During my senior year of high school, I really struggled with understanding the role feelings should have in my Christian life. This struggle always had its roots in my frequent changing in theological beliefs and influence from those around me. My denominational affiliation frequently changed, be it Methodist, Baptist, Charismatic, or Reformed, and all displayed varying roles for feelings in Christian life and worship, making the struggle worse. I often associate goosebumps with a spiritual encounter and lethargy with a sinful condition.
This wasn’t some silly doctrinal dispute that I didn’t stress over. It had real implications, namely understanding how to genuinely contact and encounter God, if that was even possible. I desperately sought answers and frequently disputed with mentors and friends, siding on whatever position they were opposed to. I just wanted to be convinced and at peace in my Christian walk. I didn’t find that peace until coming to college and hearing about the tripartite nature of man.
The Three Parts
And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
It is clear from this verse that man consists of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. And no, I don’t mean body, soul, and Holy Spirit. I also don’t mean body and soul/spirit. These are three distinct, human faculties given to us in the garden at man’s genesis.
The body consists of our physical traits and tangible parts. The soul is who we are and consists of our mind, emotion and will (Prov. 24:14; Ps. 86:4; Job 7:15). The spirit is the part breathed into us in the garden that makes us district from all other creatures, has an eternal longing, and is capable of containing God within (Gen. 2:7; Prov. 20:27; Ecc. 3:11; 1 Cor. 6:17; 2 Tim. 4:22). It consists of our conscience, fellowship, and intuition (Rm. 9:1; Jn. 4:24; Mark 2:8).
Distinction Between Soul and Spirit
For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the diving of soul and spirit and off joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
The soul and spirit of man are commonly confused and often considered the same thing in Christianity today. This simply isn’t a proper, biblical view. The soul and spirit of man are always made distinct when together in scripture and always denote a different aspect of man. The Bible is not a systematic theology and the prophets and apostles don’t seem to think it necessary to define the parts of man in their writings, but when viewed as a whole in their context, these two parts are definitely distinct, as shown above in Hebrews.
Our spirit is the part within us that used to be dead (Eph. 2:1) and has been dormant for our entire unbelieving life. However, whenever someone believes and confesses Jesus as Lord, that person’s human spirit is what is joined to the Lord in regeneration (1 Cor. 6:17; Jn. 3:6). When we are saved, our spirit is saturated with the Holy Spirit, and we become one with God in part of our being.
Our soul is not joined to the Lord. It is the part of us that the Lord desires to gain. Our flesh is corrupt and will not be fixed until we are given a new body (1 Cor. 15:42-44). Our soul, however, is the part of our being that the Lord desires (and so should we) to be sanctified and filled with Himself (1 Pet. 1:9; Eph 3:17,19). It is the part that the Lord tells us to deny in following Him (Lk. 9:23-24). It is the part that we mustn’t love in order to overcome the enemy (Rev. 12:11).
Bios, Psuche, Zoe
One clear reason why this distinction in the three parts of man was lost over the years, particularly since the reformation, is due to the translation of the greek New Testament into english. The greek language is far more complex than english, and certain aspects and distinctions between words are lost in translation. A prime example of this is found in the word “life.”
1. Bios, in Luke 8:14: “…anxieties and riches and pleasure of this life.” This Greek word refers to the life of the physical body and is where we get the word biology.
2. Psuche, in Matt. 16:25: “For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it.” The Greek word here refers to the psychological life of the human soul…It is where we get the word psychology.
3. Zoe, in John 1:4: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Here the Greek word refers to the uncreated, eternal life of God, the divine life uniquely possessed by God. ¹
These words are all translated “life” in the english language, and the significance in their distinction is lost. When we are told to deny our life in the gospels by Jesus, the greek word “psuche” is used, meaning we need to deny our natural life and self, living by the zoe-life within instead.
How This Helps the Feelings Problem
Maybe some of you can already see how this may help the the struggle I described earlier. Here’s what I took from all of this: the Lord dwells in our spirit.
God is not primarily found in feelings and emotional experiences, focusing on the soul. He also isn’t primarily manifested in physical characteristics like goosebumps or sicknesses, with an emphasis on the body. He is found in our spirit. There is a place in our being where God has made his abode (Jn. 14:23). This is where we worship the Lord, seek revelation, find assurance of salvation, and contact God in a daily, normal way (Jn. 4:24; Eph. 1:17; Rm. 8:16, Eph. 3:16; 2 Tim. 4:22).
Emotions are not ruled out by this and neither are bodily experiences. Just as God is One, so are we. Our three parts are intricately related, yet still distinct. If I think about something, I use my brain (body) and mind (soul). If I worship the Lord, I use my voice (body), feel a certain way (soul), and am in my spirit hopefully (Jn. 4:24). Yet we must see that the aim and goal is to abide in our spirit where the Lord is and not allow emotions to be an end. They often times are the manifestation of being in our spirit and contacting God, but they are neither required nor to be sought after.
I hope this was informative and especially encouraging to any who were struggling like me. Let us learn how to contact God in a daily way in our spirit! Maybe this verse will help if you want to start:
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking in the Spirit of God says, Jesus is accursed; and no one can say, Jesus is Lord! except in the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3
Jesus is Lord!
¹Three Greek Words for Life in the New Testament and How They Apply to Us,Bibles for America, http://biblesforamerica.org/greek-words-for-life/