I have often made this statement in my preaching: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” This expresses the central mystery of Christianity: We place such heavy emphasis on feeding the desires of our physical bodies; we should instead be feeding the eternal part of our beings, our soul or spirit.
There is a movement among preachers in our fellowship who suggest that after we die we will inherit the same bodies that we have now. They point to Jesus’ resurrected body, apparently the same as the one he had before his death, bearing the marks of his crucifixion. Consider his invitation to Thomas to touch the scars in his hands and side (John 20:26-28). But it’s also worth noting the image of the risen victorious Jesus, white hair, face like the sun and eyes like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:12-16). This is clearly not describing the physical body Jesus had while on the earth.
Perhaps such a teaching is attractive to a twenty-five-year-old, but the day will come when he is seventy and he may not be quite as eager to pick up his battered and bruised body in the afterlife.
Scripture is plain on this subject: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50).
Our eternal bodies are not fleshly bodies. For a start, they are eternal. Can there be a contrast more stark? Paul utilizes the seed to full-grown plant analogy. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain” (1 Corinthians 15:35-37).
When a seed is planted, it dies and is buried. Then comes the miracle – a resurrection! The seedling bursts out of the earth and begins to grow! It is hard to look at an acorn and imagine the majesty of a seventy-foot oak tree!
The concept of “body, soul and spirit” comes from Greek philosophy, not Scripture. The Bible, more simply, distinguishes between body and spirit, the physical and the eternal. God’s Spirit “bears witness to our spirit,” telling us that we are “children” and “heirs” of God (Romans 8:16,17). The human “mind” is hostile to God (Romans 8:7). Jesus uses the term “heart” to make a similar point: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18,19).
Note that it is our hearts that cause our bodies to do and say things we shouldn’t do! The writer of Hebrews utilizes the term “conscience” to refer to the invisible yet eternal part of a human being (Hebrews 9:14).
If I grab a neighbor and throw him into a mud puddle, although it would literally be my hands doing this dastardly deed, it is my mind that caused my body to do so! On the other hand, if my body carries out an act of kindness, though my hands might be outstretched in love, it was my mind and heart that caused it to do so. This, beloved, is the part of me that will live on, and that will be judged righteous or unrighteous by the Lord Jesus!
Conscience, spirit, heart, mind, soul, motives, this is the eternal part of us and this is what survives physical death. The body does not survive. Is this Gnosticism? Am I saying the body is evil and the spirit is good? Not at all! The body is not evil, the heart that caused the body to do wrong is what is evil. So, the soul, the spirit, the mind, the conscience, the heart, all of these comprise our character, our personality, and it is this essential part of us that is eternal. Our bodies are merely the shell we currently use. The part we cannot see, the eternal part, is that which we should feed, cultivate and develop. The paraplegic will not roll his wheelchair into heaven, he will be walking and leaping and praising God! No one will be warped and twisted by cancer or arthritis or aging. We will be eternal!
“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).