of God.
But we never dream that this includes dying to our own self-powered relationship to God's Word. This is because we don't realize we even have such a relationship to His Word. We can't discern between the Living Word and our image of it. Because we can't discern the difference—when it comes time to die to our image, we are afraid that we are abandoning the word itself, or, in the case of unfulfilled promises, that God's Word has abandoned us.
But no. God's Word will never fail us. It can't. We are composed of its substance. It is our soul-life image of the word that fails us. Likewise, when the Spirit leads us into higher obedience contrary to our image of God's Word, it is not God's Word we are abandoning—only our previous soul image of it. In both cases, we go through a crisis.
Every time we come to that place where we have to lay down our image of God's Word, we suffer the deepest kind of death of soul it is possible to suffer. We are brought to the place where we must cry, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This is our "cross”—the cross Jesus said we must carry. As it was the cross that brought God's people from the Age of Law to the Age of Grace, even so we experience the cross every time we move from soul-life image of God's word to deeper spirit-communion with the Living Word.
Every time we are led to surrender our cherished "interpretations" of God's Word, every time we are led in a path that goes contrary to our previous understanding of obedience to God's Word, every time our expectations concerning God's promises are dashed and destroyed—we experience the cross—the deepest cross it is possible to experience. We move from some law to higher grace in our being. Our soul-life dies in preparation for resurrection-Life to revive us by the Spirit.
The Imperative of Discerning Life from Image
Rightly perceiving and cooperating with the word of God as it divides image word from Living Word in our midst is witnessed in Paul’s word to Timothy:
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (II Tim. 2:15)
Loved ones, it is critical that we come to live in harmony with this reality concerning the nature of the Word of God. It is critical that we learn to discern the difference between the Living Word in us and our limited non-living soul-image of it given to lead us to the Living Word. It is critical that we learn to discern where we are personally in this regard, and then to recognize this reality in our dealings with one another.
Why? As good as our image of God's Word may be, it is a dead picture of something we are to be entering and to which we are to be bringing one another.
True, we need our imaged understanding to focus our personality until the Spirit accomplishes His grace behind it. But realize that as long as we are relating to the word by our soul-life, we are living under a certain law, a certain legalism by which we tend to judge ourselves and others, bringing one another into condemnation under each other's images. We must learn to recognize our limitation, enter grace through whatever death necessary, then show the same mercy to others.
Discernment Critical to Grace, Love and Unity
The strife and division that come between believers and among assemblies over the "Word of God" is virtually always over images. To the degree our relationship to God's Word is through soul-life, we will find ourselves in conflict with others. We are governed by a certain pharisaism that separates us from others over images. Everyone claims their image to be the "right" image. The challenge of relationship in Christ is to die to our image-life perceptions of God's Word that we may live by grace before one another.
Learning to live by grace with respect to one another is the definition of "Love." To fulfil the commandment to love one another is to practice entering into relationship according to the word of grace at the expense of our images of the Word of God. Spiritual unity is manifest to the degree we enter relationship based on the Living Word of Grace. But soul-life unity based on agreement on interpretations is not true unity. It is "legal" unity enforced through bondage, condemnation, and fear—and is always subject to division and strife.
Unfortunately, because all of us are subject to some mixture of image and life in our devotion to God's Word, there is always going to be ferment in our relationships. The challenge for us is to let ferment spur us on to greater grace toward one another "till we all come in the unity of the faith, unto a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ"—at the end of the age.
Overcoming False Belief Judgments Rooted in Image Faith
Our failure to discern between the Living Word of God and our soul images of it is responsible for all kinds of hard unmerciful thinking and statements concerning the word of God—statements which leave no room for the cross to divorce us from our images. For instance:
"God will never 1ead you to do anything contrary to His Word."
True. But God will often lead you to do things contrary to your image of it. He does so at those points our image has outlived its purpose and must be done away. The above quoted statement is used to judge people wrongly by their outward failure to comply with someone's image of the word.
"If your word doesn't come to pass, you obviously didn't hear from God."
Again true—except that God's fulfilments often come only after violating your imaged expectations surrounding His promise—leaving you to look like a failure or false prophet, or to question wrongly whether you heard from God. The above statement makes outward evidences the final proof of what is true, contrary to faith.
Living truth is established in the heart, borne witness to through the Spirit, and then confirmed (not "proven") by outward evidences.
The most misunderstood phrase in all Christendom is “the Word of God." It is the most warped, misused, and misapplied phrase. And as long as the Word is mediated through flesh and blood, it will continue to be.
Growing in Perfected Discernment between Living Word and Imaged Word
To what purpose then do I write? I'm writing to shake your relationship with God through His Word to its core! You use the phrase "Word of God" so casually. But do you really know what you're talking about?
I want to challenge you to discover the difference between His Living Word in you as a spiritual reality known only by His Presence—and your images of His Word mediated through your dead soul-life. Then I want you to find out where you should be keeping your images for the sake of your own (not someone else's) discipline, and where God is leading you to die to your soul-life, sacrifice your legal images, and be led into a higher grace to His Living Word, subject to fewer and fewer forms.
I want to see you be made perfect! That's my calling. And that's why I write. Are you ready to devote yourself as a living sacrifice relative to your image of God's Word?
[Final Note: One time last summer I wrote you saying that all our "laws" of soul boiled down to our knowledge of good and evil, and how this was traced back to the fall of man when he chose the knowledge of good and evil over the tree of Life. God now uses our knowledge of "good" to point us back to His true Life. God is working daily in our lives by the cross to restore us to the Tree of Life, delivering us from our dead knowledge of good. That's what these two latest letters are about.
If time permitted, I could go much deeper into this study about the two trees. Perhaps later. However, for those of you unacquainted with it, I am recommending a very important and applicable booklet by James McKeever entitled "The Knowledge of Good and Evil." This article has direct bearing on what I have written you. It may still be available through Amazon or other out-of-print book dealers.
written at Greenville, South Carolina
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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Page updated October 20, 2023