What Is Spirit? – Part One

This week I experienced a situation which made me stop and think. It made me stop and think about spirits and how they work. It made me stop and think about how little understanding I actually have about what spirit actually is; about what it really means.

I have written elsewhere, at various times, about certain aspects of this topic, but I don’t feel as if I have ever really got to grips with it. The main reason for this is that I am often very earth-bound in my outlook, and I find it easy to get caught up in the things which I see, and easier still, to ignore those which I can’t see. I suspect that this is common to the human condition as a whole.

This morning, in pursuit of wisdom from God on the matter of spirits and their nature, I have been reading one of the more controversial, and often ignored, passages from the Old Testament. It is of benefit to this topic because it provides us with both the earthly perspective of a giving situation, as well as the heavenly view of the same set of events. It is considered controversial because it doesn’t fit in with some very poor teaching from within the modern church, as you shall see when we examine it. However, before we do, let me tell you of what made me stop and think.

There is a particular person with whom I am acquainted. They can be what you might call obtuse. That is to say that often when a question is asked of them they are in the habit of giving the briefest and vaguest of answers to something which should be fairly straight forward. For example, if you asked them ‘how was your bath?’ it is likely that their reply would be ‘wet’, or ‘made of fibreglass’. Now, as a believer, as someone who listens to the words of Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) and tries to put them into practice (see Matthew 7:24), ordinarily I would attempt not to be irritated by such a contrary answer to a straight forward and polite question. However, of late, the frequency of this person’s obtuse responses has started to get under my skin. I haven’t gone as far as to call them to account about what they perhaps think is an endearing character trait in themselves, but I have found myself getting frustrated about it internally.

Of course, this is not the way Yeshua teaches us to behave.

So, I have been asking God for more grace during my encounters with this person. But, as I have done so, I have found that it is now not only their contentious responses to simple questions, but just about everything they say and do that I find grating. And it was during one of those encounters that I have found difficult that a thought appeared in my head that made me stop and think. I can’t be sure what actual words appeared there in my mind but it was along the lines of this ‘they have a spirit which is trying to goad you.’

Perhaps you will understand why I needed to stop and think.

If then this person has indeed a spirit which is trying to goad me, to what ends is this goading designed? Almost immediately after finding these words in my head I was struck with the impression that the spirit’s motivation was two-fold. Firstly, because I am a believer, the spirit’s goading was designed to knock me off of the Narrow Path – to entice me into irritation which would eventually lead to anger and possibly even confrontation. Secondly, the spirit seeks to continue to ensure that this person is isolated and perhaps even unlikeable to everyone they encounter. Why? Because this spirit doesn’t want anyone to live as God intended them to live.

A few years ago, we had someone living with us who had been in a series of terrible relationships which had subjected them to both mental and physical abuse. When speaking with them it was as if they were resigned to how it was going to be. It had always been that way since they were a child and had continued right through adulthood. Even after spending much time away from such relationships and recovering, as well as being supported by people like us who had explained that life doesn’t have to be that way, they ended up going back to someone who had abused them in the past. These stories are common enough among those who have suffered at the hands of others. However, at the time, I remember discussing with a young pastor that it was as if this person had ‘victim‘ or ‘abuse me’ written on their head as an open invitation for anyone to step up and take a shot. I’ve been thinking about that in a new light now. Perhaps it is a spirit that not only influences them to think that this is how life is to be so shut up and take the beating, but who also influences those she meets and makes them think that it is fine to carry on like that?

If it is, it goes a long way to explain all sorts of things that happen in everyday life. If you think about it like this: Satan’s entire purpose is to alienate people from God so that they will die and not receive His salvation. What better way to do it than with the aid of an invisible influence in people’s lives?

So, if this is the theory, how then does it all work in practice?

Well, perhaps we need to look at the role of each of our parts – body, soul, and spirit before we can truly determine that. But, as we do that, I want you (presumably as a true Spirit-filled believer) to think about the way in which God’s Holy Spirit influences you. It is often a very subtle and almost undetectable influence. If you accept this premise, that God’s Holy Spirit influences His people (and non-believers too!), then you should also accept that the ‘spirit of this age’ also influences believers and non-believers alike. The influences from both parties happen all the time – the issue is how each of us respond to those influences. So, as an example, the spirit who is influencing my obtuse acquaintance would have me lose my temper with them. But, at the same time, God’s Holy Spirit would influence me to show them His love and compassion and mercy. Do you see what I’m driving at? You may find yourself thinking of a cartoon character having a little angel on one shoulder and a tiny red devil on the other. Whilst the imagery I doubt to be anywhere near to being correct, the sentiment will help you understand what I am speaking of.

When you consider that we are made up of these three parts, and yet we can only see one part, that should tell us something of these things – perhaps that there is two-thirds of life around us that we simply fail to see? But, was it always this way? I suspect not.

