Every seeking Christian has a desire to experience the living God. Some believe that God is primarily experienced and known in the mind, leading them to study the scriptures daily and seek to understand it. Others believe that God is primarily experienced in the emotions, leading to an abundance of singing (usually with lots of instruments, base, and body motions, i.e. hand raising, dancing, etc.), crying, fasting, and listening for an audible voice. I have found myself in both camps at different times.
What I would like to write about is something that is found nowhere in mainstream Christianity, and which I believe is the solution to the dilemma mentioned above: How do we experience God?
“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
Man is composed of three parts: spirit, soul, and body. Spirit here refers to our human spirit, not the Holy Spirit (Rm. 8:16). This is not a well known fact among Christians, most of whom have assumed that man is only composed of two parts: body and soul. The Bible makes it very clear however that we are tripartite.
Soul and Spirit
“For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
No, soul and spirit are not interchangeable words in the Bible. They are distinct and have distinct functions.
The soul, as discerned by any philosopher who takes the time to consider their natural man, and as revealed in the Bible, is mainly composed of our mind, emotion, and will (Lam. 3:20; Prov. 2:10; Prov. 3:21,22; SoS 1:7; 2 Sam. 5:8; Ps. 107:18; Job 6:7; 7:15; 1 Chron. 22:19). The soul is who you are. It is your very person, personality, and life.
The spirit, on the other hand, is not known by philosophers or any unbeliever for that matter. It is the part of man that was made to commune with God. It is the part of Adam that actually died on the day that he ate from the tree (Gen 2:17 emphasis on “in the day”). Man’s spirit is what makes him unique from other creatures and must be seen as distinct from man’s soul.
Joined to the Lord
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John 3:6
“But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” 1 Corinthians 6:17
When we were saved/regenerated/begotten of God, our spirit was quickened and joined to the Lord’s Spirit. It is the part of our being that God now dwells in! Just as the tabernacle and temple were composed of three parts (outer court, Holy place, and Holy of Holies), so man is composed of three parts (body, soul, and spirit). And just as God made His dwelling in the Holy of Holies, so He makes His dwelling in our spirit:
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16
This makes logical sense, because if we were only soul and body, then the Lord’s indwelling us would cause our soul to be made perfect. But we still have corrupt thoughts, improper emotions, and a fallen volition. The Lord has joined Himself to our inner man, our spirit, making it a part of the new creation.
Function of the spirit of man
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truthfulness.” John 4:24
“For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of His Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you always in my prayers” Romans 1:9
“Praying at every time in spirit” Ephesians 6:18
“I was in spirit on the Lord’s Day and heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” Revelation 1:10
I hope the above verses help you to understand the gravity of what I am talking about. If we desire to worship God, serve Him, pray, and receive revelation, it is imperative that we learn about what our spirit is, how it functions, how we can be “in” it, and how to discern it from our soul.
The spirit of man mainly has three functions: conscience, intuition, and communion (2 Cor. 2:13; Jn. 13:21; 1 Cor. 2:11; Mk. 2:8; Rm. 7:6; Rm. 8:15,16). These three functions are how we experience God, in conviction, following, and worshiping. We should have a sense within whenever we are about to sin that there is Someone who disagrees with this act. This is the conscience in man’s spirit. We can get a sense from within of what the Lord desires us to say or do if we are willing to listen and obey. This is the intuition in man’s spirit. We may also now worship, serve, enjoy, and abide in God as believers, for our spirit enable us to commune with Him:
“God is faithful, through whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:9
God is not a God of confusion but a God of truth. He has determined where to make His abode: in man’s spirit. If we desire to experience God today, serve Him properly, render Him the worship He desires, we must learn to deny our soul and turn to our spirit.
Emotions are not bad. Neither is the mind. Both are God-given and God actually has them for Himself. The problem is, they are a part of the old creation. It is easy for the Christian to see the problem of sin, but what about the problem of self (or soul)?
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.'” Matthew 16:24
Since the fall of Adam, man has been lead by His flesh. His mind, emotions, and will lead His every step, rather than God. Now the Lord has given us a way to be lead by Him, know His will, and serve Him in a proper way, namely by being in our spirit, where the Spirit of God is.
How can we discern between what is the speaking of the Spirit and that of the soul? I have very view experiences to give here, but of the few I do, here is what I can say: The Word of God is able to divide the spirit from the soul, thus allowing us to discern the difference. We must spend time in the Word, meditate on it, and quietly wait for the Lord to speak to us. We must patiently wait on the Lord’s speaking and not be distracted by the wanderings of the mind or the sensations of the emotions.
I’m sorry for the lack of thorough explanation on the application part, but I am both inexperienced and without room on this blog post. At the least, I hope you can all see the importance of knowing about our human spirit and it’s central role in experiencing God today. I encourage everyone (myself included) to beseech the Lord, who teaches us all things (1 John 2:27), how we can turn to our spirit and experience all of the riches of Christ. Lord help us to know You!