In this lesson we will examine the spiritual nature of man as we seek to understand the relationship man is capable of having with his Creator.
When we think of the creation, our thought usually focus upon the events in the first two chapters of Genesis. However, sometime prior to the creation of the physical heavens and the earth, God created an entirely different realm.
Paul declared in Colossians 1:16 that through Jesus “all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible.” Two different creations are mentioned in this verse. One is the spiritual (invisible) creation in heaven. The other is the physical (visible) creation on earth.
The angels were a part of God’s spiritual creation in heaven. Nehemiah wrote, “Thou alone art the Lord. Thou hast made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host. . . .” (Nehemiah 9:6). In Psalm 33:6 the psalmist declared that the heavenly host of angels was created by the breath of God’s mouth.
Since “God is spirit” (John 4:24), we can conclude that the angels were created as spirit beings in God’s eternal, spiritual image. Following His spiritual creation of “the heaven of heavens,” God created “the earth and all that is on it” (Nehemiah 9:6). While the heavenly creation is spiritual in nature, the earthly creation is physical. The physical creation consists of the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, and all of the plants and animals which fill our planet.
In contrast to the spiritual creation, which consist of “things which are not seen” and are “eternal” in nature (2 Corinthians 4:18), the physical creation consists of “things which are seen” and are “temporal” in nature.
MAN IS A CREATED BEING
God crowned His physical creation with the creation of man, His unique and preeminent creation. In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.’” To accomplish His task, “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground” (Genesis 2:7). Into this marvelous, but lifeless physical body, God “breathed . . . the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
God created man with a temporal, physical body similar to the body of an animal. However, man also has a spiritual aspect to his nature that is common with the angels of God. When God breathed life into the physical body of man, that eternal spark of God’s nature formed the spirit within man. The spirit of man bears the mark of God’s eternal, spiritual image.
Genesis 2:7 tells us that “man became a living being” (or a living soul). Sometimes people speak of man as having a soul, but the Bible declares that man is a living soul. As living souls created in the image of God, humans are eternal spirits temporarily inhabiting physical bodies. While some bodies are male and others are female, we all share the spiritual and eternal nature of God!
Many times the Bible describes man as a two part being, or a dichotomy. For example, in describing physical death, Solomon wrote, “The dust [the physical body] will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
James wrote that “the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). It is obvious from these verses that man’s nature consists of an “outer man” (like the animals, temporal in nature), and an “inner man” (like the angels, eternal in nature). It is vitally important that we understand our human nature, because as Christians we must learn to focus our attention “not at the things which are seen” (i.e., the flesh and the things of the flesh), “but at the things which are not seen” (i.e., the spirit and the things of the spirit); “for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).
Those who fail to distinguish between the physical and the spiritual devote their lives to the temporal matters of this world. God warns that all in this world will one day “pass away with a roar” (2 Peter 3:10).
MAN IS A THREEFOLD BEING
While it is true that the Bible usually describes man as a dual being (a two-part being, body and spirit), two New Testament passages describe him as a three-part being. The author of Hebrews declared that the Word of God is so sharp that it can pierce even to the division of the soul and the spirit (Hebrews 4:12). A distinction is also drawn between the soul and the spirit in Paul’s prayer that the Thessalonians’ “spirit and soul and body [might] be preserved complete” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
We have no problem distinguishing between the body and the spirit of man, but we have some difficulty in understanding the difference between the soul and the spirit. Since the soul and the spirit are eternally joined together as the “inward man,” the line between the two is very fine. However, as we have seen, the Word of God is capable of distinguishing between the two. As we see some of the differences between the soul and the spirit, we will more fully understand our own spiritual nature.
Let us notice several things from Genesis 2:7
(1) The physical body of man is the outer shell in which the soul and the spirit (the inner, eternal
(2) The soul is the real you and me. The Greek word translated soul is psuche. This is the source of our English word “psyche.” The psyche is the thinking part of man, consisting of intellect, emotions, and will. Solomon declared that “as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7). From deep within our souls we choose to live for the outer man (the flesh and the things of the world) or for the inner man (the spirit and the eternal things of God). That basic choice will one day determine where we will spend eternity.
(3) The spirit is the eternal spark of God’s nature which imparts life to the outer body and to the inner soul. The spirit of man is like God’s Spirit in that it is “eternal, immortal, [and] invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17). The spirit of man will be just as much in existence one million years from now as it is today. It will either be with God in His eternal, glorious presence, or it will be separated from God in the eternal darkness of Satan’s kingdom. The focus of all Christianity is upon the spirit and the salvation of man from the eternal darkness of Satan’s kingdom.
MAN LIVES IN A DUAL ENVIRONMENT
As eternal spirits residing in physical bodies, we are in constant contact with two different realms, the physical and the spiritual. Our bodies are surrounded by the material world, making us “world conscious.” The soul is the fountain of all our thoughts, making us “self-conscious.”
