At creation God stated that he made man in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). It is clear from scripture that God exists as one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are many who believe that man was created in God's image and is also a three-fold being. The Bible clearly reveals that man has an outer visible being and an inner being. This has lead some to believe we are two-fold beings. However, it further declares that man's inner being can be divided into soul and spirit by the Word of God. "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12). I believe the heart is the combined soul and spirit or inner man and here in parallel with the earlier statement contains thoughts (of the soul) and intents (of the spirit). Let's explore this concept.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the apostle Paul prays, "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the only other passage where this three-fold nature appears with spirit, soul and body together. The words "wholly" and "whole" carry the meanings of "perfect, complete in every way" and "complete in all its parts" according to Vine's Expository Dictionary. We have no doubt that the apostle's intent was that we understand that our three-fold being be sanctified and preserved to the coming of the Lord.
The body is that part of man that connects with God's created world (See, Job 12:11). It gathers information by means of the five senses and passes that information on to the soul. The soul contains the mind and emotions that interpret the information they receive and direct the actions of the body. Many believe the soul also contains a part called the "will" that is the deciding part of the soul. I do not wish to argue with those who believe this but I believe the "will" is a function of the spirit of man. As a result of my belief the soul passes information to the spirit of man and the spirit directs the soul.
Someone may object that the spirit in an unregenerate man is dead (See, Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13) and therefore can not make decisions. My understanding of this is that man's spirit is dead in the sense of being separated from God but not from being unable to function. In the day Adam sinned he died. His death was not physical at that time but he was driven from the presence of God, from the provisions of the garden and from the prospect of living forever by having no access to the tree of life. In my model of things the will is depraved to the point that it does not consider the commands of God in making its decisions. Depravity means corruption or moral weakness. Every part of man: body, soul and spirit, is depraved, dead and separated from God.
The body of man is depraved in the sense that it craves that which is not necessary for its functions. For instance, the body craves sugar and can use a limited amount in its function but it can develop an addiction to sugar that is harmful to its very existence. It does the same thing with alcohol, drugs and even sex. A part of rehabilitation involves helping a person to overcome these harmful physical cravings.
The soul of man is depraved in the sense that it seeks its own wants or desires. Thus a soul, the place of our thoughts and feelings, seeks to gratify these thoughts and feelings in any manner it can. It will do so regardless of the consequences it faces. The soul is trained to respond to outward stimuli. This is accomplished through the promise of reward and the fear of punishment. For example, a child can be taught to sit quietly for specific times and purposes. The child probably does not want to remain quiet but knows through experience that he can reap a reward through compliance or reap punishment through a lack thereof.
The spirit of man is depraved in the sense that it seeks its own self preservation and self importance. It expresses no concern for the things of God. It may quietly remain in compliance with the wishes of a higher authority but will bide its time until the point where it can throw off the restraint and do as it wishes. Until that time it will make small efforts to choose its own way through deception and avoidance of authority. When its deceit is uncovered it may even become complaint in order to preserve its own sense of importance. The spirit of man is the place of choice. It will make its choices based on the knowledge it receives from the soul. It will also do so based upon its own selfish best interest. We have all seen the young man or woman who is outwardly compliant until the day they are free to make their own choices. They then choose a path that is different, not because the path is wrong, but because their spirit desires a different goal. Someone has well said, "You can choose your own path but someone else will choose the consequences."
This three-fold nature is further described in 1 John 2:15-16 "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." These things are in the world: (1) the lust of the flesh (corresponding to the body), (2) the lust of the eyes (corresponding to the soul) and (3) the pride of life (corresponding to the spirit). This three-fold response can be seen in the temptation of Eve (See, Genesis 3:5). Note that the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was (1) good for food, (2) pleasant to the eyes, and (3) able to make one wise. Furthermore, these same three appear in the temptation of Christ (Luke 4:1-12): (1) stones into bread, (2) shown all the kingdoms, and (3) cast himself down from the Temple. As we are aware there are no accidents in the Word of God. "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." (James 1:14)
Jesus overcame in his temptation because He accepted the fact that His father would provide food when it was needed. He understood that the kingdoms of the world were given to Satan as the prince and power of the air. And Jesus understood that He would receive the kingdom in due time by the will of His Father. He also understood that His life was bound up with the Father and that He need not prove Himself to anyone. By faith in Christ we too can experience His victory over the world, sin and the devil. "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:57)
The only true deliverance from our depraved nature is through the redemption we experience in Christ. Through the new birth we are restored in our spirits to eternal life with the Father (Ephesians 3:14-19), transformed (Romans 12:2) in our souls through the work of the Holy Spirit and able to present our bodies as living sacrifices and instruments of righteousness (Romans 12:1; 6:13) to the Son, until that day we receive our new resurrection bodies. What a glorious deliverance it is!
Additional Truth related to the human spirit.
Romans 8:16 states, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:" Our human spirits are the part of us that communicates with God. Jesus said, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." John 4:23-24. (The word spirit here could possibly be the Holy Spirit.)
1 Corinthians 2:11 says: "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." This verse further corroborates the principle that man has a human spirit that has knowledge of itself. It also implies the Holy Spirit communicates with the human spirit the things of God.
1 Corinthians 5:5 appears to teach that the church's discipline is designed to destroy the fleshly desires or more probably the physical body of a publicly erring brother so that his human spirit may be saved. "To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."