Thursday, September 11, 2008

Separate But Not Equal

If you haven’t become uncomfortable yet, I’ll be surprised. Take a deep breath and muster your courage; we are about to go deeper. We will be moving into unfamiliar territory for many of you. But remember that we are exploring things that Christianity has believed and taught for two thousand years. These are beliefs that are taken for granted as truth by nearly every respected contemporary Christian teacher, artist and preacher outside Adventism. Then we could go back in history and do the same all the way back to the apostles, with the notable exceptions of John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and Martin Luther. Luther only espoused belief in soul sleep early on. He later renounced it, claiming, “The soul does not sleep but is awake and enjoys the vision of angels and of God, and has converse with them." - LUTHER'S WORKS, Vol XXV, page 321, cited in Morey, page 201. However, it must be noted that neither Tyndale, Wycliffe n nor Luther believed in conditional immortality, inclusionism (universalism) or annihilation.

Christendom has good biblical foundations for rejecting soul sleep and annihilation. We, too, must take our stand based on a careful examination of the Bible. Give this study deep consideration, soaked with prayer before dismissing it out of hand based on tradition, schooling, indoctrination, fear or presuppositions. How is it that we have felt more comfortable keeping company with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians than with Christianity?

What Would My Spirit Do Without A Body?

Let’s do a little hypothesizing. Don’t camp on it; just go with it for a bit. Let’s suppose that our spirits leave our bodies at death and go, let’s say, oh, let me see, to Paradise (good choice). Have you ever let yourself go far enough to wonder what on Earth (oops, I mean in Heaven) a disembodied spirit would be doing up there floating around just waiting for the resurrection and an imperishable body? I have. And it’s taken me years to come to a simple realization. Let me show you; try this exercise with me. Picture this description with just what you have to go on now:

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, 'How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?' Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed." Rev 6:9-11 (NIV)

Here we have the disembodied spirits, or souls, of those who have died before the second coming and the resurrection (therefore without imperishable bodies) gathered under the altar calling out in loud voices and putting on robes. “Well, that’s ridiculous,” you say. “This is metaphorical and obviously not a literal scene.” Not so fast, cowboy. Check this out.

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Heb 1:14 (NIV) No argument so far. We would agree that angels are spirits. Let’s see what they can do.

“God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar?” Gen 21:17 (NIV) This angel, as a spirit, could call out loud enough from heaven for Hagar to hear on Earth. So, no problem with spirits calling out in loud voices.
“There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.” Ex 3:2 (NIV) An angel, spirit, could appear like fire.

“Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them…” Ex 14:19 (NIV) Apparently it was an angel that appeared to be a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud during the day.

“When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff. Then the LORD opened the donkey's mouth, and she said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?'" Num 22:27-28 (NIV) An angel appears to a donkey and speaks thru her. “Then the LORD opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.” Num 22:31 (NIV) Because the angel was spirit, it could be invisible to Balaam and visible to the donkey at the same time. This invisible spirit was also able to appear in some visible form, presumably clothed and holding a sword. So, again, no problem with a spirit interacting with a human, holding an object or wearing clothes.

“The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah…” Judges 6:11 (NIV) The angel could sit under an oak tree (the saints sat under the altar). Then, “With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared.” Judges 6:21 (NIV) This angel (a spirit) could hold a staff, zap the food and make it burst into flames and then disappear into thin air. What’s the problem? This angel is a spirit with pyrotechnical skills.

“As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD.” Judges 13:20-21 (NIV) This angel ascended in a flame and disappeared.

“All at once an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.' He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.” 1 Kings 19:5-6 (NIV) Remember that angels are spirits. This particular angel was able to touch Elijah and had a culinary gift.

“Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, spread their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.” Ezek 11:22 (NIV) These angels had wheels and wings. What’s the big deal about a spirit under the altar wearing a robe?

Not to run this into the ground, but it doesn’t sound too boring to be a spirit without a body. Who knows what we will do in heaven without bodies. We aren’t angels, so what we do will probably be different from what they do, and we won’t know that until we get there. Any way you look at it, though, it doesn’t sound too limiting. We never picture the Holy Spirit with a body, but He seems pretty busy and happy. He brooded over the chaotic earth and brought order to it. He appeared as a dove. He inhabits us, does miracles, heals, speaks, etc. - all without a body.

