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What is the Self?

To understand what the self is, we must consider the creation and fall of man. God created man with a spirit, a soul, and a body (Gen. 2:7; 1 Thes. 5:23; Heb. 4:12). He made man’s spirit with the capacity to contact, receive, and contain God (John 4:24; 3:6; Rom. 8:16). God formed man’s soul with the faculties of mind, emotion, and will so he could express Him. God created man’s body so he could contact the physical world. God’s intention was for man to be filled in his spirit with God’s divine life to express Him through the organ of his soul. Man’s soul would be dependent upon and subordinate to his spirit, which would be his real person. But instead of taking God into his spirit, man took in the enemy of God, Satan. Because of the fall, man’s entire being was damaged and rearranged. His spirit was deadened (Eph. 2:1); his soul, saturated with Satan’s evil word and thought (Gen. 3:1-5), was corrupted and became the self, independent of God and in oneness with Satan; and his body was transmuted and became the flesh of sin (Rom. 7:18a; 8:3). God still needs the faculties of man’s soul for His expression, but the independent life of the soul, the self, must be denied (Matt.16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).

The expression of the self is in human opinion, thoughts, and concepts.

Self and soul-life are often used interchangeably in the New Testament. For example, in Matthew 16:24-26 the Lord Jesus says, “If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; but whoever loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it. For what shall a man be profited if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul-life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul-life?” (emphasis added). Passages such as this and Luke 9:24-25 indicate that the self and the soul-life are identical. The soul-life is embodied in the self, and the self is just the soul-life.

In our practical experience, we need a further realization: the expression of the self is in human opinion, thoughts, and concepts. Self, soul-life, and human opinion are three sides of one entity. This is illustrated in the exchange between the Lord Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16:21-23. In verse 21 the Lord revealed that He was going to the cross to die according to God’s ordination from eternity (Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:19-20). But Peter rebuked the Lord, saying, “God be merciful to You, Lord! This shall by no means happen to You!” (v. 22). Such a word seemed to be a good, sympathetic, and loving expression uttered out of concern for the Lord’s well being. But the Lord turned and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men” (v. 23). Peter’s concept, idea, and opinion expressed through his mind were actually Satan. Thus, in the subsequent verses, the Lord spoke of denying the self (v. 24) and of losing the soul-life (v. 25), indicating that Peter’s word came from himself, his soul-life. His idea and concept were the expression of himself, and this self was just the soul-life.

For further reading on this subject, please see Life-study of Matthew message 48; The Conclusion of the New Testament, pp. 1620-1621; and The Experience of Life pp. 222-244, by Witness Lee, published by Living Stream Ministry.

From Issue No. 65, September 2003

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