Understanding What It Means to Walk According to the Spirit
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The story is a familiar one. The man and the woman are in the garden one day just doing whatever it was that they were supposed to be doing, when Satan, Gods enemy, appears in the guise of a serpent. He addresses his remarks specifically to the woman, although the man does nothing to interfere. Satan questions Gods command about not eating the fruit and then questions His motives. The result is that the woman is tempted, takes the fruit, eats part of it, then gives it to the man, who is with her, and he eats it.
No sooner does that happen than God appears on the scene, and both the man and woman are afraid. Something has changed. Before they were in perfect fellowship with God; now they are afraid of Him.
Before we look at what happens next, I want to look in detail at the temptation that Satan used. Satan has been expelled from heaven following his insurrection and now he seeks a place to dwell. There is no way that Satan can handle a direct confrontation with God for control of earth, besides which God has given that domain to man. So Satan confronts man instead.
The principle upon which Satan is operating is the principle of obedience and submission. If Satan can persuade man to submit to him, or be in disobedience to God, which is the same thing, then man becomes the servant of Satan1. All man has to do, on the other hand, is remain submitted to God and obey the one commandment.
Satan attacks in the one area that is vulnerable: the soul. Since mans spirit is in perfect fellowship with God, the only way for him to sin is for his soul to rise up and act contrary to the direction of the spirit. The soul must act on its own, and not under submission to the spirit. Look closely at the temptation:
In these verses we see Satan operating in all three areas of the soul: mind, will and emotions. First he attacked in the area of the mind by contradicting what God had said, and this stirred up the will. For the first time the thought was entertained that she could disobey God and not suffer the consequences. Next, in verse 5, Satan appealed directly to the emotions. As the woman began to dwell on the thought that God might be wrong and withholding something good, negative emotions began.
Let me digress here and say something further about the soul. A study of the New Testament in particular reveals that there are two words that are closely related to the soul: sarx (flesh) and suneidesis (conscience). These two words reveal two conflicting natures of the soul. The flesh is that part of the soul that refuses to be in submission to God, that says I would rather do it my way, while the conscience is that part of the soul that is aware of God and seeks to be in alignment with His desire. The conflict between these two dimensions of the soul is vividly illustrated by Paul in his letter to the Romans:
Eve experienced that conflict. As Eve allowed the flesh to rise up and take control, the body, in the form of the eyes, began to respond to the direction of the soul, particularly the emotions, and began to study the tree. Her emotional response was reinforced, and exercising her will she acted in disobedience to the direction of her spirit.
Her husband, the man, was no better. I believe the man knew what was happening, but instead of acting to stop it, perhaps because for fear of losing the woman, he also succumbed to the flesh, disobeyed and ate.
In both cases the soul in the form of the flesh rose up and acted independently of the spirit, and that is the source of the problem. Gods design was for the soul to remain in submission to the spirit and not act on its own. The souls of the man and woman, however, had a desire to be in control, and when the opportunity presented itself the soul rose up and acted.
It is like a lower ranking officer in an army deciding to negotiate with the enemy during wartime in direct violation of orders. Such a person would be court-martialed for insurrection and treason.
In some respects, that is what happened in the garden.
The desire of the soul to be in control has a name: it is called sin, and God had already announced the penalty for sin:
God pronounced that death, immediate death, was the penalty for disobedience. Yet neither the man nor the woman, Adam and Eve, seemed to die right away. Adam, we know according to Genesis 5:5, lived another 930 years before he died. So the question is, how was Gods punishment executed?
First of all, when dealing with the question of physical death it is important to understand that God had prepared a very special environment for mankind. It was unlike anything that we know today. Scientists who have extensively researched this topic have concluded that it was perfect for life.2 Many believe that prior to the introduction of sin death and decay did not exist.3 The Bible does say, for instance, by a man came death (I Cor 15:21) and just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all shared.
In one sense, then, one can say that the seeds of death began with the entrance of sin, that Adam and all things began to die at that time. Even though Adam lived for a long time, as did all of the pre-flood patriarchs, death was inevitable.
