biblestudy: Is Your Soul Immortal?
What the Bible Says About the Soul
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 23-Jan-10; Sermon #BS-974; 63 minutes
Do we contain an immortal soul? The prevailing idea is that the soul is the indestructible part of a human being that lives on. The Hebrew word nephesh refers to a living being; the Latin word anima and the Greek word psyche refer to breath. In Leviticus 17, we learn that the life resides in the blood. A body is greater than a biochemical reaction; the life force comes from outside the body. Elihu observed that there is a spirit in man, giving him the ability to think and understand, giving him a point of contact with God, separating him from the animals. Paul differentiates the spirit in man from God's Holy Spirit, dividing a human being into spirit (mind), soul (our life), and body (flesh). Nominal Christianity has absorbed heaven, hell, and purgatory from Greek mythology and the philosophy of Plato, who propagated the doctrine of the immortal soul in his Phaedo. The idea of the immortality of the soul is nowhere in the Old Testament, unless one deliberately distorts the account of Enoch's translation and the witch of Endor. Genesis 2:16-17 affirms that it is possible to die, and Ezekiel 18:4 and 20 affirm that the soul (the life) that sins shall die. Galatians 3:22 indicates that all have sinned. Eternal life must come as a gift, but it is not something we have right now, except as an earnest payment. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that we all die once. God keeps our human spirit in reserve for safe-keeping until the resurrection from the dead.
Ability to think Acts 7:57 Anima Augustine Being Blood Breath of life Children of wrath Death Ecclesiastes 12:7 Elihu Elijah Enoch Ephesians 2:2 Eternal life I Corinthians 2:7-11 I Thessalonians 5:23 I Timothy 6:11 Genesis 2:7 Golden bowl Immortality of the soul Job 32:8 Leviticus 17:11, 14 Life Luke 23:46 Necromancy Nephesh Plato"s Phaedo Pneuma Point of contact with God Prince of the power of air Prohibition against necromancy Psuche Psyche Romans 2:5-8, 6:23; 8:6, 9, 11, 13 Ruach Satan"s spirit Sheol Silver cord Soma Soul Spirit in man Swinburne Witch of Endor Zechariah 12:1
I have some important questions to ask.
What happens when we die? What happens to your essence—your character—your being when you die? Are you dead without hope of an afterlife? Is this present life all there is? Will you go to heaven? Or hell? Or do you have to stop first at Purgatory? And if so, will you be reborn into another life form? Will you return in some higher form if you were good? Or will you be reborn as some lower form of life if you were evil? Or, will you join some great cosmic oneness after death, and exist eternally as pure energy? Is there something else?
Men have imagined, and have taught all these various things, and many others besides. There are all kinds of different ideas about the afterlife. But, how we answer these questions hinges on the answers to another question—our main question for today:
I. Do We Have an Immortal Soul?
You have to answer that question correctly, and if you do, then you have the beginning of the answer as to what happens after death.
So, this question, "Do we have an immortal soul?" is foundational to all inquiries into man's destiny.
But for most of mankind, however, they have rejected the very source of the truth of the answer to this question. They have rejected the Bible.
Fortunately, we have not rejected it. I know you all here have not rejected it. So we can look into it and find the answers, because it is our most trusted source of knowledge, because God is the very author of it. And He, being the Creator, ought to know what our soul is, and what it is going to do, and how it all works.
God's Word contains all the information that we need to know on this subject so we can aim our lives in the correct direction.
Unlike many philosophical works, the Bible presents the truth on our soul's nature very plainly, clearly, and simply. Overall, it makes no bones about what happens when we die. And, as we heard today in the sermon, the simplicity that is in Christ should make us very confident in our understanding.
But, before we get to these simple Bible truths, we have to define what is meant by the word "soul." We must have our definitions correct. We must also know what the world defines it as too.
Briefly stated, the prevailing idea in the world is that the soul is the immortal essence of a human being. They believe that the soul is the seat of human will, understanding, and personality. They define it as, "A spirit; an essence; some sort of ethereal life-form that is eternal, immortal, ever-living, everlasting, un-killable, or indestructible," or however else there is to say it. They believe that when the body dies, the soul lives on, never to die.
