The Feast of Tabernacles is a high point for members of God’s Church, and we look forward to the time it pictures, when the craziness we see around us will come to an end. However, even after Christ’s return, it will take some years for the world to come into harmony with His better way of life, as Satan’s influence will linger in the minds of an angry, broken humanity. This is evident from Zechariah 14:16–19.
Brethren, do we see what is happening around us? By this, I mean: Do we understand how our adversary is not only stirring up hatred, but is also actively trying to distract us, the people of God, from our calling? Are we carefully monitoring ourselves concerning what we see, what we think, and what we feel—especially what we feel?
Distracted by False Teaching
God began to reveal to Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong the doctrine concerning the spirit in man about the time I entered Ambassador College in 1965. I’m sure he spoke about it prior to that time, but I clearly remember that it was constantly on his mind as the truth of it sank in.
The truth of the spirit in man was in the Bible all along, but sometimes we focus on what is not meant by a statement or word more than on what is meant.
In this instance, Mr. Armstrong rightly understood that the concept of the immortal soul was a false doctrine with heathen origins. For example, Tertullian wrote a work titled “On the Soul” sometime between 196 and 212 AD. Where did Tertullian come up with his “understanding” about the soul? Was it the Bible, or pagan philosophy?
But his [i.e., Tertullian’s] well-known question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” expressed a rejection of philosophy that was not true of his own work, since he demonstrated how pagan intellectual achievements could be made to serve Christianity (Eerdmans’ Handbook to the History of Christianity, ed. Tim Dowley, p. 112).
Famed Catholic theologian Augustine also tied his thoughts on the immortality of the soul to concepts originating in paganism.
Augustine (354–430 C.E.) adopts Plato’s approach when he teaches that the immortality of the soul follows from its participation in the eternal truths (Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. 14, “Immortality,” p. 336).
In countering this doctrinal error, Mr. Armstrong had to explain how scriptures were twisted by this false teaching. He pointed out that whatever the soul is, it can die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) and it can be destroyed (Matthew 10:28). In spite of misrepresentations by false teachers who try to read this heathen concept into the Bible, even the New Bible Commentary Revised tells us regarding Matthew 10:28 that “The soul in biblical thought is not immortal, except when new life is conferred upon it through Christ (1 Tim. 6:16; 2 Tim. 1:10). Hell is therefore the place of its destruction as Gehenna, the valley of Hinnom, was of the rubbish of Jerusalem” (p. 829, emphasis added). Clearly, immortality is not something we possess simply by being human. Paul tells us that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” but that “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50, 53).
But let’s not be distracted by what the Bible does not say. If it isn’t an “immortal soul,” then what is this “spirit in man” or “spirit of man” we read of in the Bible? Notice it in this passage: “Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1). Solomon also speaks of a spirit in man, but in rather vague terms as to what happens to it at death. “Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21).
The Remarkable Spirit in Man
The spirit in man is something that gives man understanding far above any other creature. Some animals have larger brains, but they cannot comprehend science or advanced mathematics. They do not build hospitals or send rockets into outer space. The difference in intellect between man and even the most intelligent animal is so vast as to be beyond comparison—a difference scientists still cannot easily explain.
Notice what we are told about this spirit in the book of Job: “But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding” (Job 32:8). Whatever this spirit is, it brings about heightened perception and introspection. “The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inner depths of his heart” (Proverbs 20:27).
We are reminded of a passage from Isaiah: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8–9). But did God intend for this to be the whole story? He did not! The context of this passage clearly shows that it is addressed to the unconverted whom God is calling to repentance (see vv. 1–7). God intends for those who are His to learn to think as He thinks.
This becomes evident in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he clarifies the subject further. As with Isaiah, he points out that God’s thoughts are far above those of man. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). But Paul does not stop there. The verses that follow explain that those who have the Spirit of God in them can begin to think on the God-level. Notice verse 10: “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.”
Paul next brings out this wonderful truth with his comparison between the Spirit of God and the spirit in man. “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (v. 11). It is the spirit in man that sets us above the animal kingdom, and it is the Spirit of God in us that enables us to grow to a higher level of godly understanding. There are people far more intelligent—and a lot of them—than the ordinary people God calls today (1 Corinthians 1:26). Despite this, we understand things that they simply cannot because they do not have God’s Spirit!
We are called to be children of God in a very real way. This is something the world does not comprehend. After explaining that those who are led by the Spirit of God “are sons of God,” Paul tells us that the Spirit “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” and this makes us joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:14, 16–17). An astonishing statement! So how does God’s Spirit bear witness with our spirit? What does that mean?
The Apostle John explains. “Whoever has been born [more accurately, begotten] of God does not sin, for His [that is, God’s] seed [Greek: sperma] remains in him” (1 John 3:9). Just as the male sperm must join with the female ovum to begin the process of human life, so God’s Spirit, carrying His “spiritual DNA,” so to speak, must come together with the spirit in man to begin a new creation. Brethren, this truth that has been revealed to the Church of God is amazing! It is through the spirit in man that God transforms us—the spirit in man united with His own Spirit.
Vulnerable to a Dangerous Broadcast
So far, all of this is wonderful news. But we must be aware that there is another spirit being in our world who is also able to interact with the spirit in man—and that spirit wants to destroy us. That being is, of course, Satan the Devil, and there is a reason why he is called “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).
Right now, there are scores—perhaps hundreds or more—of voices, words, and pictures surrounding you. You cannot hear those voices, read those words, or see those pictures unless you have an appropriate receiver, such as a radio, television, smartphone, or computer. The car next to you on the highway may have music playing from a satellite radio station, but you won’t hear that music unless you, too, are equipped with satellite radio and have paid for the same station. It is all a matter of having the right device to receive these signals.
