Understanding What It Means to Walk According to the Spirit
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What is man? What makes him so special? Or is he special? Those are questions that have perplexed philosophers and others for thousands of years and continue to be debated today.
I can recall in a college zoology class we were having a discussion of the evolutionary development of man, and one of the topics was what separates man from the animals. There were many ideas, but none of them seemed very satisfactory. One of the more popular ideas was that of the opposing thumb on the hand, i.e. the position of the thumb allowed man to make and use tools, and that difference elevated him above the animals.
Today there is a hotly raging debate over the question of how man came to be, whether he evolved from some lesser form of life or was created by God. How one answers that question has a tremendous impact, not only in education and public policy, but in the life of Christians and the church.
It should not come as any surprise that the Bible speaks to that very question. Even the psalmist asks, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? (Ps 8:4, KJV) The Bible has much to say on both the nature of man and the nature of God. My purpose here is not to explore the nature of God, but rather to explore mankinds nature.
A good place to start is at the beginning. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, the book of beginnings, gives a detailed account of how all things, including mankind, came to be. There have been many who have challenged and discounted the creation account as myth, and thus not to be taken seriously. As a scientist I have been studying the Biblical creation account from a scientific perspective for many years, and the more I study the more convinced I am of its scientific and historical accuracy. More recently, however, as I have
been teaching this subject, I have begun to see a more significant part of the account what it means to be created in the image of God.
The first chapter of Genesis, through to Genesis 2:4, is of special interest in this regard. There is strong textual evidence to suggest that book of Genesis itself is made up of a series of eyewitness accounts that were carefully preserved and assembled together by a single editor, Moses.1 The text of Genesis 2:4 would indicate that this section is attributable to God Himself, and it thus it stands as the ultimate authoritative statement on origins and Gods design.
Gods Divine Design
It is in Genesis 1 that we see Gods design for man. The chapter opens with the well-known phrase: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NASB) The word created is a translation of the Hebrew bara, which carries the meaning to create out of nothing, ex nihilo. That is, where before there was nothing, now there is now something. Throughout the Old Testament the use of the word bara is almost always applied directly to God.
In this chapter bara appears three distinct times:
Each of these instances, therefore, represents the creation of something that did not exist before. They also include all that was created earlier.
The first time bara is used the physical universe, that is, all matter, is created. The following verses expand on that a bit: light (v. 3), the expanse (v. 6), dry land (v.9), vegetation (v.11), planets and stars (v.14) all come into being. All of these things are just matter in one form or another.
In terms of Gods design for man, this represents his physical being, i.e. the body. Our bodies are made up of the same type of matter oxygen, carbon, etc. that constitutes the earth and the universe. As God said to Adam, For you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19b)
The second time bara occurs is on day 5 when God creates every living creature. The important word here is not living. God did not need to create life; He is life. There is no life apart from Him. Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6 NASB) The very presence of God brings life.
Instead the important word is every. All creatures share a common attribute: a soul. What separates living creatures from matter, and thus required an act of creation, is the soul. The soul is made up of three distinct parts: the mind, i.e. the ability to think; the will, i.e. the ability to make decisions; and the emotions, i. e. the ability to react to the surroundings. Anyone who has worked around animals, particularly training them, knows that they have all the characteristics of a soul.
Finally, on day 6, God created man. Again, bara is used. God did something different when He created man that makes him totally unique, and thus special, in Gods design. It is important to understand that although man has a soul his mind, will and emotions that is not what separates him from the animals. It is not his superior intelligence or any other characteristic of the soul that makes him special. If that were the case, then mankind would be nothing more than a super animal.
The Bible tells us that God created man in His own image, and this is what makes man special. There have been many misunderstandings of what that means. Although the Bible speaks of the face of God and His hands, even His fingers, that does not mean that God somehow looks like us. The key to interpreting what it means to be created in the image of God is found in John 4:24, where Jesus, speaking to the woman of Samaria, says, God is spirit.
When God created mankind in the person of Adam, He gave him a body that was made of the same material as the rest of creation, and He gave him a soul somewhat like that of all the other creatures. Then God created a spirit that was like Him, in His image and of His nature, and placed it in man. This spirit, then, is what made man unique. Because this spirit was of the same nature as God it was not limited in its ability to communicate and fellowship with God. In his innocent state, before sin entered, man had perfect communion with God. In fact, that may be why God created man.
