Some Christians divide a person into body, soul and spirit. But we are really much more complicated than that. The scriptures presents a much more complex picture of human nature.
I will explain each in turn.
Every person has a body. Our bodies are what make us human. They are made of muscle, bones, nerves, etc. Our bodies allow us to move around and undertake activities in the physical world.
Our bodies are weakened by sin and sickness. The body of many people wears out before they have completed their work on earth.
Jesus was beaten for the Healing of our bodies. By the lacerations of his body we have been healed. Through most of the history of the church, this aspect of Jesus's suffering has been wasted.
At the general resurrection, we will get a new spiritual body.
The mind is where everything happens. We can recall things to our minds from our memory. We can bring thoughts about the future in from our imagination. Our senses report to our minds, so that we can perceive what our senses are picking up.
Our minds are corrupted by sin. The Bible challenges us to renew our minds.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2).
One of the best ways to reshape our minds is to fill it with the word of God.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10: 5).
Listening the Holy Spirit is essential for renewing our minds. The goal is the mind of Christ.
But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16).
The five external senses are well understood. We learn to enumerate them from childhood.
Those who want scriptures can find references for each of the five senses. There are plenty for seeing, hearing. Jesus physically touched many people and the bleeding women touched him. Smelling is less common, but Lazarus stank. There was plenty of tasting at the wedding in Cana.
The role of the external senses is to inform us what is happening in the external world. When a leaf fall off the tree, I can see it. When a door shuts, I can hear it. These senses are essential for living in the physical world. A person who is deficient in one sense is limited in some way. A person who is blind finds it much harder to move around in the physical world. A deaf person misses out on some things.
The external senses have no moral character. They are neither good or bad. However, they are neutral in what they perceive. They can perceive things that are good and things that are bad. My eyes can see violent movies. I can hear a testimony about Jesus.
Our external senses take stuff from the external world and bring it inside us, so we should be careful about how we use our senses. We can use our external senses to fill minds with good stuff and with bad stuff. Job said,
I made a covenant with my eyes
not to look lustfully at a young woman (Job 31:1).
We should be careful that our eternal senses are focussed on stuff that will edify us.
Christians should not be driven by what we perceive from the physical world with our external senses. We should be shaped by what is happening in the spiritual realms. We perceive that through our spirit. Paul said,
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Col 3:1).
Christians use their five external senses to operate in the physical world, but we must fix our heart on Jesus in the spiritual realms. I have described this in greater detail in the Spiritual Realms.
Human memory is an amazing facility. A small piece of meat, at the front of our brains, less than a cubic inch in size, can store more information than a super-computer.
Our memories store much of the information that we have learned throughout out our lives. We can recall facts that we learnt when we are children and much of what we have learned since. That is a huge amount of information. Unfortunately, we also store facts that are wrong.
Our memory also stores a record of many of the things that have happened to us. This is not just a list of events. Our memory stores video and audio. Sometimes it store the smells and the touches we experienced too. We can recall events from the past and relive them again, as we lived them the first time. More than that, the emotions that we experienced are stored alongside the audio and the video. They are recalled with the sounds and sights of the memory.
We have the ability to recall events from most stages of our lives. When we bring them into our minds, it is like we are experiencing them again. I can close my eyes, and see my mother when I was a child baking biscuits. I can recall the taste and the smell.
I can remember sitting in school as a five year old and making a booklet out of yellow paper to write lists of words in. We did not have a stapler, so I stitched the spine of the book with needle and cotton thread. I can remember when the small school got its first stapler, because it was such a marvellous thing.
The memory facility is neutral. It just stores stuff. It can store things that are good. It can store stuff that is evil. Christians want their memories to be filled with good stuff. We need memories of evil stuff too, for our protection, but we do not want these memories to be so vivid. For evil, the facts will usually be enough.
The memory tends to get a good press from Christians, but this is not quite right. Memories are like computer hard drives that need to be cleaned up and defragmented when they get full of junk. We reorganise our memories by recalling things. Memories we never try to recall, tend to disappear deeper in. Things or events that we recall often are kept fresh.
Vivid negative memories are dangerous, because they pop out when we do not expect it, and constrain our behaviour.
There are several ways we can restructure our memories for good.
Worship defrags the memory. If we constantly recall what God has done for us and give thanks, those memories seem to move to the front.
If we forgive people that hurt us, the memories of those hurts will retreat. It is not a case of forgive and forget, but forgive and the memory will grow dim and less dominating.
If we have really bad memories that keep popping out, we may need to ask the Holy Spirit to remove them. Prayer with others might help with that.
