ON SELF: The Basics

There are few things in life that has more meaning than a satisfying way of being your self, and few there are who attain it. Even Christians, who have a sense of God’s forgiveness, almost never attain the level of Paul’s satisfaction (often translated using the word joy [cara, chara]. We sing about it, we thank God in our prayers for it, we tell other people how great it is being Christian, but inside, few are really satisfied with their selves. Reasons for this are numerous and will not be discussed here at this time, but suffice it to say that the major reason is that most of us do not understand who our self is. Let’s learn what I mean when I use the word self.

The Christians of the first century had a hard time explaining self and so did the Greeks before them; today, we have a similar dilemma. Various ways have been tried, but Jesus in his Greatest Commandment teaching divided self into physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual and we will use that classification. Jesus “introduced” this concept in several places with the most familiar being
  • Matthew 22:37, NIV. Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”   
  • Mark 12:30, NIV. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  
  • Luke 10:27, NIV. “He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
Without a study of the Old Testament, we might think these words and concepts to be part of the teachings of Jesus. However, a careful study shows Jesus to be proclaiming a Jewish belief.  
  • Deuteronomy 6:5, NIV. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  
  • Deuteronomy 6:5, KJV. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Although the words, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual are combined and/or translated somewhat differently by the different writers and translators (and that continues throughout the Bible), I take Jesus to mean here that a self has a physical makeup (strength), emotional makeup (heart), mental makeup (mind), and spiritual makeup (soul). There are several verses where heart (kardia, kardia) is used to mean the spirit. Soul (yuch, psuche, psoo-khay) is the word used by Jesus here to mean a self’s spirit, and I will translate it to mean the highest aspect of the self–spirit–with a small s. The Holy Spirit (πnεumα, pneuma, pnyoo'-mah is often used in the scriptures) will always have a capital S, usually simply the word Spirit. Seeing these interpretations and the manipulations we have to go through in understanding these few biblical words, we can start to see the glorious game that God has given to us for fellowshipping with Him. In these verses, Jesus, in one of His basic teachings, “introduces” God as Spirit for the self both in word and in deed, an awe-inspiring inquestion.

Let us start a graphic to help in our study of self:

This is a representation of who I am and who you are. Note that this representation places the physical part of self on the bottom and the spiritual part at the top. This merely indicates the general interaction of the parts or levels as I call them. A self is the shared whole of these parts. We must remember that any representational scheme is just that—representational. It is not real; it only represents something that is real, something that helps us understand something else that cannot be directly represented. In this case, the quandary we face is how to represent a 3 dimensional body, with an illusional mind, and a spirit that defies explanation or description.

The self is the “box” with the body we see and the consciousness of self represented by the gradation of grayscale of the whole self. We "see" our selves most within the physical and less as we move toward the spiritual. When the New Testament writers speak of the body, they generally mean the physical, emotional, and mental levels. The person’s body is often dichotomized from the spirit. We will not do that, although I believe that it is our spirit that is real with the body housing the spirit for a time. A person, self, is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual--a body. Additionally, the Holy Spirit (God) is available to the body and is “incorporated” as part of the body when we believe and seek, sometimes by Christians called becoming a Christian. Otherwise, the Spirit would be missing from the presentation, although, in actuality, I believe God occasionally presents Himself through non-believers too. Persons who are not seekers allow the body to run their lives, as there is no pilot direction from the Spirit. As a Christian, we look to the Spirit for guidance to one extent or another. If we were to be completely holy (probably impossible), we would require the Spirit to completely control our selves, vertical, top-down control.

Summarizing, we can produce the following:

1. physical (strength): We will envision that the physical level of our self means the aspect of self that we can see and perceive—skin, bones, organs, brain, etc. Granted, this seeing and perceiving is seen and perceived through our thinking, but it is the part of us that would be there whether we could think or not, living or not living. It is the interaction of the various atoms and molecules of the non-living, inorganic elements in our world.

2. emotional (heart): This is our feeling self, the presentation of our living psyche. Our brain produces constituents that “make” the physical part of the body act in a certain manner. In a healthy body the physical self has no control over these chemical aspects of the emotional self and will act blindly to whatever is “sent” to it.

3. mental (mind): This is our thinking self, the aspect of our self that makes us who we are. As with the emotional, the mental also is directed by chemicals, but amazingly, it has control over what chemicals are produced and where they are used. The mental uses the physical brain and the organic emotional chemicals, but thinking is an operation outside of the cellular makeup of the body yet an integral part of it.

4. spirit (soul): It is the spirit that causes the most trouble in explanation. The body (physical, emotional, and mental) has been studied scientifically century after century and is known quite well. But the spirit is another thing. It is “who” we really are. It is eternal as the body of God. It is recognized as the consciousness that makes us know we exist. It is the part of self that accommodates God as the Holy Spirit and allows Him to “speak” to us. Where we speak through bodily words and actions, God speaks to our illusional mind through a Spiritual extra sensory perception.

5. Spirit: This is the Holy Spirit, God incarnate who appears to inhabit our spirit if a self recognizes Him. This overlapping or infilling is God’s “personal” association with His “children.” This relationship evolves through a person’s life, and it has been evolving on the gross level over all time. We know more about the Word (God’s imparted message to the world) today than the early Christians knew, and much more than the Jews of the Old Testament days. Since that represents so much time for our very finite minds, we might think we would know the Spirit well; however, God is jealous about revealing His self to us. We know practically nothing about Him.