In John 5, Jesus discloses some profound insights into the difference between physical and spiritual life—and shows the relative unimportance of the former by comparison. “For as the Father raises the dead and giveth them life, even so the Son also giveth life to whom he will,” (John 5:21). This statement may be taken in two ways, either of which is true. Jesus is the one who makes our physical lives worth living, but he is the also the author of spiritual life.
Spiritual life begins with hearing the gospel and believing in Jesus Christ. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life,” (John 5:24). Obviously, to “hear” the gospel is more than hearing its sound—it suggests listening, attentiveness eagerness. And to “believe” the gospel is more than mere mental agreement. This implies faithfully obeying and complying with its terms. And these words are in the present tense, which indicates continued hearing and continued belief. These are prerequisites to meaningful living.
When people who are spiritually dead truly hear the voice of Jesus Christ, their lives are changed. They begin to see things from a different perspective—to experience spiritual life. “The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live,” (John 5:25). Jesus Christ is the author of spiritual life. No one can experience this apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. The person who seeks to accept God while denying his son Jesus Christ, is seeking something which does not exist. God the Father has given the gift of spiritual life to the Son, and those who come to God through him.
Jesus also addresses eternal life, the life to which we as Christians look forward after this earthly existence. “Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment,” (Jn. 5:28-29). The end of our earthly life is not the end of our lives, for there is a resurrection, an afterlife following this. In this physical body we live, but we need to keep our focus on the spiritual aspects of this life, because that is what determines where we will spend eternity. The spiritual considerations are far more important than the physical, although most people of the world have this in reverse.
Most people emphasize only what Paul refers to as “the life which now is,” rather than emphasizing eternal principles of goodness and righteousness. Rather than focusing entirely on our physical diet, health and exercise, we need to emphasize the spiritual direction of our lives. “And exercise thyself unto godliness: for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come,” (1 Tim. 4:7b-8). Similarly, Peter shows how women must not be carried away with the temptation to overly emphasize their own clothing and jewelry, but to keep the focus on the spiritual aspects of their life: “Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price,” (1 Pet. 3:3-4).
These passages do not teach that physical, bodily considerations are unimportant, or that they should be neglected. It is sinful to neglect or ignore “the temple of the Holy Spirit” just as it is wrong to overly emphasize it. The Christian must recognize that either extreme is unacceptable. But God wants us to keep physical matters in their proper perspective, and not allow them to crowd out the spiritual. Our lives can be meaningful and rewarding, holy and acceptable to God, only when we keep the spiritual components uppermost in our minds. As Paul succinctly put it, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God,” (Rom. 12:1-2).
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.
Physical Life and Spiritual Life