Some of our memories will be false. False memories can have a negative effect on our behaviour. We need to talk to people who can help us correct them. Sometimes we will need the Holy Spirit to correct our memories, by explaining what happened from God's perspective.
Christians should always be willing to learn new things. We should always strive to correct wrong facts that we have put in our memories.
We should frequently recall the dreams that God has given to inspire and direct us.
We should recall the prophesies that God has spoken to us over and over again.
Our imagination is an amazing facility. It has tended to get a bad rap from Christians, who say, "Daydreaming is dangerous". But that bad rap is unfair and limiting.
God created our imaginations good. They have been corrupted by sin, but he can renew our imaginations, so that we can benefit.
The imagination is like the memory, but whereas the memory relates the past, imagination focuses on the future.
Our imagination is a bit like a television or monitor on a computer. We can use our imaginations to see pictures and hear sounds. We can smell the aromas, taste the flavours, and feel the textures in our imaginations. Just like the memory, our imagination can play the emotions that go with the events that we imagine.
The imagination itself is morally neutral. We can imagine good things and we can imagine evil things. Christians should be careful about how we use our imaginations because what we imagine affects the way we behave.
We can imagine the future that God has promised for us. Filling our imagination with the things that he has promised and prophesied for us, increases our Hope and Faith.
Imagination comes before creation. Architects imagine the house or building they are designing before they produce their drawings and plans. God imagined the world, before he spoke it into being.
Books and literature are received through our imaginations. They inspire us to imagine worlds and people that do not exist. This can be great entertainment, but too much can be dangerous if we escape from the real world to much.
Television and film bypass our imagination by communicating directly though our external senses. This may have had the effect of weakening our imaginations, which may have had a negative effect on our hope and faith.
Dreams appear in our imagination. So do our daydreams. If they are from God, they can be powerful motivators. If they are from the devil, they can scare and cripple us.
The imaginations of evil men are full of evil.
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every imaginations of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time (Gen 6:5).
From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits (Ps 37:7).
People who fill their imaginations with the benefits of evil will end up enjoying evil.
The spiritual powers of evil can put things into our imagination. When the devil appeared to Jesus, he may actually have appeared through Jesus imagination, because he does not have a physical body. We need to deny those false imaginations as soon as they come, by declaring the word of God.
When we are living in the Spirit, our imagination can perceive what is happening in the spiritual world. Understanding what is happening in the spiritual realms is really important for the Christian life. A few Christians perceive what is happening in the spiritual realms through their external senses. Most of us perceive it in through our imagination when the Holy Spirit displays what is happening there in our imaginations for us. More about this in Spiritual Realms.
Imagination creates empathy. If we can understand what life is like for another person, we can understand why they are behaving the way that we do. "Walk a mile in their shoes". We should use our imaginations to increase our empathy for other people.
The imagination is a wonderful tool. We should use it for God, to increase our faith and hope, and grow our awareness of events in the spiritual realms.
I have described this in greater detail in the Perceiving the Spiritual.
Emotions get a really bad rap from Christians. When I became a Christian, I was told to walk by faith and not feelings, because feelings are tricky and unreliable. This is partly true, but it is also confusing. For a start, faith has the emotion of peace attached to it. If am walking in faith, I will experience feelings of peace.
When I was in theological college, I studied some of the catholic mystics. I read everything written by John of the Cross and some of Teresa of Avila. This proved to be a fairly dry well, but I learnt one really useful thing. These Christians referred to their emotions as their internal senses. That is a really helpful way to understand emotions. Emotions are not problems that we have to deal with. They are internal senses that are just as helpful as our five external senses.
External senses tell us what is happening in the external world. Our emotions tell us what is happening in our internal person. They are like the dashboard on a car. The various gauges tell us what is happening in the engine under the bonnet. In the same way, emotions are gauges or indicators telling us what is happening in our inner person.
If I am always at peace, it is probably because my internal life is in good shape.
If I am always over the top happy, something my thinking may be wrong.
If I am always feeling fear, something may be wrong internally. I may have a bad memory with fear attached that always pops out. I may be overusing my imagination and seeing a fearful future. My mind may be thinking wrong thoughts that cause me to fear.
