The ordinary concept of the constitution of human beings is dualistic—soul and body. According to this concept soul is the invisible inner spiritual part, while body is the visible outer corporal part. Though there is some truth to this, it is nevertheless inaccurate. Such an opinion comes from fallen man, not from God; apart from God’s revelation, no concept is dependable. That the body is man’s outward sheath is undoubtedly correct, but the Bible never confuses spirit and soul as though they are the same. Not only are they different in terms; their very natures differ from each other. The Word of God does not divide man into the two parts of soul and body. It treats man, rather, as tripartite—spirit, soul and body. 1 Thessalonians 5.23 reads: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse precisely shows that the whole man is divided into three parts. The Apostle Paul refers here to the complete sanctification of believers, “sanctify you wholly.” According to the Apostle, how is a person wholly sanctified? By his spirit and soul and body being kept. From this we can easily understand that the whole person comprises these three parts. This verse also makes a distinction between spirit and soul; otherwise, Paul would have said simply “your soul.” Since God has distinguished the human spirit from the human soul, we conclude that man is composed of not two, but three, parts: spirit, soul and body.Is it a matter of any consequence to divide spirit and soul? It is an issue of supreme importance for it affects tremendously the spiritual life of a believer. How can a believer understand spiritual life if he does not know what is the extent of the realm of the spirit? Without such understanding how can he grow spiritually? To fail to distinguish between spirit and soul is fatal to spiritual maturity.Christians often account what is soulical as spiritual, and thus they remain in a soulish state and seek not what is really spiritual. How can we escape loss if we confuse what God has divided?Spiritual knowledge is very important to spiritual life. Let us add, however, that it is equally as, if not more, important for a believer to be humble and willing to accept the teaching of the Holy Spirit. If so, the Holy Spirit will grant him the experience of the dividing of spirit and soul, although he may not have too much knowledge concerning this truth. On the one hand, the most ignorant believer, without the slightest idea of the division of spirit and soul, may yet experience such a dividing in real life. On the other hand, the most informed believer, completely conversant with the truth concerning spirit and soul, may nonetheless have no experience of it. Far better is that person who may have both the knowledge and the experience. The majority, however, lack such experience. Consequently, it is well initially to lead these to know the different functions of spirit and soul and then to encourage them to seek what is spiritual.Other portions of the Scriptures make this same differentiation between spirit and soul. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4.12). The writer in this verse divides man’s non-corporal elements into two parts, “soul and spirit.” The corporal part is mentioned here as including the joints and marrow—organs of motion and sensation. When the priest uses the sword to cut and completely dissect the sacrifice, nothing inside can be hidden. Even joint and marrow are separated. In like manner the Lord Jesus uses the Word of God on His people to separate thoroughly, to pierce even to the division of the spiritual, the soulical, and the physical. And from this it follows that since soul and spirit can be divided, they must be different in nature. It is thus evident here that man is a composite of three parts.The Creation of ManTo understand this section read God's Own Uncreated Life“And Jehovah God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2.7 ASV). When God first created man He formed him of dust from the ground, and then breathed “the breath of life” into his nostrils. As soon as the breath of life, which became man’s spirit, came into contact with man’s body, the soul was produced. Hence the soul is the combination of man’s body and spirit. The Scriptures therefore call man “a living soul.” The breath of life became man’s spirit; that is, the principle of life within him. The Lord Jesus tells us “it is the spirit that gives life” (John 6.63). This breath of life comes from the Lord of Creation. However, we must not confuse man’s spirit with God’s Holy Spirit. The latter differs from our human spirit. Romans 8.16 demonstrates their difference by declaring that “it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The original of the word “life” in “breath of life” is chay and is in the plural. This may refer to the fact that the inbreathing of God produced a twofold life, soulical and spiritual. When the inbreathing of God entered man’s body it became the spirit of man; but when the spirit reacted with the body the soul was produced. This explains the source of our spiritual and soulical lives. We must recognize, though, that this spirit is not God’s Own life, for “the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33.4). It is not the entrance of the uncreated life of God into man, neither is it that life of God which we receive at regeneration. What we receive at new birth is God’s Own life as typified by the tree of life. But our human spirit, though permanently existing, is void of “eternal life.”“Formed man of dust from the ground” refers to man’s body; “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” refers to man’s spirit as it came from God; and “man became a living soul” refers to man’s soul when the body was quickened by the spirit and brought into being a living and self-conscious man. A complete man is a trinity—the composite of spirit, soul and body. According to Genesis 2.7, man was made up of only two independent elements, the corporeal and the spiritual; but when God placed the spirit within the casing of the earth, the soul was produced. The spirit of man touching the dead body produced the soul. The body apart from the spirit was dead, but with the spirit man was made alive. The organ thus animated was called the soul.“Man became a living soul” expresses not merely the fact that the combination of spirit and body produced the soul; it also suggests that spirit and body were completely merged in this soul. In other words, soul and body were combined with the spirit, and spirit and body were merged in the soul. Adam “in his unfallen state knew nothing of these ceaseless strivings of spirit and flesh which are matters of daily experience to us. There was a perfect blending of his three natures into one and the soul as the uniting medium became the cause of his individuality, of his existence as a distinct being.” (Pember’s Earth’s Earliest Age) Man was designated a living soul, for it was there that the spirit and body met and through which his individuality was known. Perhaps we may use an imperfect illustration: drop some dye into a cup of water. The dye and water will blend into a third substance called ink. In like manner the two independent elements of spirit and body combine to become living soul. (The analogy fails in that the soul produced by the combining of spirit and body becomes an independent, indissoluble element as much as the spirit and body.)God treated man’s soul as something unique. As the angels were created as spirits, so man was created predominantly as a living soul. Man not only had a body, a body with the breath of life; he became a living soul as well. Thus we find later in the Scriptures that God often referred to men as “souls.” Why? Because what the man is depends on how his soul is. His soul represents him and expresses his individuality. It is the organ of man’s free will, the organ in which spirit and body are completely merged. If man’s soul wills to obey God, it will allow the spirit to rule over the man as ordered by God.The soul, if it chooses, also can suppress the spirit and take some other delight as lord of the man. This trinity of spirit, soul and body may be partially illustrated by a light bulb. Within the bulb, which can represent the total man, there are electricity, light and wire. The spirit is like the electricity, the soul the light, and body the wire. Electricity is the cause of the light while light is the effect of electricity. Wire is the material substance for carrying the electricity as well as for manifesting the light. The combination of spirit and body produces soul, that which is unique to man. As electricity, carried by the wire, is expressed in light, so spirit acts upon the soul and the soul, in turn, expresses itself through the body.However, we must remember well that whereas the soul is the meeting-point of the elements of our being in this present life, the spirit will be the ruling power in our resurrection state. For the Bible tells us that “it is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15.44). Yet here is a vital point: we who have been joined to the resurrected Lord can even now have our spirit rule over the whole being. We are not united to the first Adam who was made a living soul but to the last Adam Who is a life-giving spirit (v.45).Respective Functions of Spirit, Soul and BodyIt is through the corporal body that man comes into contact with the material world. Hence we may label the body as that part which gives us world-consciousness. The soul comprises the intellect which aids us in the present state of existence and the emotions which proceed from the senses. Since the soul belongs to man’s own self and reveals his personality, it is termed the part of self-consciousness. The spirit is that part by which we commune with God and by which alone we are able to apprehend and worship Him. Because it tells us of our relationship with God, the spirit is called the element of God-consciousness. God dwells in the spirit, self dwells in the soul, while senses dwell in the body.As we have mentioned already, the soul is the meeting-point of spirit and body, for there they are merged. By his spirit man holds intercourse with the spiritual world and with the Spirit of God, both receiving and expressing the power and life of the spiritual realm. Through his body man is in contact with the outside sensuous world, affecting it and being affected by it. The soul stands between these two worlds, yet belongs to both. It is linked with the spiritual world through the spirit and with the material world through the body. It also possesses the power of free will, hence is able to choose from among its environments. The spirit cannot act directly upon the body. It needs a medium, and that medium is the soul produced by the touching of the spirit with the body. The soul therefore stands between the spirit and the body, binding these two together. The spirit can subdue the body through the medium of the soul, so that it will obey God; likewise the body through the soul can draw the spirit into loving the world.Of these three elements the spirit is the noblest for it joins with God. The body is the lowest for it contacts with matter. The soul lying between them joins the two together and also takes their character to be its own. The soul makes it possible for the spirit and the body to communicate and to cooperate. The work of the soul is to keep these two in their proper order so that they may not lose their right relationship—namely, that the lowest, the body, may be subjected to the spirit, and that the highest, the spirit, may govern the body through the soul. Man’s prime factor is definitely the soul. It looks to the spirit to give what the latter has received from the Holy Spirit in order that the soul, after it has been perfected, may transmit what it has obtained to the body; then the body too may share in the perfection of the Holy Spirit and so become a spiritual body.The spirit is the noblest part of man and occupies the innermost area of his being. The body is the lowest and takes the outermost place. Between these two dwells the soul, serving as their medium. The body is the outer shelter of the soul, while the soul is the outer sheath of the spirit. The spirit transmits its thought to the soul and the soul exercises the body to obey the spirit’s order. This is the meaning of the soul as the medium. Before the fall of man the spirit controlled the whole being through the soul.The power of the soul is most substantial, since the spirit and the body are merged there and make it the site of man’s personality and influence. Before man committed sin the power of the soul was completely under the dominion of the spirit. Its strength was therefore the spirit’s strength. The spirit cannot itself act upon the body; it can only do so through the medium of the soul. This we can see in Luke 1.46-47: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Darby). “Here the change in tense shows that the spirit first conceived joy in God, and then, communicating with the soul, caused it to give expression to the feeling by means of the bodily organ.” (Pember’s Earth’s Earliest Age)To repeat, the soul is the site of personality. The will, intellect and emotions of man are there. As the spirit is used to communicate with the spiritual world and the body with the natural world, so the soul stands between and exercises its power to discern and decide whether the spiritual or the natural world should reign. Sometimes too the soul itself takes control over man through its intellect, thus creating an ideational world which reigns. In order for the spirit to govern, the soul must give its consent; otherwise the spirit is helpless to regulate the soul and the body. But this decision is up to the soul, for therein resides the personality of the man.Actually the soul is the pivot of the entire being, because man’s volition belongs to it. It is only when the soul is willing to assume a humble position that the spirit can ever manage the whole man. If the soul rebels against taking such a position the spirit will be powerless to rule. This explains the meaning of the free will of man. Man is not an automaton that turns according to God’s will. Rather, man has full sovereign power to decide for himself. He possesses the organ of his own volition and can choose either to follow God’s will or to resist Him and follow Satan’s will instead. God desires that the spirit, being the noblest part of man, should control the whole being. Yet, the will—the crucial part of individuality—belongs to the soul. It is the will which determines whether the spirit, the body, or even itself is to rule. In view of the fact that the soul possesses such power and is the organ of man’s individuality, the Bible calls man “a living soul.”The Holy Temple and Man“Do you not know,” writes the Apostle Paul, “that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3.16) He has received revelation in likening man to the temple. As God formerly dwelt in the temple, so the Holy Spirit indwells man today. By comparing him to the temple we can see how the tripartite elements of man are distinctly manifested.We know the temple is divided into three parts. The first is the outer court which is seen by all and visited by all. All external worship is offered here. Going further in is the Holy Place, into which only the priests can enter and where they present oil, incense and bread to God. They are quite near to God—yet not the nearest, for they are still outside the veil and therefore unable to stand before His very presence. God dwells deepest within, in the Holy of Holies, where darkness is overshadowed by brilliant light and into which no man can enter. Though the high priest does enter in once annually, it nonetheless indicates that before the veil is rent there can be no man in the Holy of Holies.Man is God’s temple also, and he too has three parts. The body is like the outer court, occupying an external position with its life visible to all. Here man ought to obey every commandment of God. Here God’s Son serves as a substitute and dies for mankind. Inside is man’s soul which constitutes the inner life of man and which embraces man’s emotion, volition and mind. Such is the Holy Place of a regenerated person, for his love, will and thought are fully enlightened that he may serve God even as the priest of old did. Innermost, behind the veil, lies the Holy of Holies into which no human light has ever penetrated and no naked eye has ever pierced. It is “the secret place of the Most High,” the dwelling place of God. It cannot be reached by man unless God is willing to rend the veil. It is man’s spirit. This spirit lies beyond man’s self-consciousness and above his sensibility. Here man unites and communes with God.No light is provided for the Holy of Holies because God dwells there. There is light in the Holy Place supplied by the lampstand of seven branches. The outer court stands under the broad daylight. All these serve as images and shadows to a regenerated person. His spirit is like the Holy of Holies indwelt by God, where everything is carried on by faith, beyond the sight, sense or understanding of the believing one. The soul resembles the Holy Place for it is amply enlightened with many rational thoughts and precepts, much knowledge and understanding concerning the things in the ideational and material world. The body is comparable to the outer court, clearly visible to all. The body’s actions may be seen by everyone.The order which God presents to us is unmistakable: “your spirit and soul and body” (1 Thess. 5.23). It is not “soul and spirit and body,” nor is it “body and soul and spirit.” The spirit is the pre-eminent part, hence it is mentioned first; the body is the lowest and therefore is last mentioned; the soul stands between, so is mentioned between. Having now seen God’s order, we can appreciate the wisdom of the Bible in likening man to a temple. We can recognize the perfect harmony which exists between the temple and man in respect to both order and value.Temple service moves according to the revelation in the Holy of Holies. All activities in the Holy Place and in the outer court are regulated by the presence of God in the Holiest Place. This is the most sacred spot, the place upon which the four corners of the temple converge and rest. It may seem to us that nothing is done in the Holiest because it is pitch dark. All activities are in the Holy Place; even those activities of the outer court are controlled by the priests of the Holy Place. Yet all the activities of the Holy Place actually are directed by the revelation in the utter quietness and peace of the Holy of Holies.It is not difficult to perceive the spiritual application. The soul, the organ of our personality, is composed of mind, volition and emotion. It appears as though the soul is master of all actions, for the body follows its direction. Before the fall of man, however, the soul, in spite of its many activities, was governed by the spirit. And this is the order God still wants: first the spirit, then the soul, and lastly the body.
