Understanding the war for our own souls
We are called to love God with all our soul and to be careful not to lose it as a result of chasing after worldly things. The Bible shows us that this takes sound wisdom and discretion that only comes from faithfully following Jesus, “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.” He will help us walk securely on this earth before our souls depart. At the same time, we need to stay alert to the enemy of our souls with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Note: This is the second in a four-part series on our spirit, our soul, the connection between our spirit and soul, and our flesh.
Matthew 22:37 ESV And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
Matthew 16:26 ESV For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Proverbs 3:21-23 ESV My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble.
1 Peter 2:25 ESV For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Genesis 35:18 ESV And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
Psalm 143:3-4 ESV For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
God’s Word shows us that we need to “entrust our souls to our faithful Creator” while we are on this earth. Otherwise, we will walk around “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.
1 Peter 4:19 ESV Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Matthew 9:36 ESV When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
The appetite of our souls drives us to lead sinful lives
The human soul is “a living being, life, self, person, desire, passion, appetite, emotion” according to the original Hebrew word for soul, nephesh (Strong’s Concordance: נֶפֶש 5315. nephesh).
Our soul has a will of its own that is outside of God. It is greatly influenced by how we feel and think, both consciously and subconsciously, but particularly subconsciously.
Ezekiel 18:20 ESV The soul who sins shall die…
By nature, our souls are prone to sin, carried away by the worldly “passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls.” Our sinful, self-seeking appetite craves for physical pleasures, the things we see, and the glory we receive from earthly achievements and possessions.
1 Peter 2:11 ESV Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
1 John 2:16-7 NLT For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
While none of these things are bad in themselves, it is how we crave after them that is. The Bible shows us that our souls can filled with evil desires, puffed up and proud. When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert after His 40-day fast, these are the very three areas that the devil targeted. Satan tried to cause Jesus to fall into temptation through the passions of the flesh which waged war against Jesus’ soul. Jesus showed us how to prevail by standing firm on the Word and will of God.
Micah 7:3 ESV Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together.
Habakkuk 2:4 ESV “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.
This is why we all need to know God’s Word thoroughly, because we are unable to see the things that are wicked in ourselves otherwise. The Bible shows us that we can sin unintentionally against God without even being aware of it.
Leviticus 4:2-3 ESV “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering.
There are the evil things that people deliberately do that are obviously wrong. Examples include plotting someone’s downfall and humiliation or telling lies to gain an advantage. These are the types of sins we can choose to stop doing immediately. In the words, we can consciously repent.
Then there are the wicked things that we all do on a subconscious level. For example, we can neglect to help the needy because we are too focused on ourselves. We gossip about and put others down because we like feeling righteous and superior. We covet the things of this world because we don’t wish to be seen as falling behind.
Acts 20:35 ESV In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Romans 7:5,7 ESV For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death… if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
When we are driven by the appetite of our souls, we will naturally sin against God because we seek to only satisfy our self-interest over and above pleasing God. But no matter what we do to gratify our desires, we will find that it won’t be long before our souls start to thirst again. With Jesus, on the other hand, we “will never be thirsty.” God will not deny us the deepest desires of our souls, He is the One who placed them inside of us in the first place. He will quench the innermost “desires, passions, appetite, and emotions” of our souls, when we love Him and obey His Word and Spirit.
Romans 2:6-8 ESV He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
John 4:13-14 ESV Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Matthew 6:32-34 ESV … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
The “natural person” follows the appetite of their soul
We are told to guard our souls so that we do not get entangled in the thorns and snares that befall the wicked. How does one guard one’s soul? The answer lies with being renewed in the spirit of our minds.
Proverbs 22:5 ESV Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.
Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
In 1 Corinthians 2:14, the Bible talks about two types of minds that a Christian can operate with. One mind belongs to the “spiritual person” who has the mind of Christ. Another mind belongs to the “natural person.” The root for the word “natural” here is psuchikos in Greek, which refers to “of the soul or mind” (Strong’s Concordance: ψυχικός, 5591. psuchikos).
1 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states that the natural person is “governed by the ψυχή i.e. the principle of animal life, the sensuous nature with its subjection to appetite and passion.” So we see that a natural person is guided by the sensuous appetites and passions of their soul and mind.
Natural persons can attend church services for decades but will still be prone to:
- Live no differently from the world, they still carry out the desires of their bodies and minds | Ephesians 2:2-3 ESV in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
- Pray and ask God to satisfy our their passions, rather than to follow God’s will | James 4:3 ESV You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
- Be easy prey for false teachings | 2 Peter 2:1-2,18 ESV But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.
- Cause quarrels and fights with others and between churches | James 4:1-2 ESV What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel…
- Scoff at the works of the Holy Spirit and even cause division in the Body of Christ | Jude 1:17-19 ESV But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
Correspondingly, natural persons often fall into the trap of religiosity, performance, and self-righteousness, because they are only aware of their conscious sins — which they can control with their conscious will — but they cannot see or overcome their subconscious sins. Only the Holy Spirit can give us that power.
Ephesians 3:16 NIV I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
The enemy fuels the appetite of our souls through the subconscious mind
The subconscious mind is the powerhouse behind our desires and passions. It accounts for about 95% of all our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and beliefs.
