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The Wondrous Spirit of Man

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The Wondrous Spirit of Man

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Aren’t you glad you’re a human being rather than an animal? But what is man? What makes a human human? That is the question addressed in this article.

The scientific name for humans is homo sapiens, which is Latin for “wise man.” People marvel at how smart some animals are, but nothing remotely compares with human intellect. Humans have free will, self-awareness and superb abilities to learn and reason. They can imagine and be creative, reflect on the past, contemplate the future, make plans, learn complex languages and math and science, learn to write and communicate in sophisticated ways—the list could go on and on.

Human brains are similar to the brains of many mammals. In fact, some mammals—whales, dolphins and elephants—have brains larger than ours. But humans have minds with phenomenal wisdom compared to animals, and no biological analysis of brains can explain why.

Rather Than Merely Having Brains, Humans Have Minds!

In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (emphasis added throughout.) In this verse, we think “likeness” refers to the design and shape of our bodies being like God’s body. So no wonder we humans have such an ideal design and functionality!

We think “image” refers to our minds being significantly like the mind of God! Our phenomenal mental and spiritual qualities are God-like qualities that dramatically distinguish us from animals (see Psalm 8!).

We think “image” refers to our minds being significantly like the mind of God! Our phenomenal mental and spiritual qualities are God-like qualities that dramatically distinguish us from animals (see Psalm 8!).

So what is the key ingredient that makes those minds amazing? It is the human spirit, also called the spirit of man!

That key component is absolutely not an immortal “soul” dwelling inside one’s mortal body. In the Bible, the word “soul” is basically a synonym for a person or a life. We don’t have souls inside us—we are souls! For a thorough understanding of that subject, please read our booklet What Happens After Death?

The Spirit of Man—the Human Spirit

The Bible mentions the human spirit in several places. Zechariah 12:1 says, “Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.” Creating the heavens and the earth—wondrous beyond words! Forming the spirit of man within him—even more wondrous beyond words!

Job 32:8 says: “But there is a spirit within people, the breath of the Almighty within them, that makes them intelligent” (New Living Translation). It makes him homo sapiens—“wise man!” In this verse, “breath” (Hebrew neshamah) is simply a poetic way of referring to the “spirit” (ruach) in man.

However, Isaiah 42:5 uses the same Hebrew words to refer to God’s gifts of literal breath and literal spirit. This verse helps us to better understand the apparent dual meaning of Genesis 2:7, which says, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” God gave Adam physical life by starting his breathing and God gave him spiritual life in the “image of God” by giving him the spirit of man.

When a Person Dies, What Happens to the Spirit of Man?

Ecclesiastes 12 metaphorically describes aging and death. Then verse 7 says, “The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” This is a key point. When a person dies, the only component that survives is his spirit—God takes his spirit to heaven. This wording cannot be speaking of a “soul.” People who believe in immortal souls believe that only good souls go to heaven. This verse tells us that everyone’s spirit goes to heaven upon death!

Why does God take each person’s spirit to heaven? Because it is the permanent part of the person that needs safekeeping until he is resurrected. It defines who he is—it is his full identity. It records and preserves his character, personality, memories and understanding. Then that spirit will be used as the code or “blueprint” for fully restoring all those features when the person is resurrected with a new body!

The spirit of man has no consciousness or functionality by itself. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “The dead know nothing.” Compare with verse 10 and Psalm 6:5. Psalm 146:4 says: “His breath goes forth; he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” (Modern King James Version).

The dead have no consciousness, which is implied by the Bible’s most frequent metaphor for death, which is sleep (Psalm 13:3; John 11:11-14). The dead will be awakened from the sleep of death in a resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:18-23, 50-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Job 14:13-15; John 5:25-29).

Let’s compare the spirit of man with a DVD recording. A DVD disc is rather worthless by itself, but it becomes useful and valuable when it is inserted into a DVD player. Likewise, a person’s spirit after his death has no “use,” function or activity until that spirit is put into his brain at the time of his resurrection.

What About the Gift of God’s Holy Spirit?

God’s desire is for everyone to eventually receive the gift of His Holy Spirit. A person receives that gift when he has understood and believed the gospel, has deeply repented of his sins, is baptized for the forgiveness of his sins, and the minister has prayed for that gift with the laying on of hands (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:14-17; 9:17; 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6-7).

Then one of the great purposes of the human spirit is fulfilled—to receive and integrate with the Holy Spirit. It is at that moment when God begins to look upon the person as being spiritually “converted” (Acts 3:19), a “new man” (Ephesians 2:15), “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), a “saint” (1 Corinthians 1:2), and one of the “sons of God” (Romans 8:9, 14, 19). As Romans 8:16 says, “His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children” (New Living Translation).

Therefore a converted person’s spirit is a combination of the spirit of man and the Holy Spirit. Luke 23:46 tells us that when Jesus was about to die, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” His spirit was His human spirit and the Holy Spirit.

First Corinthians 2:11 is highly instructive. To better understand it, consider this paraphrase: “For what man can understand things on a human level except by the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one spiritually understands things on God’s level except by the Spirit of God.” Paul is comparing two great contrasts—the colossal contrast between animal brains and human minds, and the colossal contrast between the minds of people who lack the Holy Spirit and the minds of people who have the Holy Spirit. Reading the entire chapter gives added understanding.

Every Person Is Threatened With Great Spiritual Danger!

The Bible clearly reveals that human nature includes a continual downward pull and temptation toward evil (see Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 7:14-19; 8:7; Galatians 5:19-21; Matthew 15:19).

Why is that? A major reason is the continual influence of Satan the devil. Ephesians 2:2 speaks of Satan as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in [disobedient people].” Satan “broadcasts” his influences all over the world. Because humans have a spiritual component, they automatically receive those broadcasts unless they are working to “submit to God” and “resist the devil” (James 4:7). As long as they regularly “draw near to God” (verse 8), God will “jam” and block those transmissions.

All human beings are vulnerable to the dangers from evil spirits. Because of that, in Ephesians 6:11, Paul wrote, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” And then verses 12 through 20 describe the essential pieces of armor.

Prayer is one part of that armor (verses 18-20). The “Lord’s prayer” is Jesus’ brief summary of what we need to pray about on a daily basis (Matthew 6:9-13). Verse 13 says, “Deliver us from the evil one.” Jesus might have meant all kinds of dangers, but He clearly was including the danger from Satan.

Rejoice! You Are Made in the Image of God!

Hopefully reviewing this fascinating subject in God’s Word has given you a greater appreciation for you—for what and who you are!

Let’s rejoice that we are human beings—made in the image of God! Let’s be glad that we have the spirit of man, which gives us marvelous minds and that gives us the opportunity to receive the indwelling gift of God’s Holy Spirit! Then those who have the Holy Spirit and who remain faithful to God will receive the most precious gift of all—everlasting life!