But that explanation, while true, is not totally satisfactory. Gods promise was that in the day that you eat of it you will die, not 930 years later. It is my belief that their sin and disobedience caused a separation between the man and woman, and God, and with that separation came the death of their spirits. The human spirit cannot live apart from intimate fellowship with God:
One way of looking at the death of the spirit is as if it had fallen into a coma. In such a comatose state it is still existing, but is not longer alive. Jude describes man in this state as the ones making separations, natural, not having spirit (Jude 19, literal).5
The consequences of the death of the human spirit were devastating. It is hard to imagine the depth of the loss. The soul no longer had the benefit of the guidance and direction from the spirit, and so it assumed its own leadership position.
I had a very limited career as a Boy Scout, but I remember a particular incident that happened one year at camp. The entire troop had gone for a hike, and we were going down the trail single file. Someone in the middle, who thought he knew better, took a different direction than the leader at a fork in the trail. Those of us behind did not know this and we followed the false leader. As a result we ended up in a boggy patch filled with skunk cabbage, which as its name implies, has a terrible odor when stepped on. When we finally got back to the camp, muddy and smelly, we were the laughingstock of the entire troop.
The fact is that the soul makes a very poor leader. The soul is very limited in its understanding and, because of its three-part nature, is not equipped for setting direction and purpose. It cannot see very far down the path, yet it thinks it knows everything. God never designed the soul to be in charge; it was designed to receive constant direction from Him through the human spirit. The moment it loses sight of the leadership given by the spirit, the soul is in trouble. Yet most of the time it does not know it.
Returning to the illustration of the corporation, it is like all upper level management is removed, and the middle management people have to do their job. Such a situation would sooner or later degenerate into chaos. Things might continue for a while, but eventually there would be a loss of the sense of direction, with each one going his own way.
It did not take long for these tendencies became evident in mankind. You need not read very far in Genesis before you see things going downhill rapidly. First was Cains murder of Able, but that was just the beginning. It was not long before the Bible says, Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5, NASB, emphasis added) The period of time from the entrance of sin until this statement spanned only a few generations.
Man not only lost his sense of direction, he also became vulnerable to the influence of the enemy.
Sin, that is, our sin nature, is centered in the soul, and as such is a fundament part of mankinds nature. We tend to think of sin as something we do, but it goes much deeper than that. Watchman Nee draws a distinction between sin and sins:
So sin was the result not just simply of the act of yielding to temptation, but of the very desire itself. James writes, Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. (James 1:14 NASB) We tend to associate the word lust with sexual desires, but it has a much wider meaning: to desire or long for something, particularly something which is forbidden. James goes on to say, Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; (James 1:15 NASB) The word conceived is the same word in the Greek used in Luke 1:24 when the Bible says, Elizabeth his wife became pregnant; (NASB) It is not the birth, i.e. the action based on the desire, but the conception, i.e. the desire itself, that results in sin. The action we may be able to control; the desire we cannot.
When looking at what it means to be created in the image of God it is important to get a proper view of sin. Sin, that is our sin nature, is not something that is somehow added on by our environment or that we acquire because of accumulated behavior. It goes much deeper than that. It is as if our genetics changed.
Most of our physical characteristics, such as eye and hair color, skin tint, etc., are controlled by our genetic makeup, which we inherit from our parents. They, in turn, inherited their physical makeup from their parents. It is not possible to inherit, for example, blue eyes if neither of my parents have the gene for blue eyes. Likewise, if I do not inherit the gene for blue eyes from my parents and I marry a woman who also did not inherit the gene for blue eyes then none of our children can have blue eyes since none of them could inherit the needed gene. And it is a fact of genetics that once a genetic trait is lost in a population it cannot be recovered.
The moment Adam sinned and God spoke judgment the human spirit died. What Adam and Eve no longer possessed they could not pass on to their children, and so the children of Adam were born with dead spirits. Likewise it is with each succeeding generation.
Moreover, all of the genetic traits for a person are established at the moment of conception, for that is when the specific genomes from each parent are joined to form a complete cell. While the psalmist may not have known the science of genetics, he nonetheless knew the truth when he says, And in sin my mother conceived me. (Ps 51:5 NASB) That is to say, that from the very moment of conception the sin nature was inherited. There is no escaping it.
God had designed mankind so that our spirit would protect us from sin. If Adam would have listened and submitted to the guidance of his spirit he would never have sinned. But now that his spirit was dead the possibility of living without sin also died.
If there was to be any hope for the human race it would have to come through another one, one who, like Adam, was created in the image of God, but who, unlike Adam, would live in perfect submission to his spirit.