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  Spirit-union Allows for Soul-restThursday, September 21st, 2023  
by James A. Fowler

Part One

The world around us is restless hurrying and scurrying to accomplish something meaningful. They are seeking "rest" - but they are looking in all the wrong places. True "rest" can only be found in "union with Christ."

"Union with Christ" is the essence of Christianity. Christianity is not a belief-system or a morality code, but is the union presence and function of the living Lord Jesus within Christians. In a previous study1, we charted out the "union of being" and the "union of doing" of Christ and the Christian. We are, for all practical purposes, extending that previous study in a sequel to consider how the theological theorem becomes psychological practicum. We want to explore the psychological and behavioral implications of "union with Christ."

In other words, we will be considering "the divine outworking of the divine indwelling." That is, I believe, the choice that Adam and Eve faced at the "tree of life" as recorded in Genesis 2 - a choice to allow for the divine outworking of the divinely inbreathed life of God. God had breathed into them the breath/spirit of divine life (2:7), and the "tree of life" (same Hebrew word for "life" in 2:7 and 2:9) represented the opportunity to choose the divine outworking of the divinely inbreathed life of God. We know that they chose the other tree, "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," with disastrous consequences for themselves and the human race. Their choice did not lead to "rest," but to much work and performance - physical, religious, and otherwise.

As Christians we have a similar choice. In spiritual regeneration we have been re-genesized (2:7), and the spirit/breath of the triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has been breathed into our spirit. "If any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. 8:9), i.e. he is not a Christian. On the other hand, "He who is joined to the Lord (Jesus Christ) is one spirit with Him" (I Cor. 6:17). As Christians, redeemed and restored to right relationship with our Creator, we have the same choice Adam and Eve had prior to the fall - the choice to allow for the divine outworking of the divine indwelling life of Jesus.

Spirit and Soul
Before we consider how "spirit-union allows for soul-rest," we need to note how important it is to distinguish and differentiate between spirit and soul - between spiritual and psychological functions. Christian religion, down through the centuries, has often failed to make the distinction between spiritual and psychological function. What they end up with is a mish-mash of psychological spirituality or spiritualized psychology. Considering spirit and soul to be equivalent synonyms of the "inner man," Christian religion ends up with a hodge-podge of ambiguous admonitions to "receive Jesus into your soul/spirit/heart, and all is well," or "believe in Jesus with your soul/spirit/heart, and work like hell." Is it any wonder that Christians do not understand grace, "the rest of the gospel," and how to allow for godliness in Christian behavior? If soul and spirit are synonymous, then psychological principles should be able to resolve the problems of mankind. Sigmund Freud is our savior - God forbid! (or as J.B. Phillips worded it, "what a ghastly thought."2) That is why so much of what is called "Christian counseling" is nothing than a veneer of Christian and biblical terminology laid over the mush of secular psychological principles. Not at all helpful for Christian living.

It is imperative that we differentiate between spiritual and psychological function, or we will never understand spiritual realities, and never participate in the practicum of Christian behavior and "rest." Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, saying, "Now may the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass" (I Thess. 5:23,24). These are clearly differentiated functions that need to be "set apart" in order to realize God's holy intent in our lives. These verses in I Thessalonians 5 have recently been dismissed as but Paul's "sign-off" of his epistle, which cannot be viewed as having any doctrinal import.3 Apparently, in this view, "all scripture is not inspired, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (II Tim. 3:16). Another New Testament verse to be considered is Heb. 4:12 - "the Word of God" (this is not the Bible, but the living expression and revelation of God, Jesus Christ, the Word of God who was from the beginning and IS God. Cf. Jn.1:1,14), is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." The Spirit of Christ is able to pierce into our inner being and distinguish, and cause us to discern, between our deepest spiritual intentions and the psychological thoughts that do not always coincide with our spiritual intents.

I cannot over-emphasize how important it is for Christians to understand the difference between spiritual function and psychological function. Without this distinction the Christian life will remain ambiguous. When spirit and soul and body are distinguished, this has often been called the trichotomous or tripartite understanding of man's constitution. It is probably best to avoid such terms, for they leave a wrong impression. Trichotomous means, "cut in three," and tripartite means "three parts." A human individual is not cut in three parts, compartments, or partitions. A human being is a functional whole, who functions at three levels: spiritual, psychological, and physiological.4 To differentiate the spiritual and the psychological function of man is not an attempt to cut man into separate parts, but is a necessary distinction for understanding how God has created man to function.

  1. Fowler, James A., Union with Christ. Fallbrook: CIY Publishing. 2003.

  2. Phillips, J. B., The New Testament in Modern English. New York: Macmillan Co., 1958.

  3. Horton, Michael, ed., The Agony of Deceit. Chicago: Moody Press. 1990. Chapter Four, "Scripture Twisting" by Henry Krabbendam. Pg. 77.

  4. Fowler, James A., Man As God Intended. Fallbrook: CIY Publishing. 1998. Chapter Two, "The Constitution of Man."

  5. Baxter, Richard, The Saint's Everlasting Rest: A Treatise of the Blessed State of the Saints in their Enjoyment of God in Heaven. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics. N.d.

  6. McIntyre, D.M., The Rest of Faith and Other Studies. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott. N.d. Metcalf, J.C., The Rest of Faith. N.d.

  7. Thieme, R.B. Jr., The Faith-Rest Life. Houston: Berachah Tapes & Publications. 1961.

  8. Barber, Wayne A., The Rest of Grace: Entering into the Wonder of the Christ Life. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers. 1998.

  9. Stone, Dan & Smith, Greg, The Rest of the Gospel: When the Partial Gospel Has Worn You Out. Dallas: One Press. 2000.

  10. Upham, Thomas C., A Treastise on Divine Union, Designed to Point out Some of the Intimate Relations Between God and Man in the Higher Forms of Religious Experience. Boston: Henry V. Degen. 1857.

  11. Nee, Watchman, The Normal Christian Life. Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade. 1973.

  12. Thomas, W. Ian, The Saving Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1961.

  13. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. Viking Press (Penquin Classics). 1964.

  14. Descartes, Rene, Passions of the Soul. Hacket Pub. Co. 1989.

  15. Luther, Martin, The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell. 1996.

  16. Luther, Martin, "On Christian Freedom," (1520).

©2004 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.

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