Spirit, Soul and Body - the Tripartite nature of Man
"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(1 Thessalonians 5:23)
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [nephesh – soul]."
Man is a tri-partite being – spirit, soul and body. It is with his spirit that a man worships, and may contact God. The soul includes the conscious and subconscious minds, the realm of emotions and the will. Soul gives a man personality, self-awareness, rationality and natural feeling. The body is a complex physical creation by which a person relates to this world and to other people in the world. We now know that every person's body is in large measure a product of their DNA code which exists in every cell of the body to program its amazing development. As marvellous as the body may be, man has a non-physical aspect which consists of a different kind of materiality – spirit. It is this part of man that is eternal.
Man is described as a living soul (Genesis 2:7 KJV), which came into being at first by the breath of God (spirit) being breathed into a creation of the dust of the earth. Man is an intricate unity as well as being a three part being. For this reason, whatever happens in one part of a man's being has repercussions in other areas as well. For example, it is well known that a healthy, fit body is conducive to an upbeat attitude in the soul. The Book of Proverbs states that "a man's spirit will sustain him in sickness". "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine". Psalm 32 describes how unconfessed sin caused David's "bones to grow old", his "vitality to be turned into the drought of summer".
There are plenty of other examples that can be given of how all these aspects of man effect one another. It is a scientific fact. Obviously much valuable research could be done into the relationship between spirit, soul and body. Such research has its perils, of course, since when we start probing such deep mysteries without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we may obtain knowledge and power that would bring forth the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and not of God's life. The whole study of psychology, however is something which needs to be brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of God's Word. If Christians simply retreat totally from this area and allow the ungodly to set the pace then much will be lost. On the other hand, to unquestioningly accept the precepts of much modern psychology is to invite the shipwreck of our faith. Furthermore, the use of psychological principles divorced from a true submission to the Holy Spirit could result in powerful deception and the rejection of the Lord who bought us.
God is interested in all three portions of our being – spirit, soul and body. The Bible says concerning our Savior, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature , and in favor with God and men." (Luke 2:52). This reveals the importance of our mental and emotional development , our physical prowess, our spiritual life with God of worship and communion, and our social interractions with others. God is interested in all of these, and the Bible gives us keys for our development in these areas.
The verse quoted above from 1 Thessalonians supports the view that God is interested in our sanctification – spirit, soul and body. To become like Jesus, to be children of God by nature as well as by adoption, we need to allow God to do this work of sanctification.
Sanctification begins when the spirit of man is recreated through the new birth (John 3:3). The majority of people in this world have their spirits "dead" to God (Ephesians 2:2). That is not to deny that a few may have developed various psychic powers by the operation of soul force or demonic spirits. Yet even such people cannot truly relate to Almighty God – that is, the transcendant creator God for whom, by whom and to whom are all things. Never allow philosophers to confuse you by suggesting that God is the same as "the Universe". No, God stands outside of the Universe as well as inside it. He is the Creator of all things. He is not "one with all things" and neither are you, nor will you ever be. These "New Age" philosophies are just what the devil would want men to believe. In believing them, a person not only denies the existence of the personal devil which has deceived thm, but also renounces his or her need for Jesus Christ as Savior and rejects Him as Lord. In doing so, they reject the true Kingdom of God and become a candidate for subjection in one of Satan's worldly kingdoms.
God is not only Transcendant. He is Immanent. That is to say, He is here. It is true that God is personally and actually within a true Christian believer. "Do you not know that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5; see also Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 6:19). This a marvellous truth and there is much unexplored and wonderful territory that God may lead us into along these lines. But again, do not be confused by those who say that God is within "us all". He is not. If He is, then the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible is a hideous lie. The Bible reveals a need for man to be reconciled to God in one way only – and that is through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, where Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice to bring us to God. To deny this is to call the Bible and the Jesus Christ of the Bible a lie, in favor of the shifting and double-talking philosophies which trade in the souls of men to their eternal destruction. Yes, this is serious. And if you would object that I am being "narrow minded" you are simply indicating your anti-biblical conditioning and the fact that truly the prince of this world, in whose power lies the world, already has your mind in large measure in his grasp already – though you neither know it nor recognise it. Only the Word of God, coming to you in the true power of the Holy Spirit, will ever be able to set you free from this fatal delusion.
