Spirit, Soul & Body Pastor A .W. Weckeman Feb. 1999 (Revised May 2023)
“What is man….” (Psalm 8:4-5) In reality, man is a triune being, comprised of spirit, soul, and body.
According to science, a human being is simply a physical body made up of flesh, blood, and bones. A temporal biological machine that miraculously evolved from nothing…destined to return to nothing. Of course, this erroneous concept stems from the darkened mind of fallen man, not God.
The Bible depicts man as a trinity, created in the image of his Creator having a spirit, soul, and body. In (Genesis 1:26-27), we read: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
The scriptures portray the Godhead as a Trinity (made up of three): God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:7). Man, as his triune Creator, has a threefold nature; he is a triune being; spirit, soul, and body.
The apostle Paul Confirms this truth in (1 Thessalonians 5:23), where he states, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole SPIRIT and SOUL and BODY be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Emphasis mine]
The Trinity Seen in both Man and Creation
The design and pattern of all creation, both the physical realm and the spiritual realm, reveal the nature of the Creator. Creation, all creation, is so completely imprinted with God’s threefold image that the Spirit of God declares in (Rom.1:20), “…the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…”
All creation bears the design of its Creator.
- The Atom: the atom consists of three parts, protons, neutrons, and electrons.
- Matter: Solid, liquid, and gas.
- Space: Length, width, and depth.
- Time: Threefold, past, present, and future.
- People: All people come from one of three extractions, Mongoloid, Negroid, and Caucasian.
- The flesh: has three layers of skin; the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous tissue.
- Family: The family consists of a man, a woman, and children.
- The sun emits three types of rays: alpha, beta, and gamma.
- Three essential elements in the soil cause plants to grow; nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash.
- Colors: There are three primary color pigments from which all other colors are derived, red, yellow, and blue.
- Blood: solids consist of three main cells, platelets, red cells, and white cells.
- Human capability consists of thought, word, and deed.
Even the most basic forms of life reflect our triune Maker, basic cell structure, true wall, plasma membrane, and nuclear membrane. All are entirely intertwined and interdependent.
The apostle Paul likened the believer to God’s Temple (1 Cor.3:16 & 6:19), which was divided into three parts; the Holy of Holies, the Holy place, and the outer court, thus once again providing a striking resemblance to man’s spirit, soul, and body. The priority and order are obvious, spirit, soul, and body, not body, soul, and spirit.
The importance of understanding the nature & interaction of spirit, soul, and body
1st – The importance of understanding the different attributes and functions of spirit, soul, and body is that it provides the necessary spiritual discernment to distinguish between the workings of the “old man” (flesh, Adamic nature) and the workings of the “new man” (indwelling Holy Spirit). Knowing the point or place where something begins is crucial to understanding the interaction caused by it. If you want to comprehend the nature of something (good or bad), trace it back to its genesis. Such is the case regarding the interaction between spirit, soul, and body concerning the inner working of sin in the life of a believer. Once you identify the pathogen and discern the nature of its malignant interaction with the body, you can begin to consider which medicine will best counteract its effects. In this case, the pathogen is our inherited Adamic nature, and the following study (hopefully) will provide the spiritual understanding necessary to overcome it.
2nd – Also, the relationship and interaction between spirit, soul, and body are the foundational truth essential to the understanding of numerous other doctrines. The doctrine of the Trinity, explained in the above analogy of the Temple, is one example.
The full effect of Adam’s sin: By examining Adam’s spiritual condition, before and after the fall, through the prism of spirit, soul, and body, we gain a complete understanding of sins’ effect on his total being.
Salvation: The inner transformation upon redemption, which involves a “spiritual circumcision” (Col.2:11), also affects the believer’s spirit, soul, and body.
The following explanation of the inner struggle between the believer’s flesh and the Holy Spirit (“old man” versus “new man”) is yet another example of the importance of understanding the correlation and interaction between spirit, soul, and body.
Two Contending Natures
Upon salvation, a “new creature” with Christ’s nature is born within “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17), yet the “old man” (Adam’s self-centered nature, the flesh) does not die. Unfortunately, he remains very much alive…his old ways, appetites, habits, and desires persist; consider, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (Gal.5:17) Also, see (Rom.7:17-25 & Eph.4:22-24).