Just to give you a flavor of what is believed, I will give you three worldly definitions.
Augustine, one of the Roman Catholic Church fathers, one of early Christianity's influential thinkers, described the soul as, "A special substance endowed with reason, adapted to rule the body."
More recently, a theologian named Richard Swinburg, a philosopher of religion at Oxford University wrote, "Souls are immaterial subjects of mental properties. They have sensations and thoughts, desires and beliefs, and perform intentional actions. Souls are essential parts of human beings."
The current catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, which was published under pope John Paul II, defines the soul as, "The innermost aspect of humans; that which is of greatest value in them; that by which they most especially are in God's image; soul signifies the spiritual principle in humans."
Now, after all this, after these three quotations, the soul is still a very vague subject. They did not do much to help us understand what the soul is. It is obvious to me that these people do not depend on God's word at all for their understanding of the concept. As a matter of fact, they are hung up on the understanding of the soul as has come down to us through philosophy, and not through the Bible. If they had relied on the Bible, they would be relying on how scripture uses Hebrew and Greek words—nephesh and psyche (and their derivatives). The Latin Vulgate uses the word anima, which is a synonymous term.
II. Let us start building the idea of what the soul is from the very words of the Bible.
Nephesh means, "a breathing creature." Psyche, and psuche means, "breath, or the breath of life." Anima means, "air, or breath." So, we can see the common denominator among these three terms, which is the concept of breathing and breath. All these three terms have to do with the fact that creatures have to breathe. Now to put it simply, and biblically, these terms refer to the breath of life.
Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [King James Version, "soul"].
The fact is, the living soul is from the one word in Hebrew, nephesh—a creature, or being that breathes. To chase this out in another place, turn to Leviticus.
Leviticus 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
Here, nephesh is found three times in this one verse—the life of the flesh, and then the word soul(s) twice.
Leviticus 17:14 "For it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, 'You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.'"
So, what we have here is the Old Testament understanding of how life works in us. We breathe in the air with its oxygen into our lungs where it is absorbed into our bloodstream, and then it is carried throughout our whole body by that bloodstream. This life-giving oxygen is then available to the whole body.
And what God breathed into the first man, then, was this ability to have life. But, that was not the only thing that God gave man; but in terms of what the soul is in scripture, this is where we must begin.
The soul, then, just from what we have read so far, is the life-force, the vital-force, or the vital-principle of a person, creature, or being. It is what we would call the immaterial gift of life. The functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from and greater than the biochemical reactions of the body.
But do you understand what is being said here? A body is not just an organism living by the biochemical reactions to have life. The life that has been given to it has come from outside of it. And, it makes those bio-chemical reactions work. That is why it says that it is a vital principle distinct from and greater than the biochemical reactions of the body.
Science proves this every time it tries to create some sort of living organism. It can put these chemicals together, but it cannot impart life. The life-force, the vital principle, or the however you wish to put it, is something greater than and coming from outside the body. That is why I called it the immaterial gift of life.
A soul, then, defined practically in how it is used in the Old Testament, in terms of people talking with one another and God's instructions to us about various things, is a living being. The soul is a living being. The emphasis is on both living and being. But, mostly living because the soul's source, you might say, is the idea for the initial concept for the idea of the soul, and is in the fact that God gave us life.
We could also define it as a creature in which is life. Or, even a creature that had life, because as we know nephesh is used in many ways; not only for human beings, it is also used for animals which are living things, because they are made up of biochemical processes that were given life by the Creator God. It is not quite the same kind of life we have, but they do have animal life just as we have animal life. But we have something extra (which will come later). But, they are living beings too—living creatures.
In the Old Testament, nephesh is also used for corpses—dead beings, non-living beings, once living beings.
There is even one place in scripture, which I failed to write down, where God uses it of Himself! He says, "My Soul doth..." Have you thought of God having a soul? Well, He is a living being. And, like my Dad said, He is a Soul. We get so used to hearing about having a soul, that we do not readily realize that the proper teaching is that we are a soul.
