Body, Soul, and Spirit
At the end of my last article (see the July-August Intercessor), I attempted to tell you how in the early days of receiving God’s revelation to me of my union with Him, I was at a loss as to how to explain the sins that were still in my life. I knew that Christ did not sin but that I did, so how did my sinning fit in with me being Christ in my form? The hand puppet illustration that I talked about in that study left out the essential reality that the essence of personhood is spirit. We humans are created in the image of God, and because God is spirit we, too, are spirit-spirit per-sons. It is this fact that sets all of humanity apart from the rest of creation. As persons created in God’s image, we, like God have the ability to choose between alternatives, or opposites, and it is with our freedom to choose that we can and sometimes do choose sin.
Another question that plagues us as Christians regarding sin is do we have to go Satan’s anti-God way? Paul expounded this same heartache, which he exposed to the entire world in the famous chapter 7 of his letter to the church at Rome. He lamented over his inability to do what he knew to be right and his continuing to do what he knew to be wrong. Paul was so distraught he cried out for deliverance from a plight that he bemoans is worse than death. The Bible promises that God provides a way of escape for us from every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13), and at the end of the chapter, we see the light dawn for our brother Paul. Here he ecstatically bursts forth with the blessed truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is the answer to the bondage in which he is held. In chapter 8 we are blessed to have recorded for us Paul’s great and glorious discourse that expounds for us how he has been set free to walk not in weak fallen flesh but to walk in God’s Spirit of truth and light.
To Clear up the Confusion
Hopefully, the following discussion plus a few simple illustrations will help clear up some of the confusion that is caused by these two questions. Of course this drawing can only give a hint of an idea as to what we as persons look like and how we function because no earthly example can rightly and fully portray a spiritual truth. It is also limited because it depicts us divided into three parts with each smaller part fitting into the one larger than itself. For our illustration to be more accurate, the circles would have to be drawn with each one superimposed over the other; but, as you can see, I have not drawn it this way for the sake of clarity.
This illustration pictures a non-born-again person who in spirit is linked to Satan. We as spirit selves are meaningless unless we can express ourselves to other spirit selves like ourselves. Soul and body are the terms the Bible uses for our means of self-expression. Our soul is the seat of our emotions and reason, emotions expressing our spirit-desires and reason expounding our spirit knowledge. Our body, of course, is our means of outward contact. But every person who lives, ever has lived, or ever will live has a human spirit that must be joined to a supernatural spirit in order to operate as a non independent human person. Everyone enters life with a fallen or sinful human nature because we are joined to Satan, and until we are born again we are Satan bossed and sin for us is a way of life. "Wherein in times past we walked according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). The Lord Jesus is the only exception. He was born sinless, lived sinless, and died sinless.
When we accept Christ as our personal Savior, the Bible says that we become born again, or saved. At our center, there is a change of spirits, and the Holy Spirit replaces the Satan spirit. Paul gives us an explanation of this change in 1 Cor. 6:17: "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him."
Let’s look at our circles again and see if we can get a clearer, though-as I said earlier-a limited view of how this works. The outer circle illustrates our body, the middle circle our soul, and the innermost circle, our spirit. Spirit, our real self, desires (loves), wills (chooses), and knows (mind). Satan is now out, and we are free from the sin producer; but if we are honest, we will admit that we are as besieged with selfish and wretched thoughts and feelings as we were before we came to Christ. And because we don’t know any better, we assume we are what we think and feel. Because of this erroneous believing, we are overcome with guilt and defeat at not being We to change or improve either our thoughts or feelings. The truth is that neither needs to change nor will they change by effort on our part to change them. We know from experience that the more we focus on trying to think something other than that which we are thinking or the harder we try to better our feelings, the stronger and more negative our thoughts and/or feelings become. The reason that neither needs to change is that both originate in our soul and do not affect our inner spirit reality.