We could cite demons, who are also spirits (albeit evil), who can inhabit places and people. They can appear like angels of light, go from possessing a man to inhabiting a herd of pigs (with no visible presence in between), and afflict people with seizures, crippling diseases and other illnesses.

“On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit (pneuma, used for evil spirits as well) for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.” Luke 13:10-11 (NIV) Luke, the doctor, was not referring to evil or bad breath here. So, let’s not get hung up on what we can’t possibly explain or understand – until we get there. We can accept what scripture does reveal, and take comfort and joy in the knowledge that the interim between death and resurrection will be a blessed time of joy for those in Christ Jesus.

Our Spirits Don’t Require Bodies

This is where I started: “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened…Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” 2 Cor 5:4,6,8 (NIV) If Paul misstated what he actually meant to say to the Corinthians, he did it again to the Philippians.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith...” Phil 1:21-25 (NIV)

The only way death could have looked like gain would be if Paul knew that when he died he would immediately leave his body and be with the Lord.

In what sense would death be gain for Paul if he were weighing a choice between centuries of unconscious nonexistence against staying with the churches he loved to further establish them in Christ? There would have been no contest between the two! As we saw before, he did make the choice to stay - just as my brother, Keith, did. The only way death could have looked like gain would be if Paul knew that when he died he would immediately leave his body and be with the Lord. You’ll notice that he didn’t do any teaching around this declaration. It was mentioned rather nonchalantly, as if everyone knew that the spirit could be in the body or out of it.

This is not to say that Paul was complacent about the spiritual realm. At some point, he was taken to Heaven and saw things that were incomprehensible to him. He so was profoundly affected by his experience that he didn’t even mention it for fourteen years. Though he was not permitted to tell all that he saw, he probably couldn’t have, even if he'd tried. His statements reveal that he was aware that it was possible for his spirit to be taken to Heaven without his body. If this were a dangerous doctrine that should never be taught, he would have made sure that everyone knew he didn’t believe in going to be with the Lord at death. But he shows no such reticence or caution in any of his writings, in fact, just the opposite.

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know - God knows. And I know that this man - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows- was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things; things that man is not permitted to tell.” 2 Cor 12:2-4 (NIV)

While Paul and Peter didn’t see eye to eye on every issue, on this point they agreed. “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” 2 Peter 1:13-15 (NIV) This is a nearly identical thought to the one expressed by Paul, and is speaking of the time of his death, not the resurrection.

The spirit is able to leave the body and remain in tact; however, the body cannot prosper and do well without the spirit. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26 (NIV) There is no reciprocal statement that the spirit without the body is dead. If this were an important point, James would have made it. He was a detail person.

When we belong to Christ, it becomes our desire to have all aspects of our being in alignment with Him, our bodies - and distinct from our bodies, our spirits. “Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit (pneuma).” 1 Cor 7:34 (NIV) It is obvious here, as well, that an unmarried woman’s aim is not to have her breath devoted to the Lord, but her inmost being.

“But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit (pneuma) is alive because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10 (NIV) This body, because of the entrance of sin into the world, is mortal. It is already dying. However, because Christ is in us, the destiny of our spirits is assured. We are alive, and will never die.

The following three texts give illustrations of the separation of body and spirit at death:

“But he took her by the hand and said, ‘My child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.” Luke 8:54-55 (NIV) The body without the spirit is dead. We have previously amply demonstrated that the spirit that returned to her is the part of her that can inquire, be refreshed, moved and troubled. It can receive grace, give understanding, and search out the inmost being.

“Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last.” Luke 23:46 (NIV) He wasn’t committing His breath to His father - but His spirit. His breath went into the air around Him and He asked His Father to receive His spirit. He had taken on humanity and died as we do. Do you think it could even be possible for the self-existent, eternal God - Jesus Christ - to be nonexistent until His resurrection? Not a chance. His human body could die, but His Eternal Spirit could not die or be nonexistent ever. In John 2:19, Jesus said that He would raise up His own body at the resurrection. If He were nonexistent after death that would be an impossible task. His Spirit could command His body into life.

