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Understanding Ourselves: Body, Spirit, Soul.

by J. W. Jepson, D.Min.

Life In Christ Center, 3095 Cherry Heights Road, The Dalles, Oregon 97058

(541) 296-1136

copyright � 2001 by J. W. Jepson

All rights reserved, including the right to grant the following permission and to prohibit the misuse thereof:

The Author hereby grants permission to reproduce the text of this article, without changes or alterations*, as a ministry, but not for commercial or non-ministry purposes.

*Permission is given for publication of excerpts and condensed versions.



The Human Body


"Keep your laws off my body!" "It’s my body, and what I do with it is my business!"

Such assertions are familiar to all of us. We hear them often. They express the prevailing mind-set of a self-centered society.

In contrast, Christians are to develop their values and attitudes from the Scriptures. The truth is found there, not in the vain assumptions of this world.

It is important that believers have a clear biblical understanding of their body. Through the centuries the Church has struggled with unbiblical ideas regarding the human body and with the unwholesome practices that resulted.

The idea that matter is evil was prominent in eastern philosophy. As it applied to the human body, this notion began to impact the Church. For that reason it was necessary that the Word of God speak against it. So Paul wrote, "Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and [false] humility, and neglecting [harsh treatment] of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh [not restraining sensual indulgence]" ( Col. 2:23).

Another outcome of this philosophy was the denial that Jesus had a physical body, and therefore did not really die on the cross and rise bodily from the dead. This is so obviously "antichrist" that John had to denounce it by laying down this test: "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God" (I John 4:2).

Again, others concluded that because the body is evil and will be destroyed anyway, the sins of the flesh do not really matter. Against this error Peter warns that God knows how to reserve the unjust to be punished, "chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness" (II Peter 2:9,10).

These attitudes hung on in Christian thinking for centuries – with ruinous consequences. Christianity is not entirely free from them even to this day.

Clearly, a correct doctrine regarding the human body is very important indeed!

The body is not sinful in itself because sin is a choice, not a quality of physical substance. The body is evil only if we yield its members as instruments of unrighteousness (Rom. 6:13). The body has no moral quality in itself. It is what we do with it that matters.

Both the natural and unnatural desires of our bodies are a source fo temptation. If we reject the unnatural desires (e.g., narcotics and drugs) and keep the natural desires in subjection, we do not sin. But when we deliberately pursue the gratification of those desires contrary to conscience and the Word of God, we sin. This is called "walking after the flesh" and "minding the flesh." (See Rom. 8:1-13.)

Paul had just described this in Romans 7, referring back to the time when "we were in the flesh" (v. 5). Looking back on that conflict and bondage, he says in verse 23, "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."

The total moral depravity of the Gentiles is catalogued in Romans 1. Prominent in the list are the sexual sins. Verse 24 says they "dishonour their own bodies between themselves." He who commits fornication sins against his own body (I Cor. 6:18).

Gluttony is another sin of the flesh, and drugs, including alcohol, are harmful substances foreign to the body. Proverbs 23:20 commands us, "Be not among winebibbers [heavy drinkers of wine]; among riotous [gluttonous] eaters of flesh."

As the Scriptures clearly teach and as human experience plainly demonstrates, living in voluntary slavery to the desires of the body results in corruption and death. "For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8). "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye will live" (Rom. 8:13).

Only Jesus Christ can save us from the dominion of the flesh. We must have a living relationship with Him, being crucified with Him and living in the power of His resurrection.

Romans 6:11-13 reads: "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God."

Paul knew the necessity of disciplining the desires of his body, keeping them under subjection to the lordship of Christ. He declared, "But I keep under [discipline] my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Cor. 9:27).

James makes special reference to controlling that most difficult member of our body – the tongue (3:2-10).

Yes, having the promises quoted in II Corinthians 6, we are urged to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (7:1).