Jerry Coulter, in the first chapter of his marvelous book titled Beholding and Becoming, talks about the fellowship (koinonia) within the Godhead:
But we know that the Three in One were together. And that matter of their being together is fellowship. As an experience, koinonia existed from the very beginning. Its what the Godhead did. It is probable that when the Godhead created, one of their reasons for creation was to expand koinonia. The Father and Son beheld one anothers glory and desired to expand that glory. The Father desired a bride for His Son.2
God create man in His own image so that He could expand the kind of fellowship that existed in Heaven among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to include a potentially unlimited extent.
I want to be very clear in the way that I use the words spirit, soul, and by extension, heart.
Most of the popular culture today looks at man as being of two parts: soul and body. The term spirit, or human spirit, is most often used loosely to refer to a variety of things, and in most cases is actually used to refer to matters of the soul.
We need to have a paradigm shift concerning how we view mankind. Instead of viewing man primarily as either an animal raised to a higher level of consciousness or a being endowed with a superior intelligence we need to see that God designed him to be a spiritual being. I want to draw a sharp distinction between spirit and soul because I believe those two concepts have been blurred in recent years.
The Biblical use of spirit is that which relates to God; that is, spirit is eternal and is of the same nature as God. In both the Hebrew (ruwach) in the Old Testament and the Greek (pnuema) in the New Testament the word translated as spirit has the root meaning of breath or wind. We often think of that which is spiritual as having no physical substance, such as angels, but when God created man He created him a physical being with a spirit.
Throughout the Bible spiritual beings are often referred as sons of God, and in two specific cases in the singular as son of God. When used in the plural the reference is to either angelic (or demonic) beings (e.g. Gen 6:2,4; Job 1:6) or Christians (e.g. Rom 8:14; Gal 3:26). The singular use only occurs in the New Testament and with one exception refers to Jesus. That exception is found in Luke 3:38, which is the lineage of Jesus, where Adam is referred to as the son of God.
One of the characteristics of spirit is that, because it is of the same nature as God, it is eternal. The Bible is clear that everything that we know as physical is going to be destroyed and replaced some day. Peter writes, for example, that the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment3, and in Revelation we have the image of a new heaven and a new earth, since the first heaven and the first earth passed away.4 That which is spiritual, however, will be preserved.
It is generally agreed that the soul5 consists of three parts: the mind (the ability to think and reason), the will (the ability to make decisions) and the emotions. Watchman Nee gives as good a description of these three faculties as any I have read:
That which constitutes mans personality are the three main faculties of volition, mind and emotion. Volition is the instrument for our decisions, revealing our power to choose. It expresses our willingness or unwillingness: we will or we wont. Without it, man is reduced to an automaton. Mind, the instrument for out thoughts, manifests our intellectual power. Out of this arise wisdom, knowledge and reasoning. Lack of it makes a man foolish and dull. The instrument for our likes and dislikes is the faculty of emotion. Through it we are able to express love or hate and to feel joyful, angry, sad or happy. Any shortage of it will render a man as insensitive as wood or stone.6
Each step of Gods creation represents a step in His
design. When He created the soul He gave it the ability to govern the
body, and when He created the spirit of man His design was for it to
govern both the soul and the body. Thus the chain of command was
designed to be:
Perhaps another way in which to look at Gods design is that of a large organization, such as a corporation. At the top is the chief executive officer, the board of directors and top level management. Their primary job is to determine the vision of what the corporation is to do: what is its purpose and how is it to achieve this purpose. This corresponds to the spiritual dimension. Next is middle management, or soul, and their job is to receive the vision and purpose from upper management and to translate them into concrete steps and goals. Finally is the labor force whose job is to produce the products and services, which corresponds to the physical body that actually does the work.
From any perspective the principle is one of submission. Mans body is to be in submission to his soul, which is in turn in submission to his spirit, and it is the very nature of mans spirit to be in submission to God. Submission, by its very nature, has to have two characteristics:
First, it has to be voluntary. This involves an act of the will, which is a part of the soul. An individual cannot be forced to be in submission, for then that becomes slavery or incarceration. When God created man He gave him a free will, which is ultimately the ability to choose as to whether to obey God or not.
There apparently was a time when angels also possessed a will, but after a third of them rebelled against God, He removed their wills from them and made their condition at that time permanent. While some serve God and others oppose Him, they now do it of necessity, not of free choice.
Secondly, submission needs to be tested. One is not truly submitted unless there is the opportunity to act otherwise. Thus God placed one restriction on the man and woman. God had given them a perfect place to live, a garden especially designed for their well being. He had also given them total control over all the animals, so they had nothing to fear, nor would they ever go hungry. Yet, they should not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that was placed in the center of the garden.
Therein lay the test.