What is Human Nature? Part 2: The Nature of the Spirit

Main Idea: The scriptures teach us that human beings are composed of three different things: body, spirit and intelligence which together form a “soul.”  These souls are either male or female and are designed to be whole when united together.  The nature of the  body is evil while the nature of the spirit is good.  The intelligence is the executive function that chooses which part of the soul will dominate.  The “spiritual man” refers to the spiritual part of our nature which is inherently good, recognizes God and is at war with the carnal part of the self.  A major purpose of life is to choose whether we want to be dominated by the lusts of the flesh or whether we want to subject them to the laws of the Spirit. 

v.) The Spiritual Man

a.) Desires Good over Evil

In contrast to the natural man, the spiritual man values being good and even abhors evil.  King Benjamin’s people testified that they had a born again experience in which they were reborn as spiritual beings that had no more desire to do evil.  Mosiah 5:2 records their words: “And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

Peter likewise taught that there is a spiritual side to man and that there is a spark of divinity within each of us that can be catalyzed to transform our natures from being carnal to spiritual.  He said: ”

“That by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.  And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”

The scriptures also teach us that without a spiritual endowment from heaven, our natural bodies were incapable of doing good.  However, faith in Christ awakens the spiritual part of our nature which allows us to do good works:

“And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.  Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.” (Moroni 4-5)

Alma testified that those who are spiritually awakened, look upon sin with abhorrence:  “Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence.” (Alma 13:12)

Ultimately, when we are converted, we lose all desire to do evil so that it is no longer even tempting to us.  A miraculously converted King Lamoni said: “And they did all declare unto the people the selfsame thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.” (Alma 19:33)

b.) Recognizes and and Follows God and Christ

The spiritual part of our nature inherently knows and resonates with God.  Paul taught the Corinthians this principle in 1 Cor 2:12 which reads: ” Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

Jesus taught a similar principle when He declared that His sheep knew His voice.  John 10:4 reads: “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.”  Jesus taught that His sheep know His voice so that when His sheep hear his message being taught they recognize Him as their shepherd and respond by joining His flock.

Ultimately, believing  and trusting in the Lord redeems us from the fall. The Lord told the Brother of Jared: “Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.” (Mormon 9: 21)

c.) Is our “conscience” that communes with the Divine

While the flesh lusts after evil things, our spirit acts as our conscience that helps us to know God’s laws.  John declared that Jesus gives all people the “light of Christ” which is their conscience or guide towards eternal life: “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1: 9)

Paul taught the Galatians that their connection to the spirit of God is what would allow them to overcome the lusts of the flesh.  He said: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Gal 5: 16)

The Spirit of the Lord speaks to our spirit to give us knowledge of His ways.  In Job 32:8 it is written: “I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.  But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” (Job 32:8)

In Proverbs 20: 27 we learn that God uses our spirit to know our heart and mind:  “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly.”

The Apostle John taught that if we can feel the companionship of the Holy Spirit then we are in good standing before God: “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” (1 John 3: 24)

Another sign of our spiritual state is the amount of light that radiates from our countenances.  Isaiah declared that you can judge how spiritual a person is by looking at their countenances.  He said:  “The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.” (Isaiah 3:9)

The prophet Alma similarly taught that we all must receive the image of Christ in our countenances: And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5: 14)

An extreme example of this is the prophet Moses who was transfigured so that his face shone with glory: “And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.” (Exodus 34:30)

d.) Is “born again” or transformed by God into a new person whose spiritual nature overcomes the fallen nature.

We all begin life as “natural men” meaning our spiritual natures are dormant as we learn how to handle the lusts of the flesh.  This is why Jesus taught Nicodemus that unless a person is “born again” they cannot live in the Kingdom of God.  “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)   To allow carnal and evil beings to enter into heaven would transform heaven into a hell.