Let us return to the theme of sanctification. One thing is the desire of the Holy Spirit for us, and the other is the way our own souls would seek to go about fulfilling our needs, wants and desires. Paul the apostle referred to the latter way as "the flesh". Paul said, "the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these things are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:17). The key to successful Christian living is actually to learn to progressively renounce our own soulish devices and allow our minds to be retrained by the Holy Spirit. This can be very painful at times, and leads to an actual and ongoing "death" – to use biblical language. Yet the fruit of it is the very peace we are craving as a foundation for our emotional existence. We also find the revelation of the love of God to us and through us as we learn to submit to the Holy Spirit. Many other fruits come, they are listed in Galatians 5:22,23. The Holy Spirit will also empower us to reveal a portion of the attributes of God through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is a definite part of the plan of God for every true child of God. The denial of this has robbed the Body of Christ of more than it will ever be possible to calculate. We claim that God lives in us. Why is so little happening then? If God unwilling to reveal through us what He declares to be the case in His Holy Word, the Bible?
Our spirit, souls and bodies need to be offered to God. This does not take away our responsibility before God, neither our will. Every day is an opportunity to embrace the cross and to experience the resurrection, and "faith" and "love" will lead us to do so every time.
God's Will for Our Bodies
I want to mention three things that are clearly God's will for our bodies. Getting these right will make a tremendous difference to our spiritual as well as our emotional life.
1. Sexual Purity
"This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain friom sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God ... For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has given us His Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5,7,8).
If sexual purity was not so important, Satan would not work so hard to destroy it wherever he can find people who will sell out. Sexual purity is important for our communion with God. God definitely wants Christians to abstain from masturbation and all kinds of lustful fantasies, as well as the more serious sexual sins such as fornication (two unmarried people having a sexual connection), adultery and sodomy. To refuse to do so is to reject God. Yes, there is forgiveness from God when we violate these principles, but there is also a price to pay in lost opportunity to enjoy the sweet presence of God which comes to the pure in heart. It is a lie to think that what we do with our bodies does not affect our souls, nor our spirits.
"Beloved I wish above all things that you prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers" wrote the beloved apostle John in his third letter, verse 2. There are many Scriptures which indicate that God's will is for us to have healthy bodies. Sickness is a result of the fall and is the specialty of Satan. Jesus healed "all who were oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:38) and even those whom his disciples failed to heal, such as the boy with the epileptic demon in Matthew 17:14-21). This indicates that even when Christians cannot get someone healed because of unbelief (vs 20), it is still the will of God to heal them. Its a bitter pill for Christians and ministers to hear that their unbelief is preventing God's miracles, but it is a very relevant word in an age where much of the professing church would be surprised if God did anything beyond what medical doctors could see as possibilities.
"For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things" (1 Timothy 4:8).
Let's not forget that Jesus worked as a carpenter and would have been physically strong. This in part enabled him to fast 40 days. Paul went through a lot physically and I am sure he trained his body. He said that he buffeted his body and brings it into subjection so that when he has preached to others he would not himself be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27). If our bodies are not strengthened through exericise they will go to sleep on us when we need to be alert or diligent. They will also create in our souls a kind of depression which taints our being and makes us less attractive as Christians.
A note on Physical Beauty: The Bible records the fact that many of its characters were good-looking. Others apparently were not. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Esther were all known as physically beautiful women. Its obvious that men generally prefer physically beautiful women, all other things being equal. David, Joseph and Moses were all referred to as good looking, handsome or beautiful. Being physically beautiful attracts greater temptations to immorality, whereas being less attractive brings another set of temptations. God would like us to look our best, but not to put too much effort into what is, in eternal terms, a lost cause. We can develop a spiritual beauty and beauty of personality which will have eternal value. Its better for those who don't focus too much on the way they look, because looking to the wrong things for happiness can make us miserable.
