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What’s God like?

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19 Biblical images of God

Some things are invisible like the wind, electricity, gravity, atoms, gas, electromagnetic fields (such as X-rays, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves). We can’t see them, but we use many of them every day (such as the radio waves used by cell phones). God is also invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17).

Today we will see that multiple images are required to show us what God’s like.

Does God exist?

But some people think that God doesn’t exist. That He’s as real as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. They don’t believe the first verse of the Bible that says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1NIV). Instead they think that science has explained what used to be attributed to God.

But science can’t explain the origin of matter and energy. How something came from nothing. The ideas of the big bang and evolution can’t explain it. And it’s outside the laws of science. Also the origin of life is a mystery to science, they can’t create it in the laboratory without using cells from living creatures.

I think that God exists because something like us and the universe exists. God is the ultimate cause of the effects that we see around us. No one has come up with a better explanation yet. And God never attempts to prove His existence because, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).

The big picture

We’ll begin with some general aspects of God. As a creator is always greater than their creations, God is greater than us. More powerful and more intelligent.

The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: Father, Son and Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at God the Father.

God doesn’t have a body like us, He’s a spirit. The Bible says “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24). That’s why:
– God is invisible.
– God’s not limited in space and time like the physical world.
– We rely on God’s revelation in Scripture to learn about the spirit world.
– God doesn’t have a gender. God isn’t male or female, although we generally speak of God using male pronouns. Also when the Bible mentions God’s hand, ear, eyes and mouth, it’s a figure of speech (Dt. 33:27; 2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 59:1; Mt. 4:4;). We will see that the Bible uses lots of figures of speech to describe God. That’s one way of describing someone who is invisible.

Note that I write “someone” and not “something”. God isn’t a force or a principle. God is a person. A person has “personality”, a “soul” (Hebrew and Greek). They have a mind, emotions and a will. God has these (Ps. 78:41; 139:17; 1 Cor. 1:1). They are able to think about what they are doing (unlike animals and machines). They have relationships with other persons. Although the three “persons” of the godhead are united in the one being, they also relate to one another. They are divine persons.

Method

How can we know what God is like if He’s invisible? The best way is to look at what the Bible says about God because it’s a message from Him. It uses at least four kind of words to describe God: names, adjectives, verbs and metaphors.
– Names are titles.
– Adjectives are words that describe nouns or pronouns.
– Verbs are words that describe actions.
– Metaphors are figures of speech which compare two unrelated things. Like, “You’re an angel”, “Don’t be a pig”, “It wasn’t long before their relationship turned sour”.

Today we’re looking at images of God in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors because the Bible teems with metaphors.

Metaphors as images of God

These are powerful images which help to show who God is and what our relationship with God can be like. First; God is likened to certain people.

People

Father

God’s like a father. A kind and loving father. A father was the head of the household. He protected and provided for the needs of the family. And his sons inherited his wealth.

God the Father is the supreme sovereign of the universe because He created it (Eph. 4:6). The Israelites called Him Father because He created their nation (Dt. 32:5-6; Isa. 64:7-8; Mal. 2:10) and He continued to sustain them (Jer. 3:19; 31:9) and protect them (Isa. 63:16). They were like His children.

In God’s covenant with David, God said “I will be his (Solomon’s) father, and he will be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10). Later this verse was applied to Christ (Heb. 1:5). So the father-son relationship is a metaphor for both the relationship between God and His people, and God the Father and Jesus Christ.

As a father interacts with his children, God interacts with us. We can communicate with Him through prayer. Jesus told His disciples to pray “Father, hallowed be your name” ( Luke 11:2). In the parable of the lost son, God is like the father who welcomed his son back after he had wasted his inheritance (Lk. 15:11-32).

For Paul this fatherhood is based on the salvation He has made available in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul refers to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31). It’s through the work of Christ that God invites us to call him “Father”. And through Christ grace and peace have resulted and we have become God’s children with an inheritance (Rom. 8:12-17; 1 Pt. 1:3-4; 1 Jn. 3:1).