The premier passage on the human body is I Corinthians 6:13-20. There we discover that the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body (v. 13). Our bodies are the members of Christ (v. 15); they are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and we are not our own (v. 19). Because we are bought with a price we are to glorify God in our body (v. 20).

This exposes the popular lie that "it’s my body." Deliberate, premeditated suicide is the ultimate act of such defiance. It declares, "I have supreme authority over my body. I will have the final say."

The truth is that our bodies are sacred. They belong to our Creator and Redeemer. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Rom. 12:1).

Although bodily exercise profits little compared to godliness (I Tim. 4:8), we nevertheless have a stewardship responsibility over our bodies that applies to what we eat and drink, and whatever we do (I Cor. 10:31).

If we overwork, get insufficient rest and/or exercise, indulge in poor nutrition, and expose ourselves to unnecessary danger and health risks, we are not glorifying God in our bodies. We become careless custodians of the Holy Spirit’s temple.

The body is sacred, but we are not to worship it. Physical fitness should not be an obsession. Our bodies are expendable – our spirit is not. When the showdown came, the three Hebrews "yielded their bodies" to the fiery furnace rather than bow to the image (Dan. 3:28).

Jesus said, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul" (Matt. 10:28). Many have died as martyrs. Many have been willing, if need be, to sacrifice health and even life for the gospel. Paul said, "Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death" (Phil. 1:20; see also II Cor. 4:7-11).

Our bodies are mortal, corruptible. We have this treasure in clay jars. Peter spoke of his body as a tent that he was preparing to put aside (II Peter 1:13,14). Unless we are alive when the Lord comes, in time we will all do the same.

When He comes, "We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (I Cor. 15:51,52).

The Holy Spirit is not through with His temple. "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you" (Rom. 8:11).

He will "change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21). Even so, come Lord Jesus!




The Human Spirit


"We now know that the calcium and iron in our bodies came from a distant supernova," the beaming space scientists announced. "We are all children of the universe." It is true that our bodies are made up of the elements of the physical cosmos, but not from a supernova. God formed us from "the dust of the ground" (Gen. 2:7).

But that is only part of the story. We are more than just the recycled debris of some supernova. If man is only matter, man does not matter. Secular anthropology cannot account for our full humanity.

What is needed is a reaffirmation of our high origin, nature, and destiny. The only realistic and reasonable explanation of who we are is found in Genesis 1:26, "And God said, Let us made man in our image, after our likeness." Furthermore, verse 27 affirms that "man" includes both male and female.

Like Himself, God created us free moral agents, with intellect, emotions, and will. We bear the honor and dignity of God.

As God is triune (the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – Matt. 28:19), we also are in a sense triune (spirit, soul, and body – I Thess. 5:23).

So then, what we commonly call such things as mind, emotions, heart, and will are really functions of our spirit, soul, and body – usually acting together. For that reason, to understand ourselves – why we think, feel, and act as we do – we must first find out what God’s Word says about us.

The body is the outer part of us. Next is our spirit. The soul is the inner "core" of our being. Our spirit is the source of our more flexible, expressive, and volatile emotions. Mary said, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour" (Luke 1:46,47).

Our spirit is reactive, often impulsive and changeable. Our soul is more stable; it is where the decisions – the deep-seated commitments – are made. Our body is our "house." All three are to be kept blameless until Christ returns (I Thess. 5:23).

Right now let’s talk about our spirit, because that is where we experience most of our problems and where we least understand our own feelings.

According to I Corinthians 2:11, self-awareness is a function of the spirit: "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?"

Because of its flexibility, our spirit is our emotional "shock absorber." It is subject to "ups and downs."

While near Mt. Sinai the spirits of the Israelites excited in them a willingness to contribute to the Tabernacle (Ex. 35:21. Both John the Baptist and Jesus became strong in spirit (Luke 1:80; 2:40). The spirit is willing though the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). Paul’s spirit was stirred in him when he saw the idolatry in Athens (Acts 17:16). He served God with his spirit (Rom. 1:9). We also are to be "fervent in spirit; serving the Lord" (Rom. 12:11).