It is imperative that a believer know he has a spirit, since, as we shall soon learn, every communication of God with man occurs there. If the believer does not discern his own spirit he invariably is ignorant of how to commune with God in the spirit. He easily substitutes the thoughts or emotions of the soul for the works of the spirit. Thus he confines himself to the outer realm, unable ever to reach the spiritual realm.
1 Corinthians 2.11 speaks of “the spirit of the man which is in him.”
1 Corinthians 5.4 mentions “my spirit.”
Romans 8.16 says “our spirit”
1 Corinthians 14.14 uses “my spirit.”
1 Corinthians 14.32 tells of the “spirits of prophets.”
Proverbs 25.28 refers to “his own spirit.” Darby
Hebrews 12.23 record “the spirits of just men.”
Zechariah 12.1 states that “the Lord . . . formed the spirit of man within him.”
The above Scripture verses sufficiently prove that we human beings do possess a human spirit. This spirit is not synonymous with our soul nor is it the same as the Holy Spirit. We worship God in this spirit.
According to the teaching of the Bible and the experience of believers, the human spirit can be said to comprise three parts; or, to put it another way, one can say it has three main functions. These are conscience, intuition and communion. The conscience is the discerning organ which distinguishes right and wrong; not, however, through the influence of knowledge stored in the mind but rather by a spontaneous direct judgment. Often reasoning will justify things which our conscience judges. The work of the conscience is independent and direct; it does not bend to outside opinions. If man should do wrong it will raise its voice of accusation. Intuition is the sensing organ of the human spirit. It is so diametrically different from physical sense and soulical sense that it is called intuition. Intuition involves a direct sensing independent of any outside influence. That knowledge which comes to us without any help from the mind, emotion or volition comes intuitively. We really “know” through our intuition; our mind merely helps us to “understand.” The revelations of God and all the movements of the Holy Spirit are known to the believer through his intuition. A believer must therefore heed these two elements: the voice of conscience and the teaching of intuition. Communion is worshiping God. The organs of the soul are incompetent to worship God. God is not apprehended by our thoughts, feelings or intentions, for He can only be known directly in our spirits. Our worship of God and God’s communications with us are directly in the spirit. They take place in “the inner man,” not in the soul or outward man.
We can conclude then that these three elements of conscience, intuition and communion are deeply interrelated and function coordinately. The relationship between conscience and intuition is that conscience judges according to intuition; it condemns all conduct which does not follow the directions given by intuition. Intuition is related to communion or worship in that God is known by man intuitively and reveals His will to man in the intuition. No measure of expectation or deduction gives us the knowledge of God.
From the following three groups of Scripture verses it can readily be observed that our spirits possess the function of conscience (we do not say that the spirit is conscience), the function of intuition (or spiritual sense), and the function of. communion (or worship).
A) The Function o f Conscience in Man’s Spirit
“The Lord your God hardened his spirit” Deut. 2.30
“Saves the crushed in spirit” Ps. 34.18
“Put a new and right spirit within me” Ps. 51.10
“When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit” John 13.21
“His spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” Acts 17.16
“It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” Rom. 8.16
“I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment” 1 Cor. 5.3
“I had no rest in my spirit” 2 Cor. 2.13 AV
“For God did not give us the spirit of timidity” 2 Tim. 1.7
B) The Function of Intuition in Man’s Spirit
“The spirit indeed is willing” Matt. 26.41
“Jesus perceiving in his spirit” Mark 2.8
“He sighed deeply in his spirit” Mark 8.12
“He was deeply moved in spirit” John 11.33
“Paul was pressed in the spirit” Acts 18.5 AV
“Being fervent in spirit” Acts 18.25
“I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the spirit” Acts 20.22
“What person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him” 1 Cor. 2.11
“They refreshed my spirit as well as yours” 1 Cor. 16.18
“His spirit was refreshed by you all” 2 Cor. 7.13 AV
C) The Function of Communion in Man’s Spirit
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” Luke 1.47
“The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” John 4.23
“Whom I serve with my spirit” Rom. 1.9
“We serve . . . in the new life of the spirit” Rom. 7.6
“You have received the spirit of sonship when we cry Abba Father” Rom. 8.15
“The Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit” Rom. 8.16
“He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” 1 Cor. 6.17
“I will sing with the spirit” 1 Cor. 14.15
“If you bless with the spirit” 1 Cor. 14.16
“In the spirit he carried me away” Rev 21.10
We can know by these Scriptures that our spirit possesses at least these three functions. Although unregenerated men do not yet have life, they nevertheless possess these functions (but their worship is of evil spirits). Some people manifest more of these functions while others less. This does not however imply that they are not dead in sins and transgressions. The New Testament does not consider those with a sensitive conscience, keen intuition or a spiritual tendency and interest to be saved individuals. Such people only prove to us that aside from the mind, emotion and will of our soul, we also have a spirit. Prior to regeneration the spirit is separated from God’s life; only afterwards does the life of God and of the Holy Spirit dwell in our spirits. They then have been quickened to be instruments of the Holy Spirit.
Our aim in studying the significance of the spirit is to enable us to realize that we as human beings possess an independent spirit. This spirit is not man’s mind, his will or his emotion; on the contrary, it includes the functions of conscience, intuition and communion. It is here in the spirit that God regenerates us, teaches us, and leads us into His rest. But sad to say, due to long years of bondage to the soul many Christians know very little of their spirit. We ought to tremble before God, asking Him to teach us through experience what is spiritual and what is soulish.
Before the believer is born again his spirit becomes so sunken and surrounded by his soul that it is impossible for him to distinguish whether something is emanating from the soul or from the spirit. The functions of the latter have become mixed up with those of the former. Furthermore, the spirit has lost its primary function—towards God; for it is dead to God. It thus would appear that it has become an accessory to the soul. And as the mind, emotion and volition grow stronger, the functions of the spirit become so eclipsed as to render them almost unknown. That is why there must be the work of dividing between soul and spirit after a believer is regenerated.
In searching the Scriptures it does seem that an unregenerated spirit functions no differently from the way the soul does. The following verses illustrate this.
“His spirit was troubled” Gen. 41.8
“Then their spirit was appeased toward him” Judges 8.3 Darby
“He that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly” Prov. 14.29 Darby
“A downcast spirit dries up the bones” Prov. 17.22
“Those who err in spirit” Is. 29.24
“And shall wail for anguish of spirit” Is. 65.14
“His spirit was hardened” Dan. 5.20
These show us the works of the unregenerated spirit and indicate how similar are its works to those of the soul. The reason for not mentioning soul but spirit is to reveal what has occurred in the very depth of man. It discloses how man’s spirit has become controlled and influenced completely by his soul with the result that it manifests the works of the soul. The spirit nonetheless still exists because these works come from the spirit. Though ruled by the soul the spirit does not cease to be an organ.
Aside from having a spirit which enables him to commune with God, man also possesses a soul, his self-consciousness. Hs is made conscious of his existence by the work of his soul. It is the seat of our personality. The elements which make us human belong to the soul. Intellect, thought, ideals, love, emotion, discernment, choice, decision, etc., are but various experiences of the soul.
It has been explained already that the spirit and the body are merged in the soul which, in turn, forms the organ of our personality. That is why the Bible sometimes calls man “soul,” as though man has only this element. For example, Genesis 12.5 refers to people as “souls” (ASV). Again, when Jacob brought his entire family down to Egypt, it is recorded that “all the souls of the house of Jacob, that came into Egypt, were threescore and ten” (Gen. 46.27 ASV). Numerous instances occur in the original language of the Bible where “soul” is used instead of “man.” For the seat and essence of the personality is the soul. To comprehend a man’s personality is to comprehend his person. Man’s existence, characteristics and life are all in the soul. The Bible consequently calls man “a soul.”
That which constitutes man’s personality are the three main faculties of volition, mind and emotion. Volition is the instrument for our decisions, revealing our power to choose. It expresses our willingness or unwillingness: “we will” or “we won’t.” Without it, man is reduced to an automaton. Mind, the instrument for our thoughts, manifests our intellectual power. Out of this arise wisdom, knowledge and reasoning. Lack of it makes a man foolish and dull. The instrument for our likes and dislikes is the faculty of emotion. Through it we are able to express love or hate and to feel joyful, angry, sad or happy. Any shortage of it will render man as insensitive as wood or stone.
A careful study of the Bible will yield the conclusion that these three primary faculties of personality belong to the soul. Too many Scripture passages exist to quote them all. Hence only a few selections can be enumerated here.
A) The Soul’s Faculty of Volition
“Give me not up to the will (original, “soul”) of my adversaries” Ps. 27.12
“Thou dost not give him up to the will (original, “soul”) of his enemies” Ps. 41.2
“Delivered you to the greed (original, “soul”) of your enemies” Ezek. 16.27
“You shall let her go where she will (original, “soul”)” Deut. 21.14
“Aha, we have our heart’s desire (original, “soul”)” Ps. 35.25
“Or swear an oath to bind himself (original, “soul”) by a pledge” Num. 30.2
“Now set your mind and heart (original, “soul”) to seek the Lord your God” 1 Chron. 22.18
“They desire and lift up their soul to return to dwell there” Jer. 44.14 Amplified
“These afflictions my soul refuses to touch” Job 6.7 Amplified
“My soul chooseth strangling, death, rather than my bones” Job 7.15 Darby
The “will” or “heart” here points to the human will. “Set the heart,” “lift up their soul,” “refuse” and “choose” are all exercises of the will, having their springs in the soul.