This metaphor, Father, is used so often that it’s a title of God. It’s appropriately masculine because God has given husbands authority in the family and elders authority in the church.

If God is like our father, then we are like God’s children. Like His sons, an inheritance awaits us. This image reminds us of God’s provision for us.

Mother

God’s also like a mother. A mother brings infants into the world and cares for them. Young children spend most of their time with their mother and feel secure with her.

God “gave birth” to the Israelites when he created their nation (Dt 32:18). He cared for them like a mother eagle cared for its young (Dt. 32:11-12). His love and care can be compared to that of a concerned, caring and comforting mother (Ps. 131:2; Isa. 49:14-16; 66:13).

If God is like our mother, then we are like God’s children. As His children, we can be secure. This image reminds us of God’s care and love for us.

Lord

God’s like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.

God’s rule and authority rests ultimately upon His creation and ownership of all things and all people. David said:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for He founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters” (Ps. 24:1-2)

God is the owner and governor of the whole earth (Ps. 97:5; 114:7; Isa. 1:24; Mt. 1:22; Mk. 5:19; Acts 7:33). That means He has authority over people whether they realize it or not. The psalmist uses “Lord” to honor God and express thanksgiving (Ps. 16:2; 57:9-10).

This metaphor is also used as a title of God in the both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Hebrew noun Adonai (Strongs #136) applies to someone of higher rank in society (Gen. 18:12). The master rules the servant and the servant submits to the master. The Greek noun kurios (#2962) means master (Mt. 1:20; 7:21; 18:27). It signifies power, authority, and ownership.

What’s the modern equivalent of “lord”? Sir? Master? Manager? Ruler? Captain? Commander? Chief? Leader? Boss?

If God is like our boss, then it’s like we’re under God’s rule. This image reminds us of God’s leadership and management.

Bridegroom

God’s like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.

The relationship between God and Israel is likened to that between a bridegroom and a bride (Isa. 54:5). Israel belonged to God. But Israel and Judah were unfaithful. This is illustrated by the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife.

The equivalent New Testament metaphor is that the church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband.

If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of God’s love for us.

King

God’s also like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority. In democratic countries like ours it’s difficult to imagine a king with absolute power and where there is no avenue for appeal.

God’s covenant with Moses was like a Suzerain-Vassal treaty. God was the Suzerain, the great king who promises to be Israel’s King and Protector. The ark of the covenant was His throne and the tabernacle/temple was His palace.

God was like Israel’s king (Ps. 5:2; 74:12; 95:3; 98:6; 145:1; Jer.10:10; Zeph. 3:15). He said, “I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King” (Isa. 43:15).

He is also like a king over all creation (Ps. 29:10; 47:2, 6-8; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 15:3; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16). “For God is the King of all the earth” (Ps. 47:7).

In the gospels, Jesus only once (Mt. 5:35) explicitly called God king and in the parables (Mt. 18:23; 22:2, 7, 11 13) He only indirectly calls God king. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt. 18:21-35), God is like the king who cancelled the servant’s debt. In the parable of the wedding banquet, God is like the king who invites people to his son’s wedding (Mt. 22:1-14). This shows God’s mercy and grace.

If God is like our king, we are like the subjects of His kingdom. This image reminds us of God’s authority and power. Eventually, God will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace.

Judge

God’s like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.

Abraham called God “the Judge of all” (Gen. 18:25). And David said, “God is a righteous judge” (Ps. 7:11). God was Israel’s Lawgiver and Judge (Isa. 33:22). Peter said that God “judges each person’s work impartially” (1 Pt. 1:17).

There’s good news and bad news. At the exodus, the Israelites were rescued, but the Egyptians were judged. In future, Christians will be rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ for their obedience and service (1 Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). This is because Jesus has already paid the penalty for their sinfulness. But, unbelievers will be judged and sentenced as guilty at the great white throne “according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:11-15). Meanwhile God is patiently waiting for people to repent and turn to follow Him because He doesn’t want anyone to face this judgment (2 Pt. 3:7-10).

