We will now continue in our consideration of the “greatest commandment” and how it is to be fulfilled in our lives according to the principle and power of the new covenant. In the previous post we compared the way that the love of God grows and develops within us to that of a tree, even the “tree of life.” The life and love of God begin in our spirit which is comparable to the “root” of the tree. From there they flow upwards to our heart which is functionally similar to the “trunk.” (We expanded considerably on those two aspects, so if you haven’t yet read the previous post, I strongly encourage you to do so as it is the first half of this one! Thanks!)
We will now continue and conclude this aspect of loving God through beneficial/sacrificial action as it relates to our “soul”, our “mind”, and our “strength.”
Our Soul – The Branches
That which is mentioned next in the “greatest commandment”, after the “heart”, is the “soul.” (See Mark 12:30.) Even as we have considered how the heart is comparable to the “trunk” of the “tree of life” within us, we shall now consider how the soul is comparable to its “branches.” In a natural tree, the branches are the extension and diversification of the trunk and so in our inner man, the soul is the extension and diversification of our heart. As the heart is the seat of the mind, will, and emotions, so the soul comprises the full development and specialization of those three aspects.
The “soul” (Greek: “psuché”) encompasses the fullness of our sub-conscious and conscious “psyche” that is located within our brain. This would include the fullness of our mental capacity of both the subconscious and conscious mind. Interestingly, in Mark’s expression of the “first commandment” a distinction is made between the “soul” and the “mind”, and so we will make a distinction as well.
I believe that in its most often used and fullest sense, the “soul” includes the conscious “mind”, yet the majority of what comprises the “soul” is subconscious in nature. The conscious/rational part of our brain is what we most naturally think of when we speak of the “mind”, but that only comprises about 5% of our brain’s capacity and function. The majority of who we are in our psychological make-up is actually sub-conscious in nature. It is this greater part that I believe is primarily referred to in the Greatest Commandment as the “soul” and the conscious mind, because it is distinct and we have more conscious and volitional control over it, is mentioned separately in Mark’s Gospel as the “mind.” Therefore, we will look first at the subconscious aspect of the “soul” and consider the conscious aspect of the “mind” separately in the next section.
The sub-conscious parts of our brain process many things including sensory input, emotions, learning, memory, bodily functions, hormone production, behavior, beliefs, and the like, which account for and determine a substantial part of who we are as individuals. (Freud likened the subconscious mind to the immense mass of an iceberg that lies below the surface of the water out of view while the conscious mind is the small part above the water.)
The soul is a great complexity, and yet the Lord desires that it be fully given over to Him and brought under the Holy Spirit’s control. With our soul being primarily subconscious, however, we might wonder how we can consciously and volitionally bring it under the influence of the Holy Spirit, so that we will love God with all of our soul?
I believe the answer to that question is primarily two-fold. To put it simply, first and foremost, “from below” and secondly, “from above.” We will deal with the first of these in this section and follow up with the second in the next.
So what do I mean by “from below?” As was stated, in the previous post we described the way of spiritual, new covenant growth within us as comparable to that of a tree, even the “tree of life.” In it we suggested that our spirit, located, according to Scripture, within our “belly”, is comparable to the “root” of the tree. Just above that is our heart which is comparable to the “trunk.” The life-giving nourishment and nutrients that come from God’s Spirit (soil) flow from the regenerated spirit of man (root) upwards through his heart (trunk), and into the soul (branches), feeding it and causing it to flourish. No soul will flourish spiritually without receiving its life-giving flow from the Holy Spirit through the regenerated spirit up through the channel of the heart, just as no branches will flourish naturally without receiving the life-giving sap from the root of the tree up through the vascular system of the trunk. This is the way of organic life and growth and is also the way that the new covenant operates within us.
This explains why wherever “heart” and “soul” are mentioned together in Scripture, the order is consistent: “heart” first and “soul” second. In the wisdom of God, the heart has preeminence over the soul and is its primary influencer. Deuteronomy 30:6 highlights this for us: “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” (NIV) Notice that by God circumcising the hearts of His people, this will not only eventuate in their loving Him with all of their heart, but also with all of their soul. This is because the soul is influenced “from below” by the heart.