The flesh manifests its nature through a rebellious, self-centered life. What we are dealing with, then, is a struggle between an established fleshly nature and an emerging new godly nature.
In the life of every believer, the mind is the battlefield on which two diametrical forces contend. The struggle between good and evil involves a battle for control of the mind, heart, and will of humanity.
Therefore, it is crucial to spiritual growth that the believer be able to discern that which stems from the spirit or soul from that which emanates from his flesh. That is, to gain the “spiritual understanding” necessary to comprehend the origin of his thoughts, whether they be spiritual or fleshly. If not, he will quite naturally mistake the thoughts or emotions of the soul to be the work of the Spirit.
Spirit, Soul & Body of Man
Basic analogy: A football has a leather covering (body) and a rubber bladder (soul) and is filled with air (spirit). All three are interdependent and function so closely as to appear as one. To further illustrate, consider the threefold makeup of a light bulb (glass body, filament, soul, electricity, spirit)
For the sake of this study, we will separate and analyze each part individually:
BODY OF MAN:
The body is the third and outermost segment of man, that which comes in contact with matter. This contact (world awareness) is made possible through the five senses of the body, SIGHT, HEARING, TOUCH, SMELL, AND TASTE. It is through these that man can experience the physical world, affecting it and being affected by it. The body was formed from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7) and shall return to dust (Gen.3:19).
SOUL OF MAN:
The soul is the second segment of man’s threefold being, the medium that stands between, connecting the spirit and body. The soul is that part of man that enables him to be conscious of his existence (self-awareness). “Man is a nonphysical being living in a temporary, physical body. Though death separates man from the house he has inhabited on this earth, the spirit and soul, which are his real self, do not and cannot cease to exist.” “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” C.S. Lewis.
The faculties of the soul are “Intellect” (wisdom, knowledge, and understanding), “Heart” (affections, emotions, and desires), and “Will” (decision and choice), all of which make up man’s personality.
The soul is eternal and has an invisible bodily form. Rev.6:9-11 illustrates that after death, the disembodied soul can speak and wear a robe. “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
In (Luke 16:22-24), the rich man’s soul in hell retains his senses; touch, taste, sight, and hearing. “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” (For those who might be inclined to claim these are merely parables and not actual incidents: Parables never include proper names.)
Also, consider the account of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath’s deceased son in 1 Kings17:21-23 “And he [Elijah] stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child’s SOUL come into him again. And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the SOUL of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.” [emphasis mine]
SPIRIT OF MAN:
The first and innermost segment of man, that which was formed by God: (Gen.2:7), “the breath of life” became man’s spirit (Job 33:4, Zech. 12:1, Eccl. 12:7 and Isa.42:5). The spirit is the preeminent part of man, that which joins him to God. The three main elements of man’s spirit are Conscience, Intuition, and Communion. These operate independently of the soul and body, enabling man to have fellowship with his Creator (God-awareness).
The Conscience convicts of sin, reveals guilt, and “reproves” (John 16:8). “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 spontaneous, direct judgment. The work of the conscience is independent and direct; it does not bend to outside opinions. If a man should do wrong, it will raise its voice of accusation.” “The Spiritual Man” By Watchman Nee p. 32. Consider (John 8:9). That the conscience always convicts of sin and promotes righteousness proves that it cannot be of our hearts (soul) for “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” (Jer. 17:9). Mind and conscience are not the same; consider Titus1:15. In my understanding, conscience is that inborn, universal standard (comprehension) of right and wrong that God has built into humanity (John 1:9). Light and conscience are inseparable; they operate in conjunction. Both reveal and convict, rendering every man accountable.
Intuition is the antenna of the human spirit, the means of spiritual reception (supernatural sensing without conscious reasoning). It is the opposite of the physical senses of the body and intellectual understanding of the soul. “Intuition involves direct sensing independent of any outside influence. That knowledge that 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.” “The Spiritual Man” Watchman Nee p.32.) Consider, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 2:10-11). Also, Prov.20:27, Matt. 16:16-17, contrast, Ezek.13:3).
