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defining spirit, soul, and body (2000)

by Robert Winer, M.D.

Excerpts and Comments on Watchman Nee's "The Release of the Spirit"

"Anyone who serves God will discover sooner or later that the great hindrance to his work is not others but himself. He will discover that his outward man and his inward man are not in harmony, for both are tending toward opposite directions. He will also sense the inability of his outward man to submit to the spirit's control, thus rendering him incapable of obeying God's highest commands."


Watchman Nee captures the essence of the dilemma we all battle with:

  • Our outward and inward man "are not in harmony."
  • It is this disparity between the inward and outward man that we are seeking to explore and help others with. Our prayer for you is that the Ruach use this paper to bring these two into harmony and so release the Spirit of God in our own lives and the lives of others. Note: All Scripture uses the NKJV translation unless indicated.

Defintion of Terms

"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Thess. 5:23).

"For the word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit ..." (Heb. 4:12).

  • Note: Here the point of this Scripture is that soul and spirit can be defined as being distinctly different.
  • What follows are Nee's 3 definitions. The term, "outermost man" is not found in Scripture.

1. Inward man -- the Spirit

When we come to know Messiah, God's Spirit dwells within our human spirit causing us to be born again (Jn. 3). We become a "new creation" (2 Corin. 5:17).

2. Outward man -- the Soul

    • Just as we are dressed in clothes, so our inward man (spirit) wears an outward man (soul).
    • The soul is the place that contains our intellect, emotions, and will.
    • We express to others what is in our spirit through the soul. For example, while we may receive a prophecy in our spirit, to express it the content (words) must be transferred to our soul and then spoken through our body (mouth).

3. Outermost man -- the Body

    • The spirit and soul "wear" the body.
    • People are generally more conscious of the outer and outermost man and hardly recognize or understand their spirit at all.

"A grain of wheat must die"

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain" (Jn. 12:24).

Nee uses this passage to show that the Scripture supports his concept that the spirit is encased by the soul.

1. Wheat has a hard shell on the outside.

2. As long as the shell is not split open, the wheat cannot sprout and grow.

3. If this shell is not opened, the life inside will eventually die. Nee writes that the point here is not just theoretical but practical. When one is born again there is life inside the shell. Yet unless the outside shell is cracked open to release the life held inside, our spiritual life dries up and eventually dies.

Nature causes the wheat's shell to crack by using temperature, humidity, and pressure. What are the ways that God cracks open our shell (soul) to release our spirits?

Note: Though I'm sure there's lots of different answers to this one, the answer I'd like you to focus on is the "discipline of the Holy Spirit." We'll cover this more extensively in the other parts of this series. When Nee uses this term, he's referring to how God orders our ways ("... All things work together for the good to those who love God ... " (Rom. 8:28.) to accomplish His purpose for us and others. Nee believes that primary purpose for the "discipline of the Holy Spirit" is to break our outward man so that our inward man can be released.

Oftentimes we must walk in ways contrary to the will of God to learn how to walk right. God will allow us to experience failure or trials so that are fruit might grow sweeter and larger by pruning and perfecting us. This is unlearning, a process in which we uncouple from the world's system and and align ourselves with God's purpose. When we "unlearn" we become more child-like.

Confronting Your Current Spiritual State

I've found that there are many reasons why people don't have their souls cracked open to release their spirits. I've thought of a few categories that might fit you. If you believe there are more, feel free to use your own schema:

1. Those who didn't know that their outward man was not allowing their spirit to break through. These are primed to experience a working of the Ruach. The study supplies them with a knowledge that the Ruach can use to open their spiritual eyes.

2. Those who knew that something was blocking their spiritual life, but found themselves unable to get victory. These may gain victory through the principles taught in the study along with the ministry of the Ruach. They may also need a knowledge of the spiritual warfare involved and/or deliverance.

3. Those who are overcome by their emotions and can't seem to get victory.

4. Those who have sin blocking their relationship with God. These need to repent and accept the atoning work of Messiah. After that's done, the door is open for a further work of the Spirit.

All four groups need to be led into a prayer of consecration and repentance because these open the door for the Ruach to work in their lives. This is a voluntary submission of their will to God's authority. It is crucial that this take place. Consider doing it right now. If you're not now prepared to do this, would you consider it later? Here's a prayer type for you to model:

"Dear Lord: I consecrate myself to You. This means that I offer myself to You right now. And I do this without making any conditions and without any reservations. I trust You for my life, my future, for everything. I place myself in Your hands. Have Your way with me. In Yeshua's name. Amen."

Why Haven't I Done This Before?

"Why is it that after many years of dealing some remain the same? Some individuals have a forceful will; some have strong emotions; and others have a strong mind. Since the Lord is able to break these, why is it that after many years some are still unchanged?"

Nee sees two main reasons that some people don't respond to the discipline of the Ruach and thus don't allow their souls to be broken:

1. Many don't see the hand of God at work in their circumstances. They think that it is just people opposing them or that the conditions are too harsh. Perhaps they are pessimists.

2. Self-love: These may see the hand of God in their situations but fail to grasp the lessons the Lord wants to teach them because they take matters into their own hand. The heart of self-love wants to end anxiety, pain, or discomfort as soon as possible and thus seeks to plan a way to fix things. This comes from the soul as it is always trying to control its own destiny rather than come under the headship of God.

Which group might you fit into? I'm asking you to disclose what's in your heart. I know that some of you are naturally reluctant to do this, yet this is necessary. Honestly consider your current spiritual state.

Points and Questions to Dig Deeper

"He who can work for God is the one whose inward man can be released. The basic difficulty of a servant of God lies in the failure of the inward man to break through the outward man."

"Our spirit seems to be wrapped in a covering so that it cannot easily break forth. If we have never learned how to release our inward man by breaking through the outward man, we are not able to serve in fullness."

1. Nee contends that man's normal state (even true for those who by Christain definition are "born again.") is for spirit to be encased by his soul and unable to be fully expressed. What do you think of this idea?

Nee contends that ministry (work for God) is accomplished through the release of the inward man (spirit). When I first read this, I thought, "Does this mean that anything that doesn't arise through the spirit, is not ministry?" I don't believe that's Nee's point. The goal of his book is to encourage people to function more and more in the spiritual realm. He is encouraging them to work for God through their spirits rather than soul. For example, he sees many believers preaching messages in which the content has a mixture of spirit and soul (human thought and feelings) His vision is to encourage all outward activity for the Lord to be done by the spirit rather than using the intellect or emotion to convince.

2. Do you minister with your spirit or your soul?

I Want to Hear from You

I've asked you to open up a bit and some of you may feel the need to talk about it with others. Please pray about this. I'd also suggest that you e-mail me at: and I'll prayerfully consider how to respond.

Copyright 2000, Gesher, Robert I. Winer, M.D.