In his first letter to the fledgling church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul blesses them with this prayer: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24). This made me think: What does it mean to be purified and set apart for God’s pleasure in “spirit, soul, and body”? Are these three separate entities? No! Paul prays, “May God himself . . . sanctify you . . . . [that is,] your whole spirit, soul and body.” (The fancy word is a hendiadys; one word or phrase interprets and explains the other.) The whole “you,” set apart and kept for Christ (Jude 1), is nothing less than a unity of body and soul/spirit. (It’s questionable whether “soul” and “spirit” are different entities in Scripture.) Now put that thought on hold.
Pick up biblical anthropology and the hope of the gospel: God has hand-crafted every detail of our beings, that is, our physical bodies (Ps. 139:13-16). His breath (or spirit; Heb. ruach) animates and invigorates our bodies, and we have each been made with unique bodies to house and employ our spirits (Gen. 2:7; Job 27:3; 32:8; 33:4). This has great importance for the gospel of our resurrection. We erroneously think that when we die and enjoy a greater fullness of the Lord’s presence, we have already experienced our resurrection. This is not true! The scriptural testimony is that only when our bodies are raised to newness of life will we become complete again. As believers in Christ are right now, our bodies are dead in sin, yet our spirits are alive. But our hope for which the whole universe longs is “the redemption of our bodies.” It is only when the Spirit of Christ gives glorifying life to our mortal bodies and reunites us with our reborn spirits that we will see the fullness of our hope (Rom. 8:9-11, 18-25; cf. Pss. 16:10; 49:12-15; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; 15:35-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; Phil. 3:20-21). We won’t be fully ourselves again until we’re glorified, Christlike spirits living in glorified, Christlike bodies—bodies that bear recognizable marks of our earthly selves. (Cf. John 20:20, 24-28, where the disciples recognize Jesus because of the scars he yet bears. Jesus’ glorified body is distinctly his body.)
Putting these two together means that you and I never exist merely “spiritually;” we are who we are also by virtue of our bodies and our circumstances in the world. There is always a body-spirit interplay at work. Physical, bodily happenings in our daily lives (success or failure in completing a task, loss of a loved one, a kiss, a caress, personal sickness, hunger) influence our emotions, wills, desires, and fears, i.e., our “spirits.” It’s a well-documented psychological phenomenon that one’s attitude affects his health and also that his health affects his attitude. What happens to our “outer selves” affects our “inner selves.” This is why fasting from food and kneeling in prayer can affect our disposition before the Lord. It also explains how faith is produced through the Word and sacraments: we hear God’s word with our ears, see it with our eyes in the water, bread, and wine, and taste it with our mouths—and we therefore believe it as the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with his joy and peace.
In like fashion, we don’t just worship God in spirit, with heavenly affections. Good as those may be, we are urged to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).  Though we have God-loving minds and hearts, yet our bodies aren’t yet renewed in the same way; thus we can speak of our “body of death” rebelling against what we know and love (Rom. 7:21-25). But we hope for the “reconciliation of all things,” when our whole being will again see, taste, feel, love, and cherish the Triune God in all his beauty and perfections—forevermore!
1. “Soul Meets Body” is the title of a song by one of my favorite bands, Death Cab for Cutie. (It’s on their 2005 Barsuk release Plans.)
2. “Spiritual” is here the Greek logikos, which may also mean “rational” or “sensible” (see NIV footnote). But the point stands: we worship God by employing our bodily members in his service.