B) The Soul’s Faculty of Intellect or Mind
“Whereunto they lift up their soul, their sons and their daughters” Ezek. 24.25 Darby
“That a soul be without knowledge is not good” Prov. 19.2 Darby
“How long must I bear pain (Syriac:Hebrew: hold counsels) in my soul?” Ps. 13.2
“Marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well” Ps. 139.14 Darby
“My soul continually thinks of it” Lam. 3.20
“Knowledge will be pleasant to your soul” Prov. 2.10
“Keep sound wisdom and discretion . . . and they will be life for your soul” Prov. 3.21,22
“Know that wisdom is such to your soul” Prov. 24.14
Here “knowledge,” “counsel,” “lift up,” “think,” etc., exist as the activities of man’s intellect or mind, which the Bible indicates as emanating from the soul.
C) The Soul’s Faculty of Emotion
1) EMOTIONS OF AFFECTION
“The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” 1 Sam. 18.1
“You whom my soul loves” Song 1.7
“My soul magnifies the Lord” Luke 1.46
“His life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty food” Job 33.20 Darby
“Who are hated by David’s soul” 2 Sam. 5.8
“My soul was vexed with them” Zech. 11.8 Darby
“You shall love the Lord your God . . . with all your soul” Deut. 6.5
“My soul is weary of my life” Job 10:1 Darby
“Their soul abhorreth all manner of food” Ps. 107:18 Darby
2) EMOTIONS OF DESIRE
“For whatever thy soul desireth . . . or for whatever thy soul asketh of thee” Deut. 14.26 Darby
“What thy soul may say” 1 Sam. 20.4 Darby
“My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord” Ps. 84.2
“Your soul’s longing” Ezek. 24.21 Darby
“So longs my soul for thee, O God” Ps. 42.1
“My soul yearns for thee in the night” Is. 26.9
“My soul is well pleased” Matt. 12.18
3) EMOTIONS OF FEELING AND SENSING
“A sword will pierce through your own soul also” Luke 2.35
“All the people were bitter in soul” 1 Sam. 30.6
“Her soul is bitter and vexed within her” 2 Kings 4.27 Amplified
“His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” Judges 10.16 Darby
“How long will ye vex my soul” Job 19.2 Darby
“My soul shall exult in my God” Is. 61.10
“Gladden the soul of thy servant” Ps. 86.4
“Their soul fainted within them” Ps. 107.5
“Why are you cast down, O my soul” Ps. 42.5
“Return, O my soul, to your rest” Ps. 116.7
“My soul is consumed with longing” Ps. 119.20
“Sweetness to the soul” Prov. 16.24
“Let your soul delight itself in fatness” Is. 55.2 Amplified
“My soul fainted within me” Jonah 2.7
“My soul is very sorrowful” Matt. 26.38
“Now is my soul troubled” John 12.27
“He was vexed in his righteous soul day after day” 2 Peter 2.8
We can discover in the above observations touching upon man’s various emotions that our soul is capable of loving and hating, desiring and aspiring, feeling and sensing.
From this brief Biblical study it becomes quite obvious that the soul of man contains in it that part known as will, that part known as mind or intellect, and that part known as emotion.
The Soul Life
Some Bible scholars point out to us that three different words are employed in the Greek to designate “life”: (1) bios (2) psuche (3) zoe. They all describe life but convey very different meanings. Bios has reference to the means of life or living. Our Lord Jesus used this word when He commended the woman who cast into the temple treasury her whole living. Zoe is the highest life, the life of the spirit. Whenever the Bible speaks of eternal life it uses this word. Psuche refers to the animated life of man, his natural life or the life of the soul. The Bible employs this term when it describes the human life.
Let us note here that the words “soul” and “soul life” in the Bible are one and the same in the original. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for “soul”—nephesh—is used equally for “soul life.” The New Testament consequently employs the Greek word psuche for both “soul” and “soul life.” Hence we know “soul” not only is one of the three elements of man but also is man’s life, his natural life. In many places in the Bible, “soul” is translated as “life.”
“Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” Gen. 9.4,5
“The life of the flesh is in the blood” Lev. 17.11
“Those who sought the child’s life are dead” Matt. 2.20
“Is it lawful on the sabbath—to save life or to destroy it?” Luke 6.9
“Who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ” Acts 15.26
“I do not account my life of any value” Acts 20.24
“To give his life as a ransom for many” Matt. 20.28
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” John 10.11, 15,17
The word “life” in these verses is “soul” in the original. It is so translated because it would be difficult to understand otherwise. The soul actually is the very life of man.
As we have mentioned, “soul” is one of the three elements of man. “Soul life” is man’s natural life, that which makes him exist and animates him. It is the life whereby man today lives; it is the power whereby man becomes what he is. Since the Bible applies nephesh and psuche both to soul and to man’s life, it is evident to us that these two, though distinguishable, are not separable. They are distinguishable inasmuch as in certain places psuche (for example) must be translated either as “soul” or as “life.” The translations cannot be interchanged. For instance, “soul” and “life” in Luke 12.19-23 and Mark 3.4 are actually the same word in the original, yet to translate them with the same word in English would be meaningless. They are inseparable, however, because these two are completely united in man. A man without a soul does not live. The Bible never tells us that a natural man possesses a life other than the soul. The life of man is but the soul permeating the body. As the soul is joined to the body it becomes the life of man. Life is the phenomenon of the soul. The Bible considers man’s present body a “soulical body” (1 Cor.15.44 original), for the life of our present body is that of the soul. Man’s life is therefore simply an expression of the composite of his mental, emotional and volitional energies. “Personality” in the natural realm embraces these different parts of the soul but only that much. Soul life is man’s natural life.
That the soul is man’s life is a most important fact to recognize for it bears greatly upon the kind of Christian we become, whether spiritual or soulish. This we shall explain further on.
Soul and Man’s Self
Inasmuch as we have seen how soul is the site of our personality, the organ of volition and the natural life, we can easily conclude that this soul is also the “real I”—I myself. Our self is the soul. This too can be demonstrated by the Bible. In Numbers 30, the phrase “bind himself” occurs ten times. In the original it is “bind his soul.” From this we are led to understand that the soul is our own self. In many other passages of the Bible we find the word “soul” is translated as “self.” For instance:
“You shall not defile yourselves with them” Lev. 11.43
“You shall not defile yourselves” Lev. 11.44
“For themselves and for their descendants” Esther 9.31
“You who tear yourself in your anger” Job 18.4
“He justified himself” Job 32.2
“But themselves go into captivity” Is. 46.2
“What every one (original, “every soul”) must eat, that only may be prepared by you” Ex. 12.16
“Who kills any person (original, “kill any soul”) without intent” Num. 35.11,15
“Let me (original, “let my soul”) die the death of the righteous” Num. 23.10
“When any one (original, “any soul”) brings a cereal offering” Lev. 2.1
“I have . . . quieted myself” Ps. 131.2 AV
“Think not that in the king’s palace you (original, “soul”) will escape” Esther 4.13
“The Lord God has sworn by himself (original, “sworn by his soul”)” Amos 6.8
These Scriptures from the Old Testament inform us in various ways how the soul is man’s own self.
The New Testament conveys the same impression. “Souls” is the original rendering for “eight persons” in 1 Peter 3.20 and for “two hundred and seventy-six persons” in Acts 27.37. The phrase in Romans 2.9 translated today as “every human being who does evil” is given in the original as “every soul of man that works evil.” Hence, to warn the soul of a man who works evil is to warn the evil man. In James 5.20, saving a soul is considered to be saving a sinner. And Luke 12.19 treats the rich fool’s speaking words of comfort to his soul as speaking to himself. It is therefore clear that the Bible as a whole views man’s soul or soul life as the man himself.
A confirmation of this can be found in the words of our Lord Jesus, given in two different Gospels. Matthew 16.26 reads: “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life (psuche)? Or what shall a man give in return for his life (psuche)?” Whereas Luke 9.25 renders it: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself (eautou)?” Both Gospel writers record the same thing; yet one uses “life” (or “soul”) while the other uses “himself.” This signifies that the Holy Spirit is using Matthew to explain the meaning of “himself” in Luke and Luke the meaning of “life” in Matthew. Man’s soul or life is the man himself, and vice versa.
Such a study enables us to conclude that, to be a man, we must share what is included in man’s soul. Every natural man possesses this element and whatever it includes, for the soul is the common life shared by all natural men. Before regeneration, whatever is included in life—be it self, life, strength, power, choice, thought, opinion, love, feeling—pertains to the soul. In other words, soul life is the life a man inherits at birth. All that this life possesses and all that it may become are in the realm of the soul. If we distinctly recognize what is soulical it will then be easier for us later on to recognize what is spiritual. It will be possible to divide the spiritual from the soulish.
The man god fashioned was notably different from all other created beings. Man possessed a spirit similar to that of the angels and at the same time had a soul resembling that of the lower animals. When God created man He gave him a perfect freedom. He did not make man an automaton, controlled automatically by His will. This is evident in Genesis 2 at the time God instructed the original man what fruit he could eat and what not. The man God created was not a machine run by God; instead he had perfect freedom of choice. If he chose to obey God, he could; if he decided to rebel against God, he could do that too. Man had in his possession a sovereignty by which he could exercise his volition in choosing to obey or to disobey. This is a most important point, for we must realize that in our spiritual life God never deprives us our freedom. Unless we actively cooperate, God will not undertake anything for us. Neither God nor the devil can do any work without first obtaining our consent, for man’s will is free.
Man’s spirit was originally the highest part of his entire being to which soul and body were to be subject. Under normal conditions the spirit is like a mistress, the soul like a steward, and the body like a servant. The mistress commits matters to the steward who in turn commands the servant to carry them out. The mistress gives orders privately to the steward; the steward in turn transmits them openly to the servant. The steward appears to be the lord of all, but in actuality the lord over all is the mistress. Unfortunately man has fallen; he has been defeated and has sinned; consequently, the proper order of spirit, soul and body has been confused.
God bestowed upon man a sovereign power and accorded numerous gifts to a human soul. Thought and will or intellect and intention are among the prominent portions. The original purpose of God is that the human soul should receive and assimilate the truth and substance of God’s spiritual life. He gave gifts to men in order that man might take God’s knowledge and will as his own. If man’s spirit and soul would maintain their created perfection, healthiness and liveliness, his body would then be able to continue forever without change. If he would exercise his will by taking and eating the fruit of life, God’s Own life undoubtedly would enter his spirit, permeate his soul, transform his entire inner man, and translate his body into incorruptibility. He then would literally be in possession of “eternal life.” In that event his soulical life would be filled completely with spiritual life, and his whole being would be transformed into that which is spiritual. Conversely, if the order of spirit and soul would be reversed, then man would plunge into darkness and the human body could not last long but would soon be corrupted.
We know how man’s soul chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil rather than the tree of life. Yet is it not clear that God’s will for Adam was to eat the fruit of the tree of life? Because before He forbade Adam to eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil and warned him that in the day he ate he should die (Gen. 2.17), He first commanded man to eat freely of every tree of the garden and purposely mentioned the tree of life in the midst of the garden. Who can say that this is not so?