The human spirit is where the gifts of the Holy Spirit operate (I Cor. 14:14,32).

Our spirit is susceptible to moods. It can be overwhelmed (Ps. 77:3). When Jacob learned that Joseph was still alive, the shock was too much for his spirit. Before long "the spirit of Jacob their father revived" (Gen. 45:27).

Paul’s spirit was refreshed by Christian fellowship (I Cor. 16:18). At Troas, Paul had no rest in his spirit because he did not find Titus (II Cor. 2:13).

In Egypt, Israel refused to listen to Moses "for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage" (Ex. 6:9).

At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus was indignant in His spirit because death had taken His friend (John 11:33).

The spirit affects the body. "The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit whe can bear?" (Prov. 18:14).

Although evil spirits influence and incite the human spirit, as do other sources of temptation, we cannot blame our attitudes and actions on demons or other stimuli. What we do with temptation is our responsibility. For that reason God commands us to rule our spirit.

"He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Prov. 16:32). "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls" (25:28).

We are not to be impulsive in our spirit, for anger rests in the bosom of fools (Eccl. 7:9; Prov. 14:29; 17:27).

Because the people provoked Moses’ spirit, he spoke rashly (Ps. 106:33). An impulsive spirit often expresses itself in impulsive words. "A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter" (Prov. 11:13). A gossiper’s spirit has developed a perverse passion that needs to be brought to the cross!

A haughty spirit goes before a fall (Prov. 16:18,19), "but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit" (29:23).

Adultery often begins in the human spirit long before it involves the body. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth" (Mal. 2:15).

Israel’s spirit was not steadfast with God (Ps. 78:8). We must stabilize our spirit. A lot more than good emotional health is at stake. Let us avoid impulsive words, impulsive purchases, and other impulsive decisions and actions. They get us into no end of trouble. No matter how much our spirit gets excited about something, we should stop and ask ourselves, "How much enthusiasm, time, and energy is this really worth?"

We are to glorify God in our body and in our spirit because they belong to God (I Cor. 6:20). As did Paul, let us serve God with our spirit; but let us not serve our spirit. Keep it our faithful servant, but do not let it become our master. Follow the admonition of Paul, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (II Cor. 7:1). This includes anger, bitterness, vicious words, wrong infatuations, instability.

For this, God has provided His grace. Years ago my secretary and I developed a "watchword" between us. Whenever frustration became evident in one of us, the other would quote Galatians 6:18, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit."

God weighs our spirit (Prov. 16:2). We can be right in fact, but wrong in our spirit. God puts a high price on a meek and quiet spirit (I Peter 3:4).

The new birth involves a change in the human spirit. Jesus said, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). As a teacher in Israel, Nicodemus should have known God’s command in Ezekiel 18:31, "[Get] a new heart and a new spirit."

David prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Ps. 51:10).

Romans 8:16 says that God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Friend, does God’s Spirit testify with your spirit that you are a child of God? Is your spirit right, in submission to the Holy Spirit; or is it undisciplined and unholy, following its own desires and impulses?

Let us yield our spirit to God. "Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" (Heb. 12:9).




The Human Soul


Over the past several years we have read and heard sentiments that go something like this: "We are interested in more than just the salvation of the soul"; or, "We want to do more for people than just save their souls."

We assume that these expressions are well-intentioned as churches want to minister to the whole person, physical and social as well as spiritual.

Yet, such statements leave one a little uncomfortable. "Just the salvation of the soul." What is meant by that? That the saving of the soul applies only to the next life, with little or no practical relevance to our everyday living now?

Perhaps we need to take a good look at what the Scriptures say about the soul. We might discover that the salvation of the soul involves a total transformation of life here and now, as well as the right destiny hereafter.

Just as we do in common speech, the Bible uses the word "soul" in various ways. In its general sense it can mean "life" or "person," just as an S.O.S. can mean "save our souls." We might refer to someone as a "dear old soul."

