Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Human Spirit

Another Kairos Moment

In 1993 - again during a time of turmoil in my life - I took my Bible and walked up into the hills above Redlands. I sat down on a hillside and prayed for the presence of God. I opened my Bible and began to read. I didn’t choose a particular passage; I just started to read. I wasn’t expecting to have a life-changing experience; I just needed to be in the Word. I craved intimacy with God. This is the passage I read:

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling-- if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” 2 Cor 5:1-10 (NRSV)

I had read the Bible through, cover to cover, several times by then. I had grown up with daily home worship, Bible reading and 24 years of Adventist religion classes. As an adult, I had a regular habit of personal Bible study. I didn’t remember ever having read that passage before. This time, I saw it with spiritual eyes, and time stopped. I felt disoriented and confused. What was it saying? What did Paul mean by, “while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord”? What did he mean when he said, “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord”? I had absolutely no grid by which to process this scripture. I stayed there for an hour trying to comprehend what it all meant. I prayed for understanding, but what came was puzzlement. I wish I could say that I went back home and made a concerted effort to find what else in scripture might explain that passage, but I didn’t. What emerged for me had very little to do with me, and everything to do with the Holy Spirit. My only part was continuing to come to the Word of God.



The Holy Spirit Taught Me

Over the next few years as I read the Bible, various texts would jump out at me as if there were a searchlight trained on them. I didn’t hunt them out; they seemed to hunt me out! It wasn’t long before I noticed that the Lord was giving me a topical study on the human spirit.

Like many of you, the Adventist proof-texts from the Old Testament, along with the writings of Ellen White, formed the basis for my beliefs about the state of the dead and the nature of the human spirit. Many of us could quote these texts by heart:

“The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost.” Eccl 9:5 (NRSV)

“And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Eccl 12:7 (NIV)

“His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Psalms 146:4 (ASV)

“The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezek 18:4 (ASV)

All of the memory verses and interpretations by Ellen White, SDA preachers and Bible teachers, my parents and Sabbath School teachers were deeply etched into my mind. Always, the subjects of soul sleep and the non-immortality of 

the soul were'Puppets' by Duncan Long Do Not Copy presented to me as dangerous doctrines with which to tamper, so I cherished them with a sense of rightness. Of all I “knew,” these were certainties - “present truth” - that I would never allow the devil to supplant with deception. They were treasures. What I had never done was to try to excavate those “treasures” for myself.
Another thing that had not occurred to me was that all of the SDA proof texts for the state of the dead came from the Old Testament - written before the revelation of Jesus, the resurrection and the full demonstration of salvation. The old tried and true proofs texts, combined with Adventist teaching, were the only contents on my scales. But eventually, the scales began to equalize and finally shift to the opposite direction as God began filling the Spirit side of the scale to overflowing with His life-giving Word.

It is important to know that what is being presented in this study is not based on a few obscure texts from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. It is supported by a vast body of evidence throughout the scriptures which forms a consistent and cohesive picture. For that reason, I am going to share all of the scriptures He showed me. At some point, you will probably say, “Enough already. I get the point.” I pray that will be the case. I figure if He took the care to point them out to me, they must be important for you to see also. As they grabbed my attention, I began writing them down on an index card that I kept in the pocket of my Bible cover. Soon, both sides of the card were crammed full, and I had to transfer them to a typewritten page - then two, and finally, five.


Just in review, you will remember that I had been taught (and believed) just like many of you, that the spirit in a person is just breath, or an animating force - a spark of life that does not, and cannot, exist apart from the body. To believe anything else was dangerous and would lead to deceptions by Satan and his hosts. There had always been a fog swirling in my mind about the words spirit and soul with respect to human beings.

On the logo of Loma Linda University, where I attended medical school, was a triangle with a word at each point: body, mind and soul. As far as I could make out, “soul” referred to whether or not one would be given eternal life, as in “saving souls.” I could not have even made a stab at distinguishing between soul and spirit. I wondered about it occasionally, but didn’t know it might make a difference. I figured it would just always be one of those great unknowns. Complacency prevailed. As I have talked with others raised in Adventism, I have found that I was not alone in this confusion. In fact, I was unable to find anyone who could give definitions to those words.
Spirit is Neither Breath nor an Animating Spark of Life

Because He had to start somewhere with me, the Holy Spirit began highlighting all of the scriptures that disproved the notion that spirit - in reference to a human being - is just breath, or an animating spark of life. The Hebrew word transliterated as ruach and the Greek word, pneuma (in Strong’s Dictionary), are translated "spirit." But other words are also translated as spirit. The choice of the word has to do with context, and it is context that determines the meaning of the scriptures we will be studying. So, here we go.

“The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit (nashama) of a man; it searches out his inmost being.” Prov 20:27 (NIV)

This Hebrew word, nashama, is sometimes translated "breath," as is the Greek word pneuma. But if "breath" was the original intent of the statement, this text wouldn’t make any sense. Let’s try it. “The lamp of the Lord searches the breath of a man, it searches out his inmost being.” (CPR – Cherry’s Perverted Revision – not coming to any bookstore near you!)