If God is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.

Warrior

God’s also like a warrior. A warrior defends and protects against enemies.

After the exodus, the Israelites sang “The Lord is a warrior” (Ex. 15:3). David often pictured God as a warrior who delivered him from his enemies (Ps. 18:13-14). Nehemiah said, “Our God will fight for us!” (Neh. 4:20). God also defends the weak (Dt. 10:18; Ps. 10:14; 68:5-6; 146:7-9; 147:6). He is “the Mighty Warrior who saves” (Zeph. 3:17).

One of God’s titles is “Almighty” (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 21:22). This means He is all powerful (omnipotent).

Satan is our greatest enemy. But Jesus was God’s means of defeating Satan. And Jesus is also described as a warrior (Rev. 19:11-21).

If God is like a warrior, then we are like those needing deliverance from Satan. This image reminds us of God’s power to defend and protect.

Potter

God’s like a potter. A potter makes pottery out of clay. The pottery displays the potter’s creative skill. They make a work of art from a lump of clay. Isaiah said,
“you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8)

The potter can do what they want with the clay. For example, Jeremiah said that the fate of Judah was up to God, like the fate of the clay is in the potter’s hands (Jer. 18:1-10). As the clay doesn’t question the potter, we shouldn’t question God (Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Rom. 9:21). As the clay is at the mercy of the potter, we also rely of God’s mercy.

If God is like a potter, then we are like the clay. This image reminds us of God’s creativity and sovereignty.

Shepherd

God’s also like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep.

In Old Testament times God chose a nation of people, the Israelites, to follow and obey Him. The picture that’s used is of God being their shepherd; “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock” (Ps. 80:1; Jer:31:10). He would lead them and care for them and they were to follow where He led. The imagery of a shepherd and his flock provided a picture of the way God cared for His people

David said, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). The shepherd sustains and guides the sheep (Ps. 23:1-4; 28:9). Ezekiel contrasts selfish leaders (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God’s leadership (Ezek. 34:11-16). Isaiah described God’s deliverance of the Jews from exile as:
“He tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in His arms
and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).

If God is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of God’s loving leadership.

Gardener

God’s like a gardener. A gardener cares for plants.

In the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as God’s vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7). A failed grape harvest was a symbol of Israel’s disobedience, rebellion and idolatry. In the New Testament, Jesus is pictured as the true vine, believers are the branches and God the Father is the gardener (Jn. 15:1-8). God prunes us to be more fruitful.

If God is like a gardener, then we are like the branches of a plant. This image reminds us of God’s loving care.

Second; God is likened to some animals.

Animals

Lion

God’s like a lion. A lion is a predator that rules the land.

God’s judgement of Israel and Judah (Hos. 5:14; 13:7-8) and ungodly nations (Jer. 25:37-38; 49:19; 50:44) is likened to the devastation caused by a lion.

If God is like a lion, then His judgment should be feared. This image reminds us of God’s punishment of sin.

Eagle

God’s like an eagle. An eagle is a majestic bird that rules the sky.

After the exodus, God helped the Israelites like an eagle helps its young to fly (Dt. 32:11). God is like an eagle, He covers us, shelters us (Ps. 36:7, 63:7, 91:3-4) and hides us (Ps. 17:8).

The Psalmist wrote, “Surely He (God) will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:3-4).

If God is like an eagle, then he can provide refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.

Third; God is likened to some inanimate things.

Inanimate things

Light

God’s like a light: “God is light; in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Light is the opposite of darkness. In the Bible, light symbolizes purity and goodness, and darkness signifies evil and sin. So God is pure, righteous and holy.

Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps. 119:105). Light reveals things. It shows us what’s ahead. It this case the Bible shows God’s truth.

