A recent survey conducted by the Barna Group found that 62% of all adults interviewed consider themselves to be not merely “religious” but “deeply spiritual.” However, when the spiritual commitments of Americans were studied more closely, there seemed to be a breakdown between one’s commitment and practice. The report says, “Spirituality is in vogue in our society today. It is popular to claim to be part of a ‘faith community’ or to have a spiritual commitment. But what do Americans mean when they claim to be ‘spiritual?’ The recent Grammy awards were perhaps indicative of this breakdown between self-perception and reality. The members of the group that won the award for best song thanked God for the victory then immediately followed with profanities that had to be bleeped from the broadcast. It seems as if God is in, but living for God is not.” (http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=226)
The Bible teaches us that there is a spiritual side to each person, Christian and non-Christian alike. And while we may recognize the fact that there is part of us that is unseen and mysterious, we cannot simply “tip the hat” and move on, for just as each part of our physical body has a function, so that part of us which is unseen by the human eye also has a function -- to commune and connect with God.
The longer I am in ministry, the more I believe that there are too many truths of the Christian life that go unemphasized. We are like the amateur bodybuilders who do nothing but work on their upper body (triceps, biceps, lats, traps, pecs, and abs) but they walk around on toothpick legs!
Describing the inner nature of man is not as simple as it might appear. Remember the boy last week who described his body and then said, “that’s all there is of me except for what is inside, and I never saw that”? Well, there are a lot of things on the inside of me that I have never seen. I am not talking about internal organs or bones; I am talking about the non-physical side. Christians take their cue from the Bible and where it speaks, we listen.
Some say we are essentially three-part beings (body, soul, spirit). There are passages, especially in the New Testament that seem to make a distinction between different aspects of a human being’s nature. The one that illustrates this easily is 1 Thessalonians 5:23, which says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In trying to make sense of the distinction and function of these three aspects of humanness, some teach that plant life consists of body, animal life consists of body and soul, and human life consists of body, soul, and spirit. Saying this another way, some teach that the spirit provides God-consciousness, the soul provides self-consciousness, and the body provides world-consciousness.
This model does not adequately represent the biblical data. (Notice I didn’t say “accurately” but “adequately.”) When looking at a variety of passages, we find there is overlap with soul and spirit. (I will be quoting these in the NKJV since it is a more literal translation.)
Rachel and Stephen at death
Genesis 35:18 (NKJV)
18 And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
Acts 7:59 (NKJV)
59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Jesus and Paul describing people
Matthew 10:28 (NKJV)
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
1 Corinthians 7:34 (NKJV)
34 There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband.
Both the soul and spirit are described as having sinful desires and the ability to be purified.
1 Peter 1:22 (NKJV)
22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heartm
Revelation 18:14 (NKJV)
14 The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all.
2 Corinthians 7:1 (NKJV)
1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Psalm 78:8 (NKJV)
8 And may not be like their fathers,
A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation that did not set its heart aright,
And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Wayne Grudem, “What can the spirit do that the soul cannot do? What can the soul do that the spirit cannot do?”
The Bible uses several important words to describe the inner you.
The Greek word for soul is psyche. We get our English word psychology from this. At the most basic level, the soul is the life-principle or that which gives animals and humans life. In the Bible it might be called the breath of life and it is joined to the body. When the soul and body are separated, the body dies. When the soul and body are joined, the body has life.