Even in the natural dynamics of the body, the heart exerts a powerful influence over the soul. According to researchers at the Institute of Heart Math, the heart affects the full functioning of our mind (subconscious and conscious) in four ways¹:
- Neurological communication (nervous system)
- Biochemical communication (hormones)
- Biophysical communication (pulse wave)
- Energetic communication (electromagnetic fields)
Their research has shown that when the heart is filled with the positive emotions of love, joy, peace, gratitude, compassion, and the like, it positively affects our subconscious and conscious mind in regards to “attention level, motivation, perceptual sensitivity, and emotional processing.” ¹ God has made our heart to powerfully affect our soul in the natural dimension, and that is just a shadow of its fuller influence over the soul in the spiritual dimension.
We can, therefore, cooperate and participate with the Lord in this process of loving God with all of our (subconscious) soul “from below” first and foremost through the exercising of our spirit in loving worship to God, and then, through that worship, bringing our heart into alignment with the Lord’s mind, will, and emotions as the Holy Spirit reveals and imparts them within our heart. This will in turn flow into our soul, illuminating, sanctifying, and transforming its diverse aspects (“branches”) from “the bottom up.” This is the primary way that our subconscious soul is brought under the Holy Spirit’s influence and grows in its love for God.
That being said, there is also a secondary way that the subconscious soul is influenced, and that is “from above.”
Our Mind – The Leaves
According to the “first commandment” (as expressed in the Gospel of Mark), we are also to love the Lord our God with all of our “mind.” As has been expressed, I understand this to refer specifically to the conscious/rational part of our brain that we have more direct control over than the subconscious parts. Following our analogy of the “tree”, our conscious/rational “mind” correlates to the leaves of the tree.
From God’s perspective, our “old man”, our Adamic nature, is a dead tree with shriveled, lifeless leaves. Through our union with Christ, however, our “new man” is growing inside of us as a “tree of life” and the old, dead tree is being transformed through the power of His resurrection within us. This new life is working its way up through our spirit, our heart, our soul, and into our mind. As our mind is renewed by the nourishment of the Spirit, we are being manifestly transformed from the inside out (see Romans 12:3.) Consequently, we are now a living tree that is bursting with new, verdant foliage, but we also have remnants of the old, dead leafage that remain.
An essential aspect of this transformation, then, is to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” (Ephesians 4:23 emphasis added.) As with the renewing of the subconscious mind (“soul”), so the conscious mind must also be renewed primarily “from below” (originating in the spirit, then up through the heart and soul), even as the life-giving nourishment in a tree flows upwards.
In the natural, leaves that have been nourished “from below” are full of life and are then able to fulfill their unique function as part of the tree. That primary function is to turn sunlight into food (photosynthesis) which, in turn, feeds back nourishment and energy to the rest of the tree.
The primary purpose of our conscious mind, therefore, is threefold: 1. to draw its life and vitality from God’s Spirit as it flows up from the human spirit, through the heart, and on through the subconscious soul, 2, to be daily exposed to and thoroughly saturated in the light of God through spiritual contemplation of His Person and daily meditation on His Word, and 3. to convert that spiritual light into spiritual food through the indwelling “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17 NIV), which will in turn feed and energize the entire being: spirit, heart, soul, mind, and strength.
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This brings us then to consider specifically how the conscious mind affects the subconscious mind, or as was suggested in the previous section, how the “soul” gets influenced “from above” as well as “from below.”
Even though our subconscious mind comprises approximately 95% of our mental functioning, a majority of the content of our subconscious mind was at one time the content of our conscious mind. All of our conscious experiences, feelings, thoughts, reasonings, judgements, beliefs, perceptions, and the like create neural links and pathways which before long pass from our conscious mind down into our subconscious. These continue to inform and influence our conscious and subconscious thoughts, feelings, and actions, even though we are mostly unaware of their ongoing influence.
It is of utmost importance and consequence, then, what we entertain in our conscious mind for all that it processes and contains during any given period of time eventually submerges below the surface and becomes incorporated into our subconscious soul. For this reason, Scripture exhorts us:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8 NKJV)
It further compels us to,
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2)
In this way, our subconscious mind (“soul”) will be positively influenced “from above” as well as “from below.”
