SPIRIT SOUL AND BODYPrint This Page.
THE DISTINCTION BETWEENTHE SPIRIT, THE SOUL, AND THE BODY
Most people today consider man as being divided into two parts: the soul and the body. They think that the soul is the invisible part, the psychological part within man, and that the body is the visible part, the outward form of man. Of course, it is true that the body is the outward shell of man. But it is a question whether or not the soul is a substance. Are the soul and the spirit one thing, or are they two things? Is the soul equal to the spirit, or are the two different? Man's answer is that they are the same thing—that other than a difference in terminology, the two are identical in substance.
Man's answer, however, is not trustworthy. We must take a look at the Bible, the trustworthy Word of God, in order to find out the answer to this question. The Word of God does not divide man into two parts, the soul and the body. Rather, it divides man into three parts: the spirit, the soul, and the body. First Thessalonians 5:23 says, "Sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete." This verse clearly shows a distinction between the spirit and the soul. Otherwise, it would not have said, "Your spirit and soul," but rather, "Your spirit-soul." Since God has said this, we can see that there is a distinction between man's spirit and his soul. From this we can conclude that man is divided into three parts—the spirit, the soul, and the body.
What is the significance of distinguishing the spirit from the soul? There is a great significance. It has much to do with the spiritual life of the believers. If believers do not know the boundary of their spirit, how can they understand the spiritual life? If they do not understand the spiritual life, how can they have a spiritual living? It is because believers are negligent or ignorant of the distinction between the spirit and the soul that they never grow in their spiritual life.
Not only has 1 Thessalonians divided man into three parts, other passages in the Scriptures do the same. For example, Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Here again, man is divided into three parts: the soul, the spirit, and the joints and marrow (which refer to the organ related to the mind and the will), that is, the body. Since the soul and the spirit can be divided, the two must not be the same thing.
THE CREATED MAN
Genesis 2:7 says, "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 soul." "The dust of the ground" refers to man's body. "The breath of life" breathed into man's nostrils is his spirit. "A living soul" is man's soul. Hence, a complete man is composed of three parts: the spirit, the soul, and the body.
According to the above verse, the soul came into being when the spirit was joined to the body. When the spirit entered the body, the soul was produced. The body was dead, but when it was contacted by the spirit of life, a third entity was produced—the soul. Without the spirit, the body is dead. Only with the spirit can one live. When the spirit is in the body, something organic is produced. This organic result is called the soul.
God's breath of life is the source of man's life. The Lord Jesus said, "It is the Spirit who gives life" (John 6:63). It is the breath of life that gives life. Hence, this breath is the spirit. When the spirit and the body join together, the result is the soul. The Scripture says, "And man became a living soul." This means that when Adam's spirit and body were joined together, a third part was produced, the soul. His spirit and body were both joined to this third part, to his soul. This is why the Word of God calls it "a living soul" (1 Cor. 15:45). When we believers participate in the resurrection life of the Lord, the spirit begins to rule over our whole being. This is because those who have believed in the Lord are joined to the last Adam, who is the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45).
THE FUNCTIONS OF THE SPIRIT,THE SOUL, AND THE BODY
Man is composed of two independent kinds of material: spirit and body. When the spirit entered the body of dust, the soul was produced. It is impossible for the spirit to control the body directly. Hence, it requires a medium. This medium is the soul, which was produced when the spirit touched the body.
The spirit mingled with the body and brought forth the soul. As such, man became a living soul. Hence, the soul is the result of the union between the spirit and the body; it is the personality of a man.
The body is the outer shell of the soul, and the soul is the outer shell of the spirit. Before man fell, it was the spirit that controlled his entire being. When the spirit wants to do something, it communicates this to the soul, and the soul motivates the body to obey the command of the spirit. This is the meaning of the soul as the medium. Luke 1:46-47 says, "My soul magnifies [present tense] the Lord, and my spirit has exulted [perfect tense] in God my Savior." The spirit must first exult, before the soul can magnify the Lord. The spirit first communicates the exultation to the soul, then the soul communicates to the body.
The body is the "world-consciousness," the soul is the "self-consciousness," and the spirit is the "God-consciousness." There are five organs in the body, which afford man the five senses. This physical body enables man to communicate with the physical world. This is why it is called the "world- consciousness." The soul includes that part known as man's intellect, which helps to make man's existence possible. The part of love generates affections toward other human beings or objects. The part that can be aroused is the part that originates from the consciousness. All these are parts of the man himself; they form the personality of man. Hence, they are called the "self-consciousness." The spirit is the part with which man communicates with God. With this part, man worships God, serves Him, and understands his relationship with God. Hence, it is called the "God-consciousness."
