The Soul, the Spirit and the Flesh

Churches and Christians use the term spirit all the time and it is right to do so because the spirit is fundamental to our faith. Christians often say theyare in this world but not of this world we are sojourners; travelers or aliens in this world claiming citizenship of a spiritual world which we will inherit at the end of our days. It is a promise from God that we need to grasp and never lose hold of as we walk through this physical life.

But have you ever thought about the make-up of an individual? We use words like spirit, soul, and body pretty freely not really knowing what the words mean or their role in our life. Watchman Nee has written about this very subject, addressing our spiritual make-up and I would like to share some of that with you. It will be very brief, I warn you.

Spiritual Man talks about the three components of the human being. Nee starts right out from the beginning of volume one stating that we humans have a misconception of our nature and goes on to describe these three parts and how they are formed and how they interact with each other.

I have been reading this book off and on finding it very instructive. He does repeat himself, I have to say that, but given the subject matter the repetition is useful. It helps to cement concepts in our mind by using different illustrations and words each time he does a repetition. Some of the concepts are a little difficult to grasp if the reader is just skimming through the pages. So the repetition forces one to dwell on the subject that is being discussed, making the reader think.

Let me highlight some of what he is saying.

Man has the idea that the human being is made up of a soul and a body and that these are the only components to our being. This is a fallen concept (referring to Adams fall in Genesis) in which we equate the soul and the spirit when, in fact, they are two separate and different things. Nee tells us that we humans are divided into three parts: the spirit, the soul and the body. He emphasizes that the soul and the spirit are not the same. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 lists each component as separate entities. Hebrews 4:12 similarly distinguishes each part from one another.)

In the Beginning: the Flesh

Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of man, being formed from the dust of the ground. God then breathed the breath of life into man and man became a living being. The New American Standard Bible notes that “living being” is actually an interpretation of the word soul.

So first we have the physical body of man. Adam was created from the dust of the earth. Of course, everyone since Adam and Eve has been created by the union of a man and a woman but all of this still applies. God breathes into us the breath of life, giving us our human spirit. (John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 3:6). This spirit animates the physical body; at the same time the soul is created.

The Soul

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, 1995) tells us that soul has two distinct meanings in the Bible:

  • It is the vehicle which makes the human or animal body alive the life in the physical body. See Mark 8:36, 37; Genesis 35:18; 1 Kings 17:19-23.
  • The soul is also the inner life of a person. This is where the emotions reside, Deuteronomy 12:20,21; Song of Solomon 1:7; Psalms 63:1; Psalms 86:4; Psalms 139:14; Lamentations 3:20. And it is the center of the human personality.

In other words, the soul is the consummate expression of man in this life, as Nee says. In addition to this, the soul has one more important job. It links the spirit and body together with itself, allowing man to live independently. This gives us the means to live and think on our own to see choices and make decisions. Which is another way of saying the soul is the organ of mans free will.

The Spirit

Whatof the spirit that we get when God breathes it into us?It forms the soul which is a connector between the spirit and the body. Lets go back to Nelsons Bible Dictionary to see what it says about the word spirit.

  • Generally, it is the spirit of human beings. Matthew 5:3; Romans 8:16; Hebrews 4:12.
  • Secondly, it refers to good and evil spirits, that is beings other than God or humans. Psalms 104:4 (angels); Mark 9:25; Acts 19:12-17; Revelation 18:2 (all evil).
  • Thirdly, it refers to the Third Person of God the Spirit of God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament (Exodus 31:3; Numbers 24:2; Judges 3:10; 14:5,6; 11:29; Ezekiel 11:5) as well as in the New Testament (Acts 1:16; 2:16-21; 3:18; 28:25-27). The Holy Spirit is the only way a person can have relationship with Jesus and the Father.

This spirit that God gives us when we become living beings is the human spirit not the Holy Spirit. It is the spark of life that animates us and communicates with God since it is from God. It is eternal, but does not have the Eternal Life. We gain the Eternal Life when we confess that Jesus, taking on our sins and dying for us, is our Savior and then asking the Holy Spirit to enter us, clean up our house and take up residence. (Nee calls this regeneration.)

The Flesh

The combination of the soul, the spirit and the body make up each person who has ever lived in the world. Nee illustrates the three parts of our make-up like this:

  • The spirit is the motivating force of man the electricity in a wire;
  • The body is the means of expression it is likethe envelope of alight bulb;
  • The soul is the culmination of the spirit and the body and characterizes the person by his thoughts, words and deeds it is the light that shines.

The quality of this light its purity or brightness depends upon what path the soul takes. If the soul chooses to obey God, it can make the spirit the master of everything according to Gods design. If the soul suppresses the spirit, it can take as its master the part or parts it likes, picking and choosing the path it wishes to take.

Once this is understood, it sheds a whole new light on ourselves and the people with whom we interact. We are able to have more insight about how to approach people in our daily life perhaps we are better able to cut them some slack if we have disagreements with them or perhaps we will be better able to pray for them and their needs. We have a little more information about how each of us is made up and perhaps we are better able to understand that this person or that person has allowed his emotions or intellect to run his life, instead of the spirit.

Armed with this information, I am even looking differently at myself. For some reason I feel more complete but am also looking at the areas in which I have been negligent. There are areas in each of us that needs work and the spirit can help us with that if we tell our soul (remember: the center of our desires, emotions, thought, will) to give control over to the spirit in this area. We are able to tell our soul what path to follow, because even though the soul is the seat of the will, we are able to use intellect and understanding to change our will, and so tell the soul that we wish to give the spirit control.

Of course, the best would be to tell the soul to give the spirit complete control over one’s life and to receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior — to make Him the Master of our life. Then we become sons and daughters of God and with it all that He has to offer us in addition to the Eternal Life.

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