For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit (Hebrews 12:4).
This article is derived from Eddie’s latest book, Revival Fire: Discerning Between the True & the False, available on Amazon and at www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html.
Growing up in a Pentecostal church that valued spiritual manifestations, I learned very early that there is a cultural aspect to people’s response to the Holy Spirit. In our Assembly of God, people would commonly “shout” when there was a “move of the Spirit.” These shouts of praise might be accompanied by jumping, jerking, and maybe dancing exuberantly.
As a young man, I began playing lead guitar with a Church of God (Cleveland, TN) singing group and found myself in congregations belonging to that denomination. Immediately, I noticed that the Church of God people responded differently to the Holy Spirit’s presence than did those of the Assemblies of God. I particularly noticed that the Church of God women, when prayed for by the laying on of hands, would arch their backs in a certain, peculiar way. I noticed the young girls responding exactly the same way. Even as a young believer, it became obvious to me that the unique responses of both groups were learned behaviors.
This is not to say that they were not experiencing God’s presence, but to point out that they had learned certain ways to respond to God’s presence that were unique to their church cultures. Since that time, I have repeatedly seen this feature in revivals, where certain outward expressions or behavior become esteemed and valued in that revival. People who embrace the revival seem to learn by osmosis how they are expected to respond to the Spirit’s presence. Within the revival, these cultural manifestations are usually looked upon as the direct activity of the Holy Spirit and signs of His presence.
Manifestations Too Often
Become Marks of Spirituality
Unfortunately, these manifestations too often become marks of spirituality and those who do not exhibit the same sort of behavior are looked down upon. Much pressure is placed on individuals to act a certain way if they want to be esteemed as “spiritual” and accepted into the “tribe.” Some will then begin to exhibit such behavior of their own initiative, apart from the Holy Spirit. This may take the form of falling when prayed for, jerking in a particular manner, producing a grunting sound, or making some other physical expression.
I have ministered in churches where it was obvious that people had been trained—probably subtly—to fall when prayed for. I remember one man looking behind him to make sure the catcher was there before falling backward as I prayed for him.
We need to learn to distinguish between Spirit and culture, and between the human soul and spirit.
The Difference between Soul and Spirit
To discern between soul and spirit is helpful in recognizing the source of an outward manifestation. Is a behavior a response to the Spirit of God or is it merely a human or fleshy display? The New Testament teaches that there is a difference between the human soul and the human spirit. In I Thessalonians 5:23, for example, Paul says, May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 14:12 clearly says that the soul and spirit are two distinct entities and that only the Word of God can divide the two. Making a distinction between soul and spirit can be very helpful in discerning the source of a manifestation.
The spirit is the innermost part of our being and is that part that is regenerated when we are born again. It is through our human spirit that we have an awareness of God and the spirit realm. In born-again believers, the spirit is the place where the Holy Spirit dwells and, therefore, the place from which gifts of the Holy Spirit flow. Our spirit is sometimes referred to in Scripture as “the heart.” For example, Jesus was speaking of the human spirit when He said, He who believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:38).
The soul, on the other hand, consists of our mind, will, and emotions. It is the seat of the personality—the ego—and is that part of our being that gives us self-awareness. The soul, i.e., mind, will, and emotions, can be moved by a variety of outward stimuli. Good music, for example, has the power to stir positive emotions of love, nostalgia, and compassion apart from the Holy Spirit. Likewise, a gifted orator can stir emotions and move people to behave in ways they otherwise would not. These are mere feelings of the soul and have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. This is what John Wesley was referring to when, on October 29, 1762, he cautioned a colleague who was mistaking his own thoughts and imaginations for the Holy Spirit. Wesley said:
I dislike something that has the appearance of enthusiasm, overvaluing feelings and inward impressions; mistaking the mere work of imagination for the voice of the Spirit, and undervaluing reason, knowledge, and wisdom in general (Wesley, vol. 3 of The Works of John Wesley, 98).
I am convinced that much Christian ministry today originates in the soul, i.e., the human mind, will and emotions. I remember reading a book by a Christian leader written in an allegorical style much like John Bunyon’s Pilgrim Progress. At the beginning of the book he says that this was a vision he had seen over an extended period of time. However, as I read the book, my heart response was, “This person has a very active imagination.” The book was, to me, an example of the need to distinguish between soul and spirit and to bring our souls under the sway and influence of the Spirit. Only then will our ministry and worship be a pure offering unto the Lord, not tainted by self and ego.
I recall visiting a revival meeting where there were many outward manifestations—laughing, falling, and so on—and I left the meeting with an inward sense of edification and refreshing. Later, I visited another revival where the same manifestations were occurring, and even though people were laughing, falling, and shouting in similar ways, I left this meeting grieved and troubled inside. The difference was that the manifestations in the first revival were, for the most part, honest responses to the Spirit’s presence. In the second venue, where my spirit was grieved, the manifestations originated in the soul, for the most part. They were not responses to the Holy Spirit, but tended, instead, to be worked up religious frenzy—religious excitement originating in the soul.
Engaging in such soulish activity and calling it revival is not something new. The well-known Bible teacher and revivalist, R. A. Torrey (1856-1928), bemoaned the state of revival in his day and wrote;
The most fundamental trouble with most of our present-day, so called revivals is, that they are man-made and not God sent. They are worked up (I almost said faked up) by man’s cunningly devised machinery—not prayed down (Torrey, The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power, 62).
Discerning Between Soul & Spirit
In the Operation of Prophecy
Learning to distinguish between soul and spirit also has an incredible bearing on the operation of the gift of prophecy. I recall a “prophet” once giving me a prophetic word about my “little brother” about whom he said I had been very concerned. He claimed that God had just revealed to him that there was no need for my concern, for my little brother would be saved. Now, there was only one problem with this prophecy: I do not have a little brother!
When I shared this fact with this person he was embarrassed and replied, “I will have to be more careful.” He was not a false prophet, but simply an individual who had never learned to distinguish between his soul and spirit. The prophecy was neither from God nor the devil, but had been formulated in his soul, (i.e., his mind will and emotions), perhaps motivated by a need for attention or importance. This is why I Thessalonians 5:21 says, Test all things; hold fast what is good.
A Pure River of Revival
The last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi, said that when the Messiah came He would be like a refiner’s fire and would sit as a refiner to purify the sons of Levi so that the offerings [worship and ministry] of God’s people will be pleasant to the Lord as in the days of old (Mal. 3:2-4). We can cooperate with this refining process by allowing the word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, to penetrate our inner being and divide soul and spirit, revealing those religious activities that are merely soulish and self-serving. As we repent of our soulish Christianity and determine to walk after the Spirit, a pure river of revival will flow forth, bringing life, healing and refreshing everywhere it goes.