Never Mind?

I had a conversation the other day with someone who was making the point that we have to use our spirits and not our souls to know things. At one level, I agreed with this person about that. In case you aren’t familiar with the distinction, I should clarify that I run in circles where folks distinguish between a person’s spirit and his/her soul. The distinction is biblically based, although I see no regularity to how different New Testament writers use these two terms in relation to one another. There are a few instances where the two seem to be equated, and there are other instances where they are spoken of as separate things.

Unfortunately, the Greco-Roman roots of our heritage predispose us to think, like Aristotle, in terms of parts or substances when we turn inward to contemplate the age-old question, “What is Man?” So when we think about the difference between soul and spirit, we think about two separate parts or substances of ourselves (which are not so easily separated from one another) in addition to our physical substance (our bodies). In case you’re interested, a person who subdivides human nature into three parts like this is called a “trichotomist.” Aren’t we all glad there’s a name for it!

To illustrate my point, you can check out how some of the greatest writers along this line interpret Hebrews 4:12, where the writer says that the Word of God can penetrate to the division of soul and spirit. Grammatically, this verse simply says that both soul and spirit (i.e. the deepest reaches of our selves) are laid open by the discerning movements of God in our hearts. However, many of my favorite writers have argued at one point or another that this verse teaches that our soul must be separated from our spirit in order for God to do His deeper work in our hearts. Much is made of this separation, and one is left with the impression in the end that our spirits must be active while the rest of ourselves must somehow be uninvolved.

But just try to imagine any meanigful activity within our hearts that does not involve the rest of us. It doesn’t actually work that way. Our minds and our emotions and our wills are involved in every interaction between God’s Spirit and ours. I’m not saying that they are completely indistinguishable; in fact I’d argue (as I have elsewhere before) that it’s important for us to understand some kind of a distinction between our spirits (which are not dependent upon our brains or hormones or other natural faculties) and our souls (which are the product of those things). But believing in a distinction between soul and spirit does not necessitate that we divorce the one from the other as if one were legitimate and the other were not. To do so would unnecessarily restrict life to a fraction of what it should become.

I think our minds, emotions, and wills need to be engaged in our relationships with God and with each other. Personally, I find that if I neglect my mind for long periods of time, I eventually experience a disconnect from which it is difficult to recover. I periodically move into this strange kind of detachment from my own spiritual life, I guess similar to an out of body experience, in which I’m outside of myself looking down upon myself wonder what all the fuss is about. I wonder if anyone else has had a similar problem. What I’m saying is that my mind needs to be engaged in my spiritual life or eventually my spiritual life will grow to become irrelevant to the rest of my life. And that just won’t do.

For the record, I still believe that my spirit is the only thing that can access the things of God. My spirit is made to interact with God’s Spirit, and my spirit is something over and above my natural faculties (intelligence, passions, determination, and senses). I must never conclude that simply because I have engaged my brain or my emotions I have therefore done a spiritual act. But on the other hand, I cannot conceive of a spiritual activity without the necessary involvement of the rest of me.

So I will follow what I believe is the Lord’s guidance into seeking, searching, and questioning things as they arise in my life. I will not suppose that to pursue these things as the drive to do so compels me will somehow draw me away from my spiritual life. On the contrary, I find these things eventually settle me back into the arms of the One that made me a curious person to begin with. He is patient with His children, and He knows what makes us tick. He will use these things to bring us ever closer into the center of Himself.


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9 Responses to “Never Mind?”

  1. J. Samuel Thomas Says:

    Yeah…I could see someone saying that your post here is a product of your soul…usurping the leading of your spirit.


    What do they do with a verse like “being renewed in your mind…”

    I think the “untangling” of our spirit and soul is important.

    They are often like two strongmen wrestling for power…a tangled mess on the mat until one of them submits.

    When the soul submits to the power of our spirit, they both stand up and the soul becomes the student of the spirit…

  2. Jeremy Uriz Says:

    I could be speaking from immaturity *which i will readily concede* but the entire discussion gives the appearance that operating from our spirits, souls, or minds is as easy as flipping a switch. It also asumes that we can readily know the difference like distinguishing black from white.

    As far as operating from my spirit, the only time I know I’m operating from my spirit is when I “know” it. I would say it’s more akin to instinct than anything else. And if you really want to get into the nitty gritty I don’t really KNOW until after the fact.

    And since we are bandying about terms and ideas who’s to say that God does not use our minds through the operation of His Spirit?
    I have a feeling that Paul’s mind was quite active while he wrote the letters we now possess. I also have a hunch that his soul was stirred while writing to the churches mentioned in Galatians.

    I will be so bold as to say that this distinction is no different than those who tell us we must operate from the Word (scripture)and do all things according to it’s mandates.

    To live is Christ. Are we alive?

  3. Jeremy Uriz Says:

    By the way Neil, I think I agree with you. Some things you write of are hard to understand…

  4. Matt Says:

    Those durned Greeks! I’m not going to worry about it too much. It’s definitely a good thing to engage all of yourself in the loving of Christ in all ways mentally, physically, emotionally. But even those “-ly” adverbs take the meaning out of it somehow. If anything, problems for me seem to arise when I focus on the parts, like you said.

  5. Thomas Says:

    Coming from a similar background of splitting (wo)man in three, I have wondered about this now and then. The only thing we know for sure is that God created us as/with bodies. I tend to think of all attempts at separating human nature in parts as more or less successful pedagogical metaphors. The problem is that the assumption tend to run in pack with other assumptions – eg that the body is something to neglect, or that God can not use our intellect… The possible good thing is that it provides some kind of language enabling us to talk about difficult issues: how is it that we have to live with such conflicting ‘forces’ (of lust, of doubt, of worship) in our (redeemed) lives?

  6. brittianbullock Says:

    Hey Neil, interesting post…there has been much discussion here in the Vancouver church about this same topic… Anyhow, if you feel like it check out, where I attempt to address some of these things, perhaps from a slightly different point of view.
    Also a very good book that has some of these principles in them and is very practicle is called “The Cross and The Self” by Bill Freeman.
    See ya

  7. Herobill Says:

    You know, what I think is… DOH!

    I just feel like it’s… DOH-DOH!!




  8. J. Samuel Thomas Says:


    Looks like, after a minor struggle with your soul, that your spirit subdued him after all!

    heh heh…

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Hey y’all I just “happened by” while checking out This topic caught my eye and I was impressed with the cleverness of grammar and reality in the title -(especially the “?”).

    I like “pictures” and “types” in scripture, yet realize we can’t get too carried away in taking them too far. I do believe God provided us these conceptual tools to help us in grasping His heart, wisdom, and heavenly kingdom design.

    Seems like I read somewhere that the Greek mind focuses on an “EITHER/OR” platform, but Hebrew thinkers take in the “BOTH” possibilty. God however, seems to go a step further and not only include the “both” concept but introduces the paradoxal idea that two contradicting concepts can both be possible when it comes to spiritual reality in this practical world.

    The wilderness tabernacle (personally conceived and designed by God) is one of those “pictures” of both trichotomy and dichotomy.
    It had the divisions, outer court (body), holy place (soul) and holiest place (spirit). However, at the same time, it only consisted of an outer, and inner court (inner court shared the same animal skins coverings). The inner court was separated by a thin veil. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil was rent just as Christ body was rent (broken) for us.

    Isn’t that KULE?!!

    I enjoy these kind of discussions. I call it playing in “left field.” Thanks y’all for letting me play with ya.


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