First Corinthians 15--My personal journey
Sep 14, 2017
In my early years the church taught me that all who are saved go to heaven when they die. I was also taught that we would be raised from the dead. No one explained to me the apparent contradiction between being both in heaven and in the grave, nor did I think to ask.
When I was old enough to do my own serious Bible study (in the 1970’s), I read books that convinced me that the dead were asleep until the resurrection of the dead. Psalm 115:17 says, “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.” Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “the dead do not know anything.” Both the Old and New Testament speak of the dead as being asleep (2 Samuel 7:12 KJV; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:18).
In those days I believed that the soul was the only seat of consciousness and that my soul was “the real me.” I viewed my spirit as being something other than “me,” and compared it to the air that we breathe. It was something borrowed from God, not owned and not part of “me.” I think this is reflected in one of the books that I wrote in the late 1970’s.
But then in 1979 I hit the brick wall in my prayer life, no longer knowing how to pray. Since God was sovereign, why was I spending so much prayer time telling Him the things that He needed to know? Why was I asking Him for things that were probably not beneficial for me in the long term? I finally prayed, “Teach me to pray.”
Well, that went quite well. Soon thereafter I lost my ministry, house, car, reputation, friends, everything except my family. I spent more than a year in my wilderness experience wondering what had just happened, and why. I know now that God had forced me into a position where I had to learn to pray, for if I did not learn to pray, I knew that I would not survive.
It was in the midst of this year of learning to hear His voice that I became aware of a contradiction within myself. I knew some things that I did not believe were true. In pondering this contradiction, I concluded that I was either schizophrenic or that I had more than one consciousness. Of course, I may have been schizophrenic at that time, but I believe that we’re okay now.
Out of that experience, however, it became apparent to me that I had two seats of consciousness within me. For example, when in the depths of despair in late 1982, I lost all hope and could no longer believe that “all things work together for good,” a truth from Romans 8:28 that I had taught and believed for many years up to that point. Yet something else within me still knew that this verse was true.
I know now that God pushed me to the breaking point of despair, so that I would learn the limits of my soul. My soul can believe things only to a certain point, but at some point it could go no farther, because it was yet carnal. That is when I discovered 1 Corinthians 2:14 and finally understood Paul’s distinction between the soulish man and the spiritual man. I then understood Paul’s inner conflict in Romans 7 where he speaks of the two “I’s” that fought each other.
The wonderful part of this revelation was that it told me that even though my soul had reached the end of its ability to have faith, my spirit was undisturbed and unmoved. My spirit knew the truth, and no adverse circumstance could shake it from its rest in the knowledge of God. Then I thanked God that my relationship with Him and my destiny itself did not depend upon my soul’s faith or its ability to believe truth. My spirit was bigger than my soul, and all I had to do was to identify with my spiritual man.
And so my identity shifted from my soul to my spirit, and in the following years as I learned to walk according to the spirit, I gained understanding by the practical experience of intercession and spiritual warfare. From 1983-1989 I was part of the Net of Prayer, which taught me many things that I would need to know when God brought me back into the ministry (1993).
My training period took twelve years, beginning November 12, 1981 until November 12, 1993. God had revealed to me in June 1982 that this was a twelve-year training course. I had a hard time believing it at the time, because it seemed far too long. But it happened. Nine days after the time was completed, we began our first prayer campaign. The Jubilee Prayer Campaign started on November 21-29, 1993.
Looking back, I can say that learning who I am, my true identity, was one of the most important truths that I needed to know. Secondly, I needed to know how to pray and to hear God’s voice. Prior to that time, I had tried to minister and teach without knowing these things. I see now how soulish I was in those days, but at the time, I thought I was spiritual. Today I see that my soul is not spiritual, but only religious at best.
Because of my personal experience and revelation, my understanding of death and resurrection shifted for the third time. In my early life I believed that my soul was immortal and would go to heaven when I died, for at that time I had been taught this Greek view of the nature of man. In the 1970’s I rejected the Greek view and came to believe that the soul was mortal. And because I believed that my soul was “the real me,” I understood that I would remain in the grave until the resurrection of the dead.
Then in the 1980’s, I saw that my spirit was “the real me,” but only if I claim this to be so. Essentially, I had a choice of being either my soul or my spirit. During the decade of the 1980’s, I began to gain an understanding of the divine court and to understand the difference between legal reality and actual reality.