The spirit, which sets mankind apart from the animals, gives us the ability to be “Godconscious.” Please note that animals were never given “the breath of God” (cf. Genesis 1:24), so they do not bear the spiritual and eternal image of their Creator as man does.
Paul compared the Christian’s threefold nature to God’s Old Testament temple in 1 Corinthians 3:16. Paul asked the question “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” God’s Holy Spirit at one time resided in the Old Testament temple, but Paul declared that Christians are now the dwelling place of God.
By studying the Old Testament temple, we can more fully appreciate what we have learned thus far in our lesson. The temple was divided into three parts. The outer court was visible to all and could be visited by Jew or Gentile. The Holy Place could be entered only by the priests. Beyond the veil was the Most Holy Place, which was the holy dwelling place of God and could be entered only by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.
The Christian (as the Lord’s New Testament temple) also has three parts to his nature. The body (like the outer court of the temple) is the external part of our nature and is visible to all. Paul exhorts Christians “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).
Within the body resides the soul (our psychological makeup), which includes the intellect, emotions, and will. The Christian has yielded his soul to the Lord in obedience to the great commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). The Christian endeavors to love the Lord with all of his inner, conscious being!
Even deeper than the conscious nature of the soul resides the spirit, which can have contact with the invisible kingdoms of God and Satan. The spirits of Christians have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and have been united as “one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). “Christ in you [is] the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
MAN IS A SINFUL BEING
To understand the privilege of being united with Jesus as one spirit, we need to review the history of sin. When Adam was first created, he, like God, was without sin. God placed Adam in a position of authority over the physical creation (Genesis 1:26). In turn, God assumed His position of authority over the man, commanding him not to eat “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and warning him that he would die “in the day” he ate (Genesis 2:15, 17).
As long as man respected this commandment of God, he enjoyed a perfect paradise on earth. His body was not subject to disease or death. His soul was filled with holy thoughts of God. His spirit remained united with his Creator. In the midst of such love and glory, Satan tempted Eve with the question “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). This question directed Eve’s attention to the forbidden tree. Satan applied the pressure of temptation by suggesting that God was depriving her of the wisdom to be like God, “knowing good and evil.”
The woman began to focus the attention of her soul upon the tree as she saw “that the tree was good for food” (an appeal to the lust of the flesh), “that it was a delight to the eyes” (the lust of the eyes), and that it was “desirable to make one wise” (the pride of life). (See Genesis 3:1–6; cf. 1 John 2:16.) Eve’s soul was under satanic attack. Her mind began to contemplate what she could have if she ate of the tree. Emotionally, she became attracted to the forbidden tree. Finally, she yielded her will and made the fatal choice to eat of the forbidden fruit.
Among the trees in the garden, two trees were of vital importance. The tree of life gave man access to life (Genesis 3:22). This tree was a symbol of man’s total dependence upon God. As long as man trusted and obeyed God, he could eat of this tree and live forever. The other tree (the tree of knowledge of good and evil) gave man freedom of will. By eating from this tree, man could choose to trust self and to declare his independence from God’s will. Adam and Eve made that fatal choice. The tragic result was that sin and death entered our world.
God had warned Adam that he would surely die in the day that he ate of the forbidden tree (Genesis 2:17). This is “the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2). Even though Adam and Eve continued to live physically for hundreds of years after their sin, in the very day they ate of the forbidden tree they died spiritually. Spiritual death is the separation of man’s spirit from God’s Holy Spirit because of sin. Sin contaminates the spirit of man and makes it impossible for God’s Holy Spirit to dwell within man (Isaiah 59:2).
God’s eyes are so holy that He cannot look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13), and His holy nature demands that He separate Himself from all sin. When man’s spirit becomes separated from God’s Spirit of life, he becomes a walking corpse, “dead in . . . trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Such was the condition of Adam and Eve following their sin in the Garden of Eden. They remained physically alive in the world, but they were spiritually dead to God.
All mankind inherits the physical consequences of Adam’s sin (disease, pain, physical death, etc.). However, the spiritual consequences of sin (eternal separation from God) can be experienced only through one’s personal participation in the guilt of sin (cf. Ezekiel 18:20). God’s Word declares that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
MAN WITHOUT CHRIST:
- The intellect becomes focused upon “the things of the flesh” (Romans 8:5–8) and “the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
- The emotions reflect “an evil, unbelieving heart” (Hebrews 3:12), dominated by the sordid “deeds of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19–21), “indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Ephesians 2:3).
- The will is devoted to self and sin, “doing whatever is right in his own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8), and “like sheep . . . gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
- The spirit is “dead in trespasses and sins,” indwelt by “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1, 2). It is “separate from Christ, . . . having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
The life lived outside of Christ is lived in rebellion to God and is devoted to enjoying “the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). Satan does offer pleasures to those who will live for self and sin, but God warns that such pleasures will pass and the day of accounting will come (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
The important lesson to learn from a study of man’s spiritual nature is that we have been created in such a way that either God or Satan will find a welcome dwelling place within our spirits. Let us set aside lifestyles that serve self and Satan, and allow God to dwell in us.