What is a human?

Biblically speaking, the human person is a created being with immeasurable worth, conferred freedom, a spiritual nature, a bodily presence and relationships to the surrounding persons and objects.

            The human person has several primary interrelated dimensions.  At the center of the individual is the will, often referred to variously as the “spirit” or “heart” in the Bible.  This is the “executive center” of the self.  It is here that decisions are made and the relation of this dimension of the person to God is of primary importance, for as Scripture says “the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

            Though the will is the epicenter of the individual, from out of which the whole life of the person reverberates, the will does not have direct access to the world.  Rather, the will is only able to make decisions about those things which the mind brings to its attention.  (This is why the mind is the necessary beginning point for spiritual transformation.)

            The mind is that aspect of the person which includes its consciousness.  In the mind are thoughts and feelings.  The mind is the operating system of the individual, receiving its source data from the body, from the senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.   The character of the mind determines how the external world will be perceived and interpreted and thus presented to the will.

            The mind is the residence of beliefs and ideas about reality and goodness.  It is through these beliefs that the external world is interpreted to the individual.  The mind is domain of the primary and inalienable freedom of the will.  For while others may infringe upon the social or physical bodily freedom of the self,  “the ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon.” (Renovation, 95.)

            What the mind dwells upon has irrevocable influence on what the will chooses to do.  This is both good news and bad news.  For it means that however pure a heart be, an undisciplined mind will, though sheer persistence, deform it; conversely, however misshapen a heart may be, if it but exercises its authority over the mind, it will inevitably be restored.

            The body is the part of the person that is material, and thus empowers the individual to interact with the material world.  The body enables a person’s spirit to impact the physical world of others, and thus impact their minds(thoughts and feelings) and thereby, their hearts.  Of course, the mind can also act independently of the body, through sheer concentration on an idea or object that is not materially present, say through remembrance, imagination or memorization.  (In a similar way, the mind can pray, through the power of God thus influencing both the material world as well as the unseen world.)

            The body, like the mind, is characterized by habits.  It is not a machine acting always and only in conformity to the conscious intentions of the mind, but operates largely on instincts and routines which may be either righteous or carnal, in alignment with the will or outside of it.  Thus the body, too, must be formed into likeness with Christ, being trained for a thoughtless readiness to do and speak good.    

            A description of the person is not complete without reference to the space between the person and what surrounds it.  The self is essentially an interconnected entity.  In other words, a person is defined not only by what it is, but by how it relates to what else is.  Thus, the social dimension of the self is the way in which it interacts with other persons (and animals and created objects).

            The soul is that which integrates all the other dimensions of the self into a whole.  Hence, scripture sometimes counts people by their souls, for a soul is a person in its entirety.  A healthy soul is healthy person, one whose will is surrendered to God and is directing the mind to dwell on “whatever is lovely...”, whose body habitually enacts the good intentions of the will and who’s social interactions are a benefit to others.

This description was written as part of an assignment with the Renovare Institute and is hugely indebted to the work of Dallas Willard, especially The Renovation of the Heart.

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