As Christ followers, we are called to love the Lord with our souls.
The essence of the word soul can be found in its root, which literally means “to breathe.”
When we speak of the soul, we are speaking of the essence of life, the air that fills our lungs. Yet it speaks to more than just being “alive.”
When we come to the soul, we come to that part of us that is most alive, the part of our life that makes us most who we are as people. There are three foundational dimensions to existence: the physical, the psychosocial and the spiritual. A tree has a physical existence, but nothing more. A whale has both a physical and psychosocial existence, for it is conscious and able to relate in certain ways to other beings.
But only we humans have been given a physical, psychosocial and spiritual dimension.
It is from this distinction, from our souls, that we gain our identity as sons and daughters of God. When God made you, He put something of Himself in you. The soul is that unique element of your life that has been given to you by God that reflects His very image. It is the existence of your soul that allows you to do what only humans can do, which is to respond and relate to God in a personal relationship.
Loving God with your soul begins by entering into a relationship with God by choosing to relate to Him. This is what brings you alive through Christ at the soul level. This is followed by soul formation, or spiritual formation, which is the giving over of ever-increasing acreage of your inner world in love and devotion to God, and then allowing Him to develop it as He wills.
I often think of this as being like a dark cavern that is excavated, opened and then filled with light; in like manner, the soul is to be enlarged and developed and filled with the living God.
The basis of this communion with God is both process and event. Most Christians are arrested in their development because they do not grasp this idea – they have had the event, but they have yet to take a step forward on the journey.
Indeed, conversion is often reduced to an event. But in truth, it is both event and process. This is highly significant, and often talked about in terms of the fact that we are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. The fact that you are saved refers to your decision to come to Christ as Forgiver and Leader. That you are being saved speaks to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to make you increasingly like Christ. And you will be saved at the end of time when, standing before God, the verdict on your life will be read and your place in eternity declared at the Great Judgment.
So you live between the two poles of salvation – in the “being” saved part of your spiritual journey. Your eternity is secure, but you are now working out that salvation in and through your life.
Yes, it is the work of the Holy Spirit, but your job is to cooperate. The Bible tells us we can resist this work, and thereby grieve the Spirit relationally. So it is a terribly significant journey. If you are not more like Jesus now than you were a year ago, something is amiss.
This is not about perfection, or rising above areas of struggle; rather, there should be progress.
The point is that you have a soul and it is not meant to be stagnant. It is not a “lump” of something that simply “is.”
It is your very life – the way you breathe in God.
And you need to breathe.
James Emery White
Excerpt from James Emery White, A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying Through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). Available on Amazon.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.