David said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1). Here “light” is associated with deliverance from one’s enemies.

God will be the “everlasting light” in the new Jerusalem (Isa. 60:19-20). He will be the source of all truth and righteousness.

If God is like a light, then He can show us the truth and the way to go. This image also reminds us of God’s holiness.

Rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield

God’s also like a rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield. These are used for protection against enemies.

Ancient cities and fortresses were often built on rocky hills. David hid in these areas to avoid his enemies. When he praised God for deliverance from his enemies, David said, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).

This image is associated with safety and security (Dt. 32:4, 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:2, 32, 47; Ps. 18:2; 31:3; 62:2; 71:3; 78:35; Isa. 17:10). A more direct metaphor is to say that God is like a refuge: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27; Ps. 46:1).

If God is like a rock, then he can provide a safe refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.

Fire

God’s like a fire. A fire burns and consumes whatever is combustible.

When the Israelites were warned against idolatry, they were told “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Dt. 4:24). This shows God’s righteous anger against the sin of unfaithfulness and disobedience. The same imagery is used to express how God will destroy the Canaanites because of their wickedness (Dt. 9:3). The consuming fire is a symbol of God’s judgement of sin (Isa. 29:6; 30:27, 30; 33:14). Today God is like a consuming fire to all who refuse to listen to Him and is to be worshipped with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:29).

Ezekiel had an image of God as a man full of fire surrounded by brilliant light (Ezek. 1:26-28). God’s presence is often symbolically revealed in the form of fire and light (Ex. 13:21; 19:18; 4:17; 40:34, 38; Isa. 66:15). They are symbols of God’s holiness, which can’t tolerate any sin.

If God is like a fire, then His awesome holiness means that He will judge everything that is contrary to this holiness. This image reminds us of God’s judgement of sin.

Tree

God’s like a tree. A tree has flowers and fruit.

God told Israel that “your fruitfulness comes from me”, because He was “like a flourishing juniper tree” (Hos. 14:8). This tree is evergreen, its leaves don’t fall off in winter. Its fruit is a pine cone that’s the source of nuts. As the tree provides the nuts, so God is the source of Israel’s blessings.

If God is like a tree, then Israel was like His fruit. This image reminds us that God sustains His people.

Fourth; God is likened to certain attributes.

Attributes

Beginning and the end

God’s like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 21:6). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. As God will also be there at the end, He rules over all human history.

If God is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that God is eternal.

Love

God’s loving (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). In particular, He loves His people (Dt. 7:8, 13).

This kind of love is described as, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).

It means that God doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Instead, He has shown His love in this way, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:16-17).

If God is loving, then people are the objects of His love. This image reminds us that Jesus was God’s love gift to us. Have you accepted God’s gift? This kind of love drives out fear of judgment (1 Jn. 4:18).

Savior

God’s a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.

Because David was often saved from his enemies, he wrote “Our God is a God who saves” (Ps. 68:20). God sees and watches all of us (Ps. 33:13-14). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.

If God is a savior, then people are the ones He rescues. This image reminds us that God sent Jesus to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued yet?

God’s also like an eyelid, a builder, physician and teacher (Dt. 32:10; Ps. 103:3; 119:33; 147:2; Isa. 28:26).

Summary

We have looked at several images of God from the Bible. Different images highlight different characteristics of God. If God was on Facebook, He could choose between these profile pictures because He:
What is God like collage 400pxProvides like a father
Cares and loves like a mother
Manages like a boss
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Defends and protects like a warrior
Creates like a potter
Leads like a shepherd
Prunes like a gardener
Punishes like a lion
Illuminates and is pure and holy like a light
Protects like an eagle and a rock
Judges sin like a fire
Sustains his people, like a tree provides fruit
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is always there
Loves everyone

So God can meet all our needs. In response, do we:
Live like a child of God?
Feel secure in God’s love?
Follow God’s instructions?
Have a close relationship with God?
Respect God’s reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our sentence?
Realize that Satan is defeated?
Acknowledge that God made us?
Follow God’s leading and guidance?
Accept God’s discipline?
Fear God’s punishment?
Feel safe in God’s salvation?
Recognize God’s sustenance?
Realize God’s presence?