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’" Acts 7:59 (NIV) This is a fully human being dying just as Jesus died, also committing his spirit to his Father. There is no difference here in the description of Christ's experience or that of a fully human being. Luke used words in Greek that indicate an urgent, immediate request for both scriptures, not some future hope. If Stephen were just asking Christ to take his breath this would make no sense at all. If we go back a little further in this passage, we will see that when Steven is speaking these words he had been looking directly into Heaven, addressing the Lord there - asking Him to take his spirit into Heaven.
“But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’…While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’" Acts 7:55-59 (NRSV)

How Does It All Fit Together?

So are you floundering? Confused? Disgruntled? Agitated? That’s great! No one said it would be easy to challenge beliefs you’ve held for a lifetime. Not only that, we have been taught that to tamper with this doctrine is tantamount to inviting the devil in to take over and deceive us. Even if we don’t remember where it came from, warnings like this are deeply etched in our deepest fears: “How can those who believe in man’s consciousness in death reject what comes to them as divine light communicated by a glorified spirit? Here is a channel regarded as sacred, through which Satan works for the accomplishment of his purposes. The fallen angels who do his bidding appear as messengers from the spirit world. While professing to bring the living into communication with the dead, the prince of evil exercises his bewitching influence upon their minds. He has power to bring before men the appearance of their departed friends. The counterfeit is perfect.” The Great Controversy p. 552.

It is true that Satan is a roaring lion prowling for any he can devour. So we must not take this subject lightly, and I do not. But we must know the truth. With every fiber of my being, I desire to be in harmony with the word of God. I believe that the implications of this subject have a far greater influence on our relationship with God than we have previously understood. That’s why I believe it is worth the effort to discover what God has revealed on the subject.

Let’s piece together what we do know about how we are made. As we have already established, Paul believes that the spirit can leave the body and be with the Lord. He gave further definition to the nature of humanity when he said, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit (pneuma), soul (psuche) and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thess 5:23 (NIV)

Here Paul distinguishes three distinct parts of a person. When I first noticed this, it occurred to me that this is another way in which we are created in the image of God. The body could represent Christ; the soul (mind, will and emotions) - the Father; and the obvious - the spirit represents and reflects the Holy Spirit. Of course, the model breaks down if you push it too far! I have found that the distinctions between soul and spirit are not always cut and dried in the Bible, but it does give a great model for understanding much of the truth of how we are made. There are times when the soul and spirit are spoken of interchangeably in scripture, but that doesn’t interfere with the basic premise that whether one is discussing soul or spirit the Bible is not referring to breath or an animating spark of life.

The next text illustrates the same differentiation as the Thessalonian reference. The Greek words would support the Cleansing Stream definition of the soul (the Greek word psuche, from which we get the English word "psyche”) as mind, will and emotions and the spirit as the same entity that would describe God, angels and demons as spirit (pneuma). These definitions did not originate with Cleansing Stream. I first became aware of this teaching by reading the writings of Watchman Nee, the great Chinese theologian, who wrote in the mid- 1900s. He viewed the human makeup as three concentric circles with the body being the outward man, the soul being the outer man and the spirit being the inner man. This is a working model used by many theologians. Though there are inherent limitations to doing so, it’s sometimes helpful to view a concept schematically.

'Body, Soul and Spirit' by Ramone RomeroAfter the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples and they thought he was a spirit. Then He had them touch His immortal body to see that He was not a disembodied spirit. “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a spirit (pneuma) does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." Luke 24:39 (NIV)

Here, Jesus is not teaching false doctrine. He is acknowledging the reality, that even though He wasn’t one, it would be possible for there to be disembodied spirits. And what He says here agrees with what Paul said in 2 Cor 5, “We would rather be away from the body and with the Lord.” You will remember the walking-on-water episode. I have found it curious that the disciples’ first reaction, when they couldn’t explain what they were seeing, was to believe they were being confronted with a spirit or ghost. “During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It's a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear.” Matt 14:25-26 (NIV) Their beliefs must have supported the possibility that the spirit could leave the body. They were obviously not Sadducees.