And yet, there is another way to look at this, and that is having life. Now, we are not used to thinking of a soul as just the ability to have life, but that is what it comes down to. We have life. We have being.
Remember, it all goes back to the fact that we breathe. And God was the one who gave us that breath.
Now as I mentioned a moment ago, we have something extra. In this next passage, Elihu is speaking to Job and his friends, having waited a long time hearing their discourse and is now unable to contain himself any longer.
Job 32:8 But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.
It is interesting that "nephesh" is used in this verse. "The nephesh of the Almighty..."
The Churches of God teach that human beings have a spirit, which is from the Hebrew word ruach, given to us by God. Obviously, this is the point we see in the scripture above, from Job 32. And now, we will see it once more.
Zechariah 12:1 The burden of the word of the LORD against Israel. Thus says the LORD, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.
I think it is interesting that God's creation, here, is described in terms of stretching out the heavens, laying the foundations of the earth, and forming the spirit of man in him. It is very interesting. He created the heavens and the earth. And then, He created man and gave him a spirit. And this spirit separates him from the animals.
As Elihu said, this spirit gives mankind the ability to understand. The breath of the Almighty gives Him understanding. So, we can extrapolate from this that the spirit that God gave us provides us with cognitive mental abilities, such as understanding—things we do from thoughts. And so, such things as intelligence, language, creativity, memory, reasoning, intuition, planning, mathematics, the various skills and talents, our emotions, and even our capacity for religion can all be traced back to this spirit that God gave man because it gave man the ability to think, to reason, and to make choices.
Animals do not have this. They only have instinct. God programmed them to behave in certain ways. They have very limited abilities to be taught and very limited abilities to make choices. But, mankind has almost unlimited abilities.
Now, in this next passage Paul goes through this idea also while talking about the Holy Spirit here, but he wants to help us understand the difference between God's Holy Spirit given to us at baptism and the spirit in man that He has given to everyone.
I Corinthians 2:11 For what man knows the things of a man except [by] the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except [by] the Spirit of God.
So this shows that the spirit in man that God gave us gives us the ability to understand physical things and some spiritual things. But, we are limited in the spiritual things until the receipt of the Holy Spirit. So, from our birth we are able to understand human things by this spirit that God put into everyone. So, man has a spirit that gives him the ability to reason, to make choices, become intelligent, become creative—all these things.
Herbert Armstrong used to say that it is the spirit in man that gives us a point of contact with God. And so, this is why I mentioned that it gives us the capacity for religion, because there is a yearning in mankind for contact with the spirit world. There is a place in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that God has put eternity in our hearts.
There is something in mankind that desires contact with the spirit world—with God. Man does not quite know that it is truly with Him, but it is that point of contact between the spirit in man and the Spirit of God that allows such a thing to happen, because God is a Spirit Being not a physical being. We cannot relate to Him on physical terms. But, we have a spirit in us that gives us the ability to relate to Him in a small way; because, now, we are talking apples to apples. We have a spirit. He is a far greater Spirit. So, there is at least a point of contact that allows us some sort of communication between God and mankind. Without that spirit that God gave everybody it would be impossible. There would be no way to talk.
But now, with a spirit in us, there can be communication. But by the same token, it also makes us susceptible to Satan's broadcasts too; because he also is a spirit being. Paul tells us in Ephesians,
Ephesians 2:2 ...according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.
And it says in the next verse, that because of this contact with this evil spirit being, Satan the Devil, we were children of wrath just like everyone else before God snatched us out of his hand and gave us His Spirit so we could have proper contact with Him on a much higher plane.
So, yes, we can have contact with God by the spirit in man; however, we can also be influenced by Satan's spirit. We can tune into his broadcasts and take in his rebellious anti-God attitudes. So, it is a fight.
Do we not say that the Christian life is a war, and it is a fight? We sure do, and this is why we can, because we can tune into both sides.
III. To sum this up, Paul writes,
I Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, what I mainly want you to see, here, is the fact that Paul divides a human being into three parts—spirit, soul, and body. Now, we have just heard about the spirit that is in man. This is the Greek word pneuma. It stands for man's human spirit. If it is talking about the Holy Spirit, then it is the Greek word haggion pneuma, which also stands for the Spirit of God.
