There are numerous fictional stories about individuals who sold their souls in exchange for something they lusted after. A couple of the better known stories include Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, in which the protagonist remains youthful while only his portrait ages, and Faustus, in which Faust makes a deal with the devil Mephistopheles.
In actual fact, we don’t have to sell our souls to lose them. Furthermore, individuals who fear that they did sell their souls believe a lie, for any soul is eligible for salvation right up until the last breath of life if they turn to Jesus and believe him as Savior. My proof of this? The thief that believed on the cross next to Jesus. Lost souls don’t exactly end up in Paradise, so his soul was saved.
Jesus framed the question this way: For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mt. 16:26)
In my mind, his question raises two others: 1. What is the soul? 2. What is the context of the passage? (See Part Two for this)
First things first. First mention of a soul is this:
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [or soul] (Gen 2:7).
Three components were mentioned – the body formed from dust, the breath of life, and his soul – also translated his being. Man was created in the image of God, who also has three components – the Father, Son, and Spirit. I personally find it easier to understand my 3-part nature by reverse-engineering what God has revealed about his nature.
The Son is God in flesh. He shows me what my flesh body is – a perishable house for the other parts that is suited for life in the world. Whatever Jesus said and did, it was his Father saying and doing it in flesh. By this I see that Jesus reveals what my body is for and what it does. My body says and does what my soul would say and do if it were audible and visible – which it is not.
The Spirit of God is invisible to the eyes. Jesus compared it to the wind, which nobody sees, be we all feel it, hear it, and see its effects. Spirit is feeling and movement, intelligence, sense, expression, and power. It hovered over the waters of the deep to bring life upon the earth. Jesus said his words were spirit.
There is also the breath of life, the pneuma, or spirit in man and woman. A body without breath cannot live. The NT Greek calls it the psyche, often translated heart in English, meaning the mind and emotions. A dead body feels nothing, thinks nothing, says nothing, and does nothing. These faculties belong to the spirit of man or woman, which gives us life.
The Father is the most mysterious of all, because he is not directly known. We see and hear his messengers – angels, prophets, and the Son – but even in the Revelation of John, when he stands before God’s very throne, he only sees the Lamb upon it. The Father’s entire will is carried out by his Spirit and by his Son.
The soul is the mysterious part of a man or woman also. It is the unseen sovereign will of a person, housed in flesh, and quickened or empowered by his spirit. Whatever the body does, whatever a man thinks or says by his spirit, his soul will answer for it. The soul is the decider, the accountable part. It cannot perish. It can only be saved or lost.
How does a person lose his soul? We are already fallen, sinners by nature. All that a soul must do to be lost is whatever comes naturally. Dorian Grey did not have to “sell” his soul, because it was lost before he ever knew the secret of his portrait.
In the next part, we’ll take a closer look at the chapter in which Jesus mentioned that a man might forfeit his soul, to see what he was talking about. I was surprised myself, as I’ve never seen this passage used in its original context.