The writer of Hebrews also subscribed to a compartmentalized model of humanity and believed there was a distinction between body (joints and marrow), soul and spirit, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul (pneuma) and spirit (psuche), joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Heb 4:12 (NIV)

One of Christ’s disciples also made a distinction between spirit and body suggesting they could function independently and even at cross-purposes, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Mark 14:38 (NIV) Putting the pieces together, we see that we are made in the image of God; little human trinities: body (representing Christ), soul, (representing the Father) and spirit (representing the Holy Spirit). Our current bodies are temporary tents that house our souls and spirits. At death, the spirit and soul will leave the body to be with Christ in Heaven - without bodies. Our future bodies will be given to us at the second coming of Christ; they will unite with our spirits, and be imperishable. Since we were created with body, soul and spirit, to be in the image of God (Who is Body, Soul and Spirit), it was an unnatural state for the body to be separated from the soul and spirit. For that reason, the resurrection is necessary so that the wholeness of God’s image can be restored at the second coming.

Just hold that thought. We will go into detail in a future chapter. I know this is a huge paradigm shift and may have left you disoriented and disturbed. But remember, you are surrounded by the vast majority of the Christian community throughout history, and by the weight of evidence in the Bible. You are in good company.

Summary of Separate but Not Equal

1) The only groups that teach the doctrines of soul sleep and annihilation are Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians.

2) For two thousand years the Christian church has taught the immortality of the soul.
3) Christians around the world who believe in and move in the power of the Holy Spirit also believe that the conscious spirit leaves the body at death.
4) We have no trouble picturing the Holy Spirit, angels or demons without bodies.
5) A disembodied spirit is very vitally engaged in activity and purpose.
6) Watchman Nee, Cleansing Stream and the Bible all teach that we are made up of three separate entities: body, soul and spirit.
7) Our bodies are dwelling places for our souls and spirits.
8) The bodies we have now will be destroyed, being replaced with imperishable bodies.
9) At the second coming, our spirits and souls will be united with our immortal bodies.
10) The soul is the center of the mind, will, personality and emotions.

11) Our spirits give us the capacity to commune with God, Who is Spirit.
12) Throughout the Bible are allusions to human spirits that are separated from bodies.

Quiz for Separate but Not Equal
Choose the Correct Answers:

1. What did John see under the altar (mentioned in Revelation)?
A. The guardian angels of martyrs
B. The souls of people who have been slain because of Jesus
C. Lucifer
D. The False Prophet

2. Angels are:
A. People who haven’t been born yet
B. Created inhabitants of other planets on sabbatical
C. Ministering spirits
D. Good people who have died

3. Spirits have been known to:
A. Call out to people from Heaven
B. Appear as flames of fire
C. Become a pillar of cloud
D. All of the above

4. In 2 Cor 5 Paul said that he would prefer to:
A. Be away from his body and with the Lord
B. Die and be in soul sleep until the second coming
C. Preach to Pharisees
D. Be married

5. Paul said, more than once, that he would prefer to remain in the body so that he could complete the work God had given him with the gentiles - rather than to die and remain in the grave until the second coming.
A. True
B. False

6. Peter called his body a "tent" and said that he would soon put it aside and depart. This implies that he believed:
A. His body would be in the grave when he died, but his spirit would be with the Lord.
B. He would be unconscious until the second coming.
C. He didn’t like camping.
D. He had a poor body image.

7. The Bible states that a spirit without a body is dead.
A. True
B. False

8. God made humanity in His own image with:
A. Body
B. Soul
C. Spirit
D. All of the above

9. The soul is made up of all the following except
A. Will
B. Mind
C. Body
D. Emotions

Another way we are made in God’s image is in the make up of our beings. The parts of our humanity are representations of the trinity.

