The Charactersitics of the Spiritual Life


As human beings we are all part of nature, so we live and die even if we haven’t sinned.  Yet even though this is the case there is an aspect of our life that can go beyond this life death scenario and live forever.  We are not only natural beings of the earth, but we are also spiritual beings that can move beyond the here and now. Unfortunately for humanity Adam sinned, the Fall happened, and we were pulled into this meager existence that leads to both spiritual and physical death.   Bavinck goes beyond this, and he points to some shocking conclusions:

A local moose near where we live!


“Life indeed. It goes without saying that this is life, as Holy Scripture often calls it. All other life is temporary, transient, fleeting, and subject to death (even without sin); the vegetative, sensory life cannot last on its own, not even in human beings. Physical life cannot be immortal of itself, not even in Adam, in whom it might have been eternalized through the spiritual. The rational life, the soul-life, of humans is not real life; it exists, but sin impoverishes it, wears it down, and emaciates it. Only the spiritual life is now true, genuine life.”  (From: Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 252)

What I find shocking although true is in the sentence:

 “Physical life cannot be immortal of itself, not even in Adam, in whom it might have been eternalized through the spiritual.”

Adam did not eat of the tree of life.  God spared him and us by kicking him out of the Garden of Eden.  Our relationship with God was severed and there was no way back.  If Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of life, he/she would have been separated from God’s presence for all eternity.  Sin had caused a universal imbalance that pulls us out of communion with God.  In Christ obviously the imbalance has been fixed and by the gift of faith and grace we have been made a completely new creation inside out. 

So then, his first point in the characteristics of life was this life and what the situation is. The master theologian does not stop there but he takes us on an adventure to gain deeper spiritual understanding of what the characteristics of the spiritual life are:

·        Life indeed (We looked at this)

·        Eternal life. (John 3:36; 8:51).

·        Conscious life

·        A free life (Rom. 6:11; cf. VV. 17—18; Eph. 4:3; 1 Pet. 4:2—3); (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 2:19; 3:10); (Rom. 8:38—39); (1 Cor. 3:21—22); (Col. 3:17).

·        A blessed life (Ps. 4:7); (Rom. 5:1); (Gal. 5:22); (Rom. 5:3).

All the references belong to Herman Bavinck from page 252-253.

Eternal life (The evidence)

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” John 8:51

Let us abide in Christ because in his life and works by faith we will live forever. Humans are capricious and change their minds all the time God is not like that.

 Conscious life (There is a lot of evidence in the New Testament but there are no Scriptural quotations at this point)


Bavinck reminds us that “Conscious life begins with enlightenment, consists in the renewal of the mind,” (νους).  It is mediated by faith (Hebrews 11 for example).  Bavinck then does a correction of the great Schleiermacher that the renewal of the mind is not grounded in ‘feeling’.  As he says “The emotional life does not come first in the spiritual life, but second. Even where emotional life is missing, spiritual life continues to exist. Not feeling but believing is first and foremost.” (Page 253)


A free life (the evidence)

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

“So as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.”(1 Peter 4:2-3)

As Bavinck points out we have been freed from sin and destruction and we have also been free from the ‘curse of the law’.  We are now only accountable to Christ our Lord.  Because of what Christ did through his death on a cross and the resurrection by faith nothing can separate us from the love of God.  As the Master Theologian says, “Because we are only subject to God, Christ alone is our master, and his will coincides completely with the will of God. Our wills are free when they are in full harmony with God’s will. Everything becomes an agent of the believer’s I, of the spiritual life as it finds its goal again in the glory of God”

A Blessed Life (A Happy Life) (Evidence)

“You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound. “Psalms 4:7

“Therefore, you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” John 16:22

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:1

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”  Galatians 5:22

Bavinck finishes off by reminding us that the life we live in Christ is filled with ‘gladness and joy’ that no one can take away.  Actually, he goes on to remind us that even tribulations cannot take this joy away. Page 253


The characteristics of the Christian life are very important.  Perhaps one is a successful businessperson in this life and are riding the wavy crests of success.  This is quite futile and will one day come to an end through death.  The Christian who trusts Christ according to Bavinck is in a forever league.  What really matters is our relationship with God and Christ by the Holy Spirit.  Christ frees us from our greed and selfishness as God creates a new us that the world can never understand.  God is so much bigger than our earthly, selfish desires. The first Adam perishes but in Christ the second Adam in him there is real joy for ever more.

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