April 2012


A Gorilla lounging around.

A Gorilla lounging around. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s post was prompted by an article in Relevant Magazine, “I Used to Be On Fire for God” and the associated reader comments. I enjoyed the article, left my own comment, and elaborate on it here.

I like Relevant’s site (self-described as aimed at the twenty-something crowd) because it’s like a finger on the pulse of the Body of believers.

As a Baby Boomer with roots in the 1970s “Jesus Freak” movement, I like seeing positive changes that younger Christians bring to the Church. Yet some things are no different today than back then.

It’s been my experience in 40+ years as a Christian that a huge segment of the Body still sees Christ’s message of new life entirely as, “Jesus is Lord!” or, “Your sins are forgiven!” or, “God loves you!” These statements are all true, of course.

But for multitudes, new life in God’s kingdom has been reduced to little more than slogans and hype. It’s sometimes called bumper-sticker Christianity. And many Christians define passion, revival, and the Great Commission as saying these as loudly and as often as possible, which is what the article touched on. (more…)

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Cover of "The Me I Want to Be: Becoming G...

Cover via Amazon

I stumbled on this book excerpt on the Zondervan blog page through Twitter. Because it ties to my recent posts on the soul and relationships, and because John Ortberg is one of my favorite pastors/writers, I thought I’d share it with my readers.

So, today I’ll shut up and let him speak about why God allows difficult people in our lives. I hope you enjoy his humor and insight as much as I do!

Read the excerpt, Looking for a Few Difficult Men and Women, here.

green tree

green tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many who feel they can’t relate to God, there’s wonderful biblical encouragement which, I think, we don’t hear often enough.

For others, who talk much about a relationship with Jesus, I think they’ve missed the full impact of what that means. After four decades as a Christian, I know I certainly did.

It’s almost as if, had it not been for sin, man has no reason to relate to God. Jesus is only good for his blood and gig on the cross; so, other than getting people to heaven when they die, there’s little need to follow him.

At the start of this series, we saw that a soul is a whole person, the self, the essence of personhood and being. God is also a Soul, a Person.

“Soul” conveys a totality of spiritual and physical, visible and invisible components. The Greek word psuche is variously translated as life, self, heart, mind, soul, and person. Even when we shed our mortal bodies at physical death, Scripture indicates that the soul gains some type of spiritual body. “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1Cor. 15:44)

For example, those in the afterlife are described as wearing clothes, although this could be a figure of speech. Nevertheless, they do speak and act, which indicates more than a floating, disembodied state of existence or merely telepathic interactions. The resurrection at the end of this age definitely reunites us with recognizable, yet better, physical bodies.

My point is that physical things always relate to spiritual things; and human souls are a microcosm of the unavoidable link between physical and spiritual, human and divine. (more…)

Stone ruins on the property of the Stone Barn,...

Stone ruins on the property of the Stone Barn, Stone City, Iowa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many people, including me, have equated the gospel with the doctrine of justification. We’ve been taught that to be justified (forgiven) is God’s entire redemptive plan.

But I’ve learned that using “justified” interchangeably with “saved” is much like using “page” interchangeably with “book.”

So, what makes a person right with God?

Two Human Views

Is it justification? In this view, God simply declares us right, provided we confess various doctrines of sin and atonement. Redemption is thus about future eligibility to reside in heaven  rather than where we live now; and it leaves the soul still fragmented, conflicted within itself and at odds with God’s character and nature. It saves some vague piece of the person, leaving the “real” person stuck in ruin.

It also bypasses judgment as if forgiven people are exempt. The danger is that when we all stand before God on Judgment Day, He won’t merely check our minds for agreement with certain doctrines. He’ll look at the whole person—the inner and outer self—because He’ll look at the soul. (more…)

Stone ruins on the property of the Stone Barn,...

Stone ruins on the property of the Stone Barn, Stone City, Iowa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, we looked at troubleshooting the soul (Part 1 and Part 2). This week, we’ll explore restoration. To make the soul whole again is to realign four areas of personhood within themselves and with God.

1. Heart/Will/Spirit

2. Mind/Thought/Emotion

3. Physical Body

4. Behavior/Relationships

5. Soul/Total Person/Self

The first two areas are what Scripture variously refers to as the inner self, character, or nature. The next two are what Scripture calls the outer self. The last area, the soul, works like an auto-pilot to integrate the parts into a cohesive whole. Without conscious effort, it causes the outer self to carry out whatever goes on in the inner self.

This is automatic, invisible, and beyond conscious control. We do, however, have control over the first four areas.

Make the Inside Good

So, to restore the soul, we first need to correct the inner self—what we think, feel, and intend (will). The study of God’s Word, for example, helps correct our mind/thoughts. A vision and intention to be like Christ helps correct the heart/spirit.

Once those come more into line with God’s thoughts and will, the practice of various disciplines involving the body—fasting or rest, for example—helps to strengthen the inner self. The result is increasingly Christ-like behavior that doesn’t need to be forced or faked—going the extra mile, blessing those who curse you, loving neighbors as self, etc., etc. (more…)

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We can actually take charge of the sinful nature. By ourselves, we’re too fragmented to do anything comprehensive. But by partnering with Jesus, we can take control away from erratic thoughts, behavior, and ill will. The sinful nature doesn’t dictate once we shift to kingdom thinking.

When I first saw the soul diagram (see Part 1), I noticed that human construction resembles not only tree rings, but also a target. The center of the soul—heart/will/spirit—is the bulls-eye where Jesus aims. Make the center of the tree good, and the rest follows as surely as apples, pears, and figs.

This is why Jesus doesn’t aim at behavior and doesn’t teach how to follow rules. Most of us try to live right by aiming for behavior while we either ignore the heart/will/spirit or just leave it to divine override. But you don’t fix the auto-pilot by overriding it. You fix it by changing the input.

How do we do that? By gaining wisdom, the “mind of Christ.” Faith/belief begins in the mind by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17) and forming a kingdom vision. Then it settles into the heart and expresses itself as acts of will because faith acts as if something were true. The output straightens up and the airplane flies straight and level, right on course.

And that’s what “repent” means. “What good is it if a man gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mrk. 8:36-37, Luk. 9:25) (more…)

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“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” (Mat. 12:33) Jesus is speaking of inner character that produces Godly acts of love and good will.

Before we can look at soul repair, it helps to see how it’s supposed to work. My thanks to Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard (NavPress, 2002) for a basic explanation of how a person is constructed, in the image of God, to relate to his/her surroundings. (I’ve slightly modified his diagram below by naming one aspect of personhood “Behavior/Relationships” instead of “Social Context.”)

A Tree, House, and Auto-Pilot

We can think of personhood as five concentric circles, like tree rings:

5 concentric circles. Starting with the inner circle and expanding outward, they're labeled Heart/Will/Spirit, Mind/Thought/Emotion, Body, Behavior/Relationships, and the 5th outermost circle is the soul, the total person "packaged." 

At the core of our being is heart, will, or spirit—biblically, they’re synonymous. This is why Scripture calls the heart the wellspring of life. When teleios (human virtue) dominates the core, personal character is consistently righteous—like Abraham, Job, Noah, and so many others. Good trees produce good fruit.

The second ring of personhood is mind, thought, and emotion. It’s where our ideas, imagination, wisdom, sensations, and the subconscious live. The mind generates how we feel, what we think about, and how we react. Combined with heart/will/spirit, the Bible calls these first two rings the inner man. Sometimes, we call it “guts.” Our gut feelings and perceptions, as well as choices and decisions, originate here. (more…)

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