“The fruit of the knowledge of good and evil” uplifts the human soul and suppresses the spirit. God does not forbid man to eat of this fruit merely to test man. He forbids it because He knows that by eating this fruit man’s soul life will be so stimulated that his spirit life will be stifled. This means man will lose the true knowledge of God and thus be dead to Him. God’s forbiddance shows God’s love. The knowledge of good and evil in this world is itself evil. Such knowledge springs from the intellect of man’s soul. It puffs up the soul life and consequently deflates the spirit life to the point of losing any knowledge of God, to the point of becoming as much as dead.
A great number of God’s servants view this tree of life as God offering life to the world in His Son the Lord Jesus. This is eternal life, God’s nature, His uncreated life. Hence, we have here two trees—one germinates spiritual life while the other develops soulish life. Man in his original state is neither sinful nor holy and righteous. He stands between the two. Either he can accept God’s life, thus becoming a spiritual man and a partaker of divine nature; or he can inflate his created life into becoming soulish, consequently inflicting death on his spirit. God imparted a perfect balance to the three parts of man. Whenever one part is over-developed the others are afflicted.
Our spiritual walk will be greatly helped if we understand the origin of soul and its life principle. Our spirit comes directly from God for it is God-given (Num. 16.22). Our soul is not so directly derived; it was produced after the spirit entered the body. It is therefore characteristically related to the created being. It is the created life, the natural life. The soul’s usefulness is indeed extensive if it maintains its proper place as a steward, permitting the spirit to be mistress. Man can then receive God’s life and be related to God in life. If, however, this soulical realm becomes inflated the spirit is accordingly suppressed. All man’s doings will be confined to the natural realm of the created, unable to be united to God’s supernatural and uncreated life. The original man succumbed to death in that he ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, thereby abnormally developing his soulical life.
Satan tempted Eve with a question. He knew his query would arouse the woman’s thought. If she were completely under the spirit’s control she would reject such questioning. By trying to answer she exercised her mind in disobedience to the spirit. Doubtless Satan’s question was full of errors, for his prime motive was merely to incite Eve’s mental exertion. He would have expected Eve to correct him, but alas, Eve dared to change God’s Word in her conversation with Satan. The enemy accordingly was emboldened to tempt her to eat by suggesting to her that, in eating, her eyes would be opened and she would be like God—knowing good and evil. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3.6). That was how Eve viewed the matter. Satan provoked her soulical thought first and then advanced to seize her will. The result: she fell into sin.
Satan always uses physical need as the first target for attack. He simply mentioned eating fruit to Eve, an entirely physical matter. Next he proceeded to entice her soul, intimating that by indulging, her eyes would be opened to know good and evil. Although such searching for knowledge was perfectly legitimate, the consequence nonetheless led her spirit into open rebellion against God because she misconstrued God’s forbiddance as arising from an evil intention. Satan’s temptation reaches initially to the body, then to the soul and lastly to the spirit.
After being tempted Eve gave her verdict. To begin with, “the tree was good for food.” This is the “lust of the flesh.” Eve’s flesh was the first to be stirred up. Second, “it was a delight to the eyes.” This is “the lust of the eyes.” Both the body and her soul were now enticed. Third, “the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” This is “the pride of life.” Such desire revealed the wavering of her emotion and will. Her soul was now agitated beyond control. It no longer stood by as a spectator but had been goaded into desiring the fruit. How dangerous a master human emotion is!
Why should Eve desire the fruit? It was not merely the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, but also curiosity’s urge for wisdom. In the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, even of so-called “spiritual knowledge,” activities of the soul often can be detected. When one tries to increase his knowledge by doing mental gymnastics over books without waiting upon God and looking to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, his soul is plainly in full swing. This will deplete his spiritual life. Because the fall of man was occasioned by seeking knowledge, God uses the foolishness of the cross to “destroy the wisdom of the wise.” Intellect was the chief cause of the fall; hence, in order to be saved one must believe in the folly of the Word of the cross rather than depend upon his intellect. The tree of knowledge causes man to fall, so God employs the tree of folly (1 Peter 2.24) to save souls. “If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor. 3.18-20; also see 1.18-25).
Having carefully reviewed the account of the fall of man, we are able to see that in rebelling against God, Adam and Eve developed their souls to the extent of displacing their spirits and plunging themselves into darkness. The prominent parts of the soul are man’s mind, will and emotion. Will is the organ of decision, therefore the master of the man. Mind is the organ of thought, while emotion is that of affection. The Apostle Paul tells us “Adam was not deceived,” indicating that Adam’s mind was not muddled on that fatal day. The one who was feeble-minded was Eve: “the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2.14). According to the record of Genesis it is written that “the woman said, ‘The serpent beguiled me and I ate’” (Gen. 3.13); but that “the man said, “The woman gave (not beguiled) me fruit of the tree and I ate’” (Gen. 3.12). Adam obviously was not deceived; his mind was clear and he knew the fruit was from the forbidden tree. He ate because of his affection for the woman. Adam understood that what the serpent said was nothing more than the enemy’s deception. From the words of the Apostle we are led to see that Adam sinned deliberately. He loved Eve more than himself. He made her his idol, and for her sake he was willing to rebel against the commandment of his Creator. How pitiful that his mind was overruled by his emotion; his reasoning, overcome by his affection. Why is it that men “did not believe the truth?” Because they “had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2.12). It is not that the truth is unreasonable but that it is not loved. Hence when one truly turns to the Lord he “believes with his heart (not mind) and so is justified” (Rom 10.10).
Satan moved Adam to sin by seizing the latter’s will through his emotion, while he tempted Eve to sin by grasping her will through the channel of a darkened mind. When man’s will and mind and emotion were poisoned by the serpent and man followed after Satan instead of God, his spirit, which was capable of communing with God, suffered a fatal blow. Here we can see the law which governs the work of Satan. He uses the things of the flesh (eating fruit) to entice man’s soul into sin; as soon as the soul sins, the spirit descends into utter darkness. The order of his working is always such: from the outside to the inside. If he does not start with the body, then he begins by working on the mind or the emotion in order to get to the will of man. The moment man’s will yields to Satan he possesses man’s whole being and puts the spirit to death. But not so the work of God; His is always from the inside to the outside. God begins working in man’s spirit and continues by illuminating his mind, stirring his emotion, and causing him to exercise his will over his body for carrying into execution the will of God. All satanic works are performed from the outside inward; all divine works, from the inside outward. We may in this way distinguish what comes from God and what from Satan. All this additionally teaches us that once Satan seizes man’s will, then is he in control over that man.
We should carefully note that the soul is where man expresses his free will and exerts his own mastery. The Bible therefore often records that it is the soul which sins. For example, Micah 6.7 says, “the sin of my soul.” Ezekiel 18.4,20 reads, “the soul that sins.” And in the books of Leviticus and Numbers mention frequently is made that the soul sins. Why? Because it is the soul which chooses to sin. Our description of sin is: “The will acquiesces in the temptation.” Sinning is a matter of the soul’s will; atonement accordingly must be for the soul. “Ye give the heave-offering of Jehovah to make atonement for your souls” (Ex. 30.15 Darby). “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17.11 Darby). “To make atonement for our souls before Jehovah” (Num. 31.50 Darby). Since it is the soul which sins, it follows that the soul needs to be atoned. And it can only be atoned, moreover, by a soul:
it pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he bath subjected him to suffering . . . thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin . . . He shall see of the fruit of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied . . . he bath poured out his soul unto death . . . ; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Is. 53.10-12 Darby)
In examining the nature of Adam’s sin we discover that aside from rebellion there is also a certain kind of independence. We must not lose sight here of free will. On the one hand, the tree of life implies a sense of dependence. Man at that time did not possess God’s nature, but had he partaken of the fruit of the tree of life he could have secured God’s life; man could have reached his summit—possessing the very life of God. This is dependence. On the other hand, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil suggests independence because man strived by the exercise of his will for the knowledge not promised, for something not accorded him by God. His rebellion declared his independence. By rebelling he did not need to depend upon God. Furthermore, his seeking the knowledge of good and evil also showed his independence, for he was not satisfied with what God had bestowed already. The difference between the spiritual and the soulish is crystal clear. The spiritual depends utterly upon God, fully satisfied with what God has given; the soulish steers clear of God and covets what God has not conferred, especially “knowledge.” Independence is a special mark of the soulish. That thing—no matter how good, even worshiping God—is unquestionably of the soul if it does not require complete trust in God and instead calls for reliance upon one’s own strength. The tree of life cannot grow within us together with the tree of knowledge. Rebellion and independence explain every sin committed by both sinners and saints.
Spirit, Soul and Body after the Fall
Adam lived by the breath of life becoming spirit in him. By the spirit he sensed God, knew God’s voice, and communed with God. He had a very keen awareness of God. But after his fall his spirit died.
When God spoke to Adam at the first He said, “in the day that you eat of it (the fruit of the tree of good and evil) you shall die” (Gen. 2.17). Adam and Eve nevertheless continued on for hundreds of years after eating the forbidden fruit. This obviously indicates that the death God foretold was not physical. Adam’s death began in his spirit.
What really is death? According to its scientific definition, death is “the cessation of communication with environment.” Death of the spirit is the cessation of its communication with God. Death of the body is the cutting off of communication between spirit and body. So when we say the spirit is dead it does not imply there is no more spirit; we simply mean the spirit has lost its sensitivity towards God and thus is dead to Him. The exact situation is that the spirit is incapacitated, unable to commune with God. To illustrate. A dumb person has a mouth and lungs but something is wrong with his vocal cords and he is powerless to speak. So far as human language is concerned his mouth may be considered dead. Similarly Adam’s spirit died because of his disobedience to God. He still had his spirit, yet it was dead to God for it had lost its spiritual instinct. It is still so; sin has destroyed the spirit’s keen intuitive knowledge of God and rendered man spiritually dead. He may be religious, moral, learned, capable, strong and wise, but he is dead to God. He may even talk about God, reason about God and preach God, but he is still dead to Him. Man is not able to hear or to sense the voice of God’s Spirit. Consequently in the New Testament God often refers to those who are living in the flesh as dead.
The death which began in our forefather’s spirit gradually spread until it reached his body. Though he lived on for many years after his spirit was dead, death nevertheless worked incessantly in him until his spirit, soul and body were all dead. His body, which could have been transformed and glorified, was instead returned to dust. Because his inward man had fallen into chaos, his outward body must die and be destroyed.
Henceforth Adam’s spirit (as well as the spirit of all his descendants) fell under the oppression of the soul until it gradually merged with the soul and the two parts became closely united. The writer of Hebrews declares in 4.12 that the Word of God shall pierce and divide soul and spirit. The dividing is necessary because spirit and soul have become one. While they are intimately knit they plunge man into a psychic world. Everything is done according to the dictates of intellect or feeling. The spirit has lost its power and sensation, as though dead asleep. What instinct it has in knowing and serving God is entirely paralyzed. It remains in a coma as if non-existent. This is what is meant in Jude 19 by “natural, not having spirit” (literal).* This certainly does not mean the human spirit ceases to exist, for Numbers 16.22 distinctly states that God is “the God of the spirits of all flesh.” Every human being still has in his possession a spirit, although it is darkened by sin and impotent to hold communion with God.
However dead this spirit may be towards God it may remain as active as the mind or the body. It is accounted dead to God but is still very active in other respects. Sometimes the spirit of a fallen man can even be stronger than his soul or body and gain dominion over the whole being. Such persons are “spiritual” just as most people are
*The spirit here does not point to the Holy Spirit but to the human spirit, for it is preceded by the word “natural,” which literally is, “soulish.” As “soulish” pertains to man, so “spirit” also pertains to man.
largely soulical or physical, because their spirits are much bigger than that of ordinary individuals. These are the sorceresses and the witches. They indeed maintain contacts with the spiritual realm; but these do so through the evil spirit, not by the Holy Spirit. The spirit of the fallen man thus is allied with Satan and his evil spirits. It is dead to God yet very much alive to Satan and follows the evil spirit which is now at work in him.