The spirit has knowledge, but this knowledge is different from the knowledge of the mind. Because the spirit is different from the mind, only a spiritual man can know himself. First Corinthians 2:11 says, "For who among men knows the things of man, except the spirit of man which is in him?" Although man knows things through the mind, his mind is actually not trustworthy and cannot know "the things of man." The mind may have knowledge, but only by man's spirit can he know the things of man and know himself. Hence, God's Word states the fact: "For who..knows the things of man, except the spirit." This spirit is the part with which man fellowships with God. "But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding" (Job 32:8). "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly" (Prov. 20:27). The spirit of man is the part with which man fellowships with God.
The soul can be stimulated, and it can be disquieted (Psa. 42:5). It can feel sorrowful (Matt. 26:38). In short, the soul is everything that the personality entails. Hence, we can say that the soul is the personality. Many portions in the Bible do not call man a man, but a soul. For example, when the house of Jacob went down to Egypt, there were seventy people (Gen. 46:27). But the Bible says, "All the souls...were threescore and six" (Gen. 46:26).
The body is like a servant; it is under man's control.
The soul is the meeting point; here the spirit and the body join. Man communicates with the spiritual realm through the spirit. He communicates with the world of senses through the body. The soul is in between. On the one hand, it communicates with the spiritual realm through the spirit, and on the other hand, it communicates with the physical world through the body.
The soul is in between the spirit and the body; it binds the spirit and the body together as one. The spirit rules over the body through the soul and subjects it under God's power. The body can induce the spirit to love the world through the soul.
In conclusion, the soul is the source of the personality; man's judgment, intellect, and love all are of the soul. The spirit is the part with which man communicates with the spiritual realm. The body is the part with which man communicates with the physical realm. The soul is in the middle of these two parts. It exercises its judgment to determine if the spiritual realm is to rule or if the physical realm is to rule. Sometimes the soul rules through its intellect and stimulations; this becomes the rule of the psychological world. Unless the soul yields its rule to the spirit, the spirit cannot rule. Hence, the soul has to authorize the spirit to rule before the latter can rule over the soul and the body. The reason for this is that the soul is the origin of the personality.
MAN'S SPIRIT, SOUL, AND BODY AFTER THE FALL
The spirit was once the highest part of man's whole being; both the soul and the body were under it. Under normal circumstances, the spirit is like the matriarch, the soul is like the steward, and the body is like the servant. When the matriarch needs something done, she assigns the work to the steward. The steward in turn orders the servants severally to accomplish the task. Unfortunately, man fell, failed, and sinned! As a result, the original, proper order of spirit, soul, and body was upset.
Adam was able to live by the breath of life, which is the spirit. The spirit has the God-consciousness: it knows God's voice, fellowships with God, and is endowed with an extremely keen sense toward God. After Adam fell, his spirit died.
At the beginning God said to Adam, "For in the day that thou eatest thereof [the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). After Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, they still lived for a few hundred years. This shows that the death that God spoke of was not confined to the death of the body. What kind of death was this death? The scientific definition of death is a termination of communication with the environment. Since the death of Adam was not confined to his body only, it must refer also to the death of his spirit. The death of the spirit does not mean that the spirit has disappeared. It means that the spirit has lost its sensitive awareness toward God, that is, it is dead to God. The death of the spirit means that it can no longer fellowship with God. For example, here is a dumb person. It is not that this person has lost his mouth or his throat. He cannot speak because there is something wrong with his mouth. His mouth is dead in respect to the human language. Because of Adam's disobedience, his spirit became dead. He still had the spirit, but it was dead with respect to God. If Adam had exercised his judgment to choose the tree of life, God's eternal life would have entered into his spirit and would have changed his inner man through his soul. His earthen, outer body, which was destined for death and corruption, would also have been changed. However, his inner man became disorderly and fallen. As a result, his outward body had to die and decay.
The fruit of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" is the fruit that uplifts man's soul and subdues man's spirit. In this world the knowledge of good and evil is the work of the soul. God forbade man to eat of this tree, not because He wanted to test man, but because He knew that within man there is the soulish life as well as the spiritual life. This is God's love. He knew that if man were to eat of this tree, his soulish life would be developed and his spiritual life would die. This means that man would lose his God-consciousness and would be dead to God. In this world the knowledge of good and evil is always wicked. Knowledge comes from the intellectual part of man's soul. When man ate of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," surely his soulish life was developed and exalted. Once the soulish life became developed and exalted, the spiritual life was suppressed, and man lost his God-consciousness, as if he were dead.
From this point on, his spirit and the spirits of his descendants were suppressed by the soul. Soon, through the soul's suppressing, the spirit was joined to the soul, and the two became closely interwoven. This is why Paul mentioned in Hebrews 4:12 that the word of God is sharp to the dividing of the spirit and the soul. It is because the spirit and the soul have been joined together that there needs to be the dividing. Since the soul and the spirit were so tightly interwoven together, man began to live in his speculative mind. In everything, he began to walk according to his intellect or his feeling. The spirit, having completely lost its power and senses, fell into a lifeless sleep. In Jude 19 it says, "Soulish, having no spirit." The spirit here does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but to the human spirit. Since the first part of this expression, "soulish," refers to man's soul, the spirit in the second part of the expression should be the human spirit. This can also be proved from the article in Greek. To be soulish and to not have spirit really mean that the spirit is shut off by the soul and has lost its function. Although it is alive, it is as if it were dead.
