Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.
Human beings are complicated. Each one of us is unique; we come from various backgrounds and have different personalities.
But with respect to how God created us, we’re actually all the same. The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 that we were all created with three parts—a spirit, a soul, and a body:
“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.”
In this post we’ll read an extremely helpful note on this verse in the New Testament Recovery Version to help us understand these three parts.
The three parts of man
Let’s take a look at note 5 on 1 Thessalonians 5:23 in the Recovery Version. Since this is a lengthy note, we’ll read it in sections.
The first part of the note says:
“This word strongly indicates that man is of three parts: spirit, soul, and body. The spirit as our inmost part is the inner organ, possessing God-consciousness, that we may contact God (John 4:24; Rom. 1:9).”
The human spirit is the deepest part of a person. By means of this innermost part, we can contact God in the spiritual realm. No other creature was created by God with this third part.
Now let’s read the next section of the note, which explains our soul:
“The soul is our very self (cf. Matt. 16:26; Luke 9:25), a medium between our spirit and our body, possessing self-consciousness, that we may have our personality.”
Our soul perceives things in the psychological realm. In fact, in Greek—the original language of the New Testament—the word for soul is psuche, which is also the root word of psychology.
Our soul is our personality, who we are. With our soul we think, reason, consider, remember, and wonder. We experience emotions like happiness, love, sorrow, anger, relief, and compassion. And we’re able to resolve, choose, and make decisions.
Now let’s read the next section about our body and how our three parts are related:
“The body as our external part is the outer organ, possessing world-consciousness, that we may contact the material world. The body contains the soul, and the soul is the vessel that contains the spirit.”
Our body exists in and contacts the tangible things of the material world using our five physical senses. The body is the visible, external part of our being, and it contains the soul. Our soul is the vessel containing our spirit.
Below is a simple diagram of three concentric circles illustrating these three parts. It shows the body as our outer, visible part; the soul as our inward part; and our spirit as our innermost, hidden part.
God’s intention for the three parts of man
Now let’s read the last section of the note, which explains God’s intention for all three parts of our being:
“In the spirit, God as the Spirit dwells; in the soul, our self dwells; and in the body, the physical senses dwell. God sanctifies us, first, by taking possession of our spirit through regeneration (John 3:5-6); second, by spreading Himself as the life-giving Spirit from our spirit into our soul to saturate and transform our soul (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18); and last, by enlivening our mortal body through our soul (Rom. 8:11, 13) and transfiguring our body by His life power (Phil. 3:21).”
God’s intention concerning us is that we would contain and express Him. But to express God, we need to be filled with Him. When we believed in Jesus Christ, we received Him and were regenerated, or born again, in our spirit. But He doesn’t want to only fill our spirit. That’s just the beginning.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 tells us, “The God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly.” He sanctifies us by spreading into and saturating our whole being, starting from our spirit, continuing into our soul, and eventually including our body. By being wholly filled with God in every part of our being, God can be expressed through us.
Our cooperation with God’s saturating
How can we cooperate with God’s intention to saturate our whole being with Himself?
Exercising our spirit is the key. Not only does our spirit have the ability to contact and fellowship with God, it’s also the place where He lives in us. We can turn to Him in our spirit to live by His life. By means of our spirit we can also receive more of Christ each day. From this “base” of His operation in us, He can then spread into our soul. The more we receive Christ by exercising, or using, our spirit, the more God will have a way to spread into our soul.
We can daily exercise our spirit by calling upon the name of the Lord, reading and even praying with God’s Word to be spiritually nourished, and obeying Him. The more we exercise our spirit, the more we allow the God of peace to continue spreading in us and saturating us. Then we’ll be able to express God to everyone around us.
The New Testament Recovery Version has a number of other enlightening notes on 1 Thessalonians 5:23, including an important one on how God preserves our spirit, soul, and body complete. If you live in the United States, you can order a free copy of the New Testament Recovery Version here. We encourage you to read the notes and the verses they reference to gain a fuller understanding of what we’ve discussed in this post.
The book The Economy of God is another invaluable resource on the subject of the parts of man. You can read the details in chapters 6 and 7 in the book, which you can download for free from anywhere in the world here.
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