At a second level, the word psyche or soul is often translated in the Bible as life, meaning one’s own life. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 6:25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” In Mark 8:35, Jesus was teaching that one’s life or soul is the most valuable thing you possess when he said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” And then in another place Jesus taught his disciples the depth of love demonstrated in the laying down of one’s life for his friends: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
At a third level, the soul is the seat and center of the inner life of man; the seat and center of life that transcends the earthly (it can be saved [Jam 1:21] or lost [Mk 10:28]) – the most important thing about you (Mt 16:26); the Christian hope is an anchor of the soul
Another common word used in the Bible for the immaterial part of man is spirit. As we said earlier, some passages of scripture seem to draw a line between spirit and soul as if they were two distinct entities (1 Thess 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). Other passages of scripture seem to treat these words synonymously. That is, they are used in the same way to refer to the same thing. Because of this difficulty in distinguishing the two terms, it is almost impossible to define spirit in a way that is distinct from soul. I have a book in my library called The Theological Wordbook and they actually lump the two words together and immediately admit the difficulty of determining biblically whether the two are the same or different. There may well be a distinction between soul and spirit but in practical terms it is impossible for a human being to sense that distinction. (Job 7:11)
The concept of one’s heart is a little bit easier to understand. We use the word all the time. “I’ve got a special place in my heart for you.” “He’s a cold-hearted man.” “My heart says yes but my mind says no.” “He left me at the altar and I am so broken-hearted.” The word heart in Greek is kardia (which makes sense) and we get our phrase cardiac arrest (which means heart attack). The word in Hebrew is levav and it generally refers to the inner man especially as it encompasses the mind, the affections, and the will. The most recognizable passage from the OT is Deuteronomy 6:4. The Bible says you can apply the heart to understanding (Prov 2:2); it is the well-spring of life (Prov 4:23); the heart can be pure or corrupt (Matt 15:19); the heart entertains thoughts (Matt 9:4); the heart can be weighed down or troubled (John 14:1)
By no means are these scripture references even near being exhaustive. Folks, do you own study. Get a good concordance. You will learn a lot about yourself.
The last word that I want to touch on today is conscience. If I am not mistaken, the Latin roots mean “with knowledge.” That doesn’t help us much, though. Conscience was made popular in the movie Pinnochio where Jimminy Cricket played Pinnochio’s conscience. Conscience is the moral faculty of the mind that prods a person to do what he thinks is right and not to do what he thinks is wrong. Going against one’s conscience creates moral consequences such as guilt or shame. The conscience is supposed to operate like a moral compass pointing due north but going against one’s conscience repeatedly will harden and silence it. For example, suppose your favorite TV show is Andy Griffith. You watched Andy Griffith everyday and got used to the portrayal of family, integrity, honesty, and humor on that show. But then one day you turned on a late night show like Crime Scene Investigation and you saw graphic portrayals of people being murdered. At first, your conscience would object strongly saying, “this is not good for me to see.” But the more you watch it, the quieter your conscience becomes until eventually it does not protest; it does not object. In fact, it gives hearty approval this is real and it really isn’t all that bad. That, my friend, is when you have a problem because the conscience can be shaped and molded to believe that anything is permissible. That is why murders can go to death row without feeling remorse or regret; because their conscience does not object.
You must have a good understanding of your spiritual side in order to pursue real change.
All this knowledge about yourself is fine but knowledge unapplied produces pride. [REPEAT] Knowledge applied produces wisdom.
Having a knowledge of the immaterial part of a person is especially important when doing counseling. The practice of counseling others is not limited to professionals or pastors. It is something that you as a normal Christian could be involved in with your family or close friends. There are many different practices and theories of counseling, some of which are anti-Christian because of their approach to the source of our problems – either they are blamed on our genetic makeup or our past. What makes Christian counseling unique is the fact that while we recognize the contribution genes and a traumatic past can make, we also recognize the resources we have in Christ to work through and move beyond the source of our problems.
Recognizing that a person has a soul affects our counseling this way: (1) instead of automatically resorting to medicine, we may explore the brokenness of our soul and try to make it whole first (for example, depression); (2) instead of depending entirely on cognitive therapy (here is the truth, now follow it) for personal change, a Christian recognizes the spiritual battle in a person’s life. That is not to demonize every little problem, either, but it acknowledges a person’s need to make peace with God before making peace with others.
I have heard schizophrenia described as a “fracturing of the soul.” Addictions to drugs and alcohol, sex, or food typically have a spiritual component contributing to the problem. I am not trying to lay out a complete philosophy of counseling here, but I want you to be made aware of the complexities when helping people deal with their problems and the hidden sources that may lie deep within a person’s soul. The Bible says in Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”
A second area that I find this whole discussion of soul, spirit, heart, and conscience to be helpful with is in our pursuit of sanctification – growth in holiness and Christlikeness. Listen to this verse, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:7-8) This verse says that godliness requires personal discipline of the soul. No one ever becomes godly without trying. I don’t mean trying in the strength of the flesh but trying in the strength that the Spirit supplies (Col 1:29). You cannot become godly until you understand your inner nature. Jesus taught that it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean (meaning ceremonially unclean food) but what comes out of a man (meaning his words and deeds) because these originate in the heart. Jesus constantly taught his disciples that the central problem which kept them from understanding more and living in greater fellowship was their HARDNESS OF HEART!