A quick review: The soul is a mysterious and complex combination of three things – mind, will, and emotions.
My soul health story
I didn’t grow up with a clear understanding of how the soul is arranged, or how it is designed to function. Unless those who raised you had a unique understanding of these things, you probably didn’t either. I was a pre-teen before I was able to recognize the distinctions between mind, will, and emotions. But that doesn’t mean that I understood them in relationship to my soul. I just knew they were all 3 in me someplace, and somehow made up “me.” And I knew that I didn’t understand them… especially the emotions.
I lived in that ignorance for many years until my wife and I came across the teaching of the late Dr. Bill and Anabel Gillham [affiliate link] of Lifetime Ministries. I remember listening to a cassette tape album of theirs on my Sony Walkman(c) as I drove to work. It was called “The Victorious Christian Life.”
The truths Bill and Anabel gleaned from the word of God and shared with me were transformative. That’s not an exaggeration. What follows is my attempt at conveying those life-changing truths to you.
Before we get too far into it, let’s make sure we are clear on a few things…
Your mind is not the same as your brain. Your brain is a body organ, made of physical stuff: DNA, cells, etc. (body health will be covered in the next section). But your mind is something different. Think of it this way: while you are on planet earth, which is a physical place, your mind is expressed through the proper functioning of your brain, which is a physical body organ. But they are not one and the same. If your mind were your brain, then when your body died your ability to think would stop because your brain would no longer be functioning. But that can’t be the case because the Bible tells us that the life you are to enjoy with God after this life is through, is a life of great awareness (1 Corinthians 2:7-9; 2 Corinthians 5:8-9; Philippians 1:21-23; Philippians 3:20-21). In heaven you will still have a mind – the ability to think.
Your mind’s job is to analyze data having to do with your circumstances, situations, feelings, input from others, etc., and make recommendations about possible courses of action, to your will. So what does your will do?
Your will is what Bill Gillham has called your “chooser.” It is at the top of the chain-of-command and eventually makes every decision, from small things to large things, from fairly trivial things to very important things. For example: with your will you decide what color of socks you are going to wear each day, and with your will you decide to obey God or disobey God. The will makes its decisions based on the input received from the mind and the emotions. I already told you how the mind analyzes data and makes recommendations to the will, but how do the emotions figure in to that? We’ll get there in just a minute… but first, a small but important detour.
It is popular in our day to hear people talking about humans having a “free will.” What is usually meant is that we have the ability to choose. No argument there, we not only have the ability to choose, but the responsibility before God to choose (one of many biblical examples: Joshua 24:14). But to say that our will is “free” implies much more than the ability to make choices… it is saying that our will is unhindered, unrestrained, that we have no limits on our will, which is surely not true. For example, I can will to fly up into the sky like Superman, but it won’t happen. That’s because my will is bound by many things (natural laws, limitations on my ability, God, etc.). As followers of Christ we must understand that our will, like every other created thing, is limited by the will of God (Proverbs 16:33). His will is the boundary beyond which our wills are unable to pass. That’s what we mean when we say that God is sovereign.
Your emotions are the part of you that feels things like love, peace, anger, joy, fear, etc. God designed your emotions to be a blessing to you. But because you are tainted by the affects of sin, the way your emotions interact with the rest of your being is not always as God intended. I don’t have to tell you how powerful emotions can be (sorry, I just did). In Pastoral counseling (and my own life) I’ve seen that many, many individuals are controlled by their emotions, literally. You may be one of them.
When your emotions are dominant, you don’t think rationally through a situation. Instead, you wing-it based on what you feel. You might give some sort of credence to the facts and details of a situation, but in the end, you go with what you feel. You might even rationalize your decisions to fit what you feel. When that is your main mode of operation, you tend to make decisions that are not good. Personally, I’ve noticed that when my emotions are dominant I tend to act out of them. Fear, suspicion, insecurity – when I’m emotionally driven, these rule me instead of a commitment to obey God. I’m not saying your emotions are bad. I’m just saying that in your fallen state, your emotions are suspect.
