Mankind is made in the image of God: a trinity of body, soul, and spirit. Theologians call it the tripartite nature of man. We have three parts: body, soul, and spirit. Not everybody agrees with that; in fact, there’s an in-house debate among theological minds: “Are we bipartite or are we tripartite? Are we just body and soul—body and inward man—or are we body, soul, and spirit?” I believe we’re tripartite. Don’t let that throw you, though. Paul described our three-part nature when he said, “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).
The reason these three divisions are given is simply to show how man is separated, along with animals, from plant life. Along with animals, we have a soul, technically—but animals don’t have a spirit. In the Old Testament, soul is the Hebrew word nephesh. It is translated “creature” in Genesis 2:19, when God made animals and man on day six. It simply means “a consciousness.” Humans, and animals to a different degree, are self-aware, self-conscious. Plants are not; they don’t have that consciousness.
Having a spirit separates us from plants and animals. We have the capacity for knowing God, we have a desire to pray, and we’re the ones who worship. Animals lack that capacity because they are bipartite beings. We’re tripartite. But when Adam and Eve sinned, something happened to the spirit component. It was rendered inoperative, subjugated by sin. It died. So, rather than having the spirit in control and having the mind of the spirit, we have fallen and now have the mind of the flesh. The body dominates us with its needs and urges, not the spirit. That’s why we need to be born again. When we receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, we’re reborn with the Holy Spirit living in us. Our default arrangement gets flipped and we have the mind of the spirit—it’s awakened; there’s life.
There’s a medical condition known as myasthenia gravis. The impulses that the brain attempts to send to contract the muscles don’t make it to the muscles, so the muscles atrophy. In a healthy patient, these electrical impulses get sent along the nervous system and convey messages to the muscle through a little apparatus called a motor end plate. When an impulse hits the motor end plate, the end plate conveys that to the muscle, and the muscle contracts. In a patient with myasthenia gravis, there are no end plates. The impulse gets sent from the brain but the muscles can’t receive it, so they go unused and atrophy results. In like manner, our spirits are to be the motor end plates of our being, receiving impulses from God, responding to and being controlled by the spirit, the body, and the mind. Paul called it having “the mind of the Spirit” (Romans 8:27). Because of the fall, the end plates have been removed, so to speak. We don’t receive the spiritual impulse. God designed us to be three-part beings; when one part is missing, we’re not whole. Thus, we need redemption; thus, we need to be born again.