The subconscious mind does have wisdom of its own nor does it have the ability to exercise discernment. It never analyses or judges what we are exposed to, it simply records and stores whatever it senses as data, without a conscious filter for truth or falsehood, good or bad.
The subconscious mind learns by repetition, not by logic. The more we are exposed to something, the higher in priority it becomes in the brain. If we don’t have God’s truths deeply implanted into our subconscious, the influences of this world will naturally take precedent.
Knowing this, the enemy of our souls, Satan, sets up systems in this world that bombard us with images and ideas that our subconscious minds have no ability to resist, with the aim to stir up the appetite of our souls. The more we have been exposed to Satan’s deceptions and other wicked things, the more our souls will subconscious start to prioritise and crave them. Also, see Discerning the direction of our thoughts
Ephesians 6:12 ESV For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
If we do not submit all of ourselves to God, including what is in our subconscious, Satan knows that he can still gain large footholds in our lives. This is one way we can end up being “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” without even knowing it.
James 4:7 ESV Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
This is the struggle that the apostle Paul described in Romans 7. He failed to do the good that he consciously wanted because of the subconscious sin in his mind and soul. Paul concluded that “to set (both the conscious and subconscious) mind on the flesh (i.e. sensuous nature of the soul) is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh (who operate on the passions of their soul) cannot please God.”
Romans 7:19-20 ESV For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Romans 8:4-8 ESV … walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Therefore, when we choose to follow Jesus, it is not only our conscious minds that we need to renew, but also our subconscious minds.
Hidden subconscious motives can enslave us to sin
How our hearts subconsciously block God out
Healing our subconscious (emotional) minds
The subconscious beliefs that block childlike faith
The subconscious ways we deceive ourselves
A spiritual person overcomes the subconscious sinful passions of their soul with power of the Holy Spirit
True believers are “born again” through water baptism and filled with the Holy Spirit. Guided by the Holy Spirit, they discover how to please God (who is Spirit), rather than their own passions. They learn to “control their own bodies in holiness and honour” — not just consciously with their own willpower, but also subconsciously, with the power of the Holy Spirit.
John 3:3,5-6 ESV Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” … Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 4:24 ESV God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
1 Thessalonians 4:1,3-5,7-8 ESV … you ought to walk and to please God… For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God… For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Our walk with God is not simply a matter of consciously following rules and rituals (the old way of the written code), but “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” of both our conscious and subconscious minds (the new way of the Spirit).
Romans 7:5-6 ESV For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
Titus 3:4-6 ESV But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Only with His help can we love God with all our mind (i.e. conscious and subconscious) and all our soul. If we rely only on our own sinful nature to love God, we will naturally fail. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to love God in the way that truly exalts and pleases Him. Those “who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. Also, see Understanding how our spirits join with God.
Mark 12:30 ESV And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Romans 8:14,16 NIV For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
If we keep on resisting the Holy Spirit and turn away from Him, on the other hand, we demonstrate that we have no fear for the One who can “destroy both our soul and body in hell” i.e. eternal death (Revelation 20:6,14, Revelation 21:8).
Matthew 10:28 ESV And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Winning the war for our souls
The Bible shows that we need to “crucify our flesh with its passions and desires” that “wage war against our soul,” and keep in step with the Spirit in every area of our lives.
Galatians 5:24-25 ESV And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
1 Peter 2:11 ESV Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
This is a daily discipline where we make time to calm and quiet our souls to meditate on:
- God’s truths and teachings in the Bible | Joshua 1:7-8 ESV Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
- God’s wondrous mighty deeds | Psalm 77:11-13 ESV I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?
- God’s promises | Psalm 119:148 ESV My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.
Psalm 131:1-2 ESV O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
It is the implanted Word of God that is able to save our souls. The more we meditate on scripture and study its deeper implications for our lives, the more our subconscious minds will also be renewed based on God’s truths. Our old nature will gradually be transformed until our old ways are crucified to the cross.
James 1:21-22 ESV Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
We will find that we will also begin to hear the Holy Spirit speak to us in our spirits based on the implanted Word of God. Scripture is the Holy Spirit’s sword and He will use it to help us cut through the clutter of this world with all its confusing messages to show us eternal truths.
Ephesians 6:17 ESV the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
John 16:13 ESV When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
Being still before God is crucial part of our daily worship. God’s voice can may feel like a gentle prodding, almost like a soft heart beat, and can be imperceivable when we live constantly hurried lives, chasing after the things of this world. This is how many quench the Holy Spirit without realising it.
Psalm 46:10 ESV “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Another good discipline is to regularly humble our souls with fasting. We fast to deny the passions of the flesh and sharpen our ability to listen to the Holy Spirit. As we still our souls to wait on the Lord on a daily basis, we will find that ourselves transformed into spiritual persons with the mind of Christ.
Psalm 69:10 ESV When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach.
Psalm 62:5 ESV For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
Psalm 33:20 ESV Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
Today, let us pray, “Father in heaven, as I quiet my soul and meditate on Your Word (use Psalm 116 below as an example), I remember all the ways You have been faithful to Your children. You never let any one of us out of Your sight! Forgive me for the times I have neglected to come before You in worship because I have allowed the things of this world to consume my soul. I wait on Your Spirit to commune with me, grace me with Your presence in my spirit. I seek You with all my soul. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.
I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.”
What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!
Look out for our next post which covers the connection between our spirit and our soul.
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