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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, January 25 2024

The wondrous spirit of man

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 the human intellect. Humans have free will, self-awareness and superb abilities to learn and reason.

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 our brains can explain why.

In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness….” We think “likeness” refers to the design and shape of our bodies being like God’s body, and “image” refers to our minds being significantly like the mind of God. So no wonder we humans have such ideal design and functionality, and our phenomenal mental and spiritual qualities dramatically distinguish us from animals (see Psalm 8).

The key ingredient that makes our minds so amazing is the human spirit, also called the spirit of man. As indicated in the previous article in this issue of Bible Insights Weekly the spirit in man does not mean we have an immortal soul. In the Bible, the word “soul” is basically a synonym for a person or a life. We are all souls. (See our free study guide What Happens After Death?) 

The Bible mentions this human spirit, or the spirit in man, 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.” Job 32:8 tells us: “But there is a spirit within people, the breath of the Almighty within them, that makes them intelligent.” The human spirit is what makes us a homo sapien—“wise man” In verse 8, “breath” (Hebrew neshamah) is simply a poetic way of referring to the “spirit” (ruach) in man.

Isaiah 42:5 uses the same Hebrew words to refer to God’s gifts of breath and spirit: “...he that giveth breath to the people upon it [the earth], and spirit to them that walk therein.” 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 spiritual life in the “image of God” by giving him the spirit of man.

Ecclesiastes 12 metaphorically describes aging and death:“The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (verse 7). When a person dies, the only component that survives is his spirit, which God takes to heaven. This cannot be speaking of an immortal soul, because those who believe in immortal souls believe only good souls go to heaven. This verse tells us everyone’s spirit goes to heaven upon death, because it is the permanent part of the person that needs safekeeping until he or she is resurrected.

The spirit in man defines who we are. It is our identity, recording and preserving our character, personality, memories and understanding, which will be used as the code or “blueprint” for restoring all those features when we are resurrected with a new body. The spirit of man has no consciousness or functionality of itself. Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 10 tell us “the dead know nothing” and “ there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave…”

Psalm 146:4 says: “His breath goes forth; he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.Psalm 6:5 states: "For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” 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).

God’s desire is for everyone to eventually receive the gift of His Holy Spirit, upon believing the Gospel, repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. (See our free study guide What You Need To Know About Baptism) Then one of the great purposes of the human spirit is fulfilled—to receive and integrate with the Holy Spirit and become spiritually “converted” (Acts 3:19). Romans 8:16 says, “His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” A converted person’s spirit is a combination of the spirit of man and the Holy Spirit.

Human nature experiences a continual downward pull and temptation toward evil (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 7:14-19; 8:7; Galatians 5:19-21; Matthew 15:19). A major reason for this is the influence of Satan the devil, who “broadcasts” his influences all over the world (Ephesians 2:2). This is why Paul implores us: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11), and then verses 12 through 20 describe the essential pieces of armor, which includes prayer.

Human beings are made in the image of God, and the spirit of man gives us marvelous minds with 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.