How the soul is designed to work
In this section we are going to look at how all 3 parts of the soul – mind, will, and emotions – are designed by God to function. In other words, we’re going to examine the template, the prototype by which God designed us, so that we can use it as a standard by which to evaluate how our souls are actually functioning.
Using the diagram again, let’s look at how this triune nature of man is supposed to operate.
1. A circumstance occurs – anything from hearing a delightful song, to receiving news that a loved one has died.
2. That information comes to you through the body (eyes, ears, nose, etc.), and depending on the situation, your body may actually get involved in processing the information through hormonal or adrenaline surges, increased heartbeat, etc.
3. The information is relayed to the mind and emotions (the soul). The mind’s job is to evaluate the information based on the facts. The emotions evaluate the situation based on instinct or feeling, combined with any physical responses from the body.
4. Both mind and emotions pass on their “conclusions” about the situation to the will.
5. The Christian’s spirit engages with the will at this point. It will draw on insight from the word of God, the counsel of fellow believers, and the Spirit of God who indwells them, to come to a decision about the God-honoring, Christ-exalting way to handle or respond to the situation.
That’s how it is supposed to work.
In a healthy person, where things are working pretty much according to God’s design, there’s a likelihood that a good decision will be made. But in an unhealthy person (one with physical, mental or emotional difficulties… or strong flesh patterns), the chances of a good decision are drastically reduced.
Learning to steward your soul
Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to the possibility of having an unhealthy soul. Because of some physical or mental limitation, you may be unable to mentally comprehend or grasp the realities you’re facing. Or you could be subject to emotional imbalances of varying degrees due to traumatic events in your past which limit your ability to respond rationally. My experience tells me that most people have “junk” in that last category that they don’t even know about.
The challenge you and I face as followers of Jesus Christ is in dealing rightly with what may be life-long habits of feeling, thinking, or behavior. And don’t kid yourself, it is a significant challenge.
It’s your responsibility, as a steward of the life Jesus Christ has given you, to have the healthiest soul you can possibly have, for His glory!
That’s a tall order, but not an impossible one, thanks to the gracious nature and lavish gifts of our God! He’s provided us Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). His resources are now ours, to enable and empower lives that are indeed worthy of His gospel (John 15:5-8; Romans 8:3-4; Galatians 5:13-25, 2 Peter 1:3-4). As we continue walking through these topics together, I’ll unpack more of what it means to have Christ living in you through the Holy Spirit, and how that practically impacts daily living.
The connection to your Christian home and family
Simply because of the name of my website (ChristianHomeAndFamily.com), you might think that my first posts would be addressing marriage as the foundation for a home, or that I’d already be talking about biblical parenting strategies. But I haven’t – and of course, that’s intentional. I believe that a home and a family can only be Christ-centered when Christ is at the center of the individual lives of those who are leading and living in that home or family.
What does that mean practically? It means that before moms and dads attempt to find new parenting strategies or tips for a more peaceful home life, they need to learn how to live out the Christian faith they profess, in the way God has prescribed. They need to be able to consistently model what a healthy Christian is before they can pass it along to others in their home. Whoever you are (husband, wife, mom, dad, brother, grandparent, etc.), you need to be on the road toward centering your life around Christ before you can expect others to follow you.
That is what’s at the core of this website; individual people, walking daily with their Savior. Keep reading, learning, and applying what you receive here… and together we’ll move toward establishing our homes and families as ones that are truly Christian.
A homework assignment for you
I’ve given you a lot of information so far, and I know it can be mind-boggling when you first start something like this – especially if it is filled with entirely new concepts. Here’s my suggestion.
- Take what you’ve already received (these first posts – here, here, here, and here on this page) and slowly digest them over the next few weeks.
- Use them as your daily devotional or quiet time.Read and re-read the words, asking the Holy Spirit to teach you as you do. He will be faithful to help you.
- When scriptures are given, look them up, ponder them, meditate on their truth. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16).
- If you find yourself stuck, or not understanding something… feel free to shoot me a question. I’ll help however I can.
- Trust the LORD to guide you, because He will.
Q: How would you judge the health of your soul?
Q: What emotional, mental, or will-oriented things make it hard for you to obey Christ?