So multiple images are required to show us what God is like. But I’ve left the best image till last. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God.

Written, February 2016

Also see: What’s Jesus like?
What’s the Holy Spirit like


The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?

Paul wrote that he had been “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4NIV). In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and is used in three contexts: the earth’s atmosphere (Mt. 6:26), the realm of the stars (Heb. 11:12) and God’s dwelling place (Mt. 6:9; 12:50). So “paradise” is another name for the “heaven” where God is; they are synonyms. Furthermore, the term “third heaven” doesn’t mean that there are three levels or stages of heaven.

When Jesus died He committed His spirit to God the Father who lives in heaven (Lk. 23:46). This was soon after He told the good thief, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43). So Jesus and the good thief both went to heaven after they died. As their bodies were placed in graves, the part of them that went to heaven was their spirit and soul.

When Lazarus died, “angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22). For a Jew to be with Abraham would be a place of bliss. If the setting of the story is after Christ’s resurrection, “Abraham’s side” is synonymous with heaven. If the setting is earlier, then we need to look at the Old Testament. At the end of his life on earth, “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Ki. 2:11). Although Elijah went to heaven without dying, this seems to indicate that at this time heaven would also be the destiny of the soul of the righteous after death, which supports “Abraham’s side” being synonymous with heaven. On the other hand, some say that the righteous of the Old Testament only went to heaven at Christ’s ascension. However, the passages they use to support this view are addressing Christ’s ascension and incarnation (Eph. 4:8-10) and His resurrection (Acts 2:27, 31), not events in the spirit world.

The three phases of the Christian’s life is described in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. They are:

  • When alive on earth, their spirit and soul are united with their body. This phase is ended by death when the spirit and soul separate from the body (Eccl. 12:6-7).
  • Between death and the rapture, the spirit and soul are with Christ in heaven and the remains of the body are on earth.
  • At the rapture, the body is resurrected and changed and reunited with the spirit and soul in heaven.

For the believer, death is described as being “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul said that “to die is gain” because it meant being “with Christ” (Phil. 1:21-23). Therefore, when Christians die their spirit and soul immediately go to be with Christ in heaven.

Written, June 2012

Also see: What is paradise?


The unseen world of the human spirit and soul

We are often unaware of the unseen invisible component to our world. I sometimes picture this as being like an extra dimension. For example, if we lived in a flat 2-dimensional world and someone visited us from a 3-dimensional world, then we would only see their footprints.

According to the Bible the unseen world is made up of various personalities: the divine God comprised of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God’s angels who help believers; Satan who opposes God; and Satan’s demons who are rebellious angels. We are only partially aware of these personalities; like the footprints of a 3-dimensional being in a 2-dimensional world. Let’s look at the human spirit and soul which is another part of the unseen world that can be influenced by these divine and satanic personalities.

Three components

The Bible describes human beings as being comprised of spirit, soul and body: “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” (1 Th. 5:23NIV). The meanings of these Greek words are given below and their relationship is shown in the schematic diagram.

‘Pneuma’, which means ‘wind’, something which is invisible, is used to describe the spirit[1]. The human spirit enables our conscience, intuition, God consciousness and communication with God (Mk. 2:8; Jn. 4:24; Rom. 8:16; 9:1). It is the spirit which distinguishes us from animals; they do not have such an eternal spirit. It is a way in which people are “made in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27; Jn. 4:24). We can view the human spirit as our innermost world.

‘Psuche’ (the origin of the English word ‘psyche’), which means ‘breath’, something which is invisible, is used to describe the soul[2]. It is our self consciousness, personality and ego. It includes the mind (our intellect, Acts 14:2, 22), the will (our desires, decisions and morals, Mt. 22:37) and the emotions (our feelings). We can view this as being between our spirit and our body. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between the spirit and the soul (Heb. 4:12).

