A human being is a body, soul composite. An embodied soul. And enfleshed body. However you want to describe it, this just is what it means to be human as designed by God. We are not spirit without body like the angels. Nor are we bodies without spirits like the animals. We are that strange and beloved thing in the middle called persons.
As long as you are alive, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot separate your soul from your body. Because a soul separated from its body is the literal definition of death.
Still, people try! In the very early days of the Church, a heresy popped up known as Gnosticism. It happened so early that it’s addressed in the pages of the New Testament, both in The Acts of the Apostles and by Paul in some of his epistles. I’m oversimplifying, but it’s the idea that spirit = good, body = bad. Christians are not gnostics because of The Incarnation. When The Second Person of the Trinity became man at that first Christmas, when God took on a body, He redeemed ALL OF CREATION. Every inch and spec of matter, especially us.
Gnosticism is the heresy that just won’t die. The Church defeats it again and again, but there it is in disguise anew, rearing it’s ugly head in every generation.
Perhaps most pervasive in our day and age, gnosticism presents as mind-body dualism. Again, I’m over-simplifying, but it’s just the idea that one’s mind and one’s body are separate, able to be parsed. What I do with my body has no affect on my soul and what I believe in my mind doesn’t have to affect the actions of my body. Instead of our bodies revealing our souls, our outsides and insides are at best irrelevant to each other and at worst mis-matched and in need of fixing by us.
And lest we in the Church see mind-body dualism as merely a secular problem, we better take a closer look. For we’ve been separating our bodies from our souls for hundreds of years in the form of the classic faith vs. works debate.
But remember that we are Christians! Not gnostics! So I’m here to tell you that the whole conversation is settled, not a thing, one giant adventure in missing the point. And here’s why:
Faith is to Works as the Soul is to the Body.
We’ve already established that one’s soul and one’s body cannot be separated so long as we’re alive. You are your body and you are your soul. They are intrinsically bound up together in the person called you. And, if you cannot separate your body from your soul, then you cannot separate your works from your faith. In the same way that our bodies reveal and express our souls, our works reveal and express our faith.
This is why James says that faith without works is dead. (James 2:17, 26) Because if a soul separated from it’s body is physical death, then faith separated from the works of that faith is spiritual death. You are your faith, and you are your works. They are actually just the two sides of the same you, and to waste any amount of time in parsing them is death.
When I read the New Testament, I don’t see Jesus or Paul (or anyone else for that matter) making a distinction between being and doing, soul and body, or faith and works. I see them making the distinction between the kind of works we do and the source of those works. There are works of the flesh, done in my own strength and wrought with sin. And there are works of the Spirit, done in faith and fueled by grace. It’s never faith OR works, because we are alive and not dead.
We do ourselves and disservice when we get so hung up on works. When we try so very hard to make sure everyone knows that Christianity is not a works-based religion. But there’s actually no getting around works. Even works that contribute to our salvation, in some sense. This is because God designed us with bodies and there’s no getting around them either. And if there’s no getting around our bodies, then there’s no getting around works done in those bodies because there’s no other way to exist in the world as a human except in and through a body. Because we have to do something with our bodies! The only real and helpful question, then, is: is the something we do with our bodies (our works) done apart from Christ or in Christ? Works done in flesh or in faith? And therefore, are they ultimately uniting us or dividing us more with Christ?
Christian, it’s time to embrace the good works to which we are created and called. (Ephesians 2:10) Working hard is satisfying and we shouldn’t be afraid of working really, really hard. Even for God! Because, since our faith and our works are no longer separate, we can now see that it’s all God’s grace empowering it all.