I jumped up from the weight bench at the gym, out of breath but pleased with my performance. A young man watched. “You do well for an old man!” he joked. “Well, I almost made it in the NFL,” I said straight-faced. Now, you should know that I stand 5’ 6” tall when wearing thick socks; but I digress. “You? NFL? Really?” he sputtered. “Yeah,” I said. “All I lacked was size, speed, strength, and skill.”
You need only look at a magazine cover to know that our society focuses on the physical nature of the human vessel, rather than the value of the person within. But this isn’t God’s way. In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul distinguishes between the spirit, soul, and body of the believer.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thessalonians 5:23 NASB).
Do you ever have moments when God gives you a fresh look at the world around you? Last weekend, my wife and I stopped by a grocery store near the local university campus. As I looked down the aisles, I saw people of many nationalities and languages. Where I might normally notice the many differences, God impressed on me that I was seeing, “souls for whom Christ died.”
The Soul and the Spirit
Though we tend to use the words interchangeably, the Bible treats the soul and the spirit differently. Hebrews 4:12 says that God’s word can separate between the soul and spirit. The soul represents the physical life within each of us and provides our thoughts, personalities, and emotions. With our “first” birth we are living souls; when we die, our souls return to God. Paul refers to the soul when he cites Genesis 2:7, and says,
“If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul. ‘ ” (I Corinthians 15:44-45 NASB).
Just as He gave us both a body and a soul, God gave each of us a spirit. In Genesis 2:17, God told Adam that if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. The Bible says that before we came to Christ, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, (Ephesians 2:1). Were our bodies dead? No. Were our brains dead? No. Our spirits were dead with Adam. In the Book of John, when Nicodemus came to ask questions of Him, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NASB). When Nicodemus wondered aloud about that “second” birth, Jesus repeated,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “ (John 3:5-7 NASB).
Souls for Whom Christ Died
With the first birth, we become living souls. With the second birth, God makes our spirits alive, and we have fellowship with Jesus through His Holy Spirit. Every human shares the need for the second birth; we are all souls for whom Christ died. In the Book of Romans, we read:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NASB).
Here’s the catch… it’s a bundled deal. The second birth through Jesus is only available while we possess our souls. If we die without the second birth, it’s too late.
” ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is ‘“the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation.’ ” (II Corinthians 6:2 NASB).
Every day, people around us pass on to meet God. Most of us will go quietly by disease or old age. In other cases, we read of accidents, crimes, wars, or terrorism. It’s sobering; and yet, if I permit myself, I see the reports as mere body counts. Regardless of language or location, despite differences in political opinions or even, religion, we share a fundamental trait with every name or number reported in the news. Just like us, each one was a soul for whom Christ died.
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