This is obviously not the intended meaning. The lamp of the Lord is searching out something much deeper than air. By context, what we see is that the spirit of a person is the inmost being. Whatever Solomon was talking about, it wasn’t breath. As expected, the Bible began explaining itself.

“But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” Job 32:8 (NIV)

Now we begin constructing an understanding of the spirit. So far, we see that the spirit is the inmost part of a person that also imparts understanding, wisdom and discernment to the whole person. Job 32:8 makes it clear that when the Bible speaks of the breath of God being breathed into a person, it is referring to much more than just animation. Wind and breath - with reference to God - often denote the presence'Dancing Angel of the Lord' by Duncan Long Do Not Copy of the Holy Spirit. As we will see later, it is the Spirit of God that gives birth to the spirit in us and gives evidence that we are His children - created in His image.


In the following passage, the similarities of our spirits to God’s Spirit are further described.
“For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit (pneuma) within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit (pneuma) of God.” 1 Cor 2:11 (NIV)

This likens the spirit of humans to the Spirit of God - in that it is the portion of the being which can assess the inner thoughts. Again, let’s try the breath test: “For who among men knows the thoughts of the man except the man’s breath or animating spark of life within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the breath of God.” (CPR) Ridiculous, right? How can breath search our deepest thoughts and desires? If the human spirit (pneuma) is just breath then what is the spirit (pneuma) of God that gives birth to our spirits? The Spirit of God gives birth to like kind, and the same Greek word is used to describe both.

“How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” Heb 12:9 (NIV)

“For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me…” Job 32:18 (NIV)


Breath doesn’t have the capacity to compel, nor does an animating spark of life.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.” Gal 6:18 (NIV)

It would be nonsensical for Paul to pray for the grace of Christ to be with your breath.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit (pneuma) and troubled.” John 11:33 (NIV)

This is an important insight: It is our spirits that are moved, touched, troubled. How important it is to acknowledge that part of our makeup that is sensitive to the moving of the Holy Spirit and to cultivate that communion. Jesus was human and divine. His S/spirit in both is akin to ours.

“I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired…” Psalms 77:6 (NIV)

So far, the spirit can inquire, be refreshed, moved and troubled. It can receive grace, give understanding, and search out the inmost being. To relegate the human spirit to just animation of the body, a spark of life or physical breath is to rob us of the very essence of being created in the image of God. I didn’t realize, until I began writing this study, how much Satan hates to have his deception about our “spirit man/woman” unmasked. If he can keep us ignorant of the spirit within us, he can keep us from understanding our full potential for communication with God. His ability to speak to us - Spirit to spirit - allows us to unite with Him in taking back captives from the enemy. It becomes possible for us to be like Jesus in doing "only what he sees the Father doing." John 5:19 (NIV)



Summary of The Human Spirit

1) Paul teaches that an intact spirit can leave the body to be with the Lord.

2) Adventist “proof-texts” come from the Old Testament, whose writers had limited revelation of the resurrection of Christ and of their own future destiny.

3) Spirit is much more than breath or an animating spark of life.
4) Paul said that he would prefer to be away from the body and with the Lord. If he believed in soul sleep that would mean that he would prefer to be non-existent for two thousand years rather than to continue his work among the gentiles.

4) The human spirit can inquire, be refreshed, moved and troubled. It can receive grace, give understanding, and search out the inmost being.


A link to the next section of Spirit is at the end of the quiz. It is also in the Spirit Table of Contents.

Quiz for The Human Spirit (It was fun last time, wasn't it?)
Choose the Correct Answers:
1. Paul teaches that it is possible to be away from the body and with the Lord.
A. True
B. False

2. All of the following are Adventist “proof texts” for soul sleep except:
A. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezek 18:4 (ASV)
B. “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing.” Eccl 9:5 (NRSV)
C. “And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Eccl 12:7 (NIV)
D. “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.” 2 Cor 5:6 (NASB)

3. There is no clear teaching in Adventism about the distinction between soul, spirit and mind.
A. True
B. False

4. Proverbs 20:27 teaches that the spirit of a human is:
A. The mind
B. The inmost being
C. The breath
D. The spark of life

5. Job 32:8 says that which of the following gives a person understanding:
A. The breath
B. The mind
C. The spirit
D. The pancreas

6. In 1 Cor 2:11 we are told that it is our spirits that know the thoughts within us.
A. True
B. False

7. Hebrews 12: 9 calls God the father of our:
A. Breath
B. Stomach
C. Mind
D. Spirit

8. Paul, in a number of places, asks for the grace of God to be with:
A. Your breath
B. Your spark of life
C. Your spirit
D. Your liver

9. When Mary was weeping over the death of Lazarus, Jesus was deeply moved in His:
A. Breath
B. Spirit
C. Spleen
D. Mind

10. When David couldn’t sleep and began to sing he inquired of God with his:
A. Thyroid
B. Breath
C. Ankles
D. Spirit







Answers: 1-A, 2-D, 3-A, 4-B, 5-C, 6-A, 7-D, 8-C, 9-B, 10-D

Spirit Table of Contents

The Next Chapter: Made in the Image of God

In what ways are we made in the image of God? God is present in three Persons. Are we made in the image of all three? Since God is spirit are we too?

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