This built upon my earlier understanding of Romans 4, where God imputes righteousness to us, calling what is not as though it were (Romans 4:17 KJV). Our righteous standing before God is a legal reality, though not an actual reality. In other words, I am not perfect, but I legally possess the righteousness of Christ, because I have been justified by faith. This gives me proper standing in the divine court of law.
In the 1980’s, Paul’s statement in Romans 7:14, “the law is spiritual,” became a revelation to me. Prior to that time, I thought Paul was saying that the law was to be spiritualized away. But I came to see that the law was the expression of the nature of God—that is, His love—and that God is spirit. Therefore, the law was indeed spiritual and not carnal, as so many have taught. Those who do not understand that the law is spiritual tend to cast it aside as if it were carnal and even evil. They do all they can to avoid it in order to maintain their spirituality. But in reality, they become carnal, because they avoid any revelation coming from the spiritual law.
So as I gained understanding of these things, I soon came to realize that I was two people. I was both a soul and a spirit, and I needed to choose my identity. Who am I? If I continued to identify myself as my soulish man, then I would naturally walk out that life. Well, I went before the divine court and got my name changed. I am now officially registered as a new man, in that my spirit is now the real me.
I do what I can to keep my unruly soul in subjection to my spirit, but even when my soul disobeys, I have learned to say with the apostle Paul, “I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me” (Romans 7:20). If my flesh sins, it is because my fleshly soul has done it. But I am not my soul, for I refuse to identify with it any longer. My job is to command my soul to return to its position as my slave—that is, the slave of my spirit, which is the real me.
With all of this in mind, let me say again that both soul and spirit have consciousness. It requires a conscious identity to take the lead in anyone’s life. The spirit has the advantage of spiritually appraising, or discerning, all things (1 Corinthians 2:14, 15), whereas the soul’s capacity to discern is very limited. The spirit is the “inner man” in Romans 7:22, where Paul says, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.” Hence, Paul’s spiritual man has the ability to feel joy while it agrees with the law of God. Only a conscious being can agree with anything!
The question, then, is whether the spirit is mortal or immortal. Paul says in Romans 8:10, 11,
10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead [mortal] because of sin, yet the spirit is alive [immortal] because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.
Paul says that the body is mortal on account of Adam’s sin. Romans 5:12 says that because of Adam’s sin, death (mortality) was passed down to all men. But Paul also says, “yet the spirit is alive,” or immortal. The question, of course, is if every man’s spirit is inherently immortal, or if it becomes immortal at the time that a person has faith in Christ. In other words, is the spirit’s immortality inherent by nature or conditional upon one’s expression of faith in Christ?
Paul is not as clear on this issue as I might wish. But in my view, the New Covenant promise of God is to all men to be His people and for God to be the God of all (Deuteronomy 29:12, 13, 14, 15). Not all are believers at the present time, of course, and most people die without having faith in Jesus Christ. But the failure of men cannot cause the promise of God to fail. In fact, “God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all” (Romans 11:32).
Hence, from the divine perspective, where God sees the end from the beginning, every man’s spirit is immortal. God accomplished this long before we were even born. It is a reality in His eyes—or, as we might say, it is a legal reality, that is, a spiritual reality. However, insofar as history and time is concerned, “we do not yet see all things subjected to Him” (Hebrews 2:8).
So from the perspective of earthly time, the spirits of most men are not yet alive, at least in some sense. Each answer only raises more questions, and it is hardly possible to get to the bottom of anything or to plumb the depths of any single truth. It appears that life and consciousness are two different things. A nonbeliever may not have an immortal spirit, but his spirit remains conscious even after his body dies. That, of course, raises questions: Where does his spirit go? What is its condition prior to the Great White Throne judgment?
I can find no commentary on these things in the Scriptures. At best, I could only offer personal opinions. But those opinions would only raise more questions in a never-ending discussion. At some point, the discussion must come to an end. Yet my conclusion is that my own spirit is immortal, along with the spirits of all genuine believers who have been infused with the Spirit of God. If my body and soul die, my spirit will return to God while my body is placed in a tomb or in the ground. My soul will go to sheol/hades, which is place of unconscious sleep.
The resurrection is necessary in order to give the spirit an earthly expression of the character of Christ, so that heaven and earth can be married and enjoy the unity that was lost when Adam sinned. God’s love will then permeate all of creation, driving out all darkness. At that time, we will have new bodies and new souls that are fully submitted to the leading of the spirit. The spirit will have the ability to travel back and forth between heaven and earth, even as Jesus did after His resurrection.
This is part 101 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.