But the word also has a specific meaning in the Scriptures. In its specific definition, the human soul refers to the "core" of our being, the essential person.

We are spirit, soul, and body. (See I Thess. 5:23.) These three inter-relate and interact. At death the soul leaves the body. (See Gen. 35:18.)

The soul responds to food. "The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul" (Prov. 13:25). The psalmist wrote, "I humbled my soul with fasting" (Ps. 35:13).

Memory involves the soul as well as the brain. The psalmist said to his soul, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits" (Ps. 103.2).

The soul can be distressed. The ungodly deeds around Lot "vexed his righteous soul from day to day" (II Peter 2:8). The Jews sang, "Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud" (Ps. 123:4).

The soul is the seat of deep feelings and longings. Its emotions are more stable and meaningful than those of our spirit; it experiences our deepest sorrow, anguish, and grief. We call it "heartbreak."

Joseph’s brothers remembered the day when they sold him into slavery. They "saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear" (Gen. 42:21).

Imagine the scene as Joseph desperately begs his brothers for his life while they coldly debate whether or not to kill him. Imagine the deep trauma of his soul as they cruelly sell him and he is carried off into slavery – his hopes and dreams dashed, his soul crushed.

Facing the cross, Jesus told His disciples, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matt. 26:38). Anyone who has experienced deep depression knows the feeling.

Hushai warned Absalom that the soldiers who fled with David were bitter in their souls. (See II Sam. 17:8).

Anger of spirit leads to bitterness of soul. When anger is the menu of the soul, it becomes saturated with the poison of bitterness. Resentments become grudges. Revenge seems to be the only satisfaction. The whole being feeds on it and is consumed by it.

The only cure is the cross. Christ alone can redeem such a soul. A truly saved soul means forgiveness, sound thinking, mental and emotional healing, restored relationships, new life. Let us not think narrowly of the salvation of the soul!

A discouraged soul is in danger of giving up. For that reason we are to keep our eyes on Jesus lest we give up in our souls. (See Heb. 12:3.)

God preserves the souls of His saints. (See Ps. 97:10.) When the psalmist called, God strengthened him with strength in his soul. (See Ps. 138:3. Cf. Eph. 3:16.)

A vital part of the beautiful Twenty-third Psalm is found in verse 3, "He restoreth my soul."

The soul longs for God and finds its highest fulfillment in communion with Him. Listen to the psalmist: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so pantesth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" (Ps. 421,2. Cf. 63:1,5,8).

The basic function of the soul is the power of choice. The soul makes the decisions. It makes commitments. We call it the will; it is the set of the soul.

Repentance is essentially the fundamental change in the set of the soul. "Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God" (I Chron. 22:19).

Love is a decision of the soul, not an infatuation of the human spirit. This is true of marriage as well as other human commitments. It is especially true of our commitment to God.

The first and great commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. (See Matt. 22:37.)

Love for God produces holiness. Our "whole spirit and soul and body" are to be preserved blameless (I Thess. 5:23). Believers have purified their souls in obeying the truth. (See I Peter 1:22.) And I Peter 2:11 warns us to abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul.

We are to "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind [soul] striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27). We are to do the will of God from the heart, meaning soul, according to Ephesians 6:6.

We must not take our soul lightly. It will live on in eternity either in heaven or in hell. Jesus gave us these sobering words, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:36,37).

God is serious about the salvation of our souls. The life of the flesh is in the blood, and God gave it as an atonement for the soul. (See Lev. 17:11.) But the blood of the animals slain on Old Testament altars could not take away sin. Rather, they all pointed to the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. His blood alone cleanses us from all sin.

Our part is to believe. "But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39).

What do you say to a starving soul? The man Jesus talked about in Luke 12:16-21 said to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." Enjoying his goods, eating, drinking, and being merry. That is all this poor man had to offer his soul.

Only Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, can satisfy the deep longings of the soul. His invitation still stands: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:28,29).

Come to Him now.


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