I walked into the hospital room of a dying woman early one morning. The sleepless nights had been long and hard for her. Her beautiful face was now only a skeleton draped with skin that was wrinkled and discolored. As I sat there holding her hand, I asked, “How is it going?”
Looking into my face, she said, “Oh, pastor. I am well, but my body is worn out.” Then she said, “Those words are not original with me, but they describe so well exactly how I feel.” She died within a few hours, and three days later her body was buried in the family plot. I’d watched another person die.
I have watched hundreds of people die during the course of my years in the ministry. But always I had to stop and ask, What really has happened? The only answer that really counted for me was found in the Word of God where the Bible says, the body returns to the ground it came from and the spirit returns to God who gave it. When you really believe those words, it molds your personality and gives you a whole understanding of what life and death are really all about.
The Bible teaches very clearly from passages such as these that we are a dichotomy. We are a body and a soul. Listen to this Word again. “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” I read these words from the King James’ version of the Bible because these were the words I learned as a youth sitting on a church pew and in confirmation class. They told me who I am. I am indeed thankful that I have not had to spend the last 75 years wondering who I really am.
It is true that the relationship between my Creator and me was broken because of my sin, but I have been created by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection. We are now, therefore, united. I am blessed daily by my Savior’s presence that offers me His continual grace and forgiveness of sin. I am blessed with the assurance that when my earthly stay is over, I shall leave my worn-out body behind, and, clothed in a new body, I shall stand in the presence of my God who created me and redeemed me. That is who I am.
I realize that there may be more to the whole question of who I am, but this is sufficient for me. Created in the image of God, fallen in sin, I have been redeemed to live with the Lord Jesus Christ forever.
As humans, we are both body and soul. There is much study in our day about trying to figure out how you treat the whole person. We have come to understand that while we are here on this earth, we cannot deal with the two separately, for the body affects the soul and the soul affects the body. Psychologists, clergy, and physicians work much more closely today than was the case 50 years ago.
We have learned that the soul, or the spirit, affects the body. If you and I are angry, if our lives are tortured with fear, if we carry around a lot of hate, this is going to show up physically through the blood pressure, or ulcers, or whatever else it might be.
On the other hand, physical problems can affect our spirits as well. For example, you and I know that when we become very tired, it is easy for our tempers to flare. When we are anxious or disturbed or depressed about something, it is often difficult for us to eat or to sleep. The soul and the body work together, and we realize that as we begin the sermon today.
Let’s take a look at the body and what God’s Word has to say about it. The text begins by presenting God like a potter with clay. We are created from the dust of the ground. We are earthy, and a part of us is tied to this old earth. We are created in the image of God, but we have come from the dust of the ground. Statements like these often cause us to study and discuss what the real meaning is. But here they stand: We are body; We are soul.
The intricacies of our body keep our medical research people challenged. The psalmist wrote, “I praise you God because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Certainly we have learned that to be true as the years have gone by, haven’t we. Not long ago I talked with a prominent neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, and during the course of that visit he said to me, “We know a great deal more about the heart than we do about the brain. But there is so much for us to learn about all parts of the body.” Yes, our doctors and medical research people know a great deal more about the body than they did a hundred years ago. Just wait until another hundred years passes, if the Lord does not come before. They will learn a great deal more in those days to come.
I visited with an ophthalmologist not long ago about the focusing of an eye. He told me that there is a little nerve called the rectus that controls of the focusing of the eye, and if that nerve is in any way assaulted, it isn’t long before you begin to see double. I never knew that before until my rectus was assaulted. It was interesting to have that great man of science talk to me about the intricacies of that little organ on which we also depend, the eye. The body is very detailed.
While Plato called the body a prison from which the soul desired to be free, St. Paul referred to the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember what Peter said on Pentecost Sunday. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). That same Holy Spirit dwells within us. The body is its temple.
So we care for this body. It is not a prison. It is not something that we have the right to abuse. It is instead something that God has told us to take care of, and probably some of us have not done a very good job of doing it. As believers in Christ, we realize what a gift our heavenly Father has given to us in the body. But we also know that the body is mortal. St. Paul has an interesting description of this as he writes to the congregation at Corinth. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (II Cor. 5:1).
Isn’t it interesting to notice how Paul talked about the body? It’s a tent. A tent doesn’t last many years but is going to be destroyed. After it has been destroyed, we are going to get a new body, one that is not made with hands, that is eternal in the heavens, and will last forever and ever.
Most of us do not like to accept this emotionally. We just like to hang on to what we have here. I hear people say, I can’t understand what’s wrong with me! This doesn’t work right and that doesn’t work right in my body. I guess we have to stop and say, Well, yes, we do really know what’s happening. We’re wearing out!
Some will say that is being very negative. But is it really? I don’t believe so. I think is being realistic because the body is mortal. That part of our being, the body, is going to die. Medical science can keep us going for a while. It can clean out one part, it can remove another, but eventually it is going to die!
That is the one part of our being and what place does it have on our agenda? I wonder in the case of many of us, if the body receives a lot more attention than does our soul. We have a soul, and so let’s talk about it. In fact, you are the soul.
The soul lives within the body for the years that we are here on this Earth. It is eternal. While the body is important, the soul is so much more important, according to our Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to these words: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Jesus is making a real comparison here, and again He says “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” and, “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36, 37). The importance, then, of caring for the soul should have a top priority in your life and mine, for it, too, needs a lot of attention.
We talk about the body needing to be nourished very well, don’t we, and we see to it that we try to get the finest in foods. We count calories because we know excess weight is not good for us. It needs to be nourished.
Friend, what about that as far as the soul is concerned? It, too, needs to be nourished with the teachings from the Word of God. We feed our souls all too often on junk food Ð that which we get from our society and can cause us to be upset, torn apart, thinking in the wrong way. We need the Word of God, the Scriptures. We need to hear the Word of God. We need to read the Word of God. It is in that way that our soul, the most important part of us, is fed.
It needs to have exercise, doesn’t it? In the town where I live, we have some beautiful bike trails. They are also used by walkers too. I see them early in the morning and late at night on their bicycles and walking, and I congratulate these people on the discipline they have to get out and exercise. So we also need to exercise our soul by reaching out and doing something great for Almighty God. If we’re going to grow, we need to reach out to another person, talk to them about Jesus Christ. We need to be active in the work of the kingdom of God if the soul is going to grow.
The soul needs to be prepared for the day when we shall leave the body. That is done only when we are repentant of our sins and by grace through faith in Jesus Christ have received Him as our Savior and our Lord. For then, when that day comes that we are called from the earth, then we know that we shall inherit a new body and then live with our heavenly Father forever.
Do you know who you are? Life helps us answer this question as we honestly examine our thoughts and our words and our actions. We know pretty well who we are, and we don’t always like it. But just remember this: in God’s Word we have the basic answers. We have a body that is mortal and a soul that is eternal. May the soul may be ready to leave the body whenever God calls us to live with Him in the new body forever and ever.