Blogging the Institutes | 1.15.2 | The Immortality of the Soul

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Immortality of the Soul

People have bodies and souls. The soul is an immortal, though created, essence. It is a person’s nobler part. Sometimes the soul is called a “spirit.” Although the two terms are different, they are equivalent. For example, Solomon speaks of the spirit returning to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7).  When Christ commended his spirit to the Father, all he meant was that his soul was freed from the prison-house of the body. When that happens, God becomes its perpetual keeper. Some people think that the soul is called a spirit because God infuses breath or energy into someone but it is devoid of “essence.” These people are mistaken as demonstrated by the nature of the thing and what Scripture teaches.

Many people are too earthly to imagine they will survive the grave. They are alienated from the Father Lights and immersed in darkness! Still, the light is not completely quenched in the darkness that all sense of immortality is lost. Their conscience, which distinguishes between good and evil, responds to the judgment of God. Consequently, people have some sense of an immortal spirit. How could something which doesn’t really exist (according to some) come under a sense of guilt before the Judgement-Seat of God? The body doesn’t fear spiritual punishment. Only the soul could fear judgment. Therefore, the soul must actually exist (have an essence). The mere knowledge that God exists proves that souls must be immortal. It is impossible for anything which doesn’t really exist to ever reach God, the fountain of life.

God gave the human mind many impressive abilities. He engraved evidence of himself upon it. Many other shreds of evidence of an immortal soul exist. Animals do not think about anything other than their physical existence. They only respond to the objects which present before them. But the human mind quickly moves from physical concerns to “spiritual” ones. People investigate the secrets of nature. They read the future in the past. They know something “more” is out there. Something for which their soul longs. Our minds can conceive an invisible God and angels–things which a physical body is incapable of doing. We contemplate ideas of justice and honest–ideas which only a body cannot reach. The origin of these ideas must be a soul. Sleep itself is evidence of immortality. The dreams of our sleep give thoughts of things which never existed and foreboding future events. I’m only scratching the surface. Non-Christian writers have written about these things at length.

For believers, one teaching of Scripture is sufficient to prove my point. If we didn’t have a soul, then why would Scripture teach us that we dwell in houses of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7)? Why would it say that death removes the tabernacle of flesh and that we put off was it corruptible (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). Similar passages occur elsewhere that distinguish between body and soul. Scripture also indicates that the soul is humanity’s primary part. When Paul tells believers to cleanse themselves from all defilement of the body and spirit, he shows that there two parts where sin resides (2 Corinthians 7:1). Peter also calls Christ the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). It would be absurd to say this if people didn’t have souls! If our souls did not exist, there would be no reason to speak of the eternal salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:9), or to call us to purify our souls (1 Peter 1:22), or the assertion that fleshly passions war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).

Furthermore, it would be pointless for the author of Hebrews to say that pastors watch out for the souls of their congregants if souls did not exist (Hebrews 13:17). To the same effect, Paul calls God as the witness of his soul, which he could not do if a soul was incapable of suffering punishment (Romans 1:9; 1 Corinthians 1:23). Jesus also clearly expresses the immortality of the soul when he bids us to fear him who is able to cast the soul into Hell (Matthew 10:28). Again, when the author of Hebrews distinguishes between the fathers of our flesh with God, who alone is the Father of our spirits, he couldn’t have made things any clearer (Hebrews 12:9). Jesus would not have said that the soul of Lazarus enjoyed blessing at Abraham’s bosom if the soul did not continue to exist after the body dies (Luke 16:22). Paul assures us of the same things when he says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). I will only add one more thing: Luke mentions that the error of the Sadducees is that they didn’t believe in angels or spirits (Acts 23:8).

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