1. Life and Consciousness

The Body of Christ: A Reality

Watchman Nee
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Jn. 1:4 π Rom. 8:12 π Rom. 8:16 π 1 Cor. 12:26; 2nd π Gal. 4:6

In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. ( Jn. 1:4 )

So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. ( Rom. 8:12 )

And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. ( 1 Cor. 12:26; top )

From the human standpoint, life seems to be rather intangible and quite abstract. How can anyone present life in such manner as to cause people to recognize that it in fact is life? We cannot take life as such and explain it to others, neither can others explain it to us. Nevertheless, we may all know and recognize this life through the feeling of life's consciousness, which to us is far more substantial. Now by the same token, the life which God has given to the Christian believer can likewise be known by its consciousness. Although we cannot take hold of such divine life and show it to ourselves or to other people, we nonetheless know we have this new life because there is within us an altogether new consciousness.

Consciousness of God's Life

After a person has accepted the Lord we say he not only is saved but also has been regenerated. This means that this man is now born of God. He has received a new life from Him. Yet this is something difficult to explain. How does he know he has the life of God? How will other people know he has divine life? How will the church recognize that he has the life of God? The presence of divine life is proven through life's consciousness. If the life of God is in him, the consciousness of that life must be in him as well.

What is life's consciousness? A Christian who is occasionally overcome by sin feels most uncomfortable. And this is one facet of consciousness. He feels restless when he sins. He immediately senses a veil between him and God after he has sinned and instantly loses his inner joy. Such manifestations as these are facets of life's consciousness, for because the life of God hates sin, therefore a person who has God's life must also have a certain feeling against sin. The very fact of his possessing this life's sense proves he possesses such life.

Suppose a man says he has confessed he is a sinner and has also accepted the Lord Jesus as his Savior, but he never has any sense against sin. Is this man born again? In such a case, if he should commit any sin, someone has to go to his home and tell him that what he has done is wrong before he will ever acknowledge that he has indeed done wrong. When a person asks him why he commits such a wrong, he will ignorantly answer, Why can't I do it? When a second time he is informed that he has committed another sin, he again will confess that he has done something wrong. Yet not long afterwards he commits another sin, and someone is once more obliged to tell him of this transgression before he once again acknowledges his sin, and someone is once more obliged to tell him of this transgression before he once again acknowledges this wrong. Here, it is not that he does not listen to his prompter's word; as a matter of fact he is quite obedient to the other person's word. The problem is, though, that he himself has no spiritual consciousness. Can it therefore be said that such a person has God's life if he is utterly void of any spiritual awareness and that others have to feel for him? If he has the life of God, he should have its consciousness with him. It is absolutely impossible for a person to have spiritual life and yet not have the consciousness of that life. The life of God is not something nebulous, nor is it abstract; it is very concrete and substantial. And how do we know it is substantial? Because such life has its own consciousness.

Having the life of God, a person is not only, negatively speaking, aware of sins but he also, positively speaking, knows God: for what we receive is not the spirit of a bond-slave but the spirit of sonship. We just naturally feel that God is very approachable and that calling Him "Abba, Father" is most sweet. ( Gal. 4:6 ) The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. ( Rom. 8:16; top ) Knowing God as Father is therefore the inner consciousness of this life.

Some people merely have doctrinal understanding; they have never met God; and they are therefore afraid of Him whom they cannot touch. They do not have any life relationship with God, and the Holy Spirit has not borne witness with their spirit that they are God's children. They cannot cry out of their spirit, Abba, Father. Such people may pray, though in their prayer they neither sense the distance of sin nor the nearness of the Lord. They do not have the feeling of the awfulness of sin nor the intimacy of God. They have no relationship with Him because they have not yet received new life from Him. Hence they do not feel that God is near, nor do they sense that Christ has already removed the wall of partition between them and God. In short, they do not have the consciousness of being the children of God. They may confess that they are Christians, but their feeling before God is inadequate. Though with their mouth they may say, "Heavenly Father," there is no such sensation within them. Only the presence of such a consciousness proves the existence of such a life. Now if there has never been such an awareness, how can anyone say that there is such life within them?