The Bible writers are very consistent in how they use these terms.
Pneuma is speaking about man's spirit.
Psuche, or psyche, is a person's life—he is a living, breathing being.
Soma is speaking about a person's body or flesh.
Now put these into simple English terms. I find these much better than trying to use the old fashioned terms we have grown up with. The human spirit is our mind; not our brain, but our mind. That is the immaterial thing there that gives us the ability to think, to reason, and to make choices. This is also where our emotions are. All those things are within our mind.
The soul, then, is our life. So, instead of saying, "one's soul," it is one's life, or one's being.
So, the spirit is our mind, while our soul is our life or being. And our body remains our body—the physical part of us.
These are really easy terms—mind, life, and body—rather than trying to differentiate spirit and soul, which is difficult. This is where the real trouble comes. Because what we find is that the world is confusing the spirit in man (pneuma) and the soul (psuche), his life. They are trying to wrap them together, and they just are not.
So, the pneuma or ruach is our mind, and the psyche or nephesh is our life; and soma (and I cannot recall the Hebrew term at the moment) is our body of flesh.
IV. Now, is the soul immortal?
Let us see for a few moments what some of the world's religions think about what happens when the body dies.
Several eastern religions claim that the body is reincarnated after death, time after time, until you reach a perfect state—whatever that might be.
New Age ideas say that we are all divine already; therefore if we would just all think the right thoughts, we are going to blend with this universal force that is god—whatever that is.
Judaism believes that the soul goes into and lies in sheol. Sheol is the Hebrew term for the grave; a hole in the ground, pit. Now, they believe that your soul goes to sheol to wait in Abraham's bosom or in torments (depending on how you lived your life) for the resurrection. If you were good and in Abraham's bosom, you would wait in sheol to be raised to immortality. But if you were evil, you would go into sheol and never get raised at all. So, they have a bit of a heaven/hell sort of thing adopted from the Greeks in the 200-100 BC timeframe. It is not quite like that, but very similar.
The Vikings—have you ever read what the Vikings believed? They thought that when you died, especially if you were a warrior, you would go off to a place called Valhalla—Odin's hall. Here, they were supposed to be able to go fight all day and then turn around and go drink all night. And then when the sun came up again, they would go out and fight all day and then later drink all night. What they were doing was waiting for Ragnarock—this is the last battle, when everybody is going to fight. See? That is why they were all there. Odin was gathering up all the warriors so that he would have a huge force there for himself when Ragnarock came around. But, prophecy says that the gods were not going to do so well with Ragnarock. And so, it is a sort of disappointment I guess.
Islam has a very similar idea. They believe that you go off to paradise; and if you blew yourself up, you also get 70 virgins. And, I have actually heard it described that the Islamic paradise is a kind of male chauvinist nirvana or a male-dominated fantasyland. It has actually motivated them to do some horrible things. Obviously, it is fanatical.
Now, this world's version of Christianity has borrowed the Heaven/Hell/Purgatory scenarios from various pagan religions to make its idea of an afterlife work out according to its syncretism of scripture and philosophy. They borrowed heavily from pagan Greek thought, and so especially the Roman Catholic Church came up with this Heaven/Hell/Purgatory thing. It is easy to see.
Here is what Socrates and Plato thought. This is from Plato's Phaedo:
The soul, being of a nature so superior to the body, can it as soon as it is separated from the body be dispersed into nothing and perish? Oh, far otherwise! Rather will this be the result: If it takes its departure in a state of purity not carrying with it any impurities of the body (impurities which during life it never willingly shared in, but always avoided, gathering itself into itself, and making the separation from the body its aim and study, that is, devoting itself to true philosophy and studying how to lie calmly, for this is true philosophy, is it not?) well then, so prepared the soul departs into that invisible region which is of its own nature, the region of the divine, the immortal, the wise. And then its lot is to be happy in a state in which it is freed from fears and wild desires and the other evils of humanity, and spends the rest of its existence with the gods.
That is what Socrates and Plato believed. And, this is what was picked up by the Gnostics, and then transmitted into the world's Christianity through the Roman Catholic Church's theology.
