Nee’s Circles

The Bible says that each of us has three parts: body, soul, and spirit. What are they?

A book by Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit, offers a useful picture of these three parts of human life. Nee sees body, soul, and spirit as concentric circles, one inside another. Think of them as nesting spheres.

The outermost sphere is the body. This is not just your anatomy, but everything physical about you. It is also your riches, home, possessions, job, and status.

The middle sphere is the soul. This is the part of you most fittingly described as “self.” Your will, intellect, consciousness, and feelings are here. So is your pride.

The innermost sphere is the spirit. This is the deep part of you, the mysterious part, the part you are most inclined to neglect. Your spirit is the incompleteness prepared to be completed by God. Your spirit is where you receive God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, so that Spirit and spirit mix—hopefully and ultimately becoming indistinguishable.

Yet Nee’s book gets its title from one dramatic fact: The Spirit-filled spirit will not be contained. It will not stay stuck in a sphere. The spirit that grows by the Spirit will break through, reaching and affecting the outer life and the world we see.

The spirit breaks out to the body, and what gets broken is the soul.

That is, what gets broken is the self. The spirit is released through the breaking of identity and pride. This breaking might play out as forgiving, confessing, losing, being humbled, being rejected, giving up, letting go, or turning away. Or repenting. The way forward involves all of this stuff.

Moreover, it goes on. The breaking is a process rather than an event.

But here is the paradoxical glory: In being broken, the soul is repaired.

In the natural life, the soul clings to the body, finding its pursuits and purpose in the physical world. In the supernatural life, however, the soul’s broken fragments instead adhere to the spirit. Those fragments build upon the spirit to find a freer and more expansive shape. The self is remade.