Obviously not all of us are entrusted with the same measure of the gift of physical beauty. It is a gift highly prized in the world. Many people, even physically beautiful people, reject themselves because they don't like how they look. Our physical imperfections are permitted to remind us that we are fallen, we are not perfect, and we need to look for something better.
While our appearance can be improved in various ways, it is not as important as other things, and should not be an obsession. I am not against even cosmetic surgery in some cases if it would help a person to get their focus off their bodies. Yet God does not want us to condition our happiness upon the way we look. We will look better when we get our resurrection bodies (Romans 8:23). The Bible teaches us to focus not on the things which as seen and temporary, but on the unseen, eternal things (2 Corinthians 4:18). When people show that they cannot be happy without trying to look as much like a model for cosmetics as possible, they reveal a worldly focus. However, it is just as wrong to neglect the body and its appearance to try to be more spiritual.. After all, Jesus wants a bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish! Our natural bodies can be made to look better but we are better off the less time we spend worrying about this and looking in the mirror.
God's Will for Our Souls
God wants us to think on good things. Philippians 4:8 says, "Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things." This word needs to be taken seriously. There is a considerable scope for freedom and lattitude in this instruction. Yes, our minds should be on Jesus – He is all those things, and certainly, by filling our minds with the Word of God we can do this also. However, there are many good things in this world we can meditate on – things in nature, things in people – the nobility of purpose and heart that we may find or read of from time to time. These things are the gifts of God to us, and God wants us to meditate on them – to feed our subsconscious minds with them. This will help us become happy people.
Once you know your particular life calling from God, it is good to study and ponder all good and noble things which relate especially to this calling. "As a man thinks in his heart, so he is" (Proverbs 23:7). We often spend much of our time worrying when we should be praising God and thinking on good things. It requires effort to discipline the mind but truly the results are worth it. Strangely, physical discipline can be a major key also to disciplining the mind.
The Spiritual Life
Some people are stronger than others, but in the end, all of us need God to be a contunual stream of life for us. Mostly, we are just living off the dregs, off the leftovers and God wants us to embrace the rivers of living water that only He can give. The Bible tells us, "Be continually filled with the Holy Spirit." That is God's will for us. Its a pretty serious sin actually to neglect this commandment of God. It is impossible to maintain this fulness without developing a life of prayer and also the discipline of quietening the soul and waiting upon God. This is another vast subject in itself.
Meditation on the Word feeds both our spirit and soul. The more you repeat one small portion of Scripture to yourself, the more profoundly it will impact you. Many Christians, myself included, have a far greater breadth of intellectual knowledge concerning God's word, than a true heart knowledge of what the Word was pointing us to in Jesus. Biblical meditation, repeating and muttering and thinking on one thing repetitively, is a key to prosperity and success (see Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1-3). Psychologically and neurologically, it has been proven scientifically that repetition of a phrase causes more parts of the brain to be used. This shows it is entering into us more deeply. If you trust the Word of God, allow it to enter deeply into you through meditation.
The Inner Witness of the Human Spirit
God's Spirit does not always tell us what we need to do by means of an inner voice. We can get into trouble if we demand or expect God's voice to come immediately in answer to our questions, especially if we are not in an attitude of true spiritual worship and waiting upon God. Nor can we afford to allow our life direction to be guided by prophetic words from others. These generally strengthen but do not initiate the purposes of God in our lives.
We will do better, as Christians, if we learn to listen to the inner witness of our own regenerated human spirits. "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inner depths of his heart" (Proverbs 20:27). Your spirit knows things that your mind does not. The Holy Spirit knows even more than our human spirits, and can enlighten us on any point should He wish to speak with us, as long as we are listening to Him. However, generally it is through the regenerated spirit of man that we know what is the way to go on a particular issue. Of course we should still pray and ask God, but it is generally in this way that the answer comes.
May God cause you to develop in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and men.
Much more has been and ought to be written on the nature of man. This is just a small introduction to this vast topic. Please pray for me, that the Lord will relelase me and empower me to write more for the building up of the Body of Christ.