The seat of the Spiritual life (Herman Bavinck)


You cannot see the sun but you know it is there.  The soul can be a bit like that

In today’s world ‘spiritual’ is often used in all sorts of contexts.  Whatever view one takes it is something that happens inside the person.  From a secular point of view scientists have tried to find it in the workings of the mind and give it a purely materialist interpretation.  However even with all the breakthroughs in science and there have been many people are more than the sum of their parts.  To take this materialist view also means to take a biological evolutionary interpretation of our destiny. 

I reject this view.  Humanity was not just a big mistake.  Genesis starts with:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

We are more than the sum of our parts.  God created us for a reason, and we saw this in the garden when God walked with Adam in the garden before the fall.  Humanity was in communion with God and even though the Fall took place God had a plan in history to bring humanity back into relationship with Himself.  Whether one interprets the story of Genesis literally or generically, we come to the same conclusion Humanities destiny in Christ (the new Adam) was for fellowship with the Trinitarian God.

When I was reading the title on page 250; “the seat of the spiritual life” I thought about location.  The driver in a car has a seat and it is located by the steering wheel and the pedals.  Where is our spiritual life seated or located?

This is an important question and Bavinck helps us find the location of our spiritual life through the Scriptures. 

“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3

“that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, “ Ephesians 3:16

“Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16

“but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:4

“knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; “Romans 6:6

“by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,” Ephesians 2:15

“for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” Ephesians 4:12-14

In general, then one cannot see where the spiritual life is located.  These verses are enough to show us that a part of the human dimension is to actually have a soul.   Herman Bavinck the master theologian is not happy with such a general conclusion, and he goes mining for the deeper truths found in holy Scripture.  The seat of the spiritual life is located in the heart.  We need to understand that this is metaphorical language and not a biological heart.   Obviously human language breaks down when trying to understand God’s word.  Metaphor is one way that can be used to take us closer to God’s heart and His love in Christ.  Lets allow Bavinck to speak for himself:


“Paul’s command to “not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewal of your mind” indicates that the mind, the consciousness, especially the ability to reflect, the organ of moral thought and recognition (Rom. 7:25), is the seat of the spiritual life.56 This parallels the “conscience” (Titus 1:15) as an organ of the spirit and is therefore located in a part of the heart; the “mind” is a function of the “heart.”7 Compare Ephesians 4:23:“Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”8 The soul/life has its origin in the spirit, and its organ (both as to its conscious and as to its unconscious side) is the laeczrt.59 The heart is the concentrating and mediating organ of all circumstances and activities.  Thus, the sequence is spirit—soul—heart: foundation—subject— organ.   Rationality, emotion/feeling, and will, then, are rooted in the heart.  The heart, therefore, is the seat of the spiritual life, as is indicated by biblical references to “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Pet. 3:4) and circumcision being “a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom. 2:29). (From: Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 250-252)

There is a lot to digest here but this bit explains it:

“The organ of the spirit and is therefore located in a part of the heart; the “mind” is a function of the “heart.” Compare Ephesians 4:23:” 

There you have it, ’mind is a function of the heart’.


What does all this mean to us as believers?

Becoming a Christian is only the first step of faith.  God has started the work within us.  The mind has been spiritually awakened and we can again taste God’s goodness in us.  This is why prayer, reading the Scriptures, having communion with other believers is important.  We can either fill our minds with spiritual, wholesome things that makes us more like Christ or feed our minds with things that go against the Holy Spirit and leads one to destruction.  This is in a practical manner very helpful.


Prayer takes us in to heaven itself and we become partakers of the Trinitarian life in Christ.  By praying we focus on God’s kingdom, and we can more closely understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us.   Prayer also starts to help us become more empathetic towards other human beings and God’s creation.

The Scriptures

God speaks to us in his son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Where do we learn about this?  We learn this through the writings of the original Apostles, Moses, the prophets and so on.  The Scriptures are ancient wisdom which are God given to humanity.  We are fools not to take Scripture seriously.

Communion with believers.

We belong to one universal Church established by our lord Jesus Christ. It is made up of believers from the past, the present and the future.  The Holy Spirit is our Comforter and teacher.


As believers we have a duty by the Holy Spirit to take care of our heart:

Do we pray?

Do we read the Bible?

Do we commune somehow with other believers?

Added to this list Paul also said somewhere to think about these good, and beautiful things.  We can sometimes see the effects of these changes within other believers:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. “Galatians 5:22-23

Although the spiritual life is something that is hidden from sight, one can still see these effects in Christians who are walking close to Christ.  

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