‘Soma”, which means the body. It is sense consciousness, which relates to the physical world. We can view the spirit and soul as living within the body.

The processes of death and resurrection reveal important aspects of the components of human beings. The Bible describes these aspects as the body (which is visible) and the spirit and soul (which are invisible). At death, the visible and invisible aspects are separated: the spirit and soul leave the body and go to Hades or paradise, while the body decays to dust (Eccl. 12:7; Lk. 23: 43,46; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 5;8; Jas. 2:26). After death the spirit and the soul are fully conscious with feelings memories and emotions (Lk. 16:23-31). Also, Paul was fully conscious when he was translated to paradise (2 Cor. 12:2,3). So death is not the end of a human being. The Bible teaches that all the dead will be resurrected back to life. Resurrection is the opposite of death, being the reunion of the spirit and soul with a new body (Dan. 12:2; Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:5,6,13).

Creation

The first people, Adam and Eve were each created as a body in union with a soul and spirit. All these parts interrelate and depend on each other; this is essential for healthy physical life. For example, the brain (part of the body) is like computer hardware and the mind (part of the soul) in like computer software that programs the brain. People need both. You only have one without the other in death.

Adam and Eve’s soul and spirit were in union with God. They freely spoke with God in the Garden of Eden. They were in paradise on earth where there was safety and security (all their needs were catered for); significance (they ruled over the creation); and authority (Adam named the creatures). They had a sense of belonging, with fulfilling relationships with God and with each other.

The fall into sin

Adam and Eve’s rebellion and disobedience began in their mind (Gen. 3:5-6). Satan sowed doubt in their mind and they desired more knowledge and wisdom. This led to a radical change in our world (Gen. 3:8-4:9). Some of the consequences in our unseen world are described below.

Their spirit was dead to God. They lost their close relationship with God and came under Satan’s influence. They died spiritually when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Consequently, they were banished from the Garden and lost their safety and security and their sense of belonging (Gen. 3: 23,24). Just as we have inherited physical life from our first parents, we have also inherited this spiritual death from them (Eph. 2:1-3). Today the unbeliever is without God and separate from Christ (Eph. 2:12; 4:18).

Their mind lost knowledge of God. They thought they could hide from God (Gen. 3:8). They were the first example of the ungodly who “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Eph. 4:18).

Their will made a wrong choice. They failed the first test of obedience (Gen. 2:17). They refused the rule of the spirit and became the slave of the body (Gal. 5:16-17). All choices have consequences. The choices made by the ungodly affect all areas of their lives.

Their emotions were characterised by negative feelings. Adam hid because he was afraid (Gen. 3:10). They felt shame and guilt and Cain was angry and depressed when his offering was not accepted by God (Gen. 3:7; 4:5). The ungodly are characterised by “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Gal. 5:19-21).

The Bible describes unbelievers as being “psuchikos”, which means “governed by the soul” (1 Cor. 2:14; Jude 19). As there is no adjective for “soul” in English that is equivalent to this Greek word, some have suggested we call it “soulish”. This means that that they are largely driven by their minds and emotions. But what influences their minds and emotions? As they are spiritually dead, it is not God. The only other active personalities in the unseen world are Satan and his demons. This results in “soulish” behaviour such as jealousy and selfish ambition (Jas. 3:14-16).

“Psuchikos” is also used to describe our bodies (1 Cor. 15:44,46). This means that we were born with a body that is governed by the soul and not by a spirit that is alive to God.

The spiritual believer

God’s plan of salvation is to restore His relationship with people that was destroyed by their fall into sin. This begins at conversion when the human spirit changes to become united with God’s Spirit. This is like a new creation, which changes the soul (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). It leads to the following changes within a believer, who is described as being spiritual, not soulish (1 Cor. 2:15).