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If we are to love God with all of our “mind”, then, we must give our conscious mind to the Lord the same way that the leaves of a tree give themselves to the sun to be saturated with its light. As our conscious thoughts stretch up toward the heavens to bask in the pure light of God’s revelation and truth, spiritual food is generated within us that flows from our “leaves” to nourish the rest of the “tree of life” within.
Our Strength – The Fruit
The “tree of life” is a fruit-bearing tree (Genesis 3:22, Revelation 22:2), and so our inner man, formed by the organic working of the new covenant, is to be a “fruit-bearing tree” as well. Our spirit, heart, soul, and mind all express themselves outwardly through our physical body. As our love for God flows from the inside out and grows from the bottom up, the “tree of life” within us bears “fruit” and expresses it through our body in beneficial/sacrificial action toward both God and man. This loving action most often requires physical exertion of some kind, and so we are called to love God outwardly with all of our “strength” as the culmination of our love for Him.
In order for us to love Him in this way, the first thing we must do is to consecrate our body and all of its members to God as a holy, living sacrifice. The apostle Paul exhorts,
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1-2 ESV
He similarly exhorted earlier in this same epistle:
“Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.” Romans 6:13 NLT
As we consecrate our bodies to the Lord in a definitive act of worship and love, we open the way for the life and love of God within us to flow out and manifest itself through our outward actions. Such actions will consist of valuable and even costly acts of service to God and to our fellow man as we live out a life of obedience to God’s commandment to “love.” This, then, represents the full expression of the “tree of life” as it grows within us and bears the fruit of love outwardly to God and to all those around us.
We’ve seen in this series that love is not merely an esteeming affection, but also includes, and is completed by, beneficial/sacrificial action. The primary action that love engages in is that of giving. We’ve also seen in these last two posts that what we have to give to God as an act of our love is ourselves…all of ourselves: spirit, heart, soul, mind, and strength.
This love for God begins in our spirit with the giving of genuine worship (“worth-ship”) to Him for all He is and all that He does. This is where “esteeming affection” for God originates in the depths of our being, at the very “root” of the “tree of life” within us that is growing by the power of the new covenant.
Our love for God flows from the inside out and grows from the bottom up. Our spirit, the “root” of the “tree”, feeds directly into our heart, the “trunk.” Up through the “trunk” flow “the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23 KJV) to the rest of the tree above. Our subconscious soul represents the “branches” and our conscious mind the “leaves”, which are nourished primarily “from below” and also, additionally, “from above.” Our love for God culminates in our “strength”, the “fruit”, in outward, bodily actions of love and service to God and to others.
As we contemplate these various aspects, may we realize how essential it is to follow the way of the new covenant in all matters of life and love. When we find that the “fruit” on our “tree” is somehow deficient (and who can say that theirs is not in some regard), let us not strive under external compulsion of the Law or the letter of the Word to try to live up to some lofty prescribed standard. Let us, instead, realize that there is a deficiency somewhere farther down our “tree.” Jesus said, “Make a tree good and the fruit will be good…” Matt.12:33a NIV Therefore, let us go all the way down to the “root” and see if there is not, first and foremost, a deficiency in our spirit’s worship (“worth-ship”) of God. Let us consider from there if our heart is not falling short of being fully given over to the Lord in esteeming affection and sacrificial devotion. Let us nourish and transform our tree from the bottom up, and in season, we will, without striving, bear the fruit outwardly that we desire. This is the way of the new covenant and the way of abundant fruitfulness!
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In the concluding post of this series (yes, I promise 🙂 ), we will look at the final aspect of loving God with all of our heart as “a drawing/unifying effect.” I look forward to exploring that final facet with you!
Series posts: Part 1: “Love”, Part 2: “Hate”, Part 3: “Generational Dynamics”, Mid-series Review/Redux, Part 4: “Building Across the Briar Patch”, Part 5: “Speaking the ‘Love’ in Truth”, Part 6a: “Loving God With All of Our Heart” (Esteeming Affection), Part 6b: Loving God With All of Our Heart (beneficial/sacrificial action)