You aren’t just a body. When God made us, He formed us from the dust of the ground and then breathed life into us. As a human creature, an image bearer of the God of the universe, you are both body and soul.
This is why Jesus told His disciples to pray, “that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Peter says the flesh wars against our souls (1 Peter 2:11), and James urges his readers to put off fleshly passions and receive the word, “which is able to save your souls” (1:21).
Christians have always believed humans are complex creatures. We aren’t just bodies walking about with needs, desires, and feelings. We are simultaneously physical and spiritual creatures, made to reflect God in His beauty and glory.
Bodies Don’t Have Faith; Souls Do
We don’t think about this much. And that’s why we don’t understand the importance of faith alone. You can’t have faith with your body. You have faith with your soul. We believe and trust with the deepest part of our being. And how we behave in the physical, temporal world is a direct result of what our eternal souls have placed their ultimate trust in.
In part, this basic understanding of what it means to be human led Martin Luther to emphasize faith alone as he did. As I did in my last post, I’ll be drawing from his classic work, The Freedom of a Christian, to fill out the meaning of faith alone. There, Luther writes:
It does not help the soul if the body is adorned with the sacred robes of priests or dwells in sacred places or is occupied with sacred duties or prayers, fasts, abstains from certain kinds of food, or does any work that can be done by the body and in the body.
Why doesn’t it help the soul to wear or do these sacred things? Because the soul stands before God, either justified by faith in Christ, or condemned by its faithlessness.
[T]he moment you begin to have faith you learn that all things in you are altogether blameworthy, sinful, and damnable…. When you have learned this you will know that you need Christ, who suffered and rose again for you so that, if you believe in him, you may through this faith become a new man in so far as your sins are forgiven and you are justified by the merits of another, namely, of Christ alone.… [O]nly ungodliness and unbelief of heart, and no outer work, make him guilty and a damnable servant of sin.
In other words, seeing Christ with the eyes of faith leads us to see just how deeply flawed our motives, thoughts, desires, and deeds are. Jesus’s perfection unveils the ugliness of our souls. No matter if our life in the world doesn’t look as bad as others'. Before God, our souls stand condemned: “No one is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
If the soul is unrighteous, no amount of bodily, earthly, temporal works or garments or fasts or anything else can make us right—justify us—before a holy God. The temporal doesn’t transform the eternal; it’s the other way around.
Marrying Jesus by Faith
As imperfect, sinful, embodied creatures, we can’t justify ourselves. But by faith, our souls are united to Christ and made right before God. Christ was “born under the law” (Galatians 4:4), and fulfilled the law in His life on earth.
Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his.… By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride’s.
This is the Great Exchange: our sin for His righteousness; our condemnation for His acceptance; our death for His life. We don’t earn these blessings by works. We receive them by grace through faith. Faith is the wedding ring; grace is the marriage of our souls with Christ eternally.
Marriage is a covenantal state entered into through promise. You don’t become married by moving in together, by sleeping together, by having children together, or by sharing a bank account. It isn’t the “works” of marriage that make a husband and wife one. It is the promise of marriage, the entrance into covenant enacted in the wedding ceremony.
In the same way, we are welcomed into union with Christ, not by serving the poor, attending church, abstaining from sin, or reading the Bible. We are united to Christ by faith alone.
Does this mean we don’t have to glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20)? By no means! In the next post, we will look at how faith produces love in our lives.