Thoughts and feelings become a problem only when they are believed and acted upon. Belief and action choices are made from spirit, and wrong spirit choices are sin. We sin in a moment of unbelief when Satan entices us to agree with him that we are independent, self-operating selves. In this state of unbelief, Satan makes our choices for us and takes us into any sin he chooses. He gains the power to boss us from outside ourselves when we temporarily turn our back on our real Husband Jesus Christ. Our union with Christ is not broken, however, and the control of Satan over us need not last long. He drops the reins the instant we confess our sin and turn from it.
The way out of this Satan trap is simple but not widely understood and, even more sad, not always practiced by those who do understand it. Paul uses the marriage analogy in Romans 7 to help clarify the issue. He is saying in this passage that we must consciously enter into the reality of not only our cut off from our old husband Satan, but also our marriage to our new husband Jesus Christ. Until we do this, we will remain under the illusion that we are independent. This puts us, unknowingly, under the remote control of our old husband. Defeat and guilt are our lot.
All the problems we have living life have their genesis in our outer soul realm. I know this is an extreme statement, but it is a true one because it’s not what happens to us that makes life what it is but how we respond to life’s happenings. Our hurts, fears, joys, successes, defeats, physical states of health and illness cause us to respond with different feelings and thoughts. Some are positive, and some are negative, but all are normal and necessary for us to function as total humans.
A Common Misunderstanding
I repeat, we believe that we are what we think and feel, that soul is the real us. Life for the majority of us stops there because soul is the only reality of which we are aware. We have already established that the human spirit is the basic self with soul and body being the means by which we express ourselves. As long as we lump together our inner spirit selves with our outer soul and body expressions, we will miss living the victorious life that the Bible promises us.
Because soul and spirit are so closely linked together, it takes a revelation of the Spirit for us to know the difference between them. Hebrews 4:12 gives us an illustration of their closeness: "For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Paul is saying that the two are as imminently connected as the marrow is to the bone. Like the marrow, spirit is the life of the body. The soul, like the joint, which is the vessel for the marrow, is the means by which the inner spirit life expresses itself.
An important key to our being able to distinguish between soul and spirit is for us to come to know that there is a spirit dimension. It is in this dimension that He who is Spirit and we who are "joined to Him, one Spirit" operate right in the midst of this matter world. For us to be competent to do this, we must also discover that we are spirit people, not matter people, and that Spirit both personally and dimensionally is the only reality there is. To put it in Bible terms: "The things which are seen are temporal; but the things that are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).
In our spirits we are desire, will, and mind. Desire is agape love. Will is choice and mind is knowing–spirit knowing–"What man knows the things of a man except the spirit of a man which is in him." And that in me which says, "I know," is obviously I, and that "I" is spirit. The "knowing" that I am discussing here does not mean knowing facts. The knowledge of facts is a function of reason (soul). For example, there are times, as born again believers that we feel like God is far away and we think we are spiritually dry. Both are soulular observations, and neither is true in the spirit dimension. The truth is that God has joined Himself to us, one spirit, so for us to be separated from Him is impossible. Our being spiritually dry is also impossible because God is an eternal well of living water springing up within our spirits. (Sin is the only possible block to the Spirit being what and who He is in us). The secret to life is for us as believers to know that we can know and live from spirit truth in spite of any outcry of thoughts and feelings that is pouring in on us from our soul.
God is Spirit, and He exists totally outside of the soul/feeling dimension in which we as human beings live. Therefore, He does not change from moment to moment; He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Our putting our faith in the reality of the changelessness of Him who is Spirit gives us a poise and stability to life that is unrealizable when we invest ourselves in something or someone other than Him. The alternative is for us to be tossed to and fro on the waves of our ever-changing soul. Also we are confident in God’s love for us because it is not based on some negative or positive feeling He has for us but because of who and what He is–fixed outpoured love and nothing but love for not only us but for the entire universe.
Feelings such as anger, hate, jealousy, fear, inferiority, superiority, lust, pride, coldness, loneliness, uselessness, depression, as well as reason cause all kinds of disturbing thoughts of doubt and obsessions which register in our soul. They are like the degrees of temperature that register on a thermometer. They go up and down but have no effect whatsoever on the weather. Soul feelings are the same.