Body Consciousness a Facet of Life's Consciousness

The same is true with regard to the body of Christ. Many brothers and sisters ask: How can I say I have seen the body of Christ? On what ground may I assert that I have lived out the life of the body of Christ? Our answer is simple: all who know the life of the body of Christ will have the consciousness of the body of Christ. If you have really seen the body, you cannot but have body consciousness - because the life in you being a reality and an experience, it cannot fail to show forth its consciousness. You perceive the body of Christ not only as a principle or as a teaching but you discover that the body of Christ is a matter of real inward consciousness.

"And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." ( 1 Cor. 12:26; top ) Suffering is a sensation, so is rejoicing a sensation. Although the members are many, the life is one, and so, too, the consciousness is one.

Let us take the example of a person who may have had installed in his body an artificial leg. Now although it may appear to be almost the same as the other real leg, it nevertheless has no life in it. It therefore has no body consciousness; for when other members suffer, this artificial leg does not feel anything - when other members rejoice, the artificial limb senses no elation. All the other members have the same awareness because they all possess the one common life. The artificial leg alone has no awareness because there is not that life in it.

Life cannot be simulated, nor does it need to be. If there is life there is no need to pretend; if there is not life there is no possibility to pretend. The most distinctive expression of life is its consciousness. Hence a Christian who sees the body life will invariably have body consciousness with other members of the body.

The Teaching of the Body vs. Its Reality

In spiritual things, knowing doctrine without having consciousness is of no avail. Someone, for instance, may say that lying is a sin which he should not commit because he has been told by other people that a Christian should not tell lies. The real issue here is not a matter of whether or not it is right to lie, rather is it s a question of whether he is inwardly aware of it or not when he tells a lie. If he has no inward consciousness that his lying is a sin, then however much he may confess with his mouth that lying is a sin, it does not help him at all. He may say on the one hand that a person should not lie but on the other hand he constantly lies. What is special with those who have God's life is that when they lie outwardly, they feel bad inwardly - not because they know doctrinally that lying is wrong, but because they feel uncomfortable inwardly if they do lie. This is what being called a Christian really signifies. What characterizes a Christian is an inward awareness of this life consciousness of which we have been speaking. He who has no life and no inner consciousness is not a Christian. Outward rules are merely standards, not life.

Let it be said that it is totally inadequate for a person to say, "I know the teaching of the body of Christ, therefore I must not move independently"; he needs also to have an inner consciousness of such a teaching. Suppose he says with his mouth that he should not be independent and yet when he acts independently he fails to be aware of such independence; he is thereby proven to have never truly seen the body of Christ. This does not mean he has not heard the teaching of the body of Christ: it simply indicates that he has not seen its reality.

Hearing the teaching and seeing the reality of the body of Christ belong to two totally different realms. Hearing the teaching of the body is merely an outward understanding of a principle, whereas seeing the body of Christ produces a consciousness within. It is similar to the situation in which merely hearing the doctrine of salvation only gives the person the knowledge of how God saves sinners, but that inwardly accepting the Lord Jesus as Savior creates within that person an awareness of God as well as a consciousness of sin. What a difference between the two! Consequently, we should not overlook this matter of life consciousness (it not simply being an outward sensation, but an inward feeling too). Such consciousness is life's expression. The presence or absence of this consciousness reveals the reality or unreality within. It gives us insight into whether or not there is the life of Christ within.

Life's consciousness is distinctive in that it enables you to know spontaneously without the need of being told. It is too late if you must be told before you know. What would happen if every Christian needed to be told what sin is and what should not be done? What if, in this event, nobody is at your side? What if you forget after being told? Oh, let us see that a Christian does not act according to what he hears from people without, but he is motivated by what he is told from within. Within him is a life - an inner light, an inner consciousness. It comes from the inner shining of God's light: it comes from the life inside and not from outside information.

When we are born again we receive a very real life. We thus have within us a very real consciousness. The reality of such consciousness proves the reality of divine life. Let us ask God to be merciful to us that we may always touch this life consciousness and live therein. Let us also ask God to give us rich consciousness so that we may have a sensitive awareness in all things: that we may be aware of God, of sin, of the body of Christ, and of all spiritual realities. May God lead our way and glorify His own name!

Translator's Preface π 2. The Consciousness of the Body of Christ
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