Now this view is called the Better View of the Immortality of the Soul, and it has this name because it has a double immortality: They do not believe that the soul is created by God and later can become immortal, but rather that the soul was already immortal forever in eternity past and then given to a body—a person. And then once that body dies, it is just going to go off back into what it was before. It seems better to them because the soul was immortal before and will be again.
So, Plato considered the soul as having already eternally existed, while the present life being only a moment in our career. He looked forward with an undoubting faith to the changes through which he must hereafter go through so that he can spend eternity with the gods in happiness.
Well, it is well known in scholarly circles that the idea of the immortality of the soul is not present in the Old Testament. It is very clear that it is not there at all. Those who adhere to this false doctrine have to reach far beyond the meaning of certain verses to make their doctrine fit with Old Testament theology, which we know is the same theology in the New Testament. In fact, many scholars in order to push the doctrine of the immortality of the soul assert that the Old Testament heroes of faith, and some even go on to say all of Israel, believed in the doctrine of the immortality of the soul; and the reason that it is not spelled out in the Bible is because the writers simply took it for granted! Everybody knew it, so why put it in there?
They used such reasoning as, "Well, the Egyptians believe in the immortality of the soul. So, the Israelites, having come up out of Egypt, surely brought this doctrine with them and felt no need to explain it in scripture."
Moreover, they say that the laws against necromancy—calling upon the dead—suggests a belief in this false doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Why would God say not to call on the eternal spirits of the dead if there were not eternal souls to call upon?
Well, His prohibition against necromancy is not about that at all. His prohibition is against calling upon demons, because they are deceiving spirits, playing the part—they mascarade—as departed souls, like we see in the story of the Witch of Endor. This is exactly what happened here. Samuel did not come up when Saul had "him" called upon. Rather, it was a demon acting like Samuel. (I have a Bible study on this if you are interested.)
This is why God says not to be involved with necromancy.
Back to the scholars—they also claim that the Hebrew concept of sheol—the place of the dead—assumes that the dead continue living in some form after their physical lives have ended. But, that is adding to what sheol is. Sheol means only a pit, a hole in the ground. And what do we dig when a person dies? We dig a pit to put the coffin into. Sheol is the Hebrew equivalent of the English word grave. It does not imply an afterlife. There are places where it says that you wait in sheol. Or, there are places that talk about being gathered to your fathers. Well, those things are just simply the fact that they are dead in a grave or pit themselves. And they are waiting for the resurrection. But, they are not waiting with consciousness. They are just waiting—their bodies are dead.
These scholars who think they see the immortality of the soul in the Old Testament, claim they also see it in the translations of Enoch and Elijah; but that is because they explain them wrongly. They think that Enoch and Elijah were both taken to the third heaven, when it is very clear that both Enoch and Elijah were only taken up into the first heaven—the heaven of the sky where the birds fly. And so, they were transported and put down into another place, but not taken up to heaven where God sits on His throne.
As a matter of fact, their idea even comes back in such things as the Two Witnesses—they think that because Moses was also taken by God into a secret place that nobody knows, that he was then taken up into heaven as well, just like Elijah. And so they think that the two witnesses are then going to be Moses and Elijah having come back, because they never really died. Well, we have something to say about that a little bit later.
So, these three things—necromancy, sheol, and the translations of Elijah and Enoch—are supposedly all proofs that there is an immortality of the soul. But, we will take the time to knock them down rather quickly.
Now, let us get into the biblical proof.
I believe that God, knowing everything, knew that man would have a problem with this idea of death and resurrection verses the immortal soul. So, He decides to knock it down right away. Please turn to Genesis to a very famous verse that Mr. Armstrong gave to us time and time again,
Genesis 2:16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
This is very simple. In the Bible, in the second chapter, the seventeenth verse, God is already saying that you can die. You do not have an immortal soul. If you partake of it, you automatically bring the death penalty upon yourself. And, they did die in that day. A day to God is as 1000 years, and they died before they reached 1000 years. God is true in what He said. They died. Their death was in them in that day, in the fact that they sinned. And so, they could die. There is no if, ands, or buts about it. He says that you will die. It is very clear.