In yielding to the demand of its passions and lusts the soul has become a slave to the body so that the Holy Spirit finds it useless to strive for God’s place in such a one. Hence the Scripture declares, “My Spirit shall not always plead with Man; for he indeed is flesh” (Gen. 6.3 Darby). The Bible refers to the flesh as the composite of the unregenerated soul and the physical life, though more often than not it points to sin which is in the body. Once man is completely under the dominion of the flesh he has no possibility of liberating himself. Soul has replaced the spirit’s authority. Everything is done independently and according to the dictates of his mind. Even in religious matters, in the hottest pursuit of God, all is carried on by the strength and will of man’s soul, void of the Holy Spirit’s revelation. The soul is not merely independent of the spirit; it is additionally under the body’s control. It is now asked to obey, to execute and to fulfill the lusts, passions and demands of the body. Every son of Adam is therefore not only dead in his spirit but he is also “from the earth, a man of dust” (1 Cor. 15.47). Fallen men are governed completely by the flesh, walking in response to the desires of their soulish life and physical passions. Such ones are unable to commune with God. Sometimes they display their intellect, at others times their passion, but more often both their intellect and passion. Unimpeded, the flesh is in firm control over the total man.
This is what is unfolded in Jude 18 and 19—“mockers, walking after their own lusts of ungodlinesses. These are they who set themselves apart, natural men, not having spirit” (Darby). Being soulish is antagonistic to being spiritual. The spirit, that noblest part of us, the part which may be united to God and ought to regulate the soul and body, is now under the dominion of the soul, that part of us which is earthly in both its motive and aim. The spirit has been stripped of its original position. Man’s present condition is abnormal. Wherefore he is pictured as not having spirit. The result of being soulish is that he becomes a mocker, pursuing ungodly passions and creating divisions.
1 Corinthians 2.14 speaks of such unregenerated persons in this fashion: “The natural (soulish) man does not receive the gifts of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Such men as are under the control of their souls with their spirits suppressed are in direct contrast to spiritual people. They may be exceedingly intelligent, able to present masterful ideas or theories, yet they do not consent to the things of the Spirit of God. They are unfit to receive revelation from the Holy Spirit. Such revelation is vastly different from human ideas. Man may think human intellect and reasoning are almighty, that the brain is able to comprehend all truths of the world; but the verdict of God’s Word is, “vanity of vanities.”
While man is in his soulish state he frequently senses the insecurity of this age and so he too seeks the eternal life of the coming age. But even if he does, he is still powerless to uncover the Word of life by his much thinking and theorizing. How untrustworthy are human reasonings! We often observe how very clever persons clash in their different opinions. Theories easily lead man into error. They are castles in the air, tumbling him into eternal darkness.
How true it is that without the guidance of the Holy Spirit intellect not only is undependable but also extremely dangerous, because it often confuses the issue of right and wrong. A slight carelessness may cause not merely temporary loss but even everlasting harm. The darkened mind of man frequently leads him to eternal death. If only unregenerated souls could see this, how good it would be!
While man is fleshly he may be controlled by more than just the soul; he may be under the direction of the body as well; for soul and body are closely entwined. Because the body of sin is abounding in desires and passions, man may commit the most hideous of sins. As the body is formed of the dust, so its natural tendency is towards the earth. The introduction of the serpent’s poison into man’s body turns all its legitimate desires into lusts. Having once yielded to the body in disobeying God, the soul finds itself bound to yield every time. The base desires of the body may therefore often be expressed through the soul. The power of the body becomes so overwhelming that the soul cannot but become the obedient slave.
God’s thought is for the spirit to have the pre-eminence, ruling our soul. But once man turns fleshly his spirit sinks into servitude to the soul. Further degradation follows when man becomes “bodily” (of the body), for the basest body rises to be sovereign. Man has then descended from “spirit-control” to “soul-control,” and from “soul-control” to “body-control.” Deeper and deeper he sinks. How pitiful it must be when the flesh gains dominion.
Sin has slain the spirit: spiritual death hence becomes the portion of all, for all are dead in sins and trespasses. Sin has rendered the soul independent: the soulish life is therefore but a selfish and self-willed one. Sin has finally empowered the body: sinful nature accordingly reigns through the body.
Death entered the world through the fall of man. Reference here is to spiritual death which separates man from God. Through sin it came in the beginning and so has it ever come since then. Death always comes through sin. Note what Romans 5.12 tells us about this matter. First, that “sin came into the world through one man.” Adam sinned and introduced sin into the world. Second, that “death (came into the world) through sin.” Death is sin’s unchanging result. And lastly, that therefore “death spread to all men because all men sinned.” Not merely has death “spread to” or “passed upon” (Darby) all men, but literally “to all men the death did pass through” (Young’s). Death has permeated the spirit, soul and body of all men; there is no part of a human being into which it has not found its way. It is therefore imperative that man receive God’s life. The way of salvation cannot be in human reform, for “death” is irreparable. Sin must be judged before there can be rescue out of death. Exactly this is what has been provided by the salvation of the Lord Jesus.
The man who sins must die. This is announced in the Bible. No animal nor angel can suffer the penalty of sin in man’s stead. It is man’s triune nature which sins, therefore it is man who must die. Only humanity can atone for humanity. But because sin is in his humanity, man’s own death cannot atone for his sin. The Lord Jesus came and took human nature upon himself in order that He might be judged instead of humanity. Untainted by sin, His holy human nature could therefore through death atone for sinful humanity. He died a substitute, suffered all penalty of sin, and offered his life a ransom for many. Consequently, whoever believes on Him shall be judged no more (John 5.24).
When the Word became flesh He included all flesh in Himself. As the action of one man, Adam, represents the action of all mankind, so the work of one man, Christ, represents the work of all. We must see how inclusive Christ is before we can understand what redemption is. Why is it that the sin of one man, Adam, is judged to be the sin of all men both present and past? Because Adam is humanity’s head from whom all other men have come into the world. Similarly the obedience of one man, Christ, becomes the righteousness of many, both of the present and the past, inasmuch as Christ constitutes the head of a new mankind entered into by a new birth.
One incident in Hebrews 7 may illustrate this point. To prove that the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than the priesthood of Levi, the writer reminds his readers that Abraham once offered a tithe to Melchizedek and received from him a blessing and so concluded that Abraham’s tithe offering and blessing were Levi’s. How? Because “he (Levi) was still in the loins of his ancestor (Abraham) when Melchizedek met him” (v.10). We know that Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac Jacob, and Jacob Levi. Levi was Abraham’s great grandson. When Abraham offered the tithe and received a blessing, Levi was not yet born, nor even were his father and grandfather. Yet the Bible considers Abraham’s tithe and blessing as Levi’s. Inasmuch as Abraham is lesser than Melchizedek, Levi too is of less account than Melchizedek. This incident can help us to understand why Adam’s sin is construed to be the sin of all men and why the judgment upon Christ is counted as judgment for all. It is simply because at the time Adam sinned, all men were presently in his loins. Likewise, when Christ was judged, all who will be regenerated were present in Christ. His judgment is hence taken as their judgment, and all who have believed in Christ shall no longer be judged.
Since humanity must be judged, the Son of God—even the man Jesus Christ—suffered in his spirit, soul and body on the cross for the sins of the world.
Let us first consider his physical sufferings. Man sins through his body and there enjoys the temporary pleasure of sin. The body must accordingly be the recipient of punishment. Who can fathom the physical sufferings of the Lord Jesus on the cross? Are not Christ’s sufferings in the body clearly foretold in the Messianic writings? “They have pierced my hands and feet” (Ps. 22.16). The prophet Zechariah called attention to “him whom they have pierced” (12.10). His hands, His feet, His brow, His side, His heart were all pierced by men, pierced by sinful humanity and pierced for sinful humanity. Many were His wounds and high ran His fever for, with the weight of His whole body hanging unsupported on the cross, His blood could not circulate freely. He was extremely thirsty and therefore cried out, “My tongue cleaves to my jaws”—“for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps. 22.15, 69.21). The hands must be nailed, for they love to sin. The mouth must suffer, for it loves to sin. The feet must be pierced, for they love to sin. The brow must be crowned with a thorny crown, for it too loves to sin. All that the human body needed to suffer was executed upon His body. Thus He suffered physically even to death. It was within His power to escape these sufferings, yet He willingly offered His body to endure immeasurable trials and pains, never for a moment shrinking back until He knew that “all was now finished” (John 19.28). Only then did He dismiss his spirit.
Not His body only, His soul as well, suffered. The soul is the organ of self-consciousness. Before being crucified, Christ was administered wine mingled with myrrh as a sedative to alleviate pain, but He refused it as He was not willing to lose His consciousness. Human souls have fully enjoyed the pleasure of sins; accordingly in His soul Jesus would endure the pain of sins. He would rather drink the cup given Him by God than the cup which numbed consciousness.
How shameful is the punishment of the cross! It was used to execute runaway slaves. A slave had neither property nor rights. His body belonged to his master; he could therefore be punished with the most shameful cross. The Lord Jesus took the place of a slave and was crucified. Isaiah called Him “the servant”; Paul said He took the form of a slave. Yes, as a slave He came to rescue us who are subject to the lifelong bondage of sin and Satan. We are slaves to passion, temper, habits and the world. We are sold to sin. Yet He died because of our slavery and bore our entire shame.
The Bible records that the soldiers took the garments of the Lord Jesus (John 19.23). He was nearly naked when crucified. This is one of the shames of the cross. Sin takes our radiant garment away and renders us naked. Our Lord was stripped bare before Pilate and again on Calvary. How would His holy soul react to such abuse? Would it not insult the holiness of His personality and cover Him with shamefulness? Who can enter into His feeling of that tragic moment? Because every man had enjoyed the apparent glory of sin, so the Savior must endure the real shame of sin. Truly “thou (God) hast covered him with shame . . . with which thy enemies taunt, O Lord, with which they mock the footsteps of thy anointed”; He nonetheless “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Ps. 89.45,51; Heb.12.2).
No one can ever ascertain how fully the soul of the Savior suffered on the cross. We often contemplate His physical suffering but overlook the feeling of His soul. A week before the Passover He was heard to mention: “Now is my soul troubled” (John 12.27). This points to the cross. While in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was again heard to say: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26.38). Were it not for these words we would hardly think his soul had suffered. Isaiah 53 mentions thrice how His soul was made an offering for sin, how His soul travailed, and how He poured out His soul to death (vv.10-12). Because Jesus bore the curse and shame of the cross, whoever believes in Him shall no more be cursed and put to shame.
His spirit too suffered immensely. The spirit is that part of man which equips him to commune with God. The Son of God was holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners. His spirit was united with the Holy Spirit in perfect oneness. Never did there exist a moment of disturbance and doubt, for He always had God’s presence with Him. “It is not I alone,” declared Jesus, “but I and he who sent me ... And he who sent me is with me” (John 8.16,29). For this reason He could pray, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always” (John 11.41-42). Nevertheless, while He hung on the cross—and if there ever were a day when the Son of God desperately needed the presence of God it must be that day—He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27.46) His spirit was split asunder from God. How intensely He felt the loneliness, the desertion, the separation. The Son was still yielding, the Son was still obeying the will of the Father-God, yet the Son was forsaken: not for His Own sake, but for the sake of others.
Sin affects most deeply the spirit; consequently, holy as the Son of God was, still He had to be wrenched away from the Father because He bore the sin of others. It is true that in the countless days of eternity past “I and the Father are one” (John 10.30). Even during His days of earthly sojourn this remained true, for His humanity could not be a cause of separation from God. Sin alone could separate: even though that sin be the sin of others. Jesus suffered this spiritual separation for us in order that our spirit could return to God.
