The nature of humans
First, we need to understand that humans do not possess a soul that is innately immortal. I know your mom and dad and favorite Sunday school teacher taught you that, but they are mistaken. That particular teaching comes from Plato — a Greek philosopher from about 400 years before Jesus. It’s not found in the Bible.
In fact, there’s this famous painting by Raphael in the Vatican called the School of Philosophy, that reveres the secular Greek philosophers as sources of great truth — whereas Paul wrote,
(1Co 1:20 NIV) Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
One of the great mistakes in the history of Christianity was the blending of Judeo-Christian thought with pagan Greek philosophy. This led to many errors, one of which is a misunderstanding of the nature of man.
To Plato — and most philosophers since — man has a dual nature: physical and spiritual. Plato saw the physical part of mankind as debased and inherently weak and broken, whereas our spiritual part — our soul — is immortal and destined to live forever.
Among the Greeks, and many Christian sects, this thinking has led to a tendency to treat our physical bodies as impediments to salvation. Some Christians — especially among the Catholics — teach the mortification of the flesh, a type of asceticism that believes we achieve closer communion with God by minimizing the role of flesh in our lives.
For example, Martin Luther joined a Catholic sect that taught suffering from lashes — whips — lack of sleep, uncomfortable clothes, tasteless food, and other sufferings would lead to greater spirituality.
A few sects have taken the opposite approach and concluded that the flesh cannot be made good and so the effort is hopeless. This leads to antinomianism, a form of dualism in which the flesh is allowed to sin as it pleases. Surprisingly, over the years, asceticism has been far more popular than antinomianism — although both pop up in our churches.
For example, the idea that eating in the church building somehow renders the building unholy is sheer asceticism — because it assumes human pleasure — eating good food — is unholy.
I think the insistence of some on hot suits and choking neck ties is fed by ascetic thinking: surely God will be impressed by our suffering for his sake!
Then again, the idea that God doesn’t much care how we live our lives so long as we attend church on a regular basis and practice the Five Acts of Worship is sheer antinomianism — because it promises salvation without a truly transformed life.
Now, the truth of the matter is that —
* Immortality is a gift from God only for the saved.
* Humans are body, soul, and spirit — but these are all three aspects of the same singular person.