28.06.2008 -Aircraft flying inverted.When most Christians mention saving a soul, they likely mean some part of the person in the future part of his/her life, often termed “eternal destiny.” Once that’s secured, the soul gets no further consideration. It’s “saved.”

People can then turn attention to earthly living, preferably in a Godly life-style, but nevertheless as a kind of throw-away. In fact, it’s common to hear Christians say, “Life is temporary.”

Well, no, it isn’t. It’s permanent.

From the biblical perspective, a person’s life is one single, ongoing continuum. Some of that life is lived in the physical realm on this physical planet; some of it isn’t. The biblical paradigm says that physical death doesn’t end anyone’s life. (And if I read resurrection passages correctly, the majority of one’s eternity is spent in physical form. But I digress.)

Also from the biblical perspective, personhood consists of a mind/intellect, a heart/will/spirit, a body, and a social/relational context. I think of the soul as the overall “auto-pilot” that continually manages input and produces output in the form of behavior and relationships. It does the best it can to synchronize each aspect of personhood into a functional, cohesive whole. But it can’t do it on its own. It needs God’s help.

I realize it’s a rudimentary analogy. Human beings are more complex than even the most sophisticated auto-pilots. But the soul is simply the total person, greater than the sum of its parts. And a soul never stops living once it starts. It isn’t something you have; it’s who you are. It isn’t a piece of you; it’s all of you, the essence of your being.

In bible-speak, when that’s torn and jumbled, it’s ruined. When it’s mended and whole, it’s restored. Perfect. Complete.

So when Jesus says, “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul,” he means “with your total being.” When he says that God has the power to “destroy” both body and soul in hell, he means that no part of the person will be overlooked when God fully confronts his/her sin and ruin.

Subversive Ideas

I used to think that overcoming evil with good was about overpowering it with brute force. But suppose it happens by subverting it from within, from the inside out with love. Suppose evil is destroyed in an individual when input and output synchronize as God designed, and the whole soul harmonizes with its Creator—mind/intellect, heart/will/spirit, body, and social relations.

What might happen if this idea spread through the ages, person by person, as more and more people became less abusive, less frightened, less insistent on their ruined ways, and more desiring of complete good for themselves and others? Wouldn’t it be a lot like yeast working its way through the whole batch of dough? (Mat. 13:33)

Now suppose that God plotted all along to overcome evil this way, like an unstoppable dawn swallowing the night. How valuable, then, might you be as God’s partner in paying attention to your own soul, the essence of your being?

God is always about completeness, thoroughness. Jesus therefore proclaims a comprehensive salvation for the whole world that addresses the total person for an entire life. His idea is that everything about that life moves increasingly toward love—that is, the desire to promote and contribute to good—now, later, and always.

Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love enemies. Be good to those who hurt you or make your life a pain. Why? What’s the point of listening to Jesus? Well, at first, for your own well-being. Whatever you wish upon someone else, you wish upon yourself. The measure you use will be measured to you (Luk. 6:38).

So, if for no other reason, you wish for their good, unless you’re a masochist who likes double the aggravation. Once that isn’t such a foreign concept to you, you can do it for other reasons. It’s right. It’s blessed. It overcomes evil. You get a beaming wink from God.

Beginning next week, I’ll re-post a six-part series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There, he outlines step by step how to subvert evil and make room for love, goodness, and blessed well-being for the soul, individually and collectively. It’s actually pretty simple, but was such a radical concept that the religious experts of Jesus’ day declared him to be straight from the devil. He was crucified for blasphemy and subversion. They got it exactly backwards and upside-down.

Many Christians today unknowingly treat him similarly. They don’t actually believe that unconditional love is possible or a priority, much less right and good. It doesn’t seem right to give up their “righteous” anger, precious payback, or wounded spirits. I don’t say this critically; I speak from experience.

But that’s okay. Experience is knowledge, and knowledge is the beginning of repentance. Everyone starts from where they are, not where they will be.

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Knight's Armor

For many years, I thought that holiness is sort of conferred upon Christians, maybe a little like knighthood. When I hear other Christians talk, it sounds as if they may be under the same impression.

There also seems to be disagreement on when holiness is conferred. Pentecostals might say it’s when the Holy Spirit “comes upon” people. They’re holy if they speak in tongues. Baptists might say it’s when adults get baptized. They’re holy when they rise from the water. Evangelicals might say you’re holy when you witness to others.

Holy means set apart for special use—not in a condescending way, but a remarkable way. You might say remarkably different. Uncommonly good. There’s a certain nobility to it, so maybe holiness is a little like knighthood. But it’s a command we follow rather than something conferred on us. And, obviously, it must be doable or it wouldn’t be a command.

Holiness is associated with rightness, goodness, and perfection (completion). “But just as he who called you is holy, so you be holy in all you do.” (1Pet. 1:15) “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat. 5:48)

Fortunately, and contrary to some teaching, holiness isn’t about being flawless, omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. If it were, Scripture would command us to be God, which is impossible and makes no sense. Being holy is about being whole, becoming right again, sound of mind, will, body, and behavior—all elements of personhood aligned with God’s will for mankind’s good. In other words, His love.

Biblical love is nothing fancier than the will and desire for His greater good in any situation. Yet there’s nothing nobler. It may be holy and misunderstood, but not impossible.

You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward will you get? Aren’t even tax collectors doing that? If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Don’t even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat. 5:43-48)

God is looking for people of remarkable character who can do what is commonly thought to be un-doable. He wants this not so we can satisfy His ego, but so He can safely share power and glory with us; so He can trust people with the dominion He originally intended.

Dominion without love always leads to ill will, self-righteousness, fear, manipulation, unkindness, and other sins that become the accepted norm. When the love of most, even Christians, grows cold, no one expects anything different or remarkable. People are thus unprepared for the fullest life with God—both in earthly life and the afterlife when ruling and serving in good will is the name of the game.

So I think churches need to better define, prioritize, model, and teach love. Let’s not just talk about how much “God loves you” or say that Jesus loves you enough to die for you, then leave it there like a penny on the sidewalk. We should teach how to love as Jesus loves and why it’s essential to pick it up and practice it. The Sermon on the Mount is where Jesus himself taught it.

(I wrote two very basic 6-part blogs on the Sermon’s content—one entitled 6 Steps to Unsabotage Yourself in Every Relationship, the other entitled 6 Sneaky Ways to Poison Your Spirit. If you’d like to read them, you can use the Search box at the top of the sidebar.)

Christians talk about saving the soul, and by that they usually mean securing “eternal destiny” after physical death. But God doesn’t just save the soul and abandon the person. The soul is the person. And it isn’t just about future well-being, but about present well-being, too. Holiness is intended for the whole person and the whole world, to calm and comfort the cries of the soul.

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jhn. 13:34-35)