When he surveyed the death of Lazarus, Jesus might have been thinking of His Own approaching death, and so “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11.33). Upon announcing that He would be betrayed and die on the cross, He was again “troubled in spirit” (John 13.21). This tells us why, when He received God’s judgment on Calvary, He cried out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” For “I think of God and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints” (Matt. 27.46 echoing Ps. 22.1; Ps. 77.3). He was deprived of the mighty strengthening through the Holy Spirit in His spirit (Eph. 3.16) because His spirit was torn away from the Spirit of God. Therefore He sighed, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; thou dost lay me in the dust of death” (Ps. 22.14-15).
On the one side, the Holy Spirit of God deserted Him; on the other, the evil spirit of Satan mocked him. It seems apparent that Psalm 22.11-13 refers to this phase: “Be not far from me . . . there is none to help. Many bulls encompass me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they opened wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.”
His spirit endured God’s desertion on the one side and resisted the evil spirit’s derision on the other. Man’s human spirit has so separated itself from God, exalted itself, and followed the evil spirit that man’s spirit must be totally broken in order that it may no longer resist God and remain allied with the enemy. The Lord Jesus became sin for us on the cross. His inner holy humanity was completely smashed as God passed judgment upon unholy humanity. Forsaken by God, Christ thus suffered sin’s bitterest pain, enduring in darkness the punitive wrath of God on sin without the support of the love of God or the light of His countenance. To be forsaken by God is the consequence of sin.
Now our sinful humanity has been judged completely because it was judged in the sinless humanity of the Lord Jesus. In Him, holy humanity has won its victory. Whatever judgment should come upon the body, soul and spirit of sinners has been poured upon Him. He is our representative. By faith we are joined to Him. His death is reckoned as our death, and His judgment as our judgment. Our spirit, soul and body have altogether been judged and penalized in Him. It would not be any different had we been punished in person. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8.1).
This is what He has accomplished for us and such is now our standing before God. “For he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom. 6.7 ). Positionally we already have died in the Lord Jesus; it only awaits the Holy Spirit to translate this fact into our experience. The cross is where the sinner—spirit, soul and body—is altogether judged. It is through the death and resurrection of the Lord that the Holy Spirit of God is able to impart God’s nature to us. The cross bears the sinner’s judgment, proclaims the sinner’s worthlessness, crucifies the sinner, and releases the life of the Lord Jesus. Henceforth anyone who accepts the cross shall be born anew by the Holy Spirit and receive the life of the Lord Jesus.
The concept of regeneration as found in the Bible speaks of the process of passing out of death into life. A man’s spirit before regeneration is far away from God and is considered dead, for death is dissociation from life and from God Who is the fountain of life. Death is hence separation from God. Man’s spirit is dead and therefore unable to commune with Him. Either his soul controls him and plunges him into a life of ideas and imaginations, or the lusts and habits of his body stimulate him and reduce his soul to servitude.
Man’s spirit needs to be quickened because it is born dead. The new birth which the Lord Jesus spoke about to Nicodemus is the new birth of the spirit. It certainly is not a physical birth as Nicodemus suspected, nor is it a soulical one. We must note carefully that new birth imparts God’s life to the spirit of man. Inasmuch as Christ has atoned for our soul and destroyed the principle of the flesh, so we who are joined to Him participate in His resurrection life. We have been united with Him in His death; consequently it is in our spirit that we first reap the realization of His resurrection life. New birth is something which happens entirely within the spirit; it has no relation to soul or body.
What makes man unique in God’s creation is not that he possesses a soul but that he has a spirit which, joined to the soul, constitutes the man. Such union marks out man as extraordinary in the universe. Man’s soul is not related directly to God; according to the Bible, it is his spirit that relates itself to God. God is Spirit; all who worship Him, therefore, must worship in spirit. It alone can commune with God. Only spirit can worship Spirit. We thus find in the Bible such statements as: “serving with my spirit”. (Rom. 1.9, 7.6, 12.11) ; “knowing through the spirit” (1 Cor. 2.9-12); “worshiping in spirit” (John 4.23-24; Phil. 3.3); “receiving in spirit the revelation of God” (Rev. 1.10;1 Cor. 2.10).
In view of this fact, let us remember that God has ordained He will deal with man through his spirit alone and that by man’s spirit His counsels are to be realized. If such be the case, how necessary for the spirit of man to continue in constant and living union with God, without for a moment being affected into disobeying divine laws by following the feelings, desires, and ideals of the outward soul. Otherwise, death shall set in immediately; the spirit will be denied its union with God’s life. This does not signify that man would no longer have a spirit. It simply means, as we have discussed previously, that the spirit would abdicate its lofty position to the soul. Whenever a person’s inner man heeds the dictates of the outer man, he loses contact with God and is rendered dead spiritually. “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” by “following the desires of body and mind” (Eph. 2.1-3).
The life of an unregenerated person almost entirely is governed by the soul. He may be living in fear, curiosity, joy, pride, pity, pleasure, delight, wonder, shame, love, remorse, elation. Or he may be full of ideals, imaginations, superstitions, doubts, suppositions, inquiries, inductions, deductions, analyses, introspections. Or he may be moved—by the desire for power, wealth, social recognition, freedom, position, fame, praise, knowledge—into making many daring decisions, into personally arbitrating, into voicing stubborn opinions, or even into undergoing patient endurance. All these and other like things are merely manifestations of the soul’s three main functions of emotion, mind and will. Is not life composed pre-eminently of these matters? But regeneration can never arise out of these. To be penitent, to feel sorry for sin, to shed tears, to even make decisions does not bring in salvation. Confession, decision, and many other religious acts can never be and are not to be construed as new birth. Rational judgment, intelligent understanding, mental acceptance, or the pursuit of the good, the beautiful, and the true are merely soulical activities if the spirit is not reached and stirred. Although they may serve well as servants, man’s ideas, feelings and choices cannot serve as masters and are consequently secondary in this matter of salvation. The Bible hence never regards new birth as being severity to the body, impulsive feeling, the demand of the will, or reform through mental understanding. The Biblical new birth occurs in an area far deeper than human body and soul, yea, even in man’s spirit, where he receives God’s life through the Holy Spirit.
The writer of Proverbs tells us that “the spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord” (20.27). During the time of regeneration the Holy Spirit comes into man’s spirit and quickens it as though kindling a lamp. This is the “new spirit” mentioned in Ezekiel 36.26; the dead old spirit is quickened into life when the Holy Spirit infuses it with God’s uncreated life.
Before regeneration the soul of man is in control of his spirit while his own “self” rules his soul and his passion governs his body. Soul has become the life of the body. At regeneration man receives God’s Own life into his spirit and is born of God. As a consequence, the Holy Spirit now rules man’s spirit which in turn is equipped to regain control over the soul and, through the soul, to govern his body. Because the Holy Spirit becomes the life of man’s spirit, the latter becomes the life of man’s whole being. The spirit, soul and body are restored to God’s original intention in every born-again person.
What then must one do to be born anew in one’s spirit? We know that the Lord Jesus died in the sinner’s place. He suffered in His body on the cross for all the sins of the world. God views the death of the Lord Jesus as the death of all the world’s people. His holy humanity suffered death for all unholy humanity. But something does remain for man himself to do. He must exercise faith in committing himself—spirit, soul and body—into union with the Lord Jesus. That is to say, he must reckon the death of the Lord Jesus as his own death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus as his own resurrection. This is the meaning of John 3.16: “Whoever believes into (literal) him should not perish but have eternal life.” The sinner must exercise faith and a believing into the Lord Jesus. By so doing, he is united with Him in His death and resurrection and receives eternal life (John 17.3)—which is spiritual life—unto regeneration.
Let us be careful not to separate into distinct matters the death of the Lord Jesus as our substitute and our death with Him. Those who stress mental understanding will surely so do, but in spiritual life these two are inseparable. Substitutionary death and co-death should be distinguished but never separated. If one believes in the death of the Lord Jesus as his substitute he already has been united with the Lord Jesus in His death (Rom. 6.2). For me to believe in the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus is to believe that I already have been punished in the Lord Jesus. The penalty of my sin is death; yet the Lord Jesus suffered death for me; therefore I have died in Him. There can be no salvation otherwise. To say that He died for me is to say that I already have been penalized and have died in Him. Everyone who believes in this fact shall experience its reality.
We may say then that the faith by which a sinner believes in the death of the Lord Jesus as substitute is “believing into” Christ and thus union with Him. Though a person may be concerned only with the penalty for sin and not with the power of sin, his being united with the Lord is nonetheless the common possession he shares with all who believe in Christ. He who is not united with the Lord has not yet believed and therefore has no part in Him.
In believing, one is united with the Lord. To be united with Him means to experience everything He has experienced. In John 3 our Lord informs us how we are united with Him. It is by our being united with Him in His crucifixion and death (vv.14-15). Every believer at least positionally has been united with the Lord in His death, but obviously “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6.5). Hence he who believes in the death of the Lord Jesus as his substitute is likewise positionally raised up with Christ. Though he may not yet fully experience the meaning of the death of the Lord Jesus, God nevertheless has made him alive together with Christ and he has obtained a new life in the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus. This is new birth.
We should beware lest we insist that a man is not born anew unless he has experienced death and resurrection with the Lord. The Scriptures deem anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus as already regenerated. “All who received him, who believed in his name . . . were . . . born of God” (John 1.12-13). Let it be understood that to be raised together with the Lord is not an experience antecedent to the new birth. Our regeneration is our union with the Lord in His resurrection as well as in His death. His death has concluded our sinful walk, and His resurrection has given us a new life and initiated us into the life of a Christian. The Apostle assures us that “we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1.3). He indicates that every born-again Christian has been resurrected already with the Lord. However, the Apostle Paul in Philippians still urges us to experience “the power of His resurrection” (3.10). Many Christians have been born anew and been thus raised with the Lord, even though they are lacking in the manifestation of resurrection power.
Do not confuse, then, position with experience. At the time one believes in the Lord Jesus he may be most weak and ignorant; he is nonetheless placed by God in the perfect position of being considered dead, raised and ascended with the Lord. He who is accepted in Christ is as acceptable as Christ. This is position. And his position is: all that Christ has experienced is his. And position causes him to experience new birth, because it hinges not on how deep he has known experimentally the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, but on whether he has believed in Him. Even if experimentally a believer is totally ignorant of the resurrection power of Christ (Phil. 3.10), he has been made alive together with Christ, raised up with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2.5-6).
Still another matter should be carefully noticed with respect to regeneration; namely, that far more became ours than simply what we had in Adam before the fall. On that day Adam possessed spirit; yet it was created by God. It was not God’s uncreated life typified by the tree of life. No life relationship existed at all between Adam and God. His being called “the son of God” is similar to the angels being so called, for he was created directly by God. We who believe in the Lord Jesus, however, are “born of God” (John 1.12-13). Accordingly, there is a life relationship. A child born inherits his father’s life; we are born of God; therefore, we have His life (2 Peter 1.4). Had Adam received the life which God offered in the tree of life, he immediately would have obtained the eternal uncreated life of God. His spirit came from God, and so it is everlasting. How this everlasting spirit shall live depends upon how one regards God’s order and upon what choice he makes. The life we Christians obtain in regeneration is the same which Adam could have had but never had: God’s life. Regeneration not only retrieves out of chaotic darkness the order of man’s spirit and soul; it additionally affords man the supernatural life of God.