Match the aspects of humanity to the members of the Trinity they represent.
10. FatherA. Body
11. SonB. Spirit
12. Holy SpiritC. Soul

Answers: 1-B, 2-C, 3-D, 4-A, 5-B, 6-A, 7-B, 8-D, 9-C, 10-C, 11-A, 12-B

Spirit Table of Contents

The Next Chapter: Immortality

Do you believe that you will be immortal? When? What is the nature of the spirit in us? Are we in danger if we believe that we have immortality now?


Dennis said...

The drawing of the three part man is very similar to the three parts described in Huna a Hawaiian practice that embodies many of the christian principles except they pray to angels and lesser beings but not to God as he is too busy. They even have a trine godhead with many lower gods. The Kahunas both good and evil both use the same principles of spirit realities.

Gently Broken said...

Interesting. I'm not familiar with that construct.

Gail Cohen said...

Thank you so much for this - the ideas of soul sleep and annihilation created more fears of death - seemed unnatural - I became an Adventist in my 30s and never could fully embrace these doctrines - thank you for this site- very helpful. God bless you.

Gently Broken said...

Thank you, Gail, for sharing those comments. Until I understood the truth about our spirits there was always fear about death. I knew from scripture that there should not be, but it was there. "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Heb 2:14-15 (NIV)

I would try not to be afraid - but was never successful. Finally, the truth of Jesus' sacrifice, intercession and salvation became clear and the grip of fear left. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment." 1 John 4:18 (NIV)The fear of punishment left when I knew that in Him I already had eternal life - not life, soul sleep, then life - but eternal life, now.

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
John 5:24 (NIV)

Thank you Jesus. And God richly bless you as well, Gail.

Cherry Brandstater
Editor, Gently Broken

Anonymous said...

what is the difference between our spirit and the Holy Spirit. Do all people have the Holy Spirit inside them along with their spirit? how do you seperate the two? If i do or don't believe in soul sleep will it affect my salvation? does it really matter one way or the other?

Gently Broken said...

Dear Anon, what great questions. I grew up with the concept that the "spirit" we possessed was simply breath, an animating force, a life-force, that it was the breath that went back to God when we died. However, the scriptures describe our spirits with these characteristics: our spirit is our inmost being (Prov. 20:27; it is the spirit of a person that gives him/her understanding (Job 32:28); our spirit knows our thoughts (1 Cor 2:11); our spirits can compel us (Job 32:18); we are to submit to the Father of our spirits (Heb 12:19); Paul prays for grace to be with our spirits (Gal 6:18); our spirits can inquire (Ps 77:6); other places speak of our spirits being refreshed, moved, troubled. I would suggest that you read the article found here where all of these subjects are presented in detail:

So, to answer the first part of your question from scripture, our spirit is our inmost being - not our mind, will or emotions which constitute our souls. This is also established in other articles presented in this blog.

Now, on to the question, what is the difference between our spirit and the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead. He is God. Our spirits were created by God and given to us as part of our human make-up: body, soul and spirit. We are not God.

Third question: Do all people have the Holy Spirit inside them? No. The Holy Spirit is given to us when we are born again - when we accept Jesus as our Savior. He is the guarantee of our salvation by which we are sealed. "Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.
Eph 1:13-14 (NIV)

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2:38

It is thru our spirits that the Holy Spirit is able to communicate with us - Spirit to spirit.

Belief in soul sleep is not a salvational issue. The only salvational issue is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and accept Him as our Savior. The Christian life then begins. Just "getting in" isn't the end of the story. Our lives in Christ can be impoverished or enriched as we draw close to Him.

A belief in soul sleep affects many things and the lack of understanding regarding our spirits also adversely affects many things in the Christian life. When you live your life knowing that to be in the body is to be away from the Lord and that to be away from the body is to be with the Lord it removes much of the fear of death. 2 Cor 5

Likewise, it is like going from black and white to color when one is awakened to the realm of the Spirit. You can still see a TV show in B&W, but it is a far cry from High Def color! The same is true of the Christian life with an experience in the things of the Spirit and of our spirits.

I would encourage you to read the studies contained here with greater depth. They should answer these questions. I can tell from your questions that you have not yet done so. Jump in! It's a great adventure.

Blessings, Cherry