The Bible teaches us that God exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are considered to be one (Deuteronomy 6:4). Likewise, the Bible tells us that there are three components to human beings, a body, a soul, and a spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). “The Scriptures view a person as a composite whole, fully relating to God and not divided in any way” (H5315). When God created man, it says in Genesis 2:7, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” The Hebrew word that is translated creature, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) means “soul” (H5315) and corresponds with the Greek word psuche (psoo-khayˊ) which refers to “the soul as the vital principle, the animating element in men and animals” (G5590). Man’s soul and spirit are immaterial and yet, considered to be real parts of his being. The material part of man, the body is what most people think of as the person, but the Bible indicates that the soul, the inner being is “the life element through which the body lives and feels, the principle of life manifested in the breath” and more “specifically the soul as the sentient principle, the seat of the senses, desires, affections, appetites, passions, the lower aspect of one’s nature.” The Hebrew word psuche is usually translated as soul, but it is also translated as life, mind, and heart. Jesus connected the word psuche with anxiety. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25, emphasis mine). Matthew 20:28 tells us that Jesus’ psuche or life was the price that was paid to redeem our souls from death. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11, emphasis mine).
The immaterial part of man which is known as the soul is held in common with animals, “However, animals are not said to possess a spirit; this is only in man, giving him the ability to communicate with God…In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the whole man is indicated as consisting of spirit, soul, and body; soul and spirit, the immaterial part of man upon which the word of God is operative” (G5590). Hebrews 4:12-13 states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” The author of Hebrews indicated that the word of God penetrates or is able to move through our being and separates the soul from the spirit so that it can expose the intentions of our hearts. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). In this verse, Jesus used the same Greek word in reference to the Holy Spirit and to the spirit part of man and indicated that it is the Holy Spirit who gives life. In this instance, the Greek word that is translated life is zoopoieo (dzo-op-oy-ehˊ-o). Zoopoieo, as a verb, means ‘to make alive’” and speaks “of the impartation of spiritual life, and the communication of spiritual sustenance generally, John 6:63, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Galatians 3:2” (G2227). The soul and the spirit of man can be distinguished from one another in that the soul is associated with sin and death (Ezekiel 18:4) and the spirit is associated with salvation and eternal life. Jesus told a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (John 3:3-6). Jesus went on to say, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
The bronze serpent that Jesus referred to Moses lifting up in the wilderness was a cure for the consequences of the people’s sin. Numbers 21:4-9 states:
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Numbers 21:4 indicates that the problem that caused the Israelites to speak against God and Moses was that “the people became impatient on the way.” The King James Version of the Bible states the problem this way: “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.” Basically, what that meant was that the people began to experience the results of their rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 1:26-32) and it made them want to stop following the LORD’s directions.
Hebrews chapters three and four focuses on the situation in the wilderness with regard to the Israelites’ attitude about God’s promises. It states:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief…Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 3:12-19; 4:6-13)
The author of Hebrews indicated that it was an evil, unbelieving heart that caused the Israelites to fall away from the living God and that it resulted in disobedience. The Greek word that is translated disobedience in Hebrews 4:6 and 4:11, apeitheia (ap-iˊ-thi-ah) refers to the “obstinate rejection of the will of God” (G543). The author’s statement that “the word of God is living and active” and is able to discern “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) implies that God created man in such a way that his words have an effect on our hearts and souls, but we are free to reject his message.
Psalm 19 begins with a declaration that the heavens speak to us on God’s behalf. King David stated:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Psalm 19:1-6)
The fact that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork and yet, their message seems to have no effect on people’s hearts shows that Israel’s disobedience is typical of all mankind.
David went on to explain in Psalm 19 that people need to know more about God than just that he exists and has created us in order to submit themselves to his will. David said:
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)
David indicated that the law of the LORD is perfect and that it is able to revive the soul. The law that David was referring to was probably the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible that were written by Moses. These books revealed God’s plan of salvation under the Old Covenant. “The law of God is that which points out or indicates his will to man. It is not arbitrary rule, still less is it a subjective impulse; it is rather to be regarded as a course of guidance from above. Seen against the background of the verb yarah, it became clear that torah is much more than law or a set of rules. Torah is not restrictive or hindrance, but instead the means whereby one can reach a goal or ideal. In the truest sense, torah was given to Israel to enable her to truly become and remain God’s special people. One might say in keeping torah, Israel was kept. Unfortunately, Israel fell into the trap of keeping torah as a means of becoming what God intended for her. The means become the end. Instead of seeing torah as a guideline, it became an external body of rules, and thus a weight rather than a freeing and guiding power” (H8451).
The perfection that David saw in the law of the LORD had to do with the effect of God’s word or more specifically the effect that knowing God’s will has on a person’s soul. David said that the law of the LORD revives the soul. The Hebrew word that is translated reviving in Psalm 19:7, shuwb (shoob) means to turn back. “The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to the point of departure…The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725). The process of conversion is depicted in the Pentateuch or torah through the lives of the Israelites who returned to the land that God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants after 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Also, after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the Israelites were brought back to the place of their rebellion and given a second chance to enter the Promised Land. Moses told the people, “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and rules and will obey his voice. And the LORD has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, and the he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised” (Deuteronomy 26:16-19).
The certainty of God’s promise is discussed in the sixth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. It says, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:13-20). The author of Hebrews talked about God’s promise being guaranteed with an oath and said that we have hope “as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). The Greek word echo (ekhˊ-o) “stresses that one has the means to accomplish a task” (G2192). Jesus demonstrated that our souls can be saved by going before us into God’s presence and interceding with him on our behalf.
James’ letter, which was written to the twelve tribes of Israel in the Dispersion, addressed the issue of hearing the word God versus doing it with regards to saving the soul. James said, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:19-25). James described the law as the law of liberty. The Greek word that is translated liberty, eleutheria (el-yoo-ther-eeˊ-ah) stresses the completeness of Jesus’ act of redemption. “Not to bring us into another form of bondage did Christ liberate us from that in which we were born, but in order to make us free from bondage” (G1657). Eleutheria is derived from the word eleutheros (el-yooˊ-ther-os) which means “unrestrained (to go at pleasure), i.e. (as a citizen) not a slave” (G1658). Jesus told the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31, 34-35).
James concluded his letter with a discussion about the prayer of faith in the context of reviving the souls of others. James indicated that a person could be converted or saved as a result of the prayer of a righteous person on his behalf, a righteous person being someone whose life is consistent with God’s word. James said:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:13-20)