Sickness in Body, Soul, and Spirit

by Spiros Zodhiates

The issue of sickness and healing is very divisive in the worldwide Christian community. Some say that God wants all His people to be healthy and that it is our lack of faith that prevents it. Others say that sickness is part of living in a fallen world and that healing happens when God determines it. Can this latter group be considered as lacking in faith—and thus missing healing? One group or the other misunderstands the Scriptures, and that is why we must thoroughly investigate the meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words which underlie the English texts of our Bibles.

We here at AMG International work with many sick people. We have hospitals in Greece, Guatemala, and India. We care for many leprosy patients with ulcerated hands whom we see praising God and praying. They fold their hands in prayer but may have no fingers on the stubs of their hands. Are we missing something? We would gladly pay the air fare to India for anyone who could heal them. Seeing the suffering of these lepers was the motivation for this study.

The first question we must ask is, What is man made of? Paul wrote, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).

The Spirit

Paul first mentions the spirit (Greek, pneúma; Hebrew, rûah). Both words can be interpreted either as “spirit” or “breath.” God is pneúma, Spirit. This is what Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:24. God cannot be touched or lim-ited in what He can do.

Man is unique among God’s creation, since a part of him is spirit, like God. And man’s sickness traces back to the separation of his spirit from God’s Spirit. Most do not see this when they think of sickness, but the core problem and the worst sickness that man suffers from is a problem with his spirit, not just his body.

Both believers and unbelievers have spirits, but in the unbeliever they are sick unto death. Such a spirit can accept or reject God because fallen man can still hear His voice (Gen. 3:8), and God does not cease to call him until the ultimate separation of his spirit from his soul which occurs at death. After death, judgment is inevitable with no possibility of salvation (Heb. 9:27).

The redeemed man’s spirit is able to praise God and fellowship with Him. Animals cannot praise, because their souls do not have accompanying spirits. How can you know whether your spirit is healthy or sick? Genesis 3:8 has the answer: “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves.” If you are running away and hiding from God, you are spiritually sick. Your spirit is still separated from God. This is the greatest sickness you have, and the greatest healing you need.

The Soul

All animals have souls. The soul comprehends both the spark of life and sentience. Without the soul, the flesh is dead, inanimate. That is the soul as the spark of life. But the soul also includes the capacity of the senses which allow all sentient beings to relate to the world around them.

Man, though he has the added dimension of spirit, is sometimes thought of only as dichotomous—body and soul, and sometimes as trichotomous—spirit, soul, and body. But as man certainly has each of the three elements, it is nonsense to argue over words. Whenever the spirit is not expressly mentioned, it is included with the soul. This understanding lumps the two immaterial parts of man’s makeup into one, contrasting it with the material, or physical, body.

Like the spirit, the soul does not cease to exist after death (Rev. 6:9). God Himself has a soul according to Scripture (Heb. 10:38). The Greek word for “soul” is psuche\. Added to the Greek word so\ma, “body,” we get our English word “psychosomatic” which describes the interaction between our immaterial and material parts. In Scripture, both the spirit and the soul think, choose, and emote. Psychosomatic illnesses are caused primarily by the soul. The body suffers because of sickness in the soul—from which both may perish, if there is no healing.

The Body

So\ma is a living body. At death it is no longer so\ma, but rather pto\ma, carcass. When a human dies, the soul/spirit is disengaged from the body. Ezekiel 18:24 teaches that the soul of the “sinner” (unbeliever) dies or goes to hades if an unbeliever. Hades is the place of identifiable disembodied spirits, as the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) shows. Both the rich man and Lazarus remained distinct personalities. One was redeemed, the other was not redeemed. (Since Jesus had not yet died as a sacrifice for man’s sins, Lazarus’ spirit could not yet ascend to heaven; cf. Acts 1:10,11.)

Body of Sin

The original cause of all sickness was Adam’s rebellion against God. Physical illness, along with anger, alcoholism, divorce, war—all of man’s problems—came as a direct result of the spiritual sickness in man, and now all men are born spiritually sick. Paul called this condition “the body of sin” in Romans 6:6, and in so doing he said, “knowing this.…” It is important to note that he used the Greek word ginoâskontes, which means that we experientially learn that there is a constant struggle going on within us. Anyone who feels no spiritual struggle is either spiritually dead or totally deceived.

A person is also deceived if he thinks God owes him healing. What we deserve is sickness, because we all made the wrong spiritual choice in Adam. Paul says in Romans 5:12, “…by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin…” So everything that leads to death was brought into the world by man. We cannot blame God, because we brought it on ourselves through our disobedience in Adam. The consequence is “the body of sin.

In referring to “our old man” in Romans 6:6, Paul does not use the word “original” (archaíos) man, since our original man was perfect. He uses palaiós, old man—man as sin has made him to be—“the old man.”

In the case of believers, this old man “is crucified with Him [Jesus].” So Christ died for the believer “that the body of sin might be destroyed.” He died so that our fallen nature would no longer be dominant over the spirit, if we are true believers. We see this clearly in the Greek verb katarge\the\, translated “destroyed.” Katargéo\ is derived from katá, an intensifying preposition; and argéo\, which means “rendered inactive or idle.” It is foolish and dangerous to believe the old nature is gone or totally dead.

No Longer Slaves of Sin

Christ offered Himself for us “that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6). Here, the word “serve” means to serve as a slave, for the Greek douleúein means to be enslaved. Before we became Christians our spirits were not controlled by God’s Spirit, for they were in harmony with the sinfulness of our soul and body. We continued to work out sin in our bodies constantly. But after we became children of God through Christ Jesus, we were no longer servants or slaves to the body of sin.

However, we remain mortal and corruptible. This is the direct result of original sin, and many fail to see that what they think belongs to them now is really promised for a later time. At the present time, it is impossible for man to escape death. We do not yet have physical immortality. The Greek word for immortality is athanasía, from a, a negative meaning without, not, or no; and thánatos, death or separation.

When our Lord returns we shall be changed. Our entire environment is dead or dying, and we are all part of it. We will all experience—unless Christ returns first—a separation (thánatos) when our body (so\ma) becomes a carcass (pto\ma). Our spirits will depart. Now we have mortal bodies. There is only one person (the Man Christ Jesus) who had incorruptibility and immortality. That is what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 6:16 when, referring to Christ, he wrote, “Who only has immortality.” Jesus is the only one whose body did not decay in the grave.

Decay Remains

With that single exception, decay is going on continually, and sickness accompanies the process. We grow old because we are sinners by nature, part of the fallen human race which is under the judgment of God. This is true whether we are redeemed or not. Our body is phthartós, corruptible. First Corinthians 15:53 tells us, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” For the believer this phthartós body will be changed.

So we see that sickness can be spiritual; it can be soulish in origin. Our souls may sin through entertaining evil thoughts without involving our bodies, but sooner or later this does involve the body. We must understand that the body itself does not sin, because it is not capable of acting on its own. It is the soul, which acts in conjunction with the body, that activates the body to do things contrary to God’s law.

Let us indeed desire and pray for healing, but not expect the perfection and total freedom from corruption which is not intended for us in this age.

From Sickness—Why? Healing—How?
© 1999 by Spiros Zodhiates.
Available from AMG Publishers

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