Please turn to Ezekiel. In this next passage let us replace the word soul with life when we read through this.
Ezekiel 18:4 [God is speaking] "Behold, all souls [lives] are Mine; the soul [life] of the father as well as the soul [life] of the son is Mine; the soul [life] that sins shall die.
Or, the living being that sins shall die. Is it not clear when you put the true equivalent in there, that you can understand what God is saying? A living being—a person—can die. And he says the same thing in verse 20, "The soul who sins shall die."
It is very clear-cut. He says here that sin results in death, just like He said in Genesis 2. We could also turn to Romans 3:23 where it says that everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He also says this in Galatians 3:22.
Galatians 3:22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin.
This basically says the same thing as Romans 3:23. Everyone has sinned. There is not a person who has not sinned, except Jesus Christ Himself. So, if everyone has sinned, and God has said that the soul that sins shall die, that means that everyone is going to die.
The New Testament continues to confirm this.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Did you catch that? The wages for sin is not eternal life [in hell or some other place], but the wages for sin is death. Did you notice that we have to be given eternal life as a gift, just as God has given us physical life? He gave us that breath of life. And, He is going to give us what you might call the eternal breath of life also.
Surely, it is not something that we have right now in its fullness, but we have the earnest of it in the Holy Spirit. But, the point I want to make here is that God has to give life in both instances. He has to give the physical life, and then He has to give the spiritual life—the eternal life—the immortal life.
We earn—we deserve—the death through the way that we live, with the sins that we commit throughout our lives. But, it takes the grace of God in order to give us eternal life.
This next passage Mr. Armstrong went to very often as well:
Hebrew 9:27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.
This means everybody. Nobody gets out of this. We all die once, and then we have to face God's judgment. That is what it says.
So, here we have, right off the bat without hardly even blinking, four scriptures that very clearly and very plainly say that the soul that sins shall die. Everyone is going to die. Every man, woman, and child who has ever lived, is living now, or will live in the future is going to die. Even Jesus Christ, the One who did not sin, died. So, if He was not excepted [from death], how can we be excepted [from death]?
Now, for those who are alive at Christ's return, having the Spirit of God, they will be changed. But that is still a death, because their bodies will die. They will go from physical life to immortal spirit life. That is a death.
So, everybody in the whole world will die—that is every life, every human being will die.
But even though we have these four very plain scriptures, that is not proof enough for those who believe the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. They say that these scriptures only speak about the death of the body, and not the death of one's being.
Now, I do not believe that way. But, let us play along.
We have already seen in Job 32:8 that God gave man a spirit, so that man has a spirit. It gives him understanding, and this was confirmed in Zechariah 12:1, which says that God Himself forms the spirit of man within us.
So now, the next passage shows an admission from God through the pen of Solomon where it seems as if the immortality of the soul adherents may have a point. Now in this passage, Ecclesiastes 12, he will go through from the beginning of the chapter on a long analogy talking about a person aging and dying. "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come," and then he goes on into this analogy basically in terms of a house being the person, and this house is beginning to run down and that sort of thing. The grinders cease because they are few, meaning that the teeth are wearing down or are missing altogether. The doors are shut in the streets and the sound of grinding is low, meaning he cannot hear very well anymore. We are all aging, and we are all going to die (verse 6), "before the silver cord is loosed," which is interesting. This is a Hebrew metaphor for death. "The golden bowl is broken; the pitcher is shattered in the fountain; the wheel broken at the well" is talking about the death of a person.
And then he remarks in verse 7,
Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
Ah ha! Man's spirit goes to heaven after he dies! Right? The body decays in the ground, and the spirit goes back to God to live in eternal bliss—right?
Turn to Acts 7, and the martyrdom of Stephen. Now, notice what he says,
Acts 7:56-57 ...and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;
Acts 7:59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
Ah ha! In the New Testament the theology is the same as the Old Testament. When we die, our spirit returns to God, and we live forever with God in heaven. Well, that is expanding an awful lot on this little verse.
Luke 23:46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, "Father, 'into Your hands I commend My spirit.'" Having said this, He breathed His last.
