The Tripartite Man and the Exercise of our Spirit

1 Thessalonians 5:23 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.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Luke 1:46-47 And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has exulted in God my Savior.

Proverbs 20:27 The spirit of man is the lamp of Jehovah, / Searching all the innermost parts of the inner being.

John 4:24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truthfulness.

John 5:39-40 You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that testify concerning Me. 40 Yet you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

Fellowship to help us know Christ and pursue Him

The quotation below comes from the book, God’s Plan of Redemption, by Mary E. McDonough

The terms “inner man” and “outer man,” or their equivalents, are employed in modern psychology, but the psychology of the Bible is more analytical inasmuch as it indicates a subdivision of the invisible part of man, thus teaching us that man is not dichotomous but is a trichotomous being. We find this plainly taught in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and indicated in Hebrews 4:12 and Luke 1:46-47.

This tripartite being may be illustrated by a third piece of cardboard containing three circles. Within the inner circle print the word “spirit.” Within the second circle (surrounding the first) place the word “soul,” and within the outer circle the word “body.” (See Figure)

With the spirit we know God and our relation to Him and our relation morally to every created object. With our soul powers—the intellect, sensibilities (affections, emotions) and will—we are able to deal with the intuitions of the spirit, the claims of these various soul faculties and the record of the bodily senses.

“The spirit of man,” not the soul, is said to be “the candle of the Lord” (Prov. 20:27). Caution the class in reference to a careless use of these terms. Do not say “soul” when “spirit” is meant and vice versa. Avoid the phrase “body, soul and spirit,” as it inverts the Divine order of arrangement. In a normal condition the powers of the spirit control the powers of soul and body.

(God’s Plan of Redemption, by Mary E. McDonough,

The Recovery Version of the Bible renders 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 with the word “soulish” and we find it most appropriate, especially in its context. “But a soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually. But the spiritual man discerns all things, but he himself is discerned by no one.” (1 Corinthians 2:14-15)

Instead of soulish, many translations of the Bible use “natural”. In any case, The footnote on “soulish” in the Recovery version goes right along with sister McDonough’s admonition that we distinguish between the spirit of man and the soul of man: “A soulish man is a natural man, one who allows his soul (including the mind, the emotion and the will) to dominate his entire being and who lives by his soul, ignoring his spirit, not using his spirit, and even behaving as if he did not have a spirit (Jude 19).”

We need to pursue Christ with an exercised spirit. Calling on the name of the Lord, crying to Him from our deepest part, “Oh, Lord Jesus”, is one way to exercise our spirit. We can also exercise our spirit by praising the Lord. Praising Him with “Praise the Lord!” and “Hallelujah” is to worship the Lord with our spirit. 

If we read the Bible merely with our mind we will be like those who search the scriptures yet are not willing to come to Christ. To exercise the spirit means to contact the Lord Himself. When we come to verses in the Bible we should read and pray, pray and read, always contacting God as we read the scriptures. This is to exercise the spirit. This is why pray-reading is recommended. We don’t advocate pray-reading as a form, but we exhort the believers to continuously contact the Lord in their reading. 

If man does not exercise his spirit, no matter how noble his deeds, no matter how deep his thoughts, no matter how scriptural his words, the transmission of God to that man will be absent. Let us make a strong resolution to be the spiritual men, ones who receive the things of the Spirit of God and discern all things. In our personal time with the Lord and in our corporate pursuit with others, let us come in this way, with an exercised spirit.


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