Understanding The Total Man

Every human being is made up of three important elements; a spirit, a soul and a body – this is what we call the total man. Paul mentions the whole of man in 1 Thes 5:23 confirming this distinction:

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.

Man as a whole is a very complex creature and much can be said about the different internal and external factors that influence man.

The spirit

In understanding the total man we’ll start by first focusing on man’s spirit. In today’s grammar, very often the words soul and spirit are used interchangeably to describe the part of man we can not physically see. However, there is an important distinction to make in understanding the function of the soul and the spirit. When God first created man ‘…He made man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.’ Gen 1:27.Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines image as an ‘exact likeness’ or ‘actual or apparent resemblance’ of something. The Hebrew word for image comes from a root word called ‘tselem’ which means to shade. Hence we are a shade or replica of whom God is. So does that mean that the whole of us, that is, the spirit, soul and body was created like God or just a specific part? To answer this we need to look at the nature of God. Jesus reveals to us God’s nature when he says ‘…God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth’ John 4:24 This clearly shows us that the image in which God has created man is primarily where our spirit has been created to be a likeness of God’s Spirit. Hence it is in our spirit in which the essence of life begins, and through our spirit we are able to communicate with God – that is, we are able to relate on a spiritual level.

The soul

Ok so where does our soul tie in to this? Well, God also has a soul. We learn this because in Psalm 11:5 it states ‘The Lord tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates’ Also in Proverbs 6:16‘These six things the Lord hates, yes seven are an abomination unto Him…’ That word ‘unto Him’ in the Hebrew language is ‘nephesh’ which means soul. So God is a spirit with a soul - the soul being the expressive part of the spirit. Hence in His spirit God can hate what is evil and love what is good, but through His soul He can express Himself. As we have been created in God’s image then we also are a spirit with a soul. Our spirit allows us to communicate with God on a spiritual level, and our soul allows us to express ourselves and communicate with the world on a mental or intellectual level. We are told in Genesis 2:7 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” So when God created man He breathed into Him spirit and his soul became alive. Our soul is where our mind, will and emotions reside. If fact the soul is very complex because the soul in itself can exist without a connection to the spirit. So one might be able to think on a mental or intellectual level but yet lack spiritual discernment. So in principle, the soul acts as a conduit, its purpose being to help communicate on earth and transfer information from the spirit to the body and from the body to the spirit.

The body

Our body is what we can see. We use our body to directly ‘interface’ or come into contact with the world. We do this through our five senses – what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Our bodies house our spirit and soul. Fundamentally our bodies are dirt! Genesis 2:7 Everything we use to sustain our physical bodies comes from the earth. That includes the food we eat and drink to even the clothes and health and beauty products we use. So the purpose of the human body is specifically to relate to and associate with the physical realm.


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