According to Hebrews 4, the Word of God is razor-sharp and it slices with a precise scalpel between “soul” and “spirit.” I guess the writer wanted us to consider two interior areas of being that are sometimes difficult to distinguish. It’s like tracking down your motivation for doing something – was it altruistic or egotistic? Sometimes we hardly know ourselves, because our motives are so muddied.
For example, when Peter exclaimed to Jesus (in Mark 8) that he should not go to Jerusalem and face the obvious danger that awaited him there in the power-centre of his enemies, Jesus said: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus (the living Word of God) was dividing between the”spirit” and “soul” of Peter’s motivation. The “spirit” was impelling Jesus into the danger-zone; the “soul” was tempting him into safety and comfort.
In the (quite funny) movie depicted above, the father of our hapless hero’s prospective bride bullies him into undertaking a lie-detector test, with bizarre but predictable results. And when we come to the Word of God, the same exposure ensues.
The Word of God -and to an extent, the Body of Christ itself- functions as a lie detector test. The hidden becomes evident. Secrets are exposed. This is not for humiliation but rather like the exposure of wounds prior to healing. It’s like the acknowledgement of alcoholism that has to precede the AA programme, or the weighing scales in a Weight-loss club. You have to recognise just what is what, before change can begin.
And the Bible is very very serious about truth.
Lying corrupts community. In Leviticus 19:11, God commands: “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” Similarly, in the new covenant community: Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Colossians 3:9: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.”
God is characterised by truthfulness, and so his rejection of falsehood amounts to detestation: Proverbs 12:22: “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” And we are summoned into the same response:Psalm 119:163: “I hate and detest falsehood but I love your law.” Proverbs 13:5: “The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves.”
There are many references, but it’s worth just referencing Jesus’s angry response in John 8: 44: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Jesus gives a rationale for God’s resistance to falsehood – it is the devil’s “native language.”
So the Lie-Detector of the Word comes into operation, slicing between truth and falsehood, between soul and spirit, between the “concerns of men” and the “concerns of God.”
What do those two sides look like?
There’s a door in Galatians 5 which shows those two opposite sides. The first shows what Paul called the “acts of the flesh” and the other shows the “fruit of the Spirit.” They seem to be mirror images of each other.
Does being on one side of the door mean to not be on the other?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
It is helpful to understand the “acts of the flesh” in contradistinction to the life of the Spirit and what love produces in the human heart.
The point is this: Each one of the acts (or works) of the flesh is a violation or a perversion of the love of God. It’s not really a mirror image, it’s a fairground distortion.
The line dividing good and evil cuts…
Here’s Paul’s list: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lewdness in the very simplest analysis, are counterfeits of the way we share the intimacies of love.
Idolatry and sorcery are counterfeits of the way we approach God, seeking His will, understanding His character.
Hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, and murders are all opposites of the loving consideration with which we live together.
Drunkenness and revelries are sad attempts to fill a void only love can fill.
So what’s to be done? When we come to the Word, we come into the presence of one who knows us completely. It’ s silly to think that we can masquerade or pretend to a truthfulness that we do not possess. “He knows that we are dust.” It is as well that we come clean, so that he can make us truly clean. It’s as well that we take the test, admit the results and so discover grace and mercy.
Anything else is folly indeed.