Reading #64 – Functions of the Spirit – Part 1

I am going through this for myself again because I still find myself unfamiliar with it. Sharing this because, perhaps, it may be useful for people who wish to gain a greater understanding of the spirit and how it is different from the soul and the body.


The Spiritual Man, CFP, Vol. 2, Part 5 AN ANALYSIS OF THE SPIRT, Ch. 1, by Watchman Nee 

TO UNDERSTAND more clearly what spiritual life is we must analyze the spirit explicitly and assimilate all its laws. Only after we are really acquainted with its different functions are we able to know the laws which govern them; only after we become familiar with those laws can we walk according to the spirit; that is, according to the laws of the spirit. This is indispensable for experiencing the spiritual life. We should never fear appropriating too much knowledge concerning the spirit; but we should be extremely apprehensive if we use our mind excessively in such pursuit.

God’s glad tidings to men is that the fallen can be regenerated and the fleshly can receive a new spirit. This new spirit serves as the basis for new life. What we commonly term spiritual living is but to walk by this spirit which we obtain at regeneration. It is something to be deplored that believers are so ignorant of the functions of the spirit as well as of other matters pertaining to it. Although they may know the relationship of the spirit to man in name, they are unable to identify their spirit in experience. Either they do not realize where their spirit is or else they interpret their own feelings or thoughts to be functions of the spirit. An analysis of its functions hence becomes absolutely essential, for without them no believer can move according to the spirit.

The Functions of the Spirit

Mention was made previously that the functions of the spirit could be classified as intuition, communion, and conscience. While these three can be distinguished, still, they are closely entwined. It is therefore difficult to treat of one without touching upon the others. When we talk for example about intuition, we naturally must include communion and conscience in our discussion. Thus in dissecting the spirit we necessarily must look into its triple functions. Since we have seen already how the spirit comprises these three abilities, we shall proceed next to uncover what these exactly are in order that we may be helped to walk according to the spirit. We may say that such a walk is a walk by intuition, communion and conscience.

These three are merely the functions of the spirit. (Furthermore, they are not the only ones; according to the Bible, they are but the main functions of the spirit). None of them is the spirit, for the spirit itself is substantial, personal, invisible. It is beyond our present comprehension to apprehend the substance of the spirit. What we today know of its substance comes via its various manifestations in us. We will not attempt here to solve future mysteries but only attempt to discover spiritual life; sufficient for us is the knowledge of these abilities or functions and of the way to follow the spirit. Our spirit is not material and yet it exists independently in our body. It must therefore possess its own spiritual substance, out of which arise various abilities for the performance of God’s demands on man. Hence what we desire to learn is not the substance but the functions of the spirit.

Previously we have compared man to the temple and man’s spirit to the Holy of Holies. We shall proceed further with this metaphor by comparing the intuition, communion and conscience of the spirit to the ark in the Holy of Holies. First, within the ark lies the law of God which instructs the Israelites what they should do; God thereby reveals Himself and his will through the law. In like manner God makes Himself and His will known to the believer’s intuition that he may walk accordingly. Second, upon the ark and sprinkled with the blood is the mercy seat whereon God manifests His glory and receives man’s worship. Similarly, every person redeemed by the blood has the spirit quickened; through this quickened spirit he worships and communes with God. As God formerly communed with Israel on the mercy seat, so He today communes with the believer in his blood-cleansed spirit. Third, the ark is called “the Ark of Testimony” because therein are kept the Ten Commandments as God’s testimony to Israel. Just as the two tablets of law silently accused or excused the doings of Israel, so the believer’s conscience, on which God’s Spirit has written the law of God, bears witness for or against the conduct of the believer. “My conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 9.1).

Observe with what respect the. Israelites paid the ark! In crossing the Jordan River they had no other guidance save the ark, but they followed it without hesitation. In fighting against Jericho, they did nothing except march behind it. Later, they could not stand before the Philistines when they tried to use the ark according to their way. Was not Uzzah smitten to death as he put out his fleshly hand to hold the ark? How joyful Israel was when they had prepared a habitation for it (Ps. 132). These incidents ought to teach us to be exceptionally careful with our ark, which is our spirit with its threefold functions. If we walk in this fashion, we shall have life and peace; if we allow the flesh to interfere, we can encounter nothing but total defeat. Victory depended not on what or how Israel thought but on where the ark led. Spiritual usefulness lies in the teaching of our intuition, communion and conscience and not in the thought of man.

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