Man’s darkened and fallen spirit is made alive through being strengthened by the Holy Spirit into accepting God’s life.* This is new birth. The basis upon which the Holy Spirit can regenerate man is the cross (John 3.14-15). The eternal life declared in John 3.16 is the life of God which the Holy Spirit plants in man’s spirit. Since this life is God’s and cannot die, it follows that everyone born anew into possessing this life is said to have eternal life. As God’s life is totally unfamiliar with death, so the eternal life in man never dies.
* God convinces but He does not coerce.
A life relationship is established with God in new birth. It resembles the old birth of the flesh in that it is once and for all. Once a man is born of God he can never be treated by God as not having been so born of Him. However endless eternity may be, this relationship and this position cannot be annulled. This is because what a believer receives at new birth is not contingent upon a progressive, spiritual and holy pursuit after he believes but is the pure gift of God. What God bestows is eternal life. No possibility exists for this life and position to be abrogated.
Receiving God’s life in new birth is the starting point of a Christian walk, the minimum for a believer. Those who have not yet believed on the death of the Lord Jesus and received supernatural life (which they cannot possess naturally), are deemed in the sight of God to be dead, no matter how religious, moral, learned or zealous they may be. Those who do not have God’s life are dead.
For those who are born anew, there is great potentiality for spiritual growth. Regeneration is the obvious first step in spiritual development. Though the life received is perfect, it waits to be matured. At the moment of new birth life cannot be full-grown. It is like a fruit newly formed: the life is perfect but it is still unripe.
There is therefore boundless possibility for growth. The Holy Spirit is able to bring the person into complete victory over body and soul.
Two Kinds of Christians
The Apostle in 1 Corinthians 3.1 divides all Christians into two classifications. They are the spiritual and the carnal. A spiritual Christian is one in whom the Holy Spirit dwells in his spirit and controls his entire being. What is meant, then, by being carnal? The Bible employs the word “flesh” to describe the life and value of an unregenerated man. It comprises everything which issues from his sinful soul and body (Rom. 7.19). Hence a carnal Christian is one who has been born anew and has God’s life, but instead of overcoming his flesh he is overcome by the flesh. We know the spirit of a fallen man is dead and he is dominated by his soul and body. A carnal Christian, therefore, is one whose spirit has been quickened, but who still follows his soul and body unto sin.
If a Christian remains in a carnal condition long after experiencing new birth, he hinders God’s salvation from realizing its full potential and manifestation. Only when he is growing in grace, constantly governed by the spirit, can salvation be wholly wrought in him. God has provided full salvation in Calvary for the regeneration of sinners and complete victory over the believer’s old creation.
The word “flesh” is basar in Hebrew and sarx in Greek. Seen often in the Bible, it is used in various ways. Its most significant usage, observed and made most clear in Paul’s writings, has reference to the unregenerated person. Speaking of his old “I,” he says in Romans 7: “I am fleshly” (v.14 Darby). Not merely his nature or a particular part of his being is fleshly; the “I”—Paul’s whole being—is fleshly. He reiterates this thought in verse 18 by asserting “within me, that is, in my flesh.” It follows clearly that “flesh” in the Bible points to all an unregenerated person is. In connection with this usage of “flesh” it must be remembered that in the very beginning man was constituted spirit, soul and body. As it is the site of man’s personality and consciousness, the soul is connected to the spiritual world through man’s spirit. The soul must decide whether it is to obey the spirit and hence be united with God and His will or is to yield to the body and all the temptations of the material world. On the occasion of man’s fall the soul resisted the spirit’s authority and became enslaved to the body and its passions. Thus man became a fleshly, not a spiritual, man. Man’s spirit was denied its noble position and was reduced to that of a prisoner. Since the soul is now under the power of the flesh, the Bible deems man to be fleshly or carnal. Whatever is soulical has become fleshly.
Now aside from the use of “flesh” to designate all that an unregenerated person is, sometimes it is written to denote the soft part of the human body as distinct from blood and bones. It may be employed to mean additionally the human body. Or at still other times it may be used to signify the totality of mankind. These four meanings are all very closely related. We should therefore note briefly these other three ways of using “flesh” in the Bible.
First, “flesh” as applied to the soft part of the human body. We know that a human body is composed of flesh, bones and blood. Flesh is that part of the body through which we sense the world around us. Therefore a fleshly person is one who follows the world. Beyond simply having flesh, he walks after the sense of his flesh.
Second, “flesh” as applied to the human body. Broadly speaking, flesh means the human body whether living or dead. According to the latter part of Romans 7 sin of the flesh is related to the human body: “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members” (v.23). The Apostle then continues in Chapter 8 by explaining that if we would overcome the flesh we must “put to death the deeds of the body” by the Spirit (v.13). Hence, the Bible uses the word sarx to indicate not only psychical flesh but physical flesh as well.
Third, “flesh” as applied to the totality of mankind. All men in this world are born of the flesh; they are all therefore fleshly. Without exception the Bible views all men to be flesh. Every man is controlled by that composite of soul and body called the flesh, following both the sins of his body and the self of his soul. Thus whenever the Bible speaks of all men its characteristic phrase is “all flesh.” Basar or sarx consequently refers to human beings in toto.
How Does Man Become Flesh?
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” So asserted the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus long ago (John 3.6). Three questions are answered by this succinct statement: (1) what flesh is; (2) how man becomes flesh; and (3) what its quality or nature is.
(1) What is flesh? “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” What is born of the flesh? Man; therefore man is flesh; and everything a man naturally inherits from his parents belongs to the flesh. No distinction is made as to whether the man is good, moral, clever, able and kind or whether he is bad, un-holy, foolish, useless and cruel. Man is flesh. Whatever a man is born with pertains to the flesh and is within that realm. All with which we are born or which later develops is included in the flesh.
(2) How does man become flesh? “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Man does not become fleshly by learning to be bad through gradual sinning, nor by giving himself up to licentiousness, greedy to follow the desire of his body and mind until finally the whole man is overcome and controlled by the evil passions of his body. The Lord Jesus emphatically declared that as soon as a man is born he is fleshly. He is determined neither by his conduct nor by his character. But one thing decides the issue: through whom was he born? Every man of this world has been begotten of human parents and is consequently judged by God to be of the flesh (Gen. 6.3). How can anyone who is born of the flesh not be flesh? According to our Lord’s word, a man is flesh because he is born of blood, of the will of the flesh, and of the will of man (John 1.13) and not because of how he lives or how his parents live.
(3) What is the nature of flesh? “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Here is no exception, no distinction. No amount of education, improvement, cultivation, morality or religion can turn man from being fleshly. No human labor or power can alter him. Unless he is not generated of the flesh, he will remain as flesh. No human device can make him other than that of which he was born. The Lord Jesus said “is”; with that the matter was forever decided. The fleshliness of a man is determined not by himself but by his birth. If he is born of flesh, all plans for his transformation will be unavailing. No matter how he changes outwardly, whether from one form to another or through a daily change, man remains flesh as firmly as ever.
The Unregenerated Man
The Lord Jesus has stated that any unregenerated person born but once (i.e., born only of man), is flesh and is therefore living in the realm of the flesh. During the period we were unregenerated we indeed “lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” because “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God” (Eph. 2.3; Rom. 9.8). A man whose soul may yield to the lusts of the body and commit many unmentionable sins may be so dead to God (Eph. 2.1)—“dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of . . . flesh” (Col. 2.13)—that he may have no consciousness of being sinful. On the contrary he may even be proud, considering himself better than others. Frankly speaking, “while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death” for the simple reason that we were “carnal, sold under sin.” We therefore with our flesh “serve the law of sin” (Rom. 7.5, 14, 25).
Although the flesh is exceedingly strong in sinning and following selfish desire it is extremely weak towards the will of God. Unregenerated man is powerless to fulfill any of God’s will, being “weakened by the flesh.” And the flesh is even “hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot” (Rom. 8.3, 7). This however does not imply that the flesh totally disregards the things of God. The fleshly sometimes do exert their utmost strength to observe the law. The Bible moreover never treats the fleshly as synonymous with the law-breakers. It merely concludes that “by works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2.16 ASV). For the fleshly not to keep the law is certainly nothing unusual. It simply proves they are of the flesh. But now that God has ordained that man shall not be justified by works of law but by faith in the Lord Jesus (Rom. 3.28), those who attempt to follow the law only disclose their disobedience to God, seeking to establish their own righteousness in lieu of God’s righteousness (Rom. 10.3). It reveals further that they belong to the flesh. To sum up, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8.8), and this “cannot” seals the fate of the fleshly.
God looks upon the flesh as utterly corrupt. So closely is it linked with lust that the Bible often refers to “the lusts of the flesh” (2 Peter 2.18 Darby). Great though His power, God nonetheless cannot transform the nature of the flesh into something pleasing to Himself. God Himself declares: “My spirit shall not always strive in man forever, for he is flesh” (Gen. 6.3 Young’s). The corruption of the flesh is such that even the Holy Spirit of God cannot by striving against the flesh render it unfleshly. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. Man unfortunately does not understand God’s Word and so he tries continually to refine and reform his flesh. Yet the Word of God stands forever. Due to its exceeding corruption, God warns His saints to hate “even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 23).
Because God appreciates the actual condition of the flesh He declares it is unchangeable. Any person who attempts to repair it by acts of self-abasement or severity to the body shall fail utterly. God recognizes the impossibility of the flesh to be changed, improved or bettered. In saving the world, therefore, He does not try to alter man’s flesh; He instead gives man a new life in order to help put it to death. The flesh must die. This is salvation.
“God,” asserts the Apostle, “has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8.3). This uncovers the actual situation of that moral class of the fleshly who may perhaps be very much intent on keeping the law. They may indeed be observing quite a few of its points. Weakened by the flesh, however, they cannot keep the whole law.* For the law makes it quite clear that “he who does them shall live by them” (Gal. 3.12 quoting Lev. 18.5) or else he shall be condemned to perdition. How much of the law, someone may ask, shall he keep? The entire law; for “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2.10). “For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3.20). The more one desires to observe the law the more he discovers how full of sin he is and how impossible for him to keep it.
* We should of course note that there is another class, recognized in Romans 8.7, who do not in the least care to keep God’s law: “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot.”
God’s reaction to the sinfulness of all men is to take upon Himself the task of salvation. His way is in “sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” His Son is without sin, hence He alone is qualified to save us. “In the likeness of sinful flesh” describes His incarnation: how He takes a human body and links Himself with mankind. God’s only Son is referred to elsewhere as “the Word” that “became flesh” (John 1.14). His coming in the likeness of sinful flesh is the “became flesh” of that verse. Therefore our verse in Romans 8.3 tells us as well in what manner the Word became flesh. The emphasis here is that He is the Son of God, consequently sinless. Even when He comes in the flesh, Gods’ Son does not become “sinful flesh.” He only comes in “the likeness of sinful flesh.” While in the flesh, He remains as the Son of God and is still without sin. Yet because He possesses the likeness of sinful flesh, He is most closely joined with the world’s sinners who live in the flesh,
What then is the purpose of His incarnation? As a “sacrifice for sins” is the Biblical explanation (Heb. 10.12), and this is the work of the cross. God’s Son is to atone for our sins. All the fleshly sin against the law; they cannot establish the righteousness of God; and they are doomed to perdition and punishment. But the Lord Jesus in coming to the world takes this likeness of sinful flesh and joins Himself so perfectly with the fleshly that they have been punished for their sin in His death on the cross. He need not suffer for He is without sin, yet He does suffer because He has the likeness of sinful flesh. In the position of a new federal head, the Lord Jesus now includes all sinners in His suffering. This explains the punishment for sin.