Their spirit is alive to God. Their spirit has been made alive by the Holy Spirit, the Lord is with their spirit and they live according to God in regard to the spirit (Jn. 3:6; 2 Tim. 4:22; 1 Pt. 4:6). They are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18). This is associated with forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38), safety, significance and belonging because they are accepted as children of God (Rom. 8:16; 15:7).

Their mind is renewed and transformed. They should be transformed by the renewing of their mind (Rom. 12:2). They have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) and should be single-minded thinking of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).

Their will chooses to live by the Spirit. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Now we face many choices each day: whether to pray or not, read the Bible or not, go to church or not, talk to another or not, and follow God or not.

Their emotions are the fruit of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

The spiritual believer is the ideal, the model of maturity to which we should be growing. Of course, Satan opposes the believer’s growth to maturity. Some Scriptures use the words “soul” and “spirit” in similar senses, which can be confusing. Maybe this is because in the mature Christian the spirit should be ruling and leading the soul. So in a sense they are similar.

The soulish believer

Unfortunately this is not always the case in practice because when we become a Christian the “clear” button in our brain is not always pressed: our mind is not completely renewed. We have ingrained “soulish” habits and patterns of behaviour that still appeal to our mind to operate independently of God. This is because Satan and sin are still around in our world. As shown below, this can affect all the parts of our being.

Their spirit is alive to God, but quenched. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers, but He can be quenched. Paul wrote “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th. 5:19).

Their mind is double-minded and selfish. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (Jas. 1:5-8). We can be caught between God’s plans and our plans when we are not following God’s Spirit. Our plans can be influenced by sinful habits and Satan.

Their will chooses sinful behavior. They will not always be walking after the Spirit but choosing to be involved in sinful activity.

Their emotions are unstable and they rely on their feelings. They are plagued with negative feelings of guilt, worry, doubt, inferiority, insecurity and inadequacy. If fear is controlling our life, then faith is not.

In this case, their life is not being controlled by the indwelling Spirit of God. Instead, as shown below, the soul is governing the life through the mind, will and emotions. It is self-centred. We can only tell which is controlling their lives by its fruits (Mt. 7:16-17).

The soulish mind, will and emotions

The mind. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual (‘psuchikos’ or ‘soulish’), demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (Jas. 3:13-16). In this case the human mind is being influenced by Satan. It is characterised by selfish ambition and rivalry and leads to disorder and evil. It is a great contrast to the spiritual believer who is peace-loving, considerate and impartial (Jas. 3:17-18).

The will. “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings” (1 Cor. 3:3-4)? They are described as being “sarkikos” (v.3), which means “of the flesh” (or body) rather than being spiritual. Here we see that people were following other people rather than the Holy Spirit within them. Those with strong wills and strong personalities can dominate others. This can lead to jealousy, quarrelling and factions within the church (Jude 19).

The emotions. We should live by faith, not by feelings. Emotions should not dominate our life. We should follow the Holy Spirit and not attempt to lead the Holy Spirit by our emotions. Are we always seeking spiritual experiences? Do we always need to feel the presence of God with us?

Our mind and our emotions are important parts of our being. We need to use them for God. Who ever influences our mind, influences our whole person. The Bible is the best influence as “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Here the word “heart” means the “seat of thoughts” (Vine), which is the mind.

Lessons for us

Each of us is a spirit who has a soul and lives in a body. Let’s not fall into Satan’s traps, but let God direct our ways so that we can be strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being and renewed inwardly day by day (2 Cor 4:16; Eph. 3:16). Finally, “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” (1 Th. 5:23).


1 In Scripture, the Greek word ‘pneuma’ (spirit) is also used for evil spirits or demons (Mk. 6:7; Acts 19:16). Words convey a variety of meanings; the context determines a word’s meaning.

2 In Scripture, the Greek word ‘psuche’ (soul) is also used for ‘life’ (Mt. 16:26) and the will (Mt. 22:37).

Written, 2004