Suppressing these emotions does not help. If the temperature gauge on your car dashboard is in the red, it does not help to paint it green. You need to look at the car engine, identify the fault, and put it right. The same is true of emotions. If I am continually sad, it is no use taking a pill to make me happy. That is like painting a temperature gauge green. I need to identify the reason for the sadness, and put it right. There can be any number of reasons for sadness. It could be a bad memory associated with sadness that keeps popping out. It could be I am reading too many sad novels, and sadness is filling my imagination. It could be because my mother died a month ago, and I miss her. That feeling of sadness is good, and honours my mother, so I should not want to remove it.
Supressing our emotions prevents us from learning about what is happening in our inner person. We should study our emotions and learn to understand what they are telling us, in the same way as we respond to what we perceive with our physical senses. If I see a bear coming down the road, I go into my house. In the same, if we get the messages our internal senses are conveying to us, we can use them to grow in faith.
This is really important, but few Christian know how to do it. David cried out,
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me (Ps 42:5)?
When he an answer from God he knew what to do next. Often the answer was to focus on the goodness of God and praise him.
Once we get the messages our internal senses are conveying, we must to learn to work with the Holy Spirit, and other Christians, to find the cause of the problem, and if appropriate resolve it.
Feelings produces understanding
Sometimes the feeling of remorse or rejection helps to see the horror of sin.
Feelings of sympathy mobilise us to help others.
Sympathy that feels what others are feeling produces love.
Analysis of Emotions
I have identified five emotions. Each one has a positive form and a negative form. This makes ten in all. There will be some blurring across the boundaries.
The table should be read as follows.
The positive emotions are on the top half of the table. The negative emotions are on the bottom half. God created us to experience both the positive and the negative emotions, so they are both good. Joy is the natural emotion when things have gone well. The opposite of joy is sadness. It is good to be sad when you have lost someone that you love.
Compassion is good if you see someone suffering. The opposite of compassion is anger. It is good to be angry when you see injustice, because it motivates you to action.
The scripture reference points to one example from the Bible.
Other Words lists are just that: other words that describe roughly the same emotion.
Although these emotions were created good, they have all been corrupted into something negative. When we get trapped in wrong thinking, a good emotion gets corrupted. For example, compassion is good when directed to others, but when directed to words myself, it becomes self pity which is destructive. Fear is good is a grizzly bear is coming down the road, because it motivates you to flee. But if you start living in fear, without faith, you get trapped in worry, which is a corrupted form of fear. Sadness is good, if you have lost someone you love, but it can get corrupted into bitterness, if we are not careful
The response to row explains what produces the emotion. Sadness is produced by loss. Peace comes from acceptance. Love produces joy.
Emotions are often associated with a particular physical response. Fear causes us to flee or freeze. Freezing is good, if you realise you are about to step into danger, because it gives you time to thing. The corrupted form of the emotion often produces a different physical response, which is not as healthy. Bitterness can produce stomach illness.
A mood is a cluster of emotions. A mood can be influenced by attitudes.
An attitude is a thought that reflects a decision. I have decided to think about things in a particular way. Whereas we cannot control our emotions, we can control our attitudes. We can respond to a negative or corrupted emotion, by deciding to have an opposite attitude.
Attitudes can be directed towards people, things, events, and life in general.
When we choose a particular attitude frequently, it becomes a habit. A set of attitudes that have become habits make up our character. Our character is not something that can be seen. It is a set of attitudes that have become part of us, because we have made them part of us. Virtues are attitudes that have made a home in our lives.
Some character traits are more positive than others. We should practice the attitudes that produce positive character.
The following are some of the character traits mentioned in the New Testament
Our eyes turn to the ones that we do best in. We should be asking the Holy Spirit which ones he would like to see more of in our lives.
New Testament Attitudes and Motives
The New Testament lists various attitudes, motives and behaviour that we should "put off" and a matching list that we should "put on". Our goal is to build the Put Ons into our character.
|Put Offs||Put Ons|
|Sinful nature||Fruit of the Spirit|
Hardened hearts |
(Love binds all these together)
|James 3 13f|
|1 Tim 3|
|Heb 6:12||Heb 4:11|
Many of these attitudes are fruit of the Spirit. We can change our attitudes by rejecting the negative ones and deciding on the positive ones, but that will only take us so far. If we let the Holy Spirit work in our lives that better attitudes will emerge more easily and gradually become part of who we are.
The Holy Spirit judges thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12).
A character that is focused on serving Jesus has a good heart.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart (Matt 22:37).
Christians must guard their hearts carefully (Phil 4:7).
A corrupt heart is referred to in the New Testament as the "flesh". Doing things by human strength is living by the flesh. The flesh is everything in our beings that is opposed to God.
When we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death (Rom 7:5).