From this point, everything went downhill. The flesh of the body began to rule. Hence, by the time of the flood, man had become "flesh" (Gen. 6:3).
When man is soulish, he will often feel that this life is untrustworthy and will seek for eternal life in the coming age. However, the doctrine of life can never be secured by the human mind and theory. None of these things are reliable. Often two very clever people will disagree with each other in their opinions. Theories easily lead men to the place of error; they are the towers in dreams, only leading men to the place of eternal darkness.
When man is of the flesh, he is controlled by the cravings and lusts of his body. He has to satisfy his senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. The vilest of all sins arise from these senses.
Our whole person is divided into three parts: the spirit, the soul, and the body. God's intention is that the spirit would remain on top, controlling the soul. After man became soulish, the spirit fell and became subject to the soul. After man became fleshly, the vile flesh became the king. Man fell from being "spirit-ruled" to being "soul-ruled," and from being "soul-ruled," he fell to being "flesh-ruled." This gradual fall ended with the flesh assuming the authority. What a shame this is!
Concerning unregenerated man, first, his spirit became far from God and dead. The meaning of death is a separation from life. God is the ultimate name for life. Since God is life, to be dead is to be separated from God. When man's spirit became separated from God, it became as if it were dead and could no longer fellowship with Him. Then, his soul began to rule over his entire being, and he began to live in his reasonings or sensations. Finally, the lusts and cravings of his body put the soul under its subjection.
The unregenerated man was born of the flesh and is therefore flesh (John 3:6). This is why he has to be born again. Through regeneration man is born of the spirit; however, John 3:6 does not say that he is spiritual. He is still very soulish. Regeneration is the application by the Holy Spirit of the accomplished work of the cross to man. When man believes in Jesus as his Savior, that He has died for him and is now resurrected, he is regenerated.
When man is regenerated, the Holy Spirit enters into his spirit. After this, there is a step-by-step progression until perfection is reached.
The unregenerated man's spirit is controlled by his soul. His "self" controls his soul, and his flesh controls his body. The soul has become the life of the spirit, the "self" has become the life of the soul, and the flesh has become the life of the body. As a result of regeneration, the Holy Spirit controls his spirit; his spirit controls his soul and, through his soul, the body. The Holy Spirit becomes the life of the spirit, and the spirit becomes the life of the whole person.
"The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord" (Prov. 20:27). At the time of regeneration, the Holy Spirit enters into man's spirit. When He enters, it is as if a lamp is lit. This is the "new spirit" spoken of in Ezekiel 36:26. Originally the spirit was as if it were dead, but now the Holy Spirit has put God's uncreated life inside the spirit. As a result, the spirit has life, is enlivened, and becomes like new.
Regeneration is the darkened and fallen spirit of man being enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit. The basis of the Holy Spirit's regeneration is the cross (cf. John 3:14-15). Jesus died for man on the cross; He paid the ransom for sin and gave life to man. All those who believe in Him have eternal life (v. 16). This eternal life is the life of God imparted into man's spirit by the Holy Spirit. Since this life is the life of God, it will never die. Because of this, when a man is regenerated and has received life, he is said to have obtained eternal life. If God's life could die, only then could we say that eternal life can be lost! Regeneration is the first step in the spiritual life. Although the spiritual life received at the time of our regeneration is complete, it is not full-grown. This is similar to fruit. When it first appears, the life within is complete, yet in form it is still green, immature. It is complete only in its organic capacities; however, it is not perfect in each of its organic parts. This is the same with man's regeneration. We must notice that regeneration is not the accomplishment of perfection.
THE THREE STAGES OF THE BELIEVERS' LIFE
When a man believes in Jesus Christ as the Savior who has died for him, he is regenerated. Regeneration is the initial step in the spiritual life. Those who are regenerated have received eternal salvation. After a believer has received the regenerated life, his Christian life can be broadly divided into three stages. The first is the stage of the flesh, the second is the stage of the soul, and the third is the stage of the spirit.
After his regeneration, and for a period of time, a believer may still lose his temper, become proud, become jealous, or commit other sins. Because of this, some may begin to doubt whether or not their regeneration was genuine. They do not realize that, although they have been regenerated, they are still of the flesh. When they advance further, they begin to develop an interest in reading the Bible and in praying and "feel" a new joy in their heart. At this point, the believer may think that he is already a spiritual Christian. However, he does not realize that he is still soulish, still living in the idealistic world of "feeling"! Later, when the Holy Spirit does a deeper work of the cross in him, he will be enabled not to walk according to himself or his feelings (being up or down all the time) but to live quietly in the spirit. Only then can he be considered as being spiritual.
When he is of the flesh, the flesh is his master. When he is soulish, the soul is his master. When he is spiritual, the Holy Spirit becomes his Lord in the spirit.