Christ as the sacrifice for sin suffers for everyone who is in the flesh. But what about the power of sin which fills the fleshly? “He condemned sin in the flesh.” He who is sinless is made sin for us, so that He dies for sin. He is “put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3.18). When He dies in the flesh, He takes to the cross the sin in the flesh. This is what is meant by the phrase “condemned sin in the flesh.” To condemn is to judge or to mete out punishment. The judgment and punishment of sin is death. Thus the Lord Jesus actually put sin to death in His flesh. We therefore can see in His death that not only our sins are judged but sin itself is even judged. Henceforth sin has no power upon those who are joined to the Lord’s death and who accordingly have sin condemned in their flesh.
God’s release from the penalty and power of sin is accomplished in the cross of His Son. He now lays before all men this salvation so that whoever wills to accept may be saved,
God knows no good resides in man; no flesh can please Him. It is corrupted beyond repair. Since it is so absolutely hopeless, how then can man please God after he has believed in His Son unless He gives him something new? Thank God. He has bestowed a new life, His uncreated life, upon those who believe in the salvation of the Lord Jesus and receive Him as their personal Savior. This is called “regeneration” or “new birth.” Though He cannot alter our flesh God gives us His life. Man’s flesh remains as corrupt in those who are born anew as in those who are not. The flesh in a saint is the same as that in a sinner. In regeneration the flesh is not transformed. New birth exerts no good influence on the flesh. It remains as is. God does not impart His life to us to educate and train the flesh. Rather, it is given to overcome the flesh.
Man in regeneration actually becomes related to God by birth. Regeneration means to be born of God. As our fleshy life is born of our parents so our spiritual life is born of God. The meaning of birth is “to impart life.” When we say we are born of God it signifies we receive a new life from Him. What we have received is a real life.
We have seen previously how we human beings are fleshly. Our spirit is dead and our soul is in full management of the entire being. We are walking according to the lusts of the body. No good is in us. In coming to deliver us, God first must restore the spirit’s position within in order that we may have fellowship with Him again. This occurs when we believe in the Lord Jesus. God puts His life into our spirit, thus raising it up from death. The Lord Jesus now declares that “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3.6). At this juncture God’s life, which is the Spirit, enters our human spirit and restores it to its original position. The Holy Spirit takes up His abode in the human spirit; and man is thereby transferred into the spiritual realm. Our spirit is quickened and reigns once again. The “new spirit” mentioned in Ezekiel 36.26 is the new life we receive at the time of regeneration.
Man is not regenerated by doing something special but by believing the Lord Jesus as his Savior: “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.12-13). Those who believe the Lord Jesus as Savior are born of God and are therefore His children.
Regeneration is the minimum of spiritual life. It is the basis upon which later building up takes place. One can neither speak of spiritual life nor expect to grow spiritually if he is not regenerated, since he has no life in his spirit. Just as no one can construct a castle in the air so we cannot edify those who are unregenerated. If we attempt to teach an unregenerate to do good and to worship God, we are simply teaching a dead man. We are attempting to do what God cannot do when we try to repair and reform the flesh. It is vital that each believer know beyond doubt he has been regenerated already and has received a new life. He must see that new birth is not an attempt to tinker with the old flesh or to transform it into spiritual life. On the contrary, it is receiving a life which he never had and could not have had before. If one is not born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God. He can never perceive the spiritual mysteries and taste the heavenly sweetness of God’s kingdom. His destination is but to wait for death and judgment; for him there is nothing more.
How can one know he is regenerated? John tells us man is born anew by his believing on the name of the Son of God and receiving Him (1.12). The name of God’s Son is “Jesus” which means “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1.21). Believing on the name of the Son of God is hence equivalent to believing in Him as the Savior, believing that He died on the cross for our sins in order to free us from the penalty and power of sin. To so believe is to receive Him as Savior. If one desires to know whether he is regenerated or not, he simply need ask himself one question: Have I come to the cross as a helpless sinner and received the Lord Jesus as Savior? If he answers affirmatively he is regenerated. All who believe in the Lord Jesus are born anew.
The Conflict between the Old and the New
It is essential for a regenerated person to understand what he has obtained through new birth and what still lingers of his natural endowment. Such knowledge will help him as he continues his spiritual journey. It may prove helpful at this point to explain how much is included in man’s flesh and likewise how the Lord Jesus in His redemption deals with the constituents of that flesh. In other words, what does a believer inherit in regeneration?
A reading of several verses in Romans 7 can make clear that the components of the flesh are mainly “sin” and “me”: “sin that dwells in me . . . , that is, in my flesh” (vv. 14,17-18 Darby). The “sin” here is the power of sin, and the “me” here is what we commonly acknowledge as “self.” If a believer would understand spiritual life he must not be confused about these two elements of the flesh.
We know the Lord Jesus has dealt with the sin of our flesh on His cross. And the Word informs us that “our old self was crucified with him” (Rom. 6.6). Nowhere in the Bible are we told to be crucified since this has been done and done perfectly by Christ already. With regard to the question of sin, man is not required to do anything. He need only consider this an accomplished fact (Rom. 6.11) and he will reap the effectiveness of the death of Jesus in being wholly delivered from the power of sin (Rom. 6.14).
We are never asked in the Bible to be crucified for sin, that is true. It does exhort us, however, to take up the cross for denying self. The Lord Jesus instructs us many times to deny ourselves and take up the cross and follow Him. The explanation for this is that the Lord Jesus deals with our sins and with ourselves very differently. To wholly conquer sin the believer needs but a moment; to deny the self he needs an entire lifetime. Only on the cross did Jesus bear our sins; yet throughout His life the Lord denied Himself. The same must be true of us.
The Galatian letter of Paul delineates the relationship between the flesh and the believer. He tells us on the one hand that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5.24). On the very day one becomes identified with the Lord Jesus then his flesh also is crucified. Now one might think, without the Holy Spirit’s instruction, that his flesh is no longer present, for has it not been crucified? But no, on the other hand the letter says to us to “walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (5.16-17). Here we are told openly that one who belongs to Christ Jesus and has already the indwelling Holy Spirit still has the flesh in him. Not only does the flesh exist; it is described as being singularly powerful as well.
What can we say? Are these two Biblical references contradictory? No, verse 24 stresses the sin of the flesh, while verse 17 the self of the flesh. The cross of Christ deals with sin and the Holy Spirit through the cross treats of self. Christ delivers the believer completely from the power of sin through the cross that sin may not reign again; but by the Holy Spirit Who dwells in the believer, Christ enables him to overcome self daily and obey Him perfectly. Liberation from sin is an accomplished fact; denial of self is to be a daily experience.
If a believer could understand the full implication of the cross at the time he is born anew he would be freed wholly from sin on the one side and on the other be in possession of a new life. It is indeed regrettable that many workers fail to present this full salvation to sinners, so that the latter believe just half God’s salvation. This leaves them as it were only half-saved: their sins are forgiven, but they lack the strength to cease from sin. Moreover, even on those occasions when salvation is presented completely sinners desire just to have their sins forgiven for they do not sincerely expect deliverance from the power of sin. This equally renders them half-saved.
Should a person believe and receive full salvation at the very outset, he will experience less failure battling with sin and more success battling with self. Rarely are such believers found. Most enter upon only half their salvation. Their conflicts are therefore mainly with sin. And some do not even know what self is. In this connection, the personal condition of the believer plays a part before regeneration. Many tend to do good even before they believe. They of course do not possess the power to do good nor could they be good. But their conscience seems to be comparatively enlightened, though their strength to do good is nevertheless weak. They experience what is commonly called the conflict between reason and lust. Now when these hear of God’s total salvation they eagerly accept grace for release from sin even as they receive grace for forgiveness of sin. Others, however, before believing, harbor pitch-black consciences, sin terribly, and never intend to do good. Upon hearing of God’s whole salvation they naturally grasp the grace of forgiveness and neglect (not reject) the grace for deliverance from sin. They will encounter much struggle over sin of the flesh afterwards.
Why is this latter case so? Because such a re-born man possesses a new life which demands him to overcome the rule of his flesh and to obey it instead. God’s life is absolute; it must gain complete mastery over the man. As soon as that life enters the human spirit it requires the man to leave his former master of sin and to be subject entirely to the Holy Spirit. Even so, sin in this particular man is deeply rooted. Although his will is being renewed in part through the regenerated life, it is still tied to sin and self; on many occasions it bends towards sin. Inevitably great conflict will erupt between the new life and the flesh. Since people in this condition are numerous, we shall pay special attention to them. Let me remind my reader, however, that this experience of prolonged struggle and failure with sin (different from that with self) is unnecessary.
The flesh demands full sovereignty; so does the spiritual life. The flesh desires to have man forever attached to itself; while the spiritual life wants to have man completely subject to the Holy Spirit. At all points the flesh and spiritual life differ. The nature of the former is that of the first Adam, the nature of the latter belongs to the last Adam. The motive of the first is earthly; that of the second, heavenly. The flesh focuses all things upon self; spiritual life centers all upon Christ. The flesh wishes to lead man to sin, but spiritual life longs to lead him to righteousness. Since these two are so essentially contrary, how can a person avoid clashing continually with the flesh? Not realizing the full salvation of Christ, a believer constantly experiences such a struggle.
When young believers fall into such conflict they are dumbfounded. Some despair of spiritual growth thinking they are just too bad. Others begin to doubt they are genuinely regenerated, not aware that regeneration itself brings in this contention. Formerly, when the flesh was in authority without interference (for the spirit was dead), they could sin terribly without feeling any sense of sinfulness. Now new life has sprung up, and with it heavenly nature, desire, light and thought. As this new light penetrates the man it immediately exposes the defilement and corruption within. The new desire is naturally dissatisfied to remain in such a state and longs to follow the will of God. The flesh begins to contend with the spiritual life. Such battle gives the believer an impression that housed within him are two persons. Each has its own idea and strength. Each seeks victory. When the spiritual life is in ascendancy the believer is most glad; when the flesh gains the upper hand he cannot but grieve. Experience of this kind confirms that such ones have been regenerated.
The purpose of God is never to reform the flesh but to destroy it. It is by God’s life given the believer at regeneration that the self in the flesh is to be destroyed. The life God imparts to man is indeed most powerful, but the regenerated person is still a babe—newly born and very weak. The flesh long has held the reins and its power is tremendous. Furthermore, the regenerated one has not yet learned to apprehend by faith God’s complete salvation. Though he be saved, he is still of the flesh during this period. Being fleshly denotes being governed by the flesh. What is most pitiful is for a believer, hitherto enlightened by heavenly light to know the wickedness of the flesh and to desire with full heart victory over it, to find himself too weak to overcome. This is the moment when he sheds many tears of sorrow. How can he not be angry with himself, for though he harbors a new desire to destroy sin and to please God his will is not steadfast enough to subdue the body of sin. Few are the victories; many, the defeats.
Paul in Romans 7 voices the inner anguish of this conflict:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . . For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. (vv.15-23)
Many will respond to his cry of nearly final despair: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v.24)
What is the meaning of this contention? It is one of the ways the Holy Spirit disciplines us. God has provided a whole salvation for man. He who does not know he has it will not be able to enjoy it, neither will he be able to experience it if he does not desire after it. God can only give to those who believe and receive and claim. When man hence asks for forgiveness and regeneration, God surely bestows it upon him. And it is through conflict that God induces the believer to seek and to grasp total triumph in Christ. He who was ignorant before will now seek to know; the Holy Spirit will then be afforded a chance to reveal to him how Christ has dealt with his old man on the cross so that he may now believe into possessing such triumph. And he who possessed not because he sought not will discover through such battle that all the truth he had was merely mental and consequently ineffectual. This will stir him to desire to experience the truth he only mentally had known.
This strife increases as the days go by. If believers will proceed faithfully without giving in to despair, they will incur fiercer conflict until such time as they are delivered