And we do have the right “device” within us to receive some very bad signals from “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). That device, the spirit in man, is given to empower your brain, and even to unite with the Spirit of God so that you can understand spiritual things and finally be born into God’s very family. But we must learn to discern between two spirits: God’s and the devil’s (1 John 4:1).
I asked at the beginning of this article, Brethren, do we see what is happening around us? By this I mean, do we understand how our adversary is not only stirring up hatred, but is also actively trying to distract us, the people of God, from our calling? Are we carefully monitoring ourselves concerning what we see, what we think, and what we feel—especially what we feel?
We understand that Satan does not generally broadcast in words, but in moods and attitudes. One who has true spiritual discernment recognizes the source of the hatred and unrest being stirred up today. It is a challenge for each of us not to get caught up in it. The immoral agendas and disturbances we see at home, abroad, and invading every walk of life are so crazy that we find ourselves at a loss to express in words what we feel. It is not wrong to hate evil, but we must monitor our thoughts and feelings. Many in the United States—and some in other countries, as well—are taking up arms to protect themselves from what they believe is coming. On a carnal level, that may seem to make sense, but is it a godly response? What did Jesus say when Peter chopped off the ear of the high priest’s servant (Matthew 26:52)?
Around 30 years ago, homosexuals began coming out of almost every sitcom closet. Two women kissed in a beer commercial. Katy Perry was seen on Canada’s CTV morning show singing “I kissed a girl and I liked it,” with an audience of tween girls dancing and singing along with her. Should not a thinking person recognize an agenda here? Even HGTV, the “Home and Garden” cable TV channel, is in on the act today, with “nontraditional” couples. All of this was—and is—a clear attempt to normalize the abnormal and desensitize an unsuspecting populace to behaviors that were considered unacceptable in previous eras. And it works! In recent years, we have seen individuals who brazenly declare their LGBTQ status voted into high offices in Western countries.
Why is it that people follow the crowd no matter where it goes? More importantly, what is influencing the purveyors of these behaviors? Do they themselves know? Yes, they know what they are promoting, but do they know who is influencing them? Consider bizarre hairstyles, immodest dress, body piercings, and tattoos. Then there is vaping and veganism. The spirit of this age comes through the five senses, but there is also a sixth sense—the spirit in man—that receives broadcasts from the spirit of this age. The prince of the power of the air works with and influences society in general, but he also influences the individual, and we must be aware of this. He broadcasts moods and attitudes. He stirs up hatred, racism, and partisanship.
Paul gave essential advice to the church at Ephesus. He instructed them, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). We must never take lightly the fact that the devil is a wily, crafty, and deceptive adversary. We must understand his methods and tactics. Paul continues, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (v. 12). Paul then details the specifics of our armor: truth, righteousness, the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (vv. 13–17). These are more than words. They have meaning!
The Same Tactic Again
I am reminded of something that stuck in my mind when I saw it more than 45 years ago. A new product that came on the market was described as good, old-fashioned “lemonade drink.” The first clue was the word drink. Why wasn’t it simply “lemonade”? Why “lemonade drink”? The wary consumer notes that the word drink in fruit products is not the same as the word juice. And sure enough, reading the label confirmed that the “lemonade drink” was made from mostly everything but lemons. Yet, almost immediately, it became a commonly offered beverage when I was visiting members and prospective members as a ministerial trainee.
Now, this was not sin, and it was perfectly okay for someone to serve it. Though I question how healthy it might have been, anything with ice was appreciated on a hot summer day in Louisiana! However, I was struck by how quickly people went out and bought the product and considered it to be old-fashioned lemonade when it was not. Advertising works!
But that is relatively easy to see through. What are not so easy to see through are more subtle forms of advertising that communicate their message indirectly. As David Kupelian points out in The Marketing of Evil, the real “advertising” that goes on around us is of the subtle and more insidious variety. He quotes University of Illinois communications professor Robert McChesney as saying, “Everything on MTV is a commercial…. That’s all that MTV is. Sometimes it’s an explicit advertisement paid for by a company to sell a product.… Sometimes it’s going to be the set that’s filled with trendy clothes and stuff there to sell a look that will include products on that set.… But everything’s an infomercial. There is no non-commercial part of MTV” (p. 66).
The same is true with just about anything on television or at the movies. Motion pictures, television, society magazines—all are infomercials. They are there to sell you on a way of life. I loved Popeye cartoons when I was young, not realizing that they were being purposefully used to promote canned spinach and to sell it to children who otherwise might never eat it. Even if it was yucky, it would make us strong like Popeye. Cigarette companies made sure their products were in the fingers of sophisticated, big-name movie stars. Car companies make sure their products appear in movies. They don’t have to point these things out—your mind picks up on them.
So, it comes down to whether or not we recognize the messages being broadcast to our minds. Eve fell prey to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (Genesis 3:6; 1 John 2:15–17). She was manipulated by a crafty being who appealed to her inner senses and desires. Similarly, when we hear music that appeals to us, see trendy but immodest clothing, notice the uptick in body piercings and tattoos, hear public praise for accepting particular ideas and approaches to life, an inner voice tells us, without conscious thought, “I need that.” But what is being sold to us through those things?
Brethren, we must walk with eyes wide open and our minds on high alert to what Satan is selling. What is the current drumbeat around us? What philosophy or idea is the world pushing? What social trend do you see that wasn’t there 20 or 30 years ago? Perhaps it is no coincidence that in the same letter in which Paul instructed us to put on spiritual armor, he also instructed, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15).