Communion involves fellowship and worship. The faculties of the soul are unable to commune with God; the same is true concerning worshipping God. “God is not apprehended by our thoughts, feelings, or intentions, for He can only be known directly in our spirit. “Our worship of God and His communications with us are directly in the spirit.” They take place in the “inner man, not the soul or the outward man.” “The Spiritual Man” Watchman Nee p.32. Consider Worship, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24). Also, Luke 1:47 & Phil.3:3). “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” (Col.3:16). “Only spirit can worship spirit.” Nee
The restoration of a personal relationship between God and man is at the heart of salvation. Through the “blood of Christ,” peace and fellowship with God have been restored. The spiritual union between God and man, that vital life relationship, has been restored. Having been “born of the Spirit” the “new creature” has the opportunity “through the Spirit” to enjoy intimate communion with his Creator, “That I may know him…” (Phil.3:10).
Consider the apostle Paul’s prayer for the Colossians (Col. 1:9) “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding…” Notice “spiritual understanding.” God desires to renew our minds via His Spirit working through our spirit. At the same time, Satan is attempting to further poison our minds through the five senses. Examine the chart below illustrating the inner struggle.
As we have learned, man is connected to the physical world through his five senses and to the spiritual world through the faculties of his spirit. As illustrated in the above drawing, the spirit and the body merge in the soul, thereby joining them together. The spirit cannot influence the body on its own, nor can the body affect the spirit by itself; they need a go-between; the soul is that medium.
The soul, like a steel ball suspended between two magnets, simultaneously influenced by both, plays the part of a rope in a spiritual tug of war. While the analogy of the steel ball placed between two magnets will suffice to illustrate the opposing forces exerted upon the soul by the spirit and body, it is incomplete because the soul, unlike the steel ball, possesses the power of choice. The soul, because it is the seat of free will, has the ability to choose between these two contrary forces.
Fellowship with the Lord intensifies the magnetic pull of the spirit and stifles the influence of the body. Conversely, fellowship with the world coupled with neglect of God and His word strengthens the flesh, grieving and quenching the indwelling Holy Spirit. When the soul is yielded to the Lord’s influence (the Holy Spirit) working through the believer’s spirit, he is said to be “walking in the Spirit.”
On the other hand, when the soul is yielded to the body of flesh, the believer is then walking in the flesh. It all comes down to choice and priorities. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey…” (Rom.6:16). (The outward manifestations of the Holy Spirits’ inner workings are detailed in Article“New Man vs. Old Man”).
The soul itself is not neutral and can also play a big part in hindering the Holy Spirit’s control; this is especially true in the case of a person who has spent many years unsaved. In such a situation, the soul may well have been exposed to a tremendous amount of ungodly thoughts and activities while in darkness, “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”(Eph. 2:2-3). Despite the fact that the soul, after salvation, is no longer connected to the flesh, it retains vivid memories of when it was. Even though our sins are forgiven, godless thoughts, images, and sinful habits remain embedded in his mind (soul).
The eye gate is the primary entrance to the soul. To illustrate: The eyes are the projector, the heart serves as the screen, and mind the computer (memory). The eyes project indelible images upon the heart, which are then stored in the mind.“One of the most amazing features of the human mind is the memory, which is, in effect, an incredible living computer. Man’s memory not only has the capability of recalling information and reviving past images but also has the capacity to create its own scenes in the form of dreams and imaginations from information stored in the subconscious.” “Improving Your Serve” C. Swindoll p.60
Whether before or after salvation, all evil that has entered through the unguarded eye gate is then permanently stored in the mind. Thus, providing the enemy with a source of internal poison which to hinder the Holy Spirit. The effect can be profound and lasting, adding much resistance and frustration to the battle for God’s control of the total being. Henceforth the apostle Paul’s exhortations in (2 Cor.10:3-5) “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…”
Also, (Rom 12:2) “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
“Knowledge puffeth up…” (1 Cor.8:1). The soul can also obstruct progress by taking control of man through his intellect. When the intellect increases, through knowledge, pride is stimulated “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men.” (1Cor. 3:18)
As a result, man’s self (soul life) will be intensified, which will, in turn, grieve and quench the indwelling Holy Spirit. “…God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5b). Human knowledge has the potential to compete with God’s knowledge. “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 14:11).
“God dwells in the spirit, self dwells in the soul, and the senses dwell in the body. The battle between good and evil is a tug of war for the control of man’s soul.” Nee
I am eternally grateful to Brother Watchman Nee, who the Lord graciously used to shed much light on my understanding of the crucial subject of spirit, soul, and body.
See the next Lesson: “Adam Before and After the Fall”