Alternatively, think of your soul as an impulse receiver that can do nothing but register thoughts and feelings. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. In a high school chemistry class when studying electrical currents, we were given a raw chicken leg. We were instructed to touch it with an electrode. Doing this made the chicken leg jump. But the current did not give life to the chicken leg. It did not get up and nun off the table and go anywhere. It’s the same when a thought or feeling registers in our soul. The soul receives the impulse, but it isn’t going anywhere, i.e. it’s not going to take control of us and cause us, against our will, to commit some awful sin. Soul feelings run the gamut from high to low, but they can take us nowhere. Sin occurs only when Satan tempts us, and we deliberately choose to agree with him that soul and body (thoughts and feelings) are real. This choice, like all choices, is made in spirit. We never become one of our feelings or thoughts; therefore, our hateful feelings and thoughts cannot turn us into someone who commits murder. Nonetheless, Satan has us convinced that we are what we think and feel.
It is very important that we learn to recognize soul and the problems it presents so we can avoid the Satan sin trap that it so often leads us into. We need to practice saying when thoughts and feelings arise that they are not real even though they grip us at the time. I am not saying that we are to ignore our soulular thoughts and feelings. It is vital that we look at them honestly, and if necessary, talk about them to someone, but as quickly as possible move past them and begin to reflect on who and how God is. Why? Because Spirit-God-is the only reality there is.
I realize that both of these truths sound strange. In the early days, they sounded strange to me, too. I can remember when Norman or another Union Lifer would say this to me, I would secretly think, "These people are missing a screw or two. My feelings are real. Maybe yours aren’t, but mine are." Our feelings are factual but not real in the eternal spirit sense. This is the way the Bible says it. "The things that are seen are temporal (fleeting) and the things that are not seen are eternal (everlasting)" (2 Cor. 4:18). The life that ultimately passes through soul and body is spirit.
A Valuable Suggestion
I expressed earlier our need to move past our feelings. Here is a condensed lesson of how I have learned to avoid the feelings (soul traps) that plague all of us. A feeling comes up and we think that whatever the feeling is that is just how we are. For example, we feel afraid, accept it as a fact about ourselves, and we say some-thing like this. "Oh, I’m just a fearful person. That’s the way I am. I’ve always been fearful." (The feeling could be anything; make your own list: hate jealousy, anger, shyness, pride, inferiority, etc.). As we’ve said over and over all these feelings are soul and not spirit, and spirit is who we are. The truth is that our feelings tell us how we feel but not who we are. This is the correct way to express your feelings. "I feel very fearful." as opposed to "I am so afraid." The first is a statement of feelings; the second is a statement of who we are. The simplest way to remember all this is that we can say anything about ourselves as long as we say it’s how we feel and not who or what we are. Anything that we can’t say about Jesus Christ we can’t say about ourselves either because who we really are is Christ in our form.
God’s greatest desire for us is for us to live life by putting our faith in the fact that it’s He living despite what we are feeling. He expects us to march into the battles of life, feeling terrified and with sweat on our brow. That was Jesus, wasn’t it? He sweated blood in the garden of Gethsemane even though He knew from the foundation of the world that He was going to go to the Cross. Nonetheless when the time came for His crucifixion, His plea was, "Let this cup pass." His feeling was fear. His feeling was pain. The whole point is that whatever the human Jesus was feeling–His feelings were swallowed up in His choice to do the will of His Father. This was who He was and what He came to do. You and I can do the same thing. It is a life changing experience to do so.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 14 No 1
- What is this Human Self of Ours?
- Editor’s Note
- Moments with Meryl
- A Look at a Book
- Tony’s Testimony
- Zerubbabel Focus: Z Youth!
- British Conference Report
- Musings on the British Conference
- Bible Study: Undiscovered Self
- Body, Soul, and Spirit
- Questions & Answers
- Area Fellowship News: Boone
- The Mailbox
- Tape Talk
- New York Conference Report
- Youth Report: Fall Harvest in New York
- Anatomy of Unbelief
- Need–Evidence of Supply
- Words to Live By…