It is not that people cannot see the truth, it is more the fact that they do not want to see the truth. To be open to that which moves a person from the mental comfort zone to which that person has become accustomed becomes not only an unsettling inconvenience, it becomes a mind-shaking threat to many people. It is easier for these people to remain firmly entrenched in a false system of belief than it is to expose the pride-nature to the possibility of having been wrong and especially for the possibility of having been wrong for many, many years.
Traditionalists read “eternal punishment” as “eternal punishing.” When the adjective “aionios” meaning eternal or everlasting is used in the Greek with nouns of action, it has reference to the result of the action, not the process. The wicked will not be passing through a process of punishment forever, but will be punished once and for all with eternal results. It is impossible to estimate the far-reaching impact that the doctrine of unending hellfire has had throughout the centuries.
Paul never alluded to the conscious survival of the soul and its reattachment to the body at the resurrection, that is a notion totally foreign to Paul and to Scripture as a whole. Paul did not think the question of the status of the person between death and resurrection was a question that needed to be considered. The reason is that for Paul, those who die in Christ, their relationship with Christ is one of immediacy, because they have not awareness of the passing of time between their death and resurrection.
Many modern people get the idea that the word “Christ” or “Messiah” in itself signifies divinity, but it doesn’t. The “Messiah” in Jesus’ day was simply some Israelite figure who would rise up and take over the throne of David and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. Those who believe Jesus was purely human tended to understand the Israelites history. They know the monotheism of Israel does not and cannot evolve from polytheism, because the two are based on radically divergent world-views, radically divergent intuitions about reality. The monotheism of Israel was not, it could not be the natural outgrowth of the polytheism of an earlier age, it was a radical break with it. Monotheism was a revolution, not an evolution.
We must understand that God has predetermined to glorify us. In fact, God has predestined us to that glorification. To predestinate simply means to decide and decree in advance the destiny of something. God did not predestinate us to believe, he predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his son, because he knew who would believe. What a marvelous plan God had for us! God has kept the fingerprints of the guilt-worthy off of the righteousness he designed for the guilt-worthy.
As believers, we do not possess the life that Jesus got when God raised him from among the dead as an inherent quality any more than we possess God’s righteousness as a property in our own nature. Just as in the midst of our sinfulness, we are righteous, so in the midst of our self-evident mortality, we are going to get the life God gave to Jesus. Wholeness and meaning in life are not the products of what we have or do not have, what we have done or have not done, we are already a whole person and possess a life of infinite meaning and purpose because of who we are in Christ.
Our understanding of the identity that Adam had before the fall, that identity has been restored to us, that restored identity is the critical foundation for our belief structure and our behavior patterns. God has already set everyone in Christ apart as holy. Everyone who is in Christ stands perfectly righteous or perfectly holy, justified according to God’s gift declaration of righteousness. We that believed Paul’s good news, we have the very righteousness of Jesus Christ himself credited to our account. Our being set apart is not contingent upon the degree to which we set ourselves apart.
In order to take the resurrection seriously, we must also take death seriously. The person who does not know what death is, does not know either what resurrection is. The Christian belief in the resurrection of the body did not arise from philosophical speculations or wishful thinking like the notion of the immortality of the soul. It arose from the conviction that such an event had actually already taken place with the resurrection of Jesus from among the dead. The dead in Christ, what is risen at Christ’s coming is not just dead bodies but dead people; it is the whole person who will resurrected and reunited with Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only a historical event that we look back to with satisfaction and joy; it is the greatest event in history. We are sealed by the resurrection power of God. Just as the resurrection itself was impossible for anyone but God, the power behind the resurrection will take us into situations that are impossible for us to deal successfully with on our own. In Christ, we are a new creation; God’s resurrection power dwells within us; Paul desired to know more about the resurrection power he already had within himself.
One of the most disturbing things is someone unable to express confidence about whether they can know if they will have eternal life or not. Was Paul uncertain of his salvation, concerned that he might not qualify for the resurrection of the body of believers sealed in Christ? The proof, the standard of God’s power according to Paul is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead. Paul knew death is the cessation of life for the total person. The death of the body is the death of the soul, because the body is the outer form of the soul. Paul knew the meaning of death, he could quote Ecclesiastes 3:19 for the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other.
Paul believed that the whole person, body and soul, would have “perished” without the guarantee of Christ’s resurrection. Scripture sees the body as an essential aspect of the whole person, which is not detachable from the soul nor can be cast aside, the body is the outward, visible part of the person. Paul does not explain how people through disobedience forfeited the possibility of becoming immortal; his concern is to show how Christ has redeemed us from the tragic consequence of sin, death.
Death applies to both the body and the soul, because the two are inseparable; the body is the outward form of the soul and the soul is the inner form of the body. The body is the physical reality of human existence, the soul is the vitality and personality of human existence. People’s soul is in their blood and indeed their blood is their soul: the body is a person as a concrete being, the soul is a person as a living individual; the breath of life is a person as having their source in God. Plants are not souls because they do not have organs that allow them to breathe, to feel pain and joy, or to move about in search of food.
Both people and animals are souls, their soul is the whole of them and comprises their body as well as their mental powers. What distinguishes the human soul from that of animals is that humans were created in God’s image, that is, with godlike possibilities unavailable to animals. Both people and animals both are conscious beings, they both share the same life-breath. The body and the soul are not two different substances (one mortal and the other immortal) abiding together within one human being, but two characteristics of the same person.