Three Faculties of the Human Spirit

Since Watchman Nee’s writings convey the trichotomy of man, this is likely the majority view of the fast-growing unregistered church in China. Nee’s associate, Witness Lee, described the faculties of the human spirit (what ontologically distinguishes humans from animals) in this way:


Just as our body has many parts, so does our spirit and our soul. Our spirit is composed of three: conscience, fellowship, and intuition. The conscience is for us to discern right from wrong, to justify or to condemn. Romans 9:1 compared with Romans 8:16 proves that the conscience is a part of our spirit. Fellowship is for us to contact God and to commune with God. This is shown in John 4:24 and Romans 1:9. Intuition means to have a direct sense or feeling in our spirit, regardless of reason or circumstance. First Corinthians 2:11 indicates that our spirit can know what our soul cannot. Our soul knows by reason or by circumstance, but our spirit can perceive without these. This is intuition, the direct sense in our spirit.

The Parts of Man, chapter 1,

Rather than using the term “parts,” I recommend the term “faculties.” This clarifies that man has only three distinguish- able “parts,” yet each part has faculties. The spirit is the base of intuition, conscience and fellowship (communion), whereas the soul is the seat of mind, will, and emotions.

Lee’s approach refers to individual verses to substantiate the spirit/soul distinction. These cited references do illustrate and confirm these aspects of the human spirit. However, a primary principle to classify these higher faculties as related to the human spirit is that they are higher in functioning and capacity than any animal.

The Art of Biblical Counseling

Under the heading, Consideration of a Tripartite Model of The Human:

There is more to the human mind than the spiritual dimension [which the author had been addressing]. Another dimension can be called the psyche (Doran, 1977, 1981, 1990  Lonergan, 1957, p. 456), which includes emotions, imagery, and memories whic cohere to form personality structures (Helminiak, 1992, 1996)… Differentiation of the psyche and the spirit within the human mind refines the standard model of the human, replacing the bipartite model–body and mind–with a tripartite model–organism (body), psyche, and spirit (Frankl, 1969/1988; Institute of Logotherapy, 1979; Lonergan, 1957, Vande Kempe, 1982). Although the term psych has a wide range of meanings, in this article psyche is a stabilizing dimension of the human mind. Its inclination is to sustain a comfortable homeostasis (Helminiak, 1996). In contrast, the human spirit is dynamic, open-ended, ever unfolding, ever transcending. It fosters transformation, and its ideal goal is to attain, through continued adjustment, in an ultimate coincidence of subjectivity and objectivity, unity with all that is.

The Art of Biblical Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide on How to Counsel Using Biblical Principles (2008: Xlibris Corporation), p. 491 (Kindle edition), by Forshaye Winbush, PhD.

Although Dr. Winbush documents this model of man through secular sources, his description of the trichotomous model of man in a Christian counseling context is welcome.

Relevance in Sanctification

Here is a quote from Jessie Penn-Lewis (The Centrality of the Cross, ch. 5). The Lord used her writing in the era of the Welch revival and beyond.

In Dr. Andrew Murray’s Spirit of Christ, he gives in the Appendix a very clear explanation of the dividing of soul and spirit which has to be done in the believer. He explains how man fell from the ‘spirit’ dominating his whole being, into the soul, and then again how the soul sank down into the flesh, so that at last God said of man “He is become flesh.” He descended from spirit to soul, and from soul to ‘flesh’. The spirit of man, says Dr. Murray, is that in us which is capable of knowing God-spirit-consciousness. The soul is the seat of the self-consciousness, and the body the seat of sense consciousness. An understanding of simple Bible psychology is necessary for any apprehension of the full life of victory through the atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is more to be dealt with in us than what we call ‘sin’, and more than ‘sin’ which prevents our full knowledge of God.