So when Jesus Christ died, His Spirit returned to God just like Stephen's did and just like Solomon said that everybody's does.
So, what this is saying is that God keeps our human spirit in reserve—in storage somehow. We do not understand the way that it works, but what these scriptures are saying is that God takes back the spirit that He gave us for safe keeping until the resurrection from the dead. And when that happens (I Corinthians 15), He plugs it back into a spiritual body to which He gives—remember Romans 6:23?—immortality.
So, the spirit is like the hard drive of a computer, if you will. It is the same sort thing. It is a storage device that records our character, our memories, our emotions, all of our experiences—everything that we built throughout an entire lifetime of thought, action, behavior, repentance, growth, of producing fruit—all of that is somehow inscribed indelibly, eternally on that spirit in man. Remember, He gave you that spirit. It is something from God that He put into each one of us to make sure that there is a record of us—our personalities, and everything about us.
And then when we die, He can take that back and store it somehow, and it retains all that we are so that when the resurrection comes. He can plug it back into us, and we are once again who we are, except now being glorified, and immortal!
Now, does this all mean that our spirit is immortal? No! Why? It is because the spirit in man does not have life. Remember the three things that Paul told us in I Thessalonians 5:23, where he said spirit, soul, and body?
Spirit is distinct from the soul. The spirit that God gives us is a spiritual record of ourselves, giving us mind power. But, it has to be joined to a life in order to be functional. And so in each case, remember that Paul said that he asked that God would preserve their spirit, their soul, and their body for the resurrection. You must have all three.
So, if God takes the spirit back with Him, without giving it life, then it is just immaterial essence that we do not understand. But, it is not immortal itself. It needs the infusion of life from God.
Remember what Paul says in I Corinthians 2:11—that the spirit in man is for giving of mind power. The apostle, there, says nothing about immortality, because the thing that gives us immortality is the Spirit of God not the spirit in man.
If you wish to chase this out, go to Romans 8 and particularly verses 6, 9, 11, and 13 where Paul very distinctly shows the difference between man's spirit, and God's Spirit. They are very different. And one of the differences is that God's Spirit imparts eternal life, whereas man's spirit,
Romans 8:6 For to be carnally minded is death.
To be human minded and just have the spirit of man, is death—especially when it is influenced by Satan the Devil.
Romans 8:6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
So, the spirit in man has no immortality of itself. That must be supplied by the gift of God.
Now here are the clinchers on this whole matter:
Matthew 10:28 "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna fire = second death].
Jesus told His disciples this. This shows me that the soul cannot be immortal. It means that it can and will die if it does not repent and conform to the way of God.
To see this from a bit of a different angle,
I Corinthians 15:53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
And so many thought we had an immortal soul. If we have an immortal soul, why must we put on immortality? Should it not already be there?
No. Paul says that you do not have an immortal soul. You are a soul. And, immortality is something we must put on.
Romans 2:5-8 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "will render to each one according to his deeds," eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath.
Did you notice what he said there? He said that eternal life will go to those who seek immortality. Why should they seek something they already have?
The fact is they do not already have it. They do not have an immortal soul. And we do not either. Only by the Spirit of God do we have the earnest of eternal life and the promise of eternal life in the resurrection from the dead.
It is almost fun watching commentators twist and turn as they try to explain some of these verses away. They will shade the meanings of words in their favor; they will broaden or narrow a definition or a context so that it fits their view. They have trouble, though, with this final scripture, found in I Timothy 6.
I Timothy 6:11-16 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.
Is it not so clear?
He alone has immortality. He is the only One who has gone through the process, the same process we go through as we follow His footsteps. But that is still future for us. We will receive that life—that immortal life—as a gift in the resurrection from the dead.
Do you remember one of the first things the apostle John said about Jesus Christ in John 1? After he gets finished talking about the Word, he said, "In Him was life." Life inherent. That is the life He is willing to give to us—immortal life in the resurrection. That is why it is so important, as Paul says here, that we pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, and all those things—fighting the good fight so that we can lay hold on eternal life to which we were called.
So, we do not have an immortal soul, or an immortal human spirit. But, we can have real immortality in the Kingdom of God.