“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:
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.
The third ring is the physical body, our portable “houses” made up of members—organs, limbs, bones, etc.—to carry the spirit. Scripture sometimes calls it flesh, depending on context. Jesus’ body was an incarnation of Spirit in flesh, just as our bodies are incarnations of spirit in flesh.
The fourth ring is the body’s social function in behavior and relationships. Biblically, body and behavior together make up the outer man. These two aspects communicate and carry out the choices generated by the two inner rings. Deeds and words are the fruit we see, read, and recognize in one another.
The fifth and outermost ring represents the soul or “total self,” but it’s greater than the sum of its parts. It functions much like an auto-pilot to integrate the total person based on input from the first four rings. Or, we can loosely think of the soul as the “bark” of the tree, although the soul isn’t on the outside, nor is it visible. In fact, the soul is “hidden” within—not just visually, but from our direct, conscious access.
We can’t locate the soul anywhere specific in the body or the spirit. It won’t show up on an x-ray; and a surgeon can’t open anyone up to find the soul. It’s simply the overall, together person—the inner and outer man, spirit and flesh, one whole person. It’s “who we are.”
As C.S. Lewis said, you don’t have a soul, you are a soul. God is also a Soul. This is the essence of man being made in God’s image.
The soul’s condition is precisely what’s gotten out of whack in mankind and needs restoration. If you’ve never understood why sin sometimes gets the better of you, but other times doesn’t, the cause of erratic control and behavior is that our rings aren’t synchronized anymore—not with themselves or with God. We’re conflicted, disjointed souls.
As Paul put it, we do what we don’t want to do, and we don’t do what we’d like to do. (Rom. 7:15-20) Ever since sin entered the world, it invades all five areas of personhood to ransack human goodness—the original right stuff in our “house.” It’s like an auto-pilot with faulty input. God’s image in man wasn’t blotted out; more accurately, it’s simply in disarray.
The bad news is that the soul can’t be mended directly (even by God). The good news is that it mends indirectly as the first four rings re-form in Christ. And the best news is that those four rings—heart, mind, body, and behavior—are specifically where God gives us control, with His help.
Continued in Part 2…