However, Jesus provided the means whereby we can be “born again” or transform our nature from carnal to spiritual.  Paul taught the Corinthians this principle when he said:  “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor 5: 17)

He similarly taught the Galatians that they had to crucify the flesh or kill the natural man within them and become born again: “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (Gal 5: 24)

Our natures change from being carnal and evil to being righteous and holy.  Paul wrote the Ephesians:  “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph 4:24)

In fact, since the natural man cannot ever do good, anybody that does good does so through the spiritual part of their nature.  The Apostle John taught:  “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him….Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.  In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” (1 John 2: 29; 3: 9-10)

The Old Testament Prophets also testified of the necessity of having this “born again” experience where the spiritual part of our nature is awakened and conquers the flesh.  In Proverbs we learn that evil people are changed through obtaining grace, learning the truth and God and then fearing Him.  Proverbs 16:6 reads: “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6)

Isaiah testified that the Lord writes His law on the hearts of His servants: “Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.” (Isaiah 51:7)

The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel similarly taught the Lord  gives us a new heart that loves Him and His ways:

“And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)

 “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

Being born again is also a major theme of the Book of Mormon.  King Benjamin famously taught that we are enemies to God in our natural state and must be “born again” through the Holy Spirit: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)

The Lord declared this same doctrine to a repentant Alma the younger who said of his experience:“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.” (Mosiah 27:25)

The story of Alma the Younger proves that the vilest of sinners can become the most blessed saints:  “And thus did the Spirit of the Lord work upon them, for they were the very vilest of sinners. And the Lord saw fit in his infinite mercy to spare them.” (Mosiah 28:4)

However, being born again is usually not an instant change but a long process that includes repentance and taking the sacrament.  Brian K. Ashton taught: “In the sacrament, we learn that this change is a step-by-step process, [where] little by little, week by week, we are transformed as we repent, covenant, and through increased endowments of the Spirit [become like the Savior].”

e.) Receives inspiration and power from God

The scriptures also teach us that we are capable of acting as conduits for the Spirit of God.  Paul compared our bodies to temples because like temples, our bodies are capable of housing the spirit of God: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor 3: 16)

When the spirit of God dwells within us, we are capable of many great works.  It is written that Joseph of Egypt was so favored of the Lord that anything he did prospered:“And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.” (Gen. 39:3)

In the Book of Exodus, we also learn that the Lord inspires artists to do beautiful works that testify of Him: “And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass…” (Exodus 31:3-4)

vi.) Has Moral Agency to choose which part of his nature he wishes to dominate: spirit or flesh.

And one final part of the nature of man is that he has moral agency to decide which part of his nature will dominate: spirit or flesh.  The capacity for moral agency was one of the consequences of the fall of Adam and Eve and is essential to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, it appears that the physical body we inhabit is the means through which we experience the temptations of the devil and our spirit is the means through which we experience the promptings of God.  Paul taught the Galatians: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (Gal 5: 17)

Lehi taught Jacob that men know enough to choose good from evil.  “And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men.” (2 Nephi 2:5).  Lehi further elaborates: “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)

Samuel the Lamanite taught that having moral agency makes us accountable to God for how we use it: “And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.” (Helaman 14:30)

The Lord gives us a clear choice between life and death and it is up to us to choose.  In Deuteronomy 30: 19-20 we read: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut 30: 19-20)

Joshua repeated this doctrine when he told the Israelites that they had a choice to make:“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth..And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

The Lord declared that in the Last Days He would commence a work that consign everyone to one of two fates:  Either peace and life or captivity and destruction. “For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the  captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken.” (1 Nephi 14:7).

So it appears that we only have two choices.  We can choose to reconcile to the will of God or to the will of the Devil: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.” (2 Nephi 10: 23-25)

If we choose to reconcile ourselves to the will of the Devil then we are condemned: “Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.  And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation.” (D&C 93:31-32)

We can conceive of a bipolar continuum with carnal (characterized by the flesh or the body, its passions and appetites)  being at one end and spirituality being at the other end.  Each of us exists somewhere between the extremes on this continuum, with the promptings of the spirit trying to move us higher on the spiritual end and the temptations of the devil trying to move us towards the carnal end.


0%                                 25%                                  50%                              75%                     100%

Paul taught the Galatians what the fruits of living a carnal life looked like: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,  envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5: 19-21)

Ultimately, the cost of living a carnal life is death: “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

In Contrast, Paul outlined that the fruits of the spirit included: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Gal 5: 22-23)

Parley P. Pratt elaborated on how the Spirit uses our physical bodies: “The Holy Spirit…quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, invigorates, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.” (Parley P. Pratt- Key to the Science of Theology/A Voice of Warning [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1965], 100-101.)