The understanding of the tripartite nature of man (man is a spirit, that has a soul that, lives in a body) is a fundamental key to the understanding of God’s salvation program for mankind, primarily because according to divine design, the spirit, soul, and body are not saved together at one instant when a person surrenders to Christ.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians. 5:23 (NKJV)
We see that salvation is not complete until the spirit, soul and body have been fully redeemed, purified, and sanctified to the point where it is blameless before God. The spirit of man died instantly after the disobedience of Adam and is redeemed instantly at the ‘new birth’ when the Holy Spirit indwells and becomes one with the human spirit.
”But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” – 1 Cor 6:17 (NKJV)
The soul of man, which comprises of the mind (intelligence), the will, the emotional faculty, and the faculty of desire, is not completely saved at the ‘new birth’. This is due to the nature of the soul. The natural man is conceived entirely in sin and born into sin. The soul, however, is pure and innocent at birth, but inevitably becomes corrupted as it begins to interact with “the corruption that is in the world through lust” – II Peter 1:4. The soul begins to die (become separated from the life of God) gradually by learning and by practice through this process of corruption.
For example, when Adam’s spirit died (became separated from the Spirit of God), the source of his soul’s life was cut off because life flows from the spirit into the soul, and this flow of life occurs as divine counsel and instruction is received from the spirit, and the soul responds by walking in obedience.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” – John 6:63 (NKJV)
“Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” – James 1:15 (NKJV)
The spirit of a lively man, a man who is one with God, gives life to his soul by culturing it with the counsel and knowledge of God. When the spirit is dead, the soul becomes subject only to external counsel, and it gradually begins to die as corruption sets in. When Adam’s spirit died, his soul (his mind, will, emotions, and desire) gradually began to learn and practice disobedience and sin.
The attributes of God’s life that Adam’s offspring possessed in their soul could have been no greater than that of Adam, their father, because they had no direct connection to the life of God. Note that Adam still had attributes of God’s life in His soul after His spirit became separated from God. These are the things which his soul had learnt while his spirit was still in union with God, and he must have transferred some of these attributes to his children through counsel and instructions. The attributes of God’s life in Adam’s son, Abel is seen in the nature of his sacrifice to God. Cain did not exhibit the same attributes that Abel displayed because he did not show as much resistance to sin and corruption as Abel did.
God said to Cain in Genesis 4:6 “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
It says in Hebrews 11:4 (NKJV) that “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.”
The righteousness of Abel was a learned righteousness. Since he was spiritually dead and separated from God, he could have only received his form of righteousness from interaction with his parents, Adam and Eve, who were still righteous in their souls to a degree after their fall. There also must have been a transfer of this kind of soul-righteousness from Abel to the generation after Him, and from that generation to the next, even unto the present generation. Hence, the unbeliever today, a worldly person, to a degree, has the attributes God’s life and righteousness in His soul but is disconnected from the life source. This is why today, you can find hardened unbelievers and atheists who have Godly values, in some cases more than many Christians who have not allowed the life of God to culture their soul. These Godly attributes of unbelievers must not be confused with the fruit of the spirit. This is the righteousness of man, which, according to the prophet Isaiah “are like filthy rags”. The fruit of the spirit can only be borne of the recreated human spirit that has become united with the Spirit of God. Over time, from generation to generation, the souls of men, have become more and more separated from God and more hardened in sin and rebellion due to the program of corruption that is at work in the world.
The soul quality of humans in general is on a steady decline. There will be degrees of unrighteousness practiced in the end-times that have never even been heard of in generations past. The soul is a learner. Unlike the human spirit, which is either completely alive or completely dead, the soul gains life gradually by learning righteousness, and it dies by learning wickedness. When the soul is exposed to a certain light or darkness over a period of time, the soul begins to absorb that light or darkness; after a while, it begins to conform to the nature of that light or darkness. The death of the human spirit due to the sin of Adam meant divine life was instantly extinguished from man’s spirit, hence the soul of man could no longer fellowship with its life source. This created an opportunity for the soul to find a new master – ‘the world’. ‘The world’ is a trainer, it has its own ways and its own laws, and it seeks to culture the soul and make it obedient to its laws. This is the devil’s greatest instrument. This is why we are warned in 1 John 2:15-17 ”Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
The soul of a believer is the battleground between the forces of good and evil, between the forces of light and darkness, and of God and the devil. Many things happen on the outside and many external battles and wars are fought by men on a daily basis. However, every activity in the natural world is a consequence of the interplay between the agenda of two opposing forces – the forces of light and the forces of darkness. Every cause that is championed, every ideology that is propagated, every movement that’s originated, every single motion within the natural human sphere of existence and interaction is a product of the contention between the powers of God and the powers of darkness, and the purpose of both sides is to have a desired impact on the souls of men, everything else is simply a tool or a means to achieve this purpose.
“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:” – 1 Peter 1:22 (KJV)
“Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:9 (KJV)