The flesh opposes the Holy Spirit,
Do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:4)
The flesh is hostile to God.
The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:7-8).
Our flesh was crucified with Jesus. We put the flesh to death by walking in the Spirit.
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:24-25).
We make decisions all the time. Some decisions are instinctive, whereas others are more reasoned. Humans have the ability to consider options and evaluate them before making a decision. The memory, imagination, emotions and mind interact to support the decision making process.
God created humans with the ability to distinguish between good and evil.
You will be like God, knowing good and evil (Gen 3:5).
I suspect that most of our knowledge of good and evil comes from the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The gift of discernment is one specific way that he does this (1 Cor 12:10). He also convicts us personally when we are going the wrong way.
He will convict the world of sin and righteousness (John 16:8).
The Holy Spirit can still do this for people who have rejected him.
However, because we were created in the image of God, we have an innate ability to distinguish good and evil that has survived the fall. We call this facility our conscience.
People who harden their hearts and choose to follow after evil can gradually silence than inner moral voice.
They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts (Eph 4:18).
This happened to Nebuchadnezzar.
His heart became arrogant and hardened with pride (Dan 5:20).
Those who have chosen to follow Jesus should treasure and nurture their ability to discern good and evil.
We think of our Spirit as the part of our person where the Holy Spirit dwells. It is like an antenna that enables us to link with God and operate in the spiritual realm.
Deducing the role of the spirit from the New Testament is quite difficult. The Greek word "pneuma" is also the word for wind and breath. This word is used for the Holy Spirit, evil spirits and our human spirit. The Greek text is all in upper case so, we can only determine which of these the New Testament is referring by the context. It has far more about the Spirit than it does about our spirits.
The best references in the New Testament is those where God is said to dwell in our spirits.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit (Phil 4:23; Gal 6:18).
The Lord be with your spirit (2 Tim 4:22).
The Holy Spirit dwells in the Spirit of the person who believes.
The spirit is closely connected to the heart.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you (Ez 36:26).
The person with a new heart has a new spirit too.
Our spirit is the source of our life. In the beginning, God breathed life into Adam.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath (spirit) of life, and the man became a living being (Gen 2:7).
When Jesus touched the dead girl "her spirit returned" (Luke 8:55). When Jesus died on the cross, "he gave up his spirit" (Matt 26:41). When Stephen was stoned, he surrendered his spirit to Jesus (Acts 7:59). A body without a spirit is dead (James 2:26).
When we pray in the Spirit, it is our spirit that prays.
If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful (1 Cor 14:14).
When prophets are prophesying, they receive the words spoken by the Holy Spirit in their spirits.
The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets (1 Cor 14:32).
The Holy Spirit speaks into our spirit.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children (Rom 8:16).
Our spirit also knows our own thoughts.
For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them (1 Cor 2:11).
Christians should need to be strong in their Spirit. John the Baptist was strong in his spirit when he was a child.
And the child grew and became strong in spirit (Luke 1:80).
Our spirit can be easily crushed by events around us.
My spirit grew faint (Psalm 77:3).
Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails (Psalm 143:7).
Grief and sadness weakens our spirit.
When the heart is sad, the spirit is crushed (Prov 15:13).
However God loves to restore a broken spirit (Is 15:17; 66:2).
We nourish our spirit by engaging in prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to his disciples,
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt 26:41).
We are in the same situation as the disciples, except the Holy Spirit has been given to us. Our flesh is weak, but our spirits are willing. We must pray and seek the Spirit, so our spirits are strong.
Paul served God out of his spirit
God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness (Rom 1:9).
We do not want our spirit to be dead on the day of judgement (1 Cor 5:5).
I presented this diagram for analytical purposes, but it is really a distortion. A human person is not many bits joined together. Each person is a unity.
Even the faculties that I have described are not as distinct as I have described them. My memory is not an external hard drive that can be unplugged and separated from the rest of my person. Memory cannot really be fully distinguished from the mind and the imagination. It actually exists in the cells of my brain, so is part of my physical body, to. The Holy Spirit can operate through my hands, not just my spirit.
Paul was a Hebrew, so he saw the human person a unity created in the likeness of God. Even when he refers two different aspects of a person, he stresses their oneness. Even the verse which is often quoted to justify a Greek tripartite view of the person is really about unity.
May the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly (holoteleis); and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved whole and complete (holokleron), without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes 5:23).
The use of two "holo" words is interesting. Holoteleis means whole or complete to the end. Holokleron means whole or complete in every part. The human person is one, and will be kept whole and complete until the end.