I have mentioned this previously on this blog, but I suspect that before Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were able to see their spiritual bodies. We know that we all have spiritual bodies. We see Yeshua, in His risen glory, in His spiritual body. In fact, we see Him throughout the pages of the Old Testament in His spiritual body, which commentators often refer to as the pre-incarnate Yeshua. He is often called the ‘Angel of the LORD’ when He appears. You can always tell it is Him because the descriptions of Him are different from those of angels themselves.

So, before Yeshua came as a flesh-bound man, He existed in the heavenly and spiritual realm, with a spiritual body. When He came as a man, He reunited the spirit and the flesh as they should have been, as they were in the garden in the beginning.

Imagine that it was like this: Adam and Eve existed with both their physical and spiritual bodies simultaneously. God warned them not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The consequence of doing so, He told them, was death. But, if you fast forward after they ate from the tree, they didn’t die as we might understand it – our perception of death is entirely physical. So, if God’s warning wasn’t of a physical death, it must have meant that He was speaking of a spiritual death. If you read the account of Adam and Eve you will note that once they had eaten from the tree that they suddenly realised that they were naked. Could it be that after eating from the tree, they died spiritually, and the first consequence was that they were no longer able to see their spiritual bodies (nor the spiritual realm around them)? What they saw was their fleshy bodies and they were unclothed. Naked.

And, because of their rebellion, none of us can see the spiritual realm, nor our spiritual bodies. But, that doesn’t mean that just because we can’t see them, that they are not there.

I think the evidence supports that we have two bodies; two entities – a physical one and a spiritual one. We cannot see into that spiritual realm, and therefore cannot see our spiritual bodies. This could be considered as being spiritually dead, which is backed up with what Yeshua says to Nicodemus in John chapter three about being born again. We must be reborn of the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) in order to become truly spiritually aware. Of course, there are non-believers who are spiritually aware. We will come onto that later.

Before that, let us consider the third part of us, that of the soul.

You will need to try to forget all you know about the spirit and the soul and start to think like a Hebrew would when it comes to these things. Both the spirit and the soul are living parts of us and are multi-faceted. I want to try and keep this simple, rather than intellectualising it. I want to present a definition of both that is not all theory but is consistent with Scripture.

The first thing I want to point out to you is what is written in Genesis regarding what God created on the sixth day.

“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” [Genesis 1:26-27]

You may have picked up on this before. We see here the record of God creating man – male and female, on the sixth day, and yet, two days later, on the eighth day, we read of Him creating Adam and then Eve. Confusing isn’t it? Well, it need not be. The answer lies partly in what the text says.

It says that God created man in His own image. The thing we tend to forget is that God is Spirit. Our frame of reference is our fleshy bodies and we assume that because God created us this way, He must look like us. But, we know from various references throughout Scripture and the New Testament that God is, in fact, Spirit. So, what God created on that sixth day was all of the spirits for everyone who was ever to be. Those spirits He assigns to bodies. This is how He knew those whom He chose from the beginning. He was (and still is) with all of the spirits whom He created for all time, in His image, at the very beginning of everything.

So, if that is where spirits come from, and we already understand about the body, what of the soul? The answer is found in Genesis 2:7 where it says that God formed the first man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils, giving him the breath of life – the soul.

So, a quick and simple recap – God has (because He created them all) a vast deposit of spirits whom He assigns to physical bodies as they are born, and their souls are added to them at the moment of conception. Recently, scientists found themselves amazed that at the actual moment of conception, when a sperm penetrates an egg, a minute flash of light occurs. They have captured this moment on film. Here’s an article all about it: https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-just-captured-the-actual-flash-of-light-that-sparks-when-sperm-meets-an-egg

That flash of light is God breathing life into the new person and making them complete, although the function of the spirit may not be made active until their personality starts to appear. In fact, the spirit may even develop in sync with the body.

One more thing about the soul. As well as being the very breath of life, it is also considered to be the appetite for life and everything according to the Hebrews. The word from which we render soul is, in fact, nephesh or nefesh. It literally means appetite or throat. In Hebrew culture the soul is the funnel through which we feed our lives – either feeding the physical body and its fleshy and carnal desires, or the spiritual body. If we live, as most people do, according to the flesh, we will only ever try to satisfy the desires of the flesh. If, however, our spirits are reborn because of revelation from the Holy Spirit, then we can start to live according to the spirit. The entire New Testament is all about learning to live according to the spirit and how to deny the cravings of the flesh. The soul is happy to feed them both. We have to train that part of us to deny the flesh and feed the spirit.

I will leave this part here for now. There is a lot to take in and it wouldn’t be fair to continue without giving the reader the opportunity to digest what I have written so far. More soon.

Shalom

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