This is going to be a very long random thought, because of how complicated it is to connect one idea to another that may scandalize the average Christian. I will break it down in several posts for easy readability, as I try to avoid the “rambling-ness” of my thoughts in one post.
I grew up with the notion that man is two or three natures. Those who hold to the dichotomy view of human nature hold to the idea that man is flesh or body and rational soul. Those who hold to the tripartite view of human nature say man is body, soul, and spirit. Recently however, a lot of research have been going against the idea of splitting humanity into two or three parts. The Scriptures seem to use the words “body” and “soul” interchangeably. To call a person “a soul” does not mean one separates this person’s soul from his body. Likewise with the term “body” or “flesh”. Two examples of Scripture concerning this view:
“I will pour my Spirit on all flesh.” (Joel 2:28)
“The soul that sins, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20)
Is the Spirit poured only on the flesh, and not the soul? Is it only the soul that dies if it sins, and not the flesh? From these two, it is implied that the word “soul” or “flesh” seem to point not to a part of human nature, but human persons with their various aspects: “heart, soul, strength, mind” (Luke 10:27), etc. Sometimes a person is called “flesh” and sometimes a person is called “soul” or “breathe”. In a similar way, when we speak of the “hand of God” or “His wings” or “the heart of God”, we are speaking about God’s person with His aspects, not a piece of God.
This brings to light some of the things St. Paul writes about, when he is not making a dichotomy of humanity, but rather points to humanity’s modus operandi of how he/she lives his/her life. According to your flesh or according to “the Spirit”? That is, are you going to allow yourself to live vainly as if you are nothing but dust of the earth, or will you make an effort to take yourself and raise it up to towards God, like the ethereal nature of the smoke of incense? And how else will you take it up to God? St. Paul starts explaining the dilemma in Romans 7:
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
So I can perceive by my will, my desires, or my mind that I want to do the will or the law of God, but I do not know how. “For nothing good is inside me”. An aspect of me wants to do the law of God, but I am brought down carnally by the law of sin warring against my desires, the law of my desires. My mind, that is my desire and the seat of my choice, should seek to choose Christ, and I thank God through Christ for saving me from this body of death. By my mind, that is my choice, I am able to “serve the law of God” against my fleshly actions desiring the law of sin. However, the mind alone cannot bring the flesh up to God, that is, my desires to ascend to God cannot be done, since “there’s nothing good dwelling in me” (v. 18). Therefore, my mind is nothing more than an aspect, not a separate nature from my flesh. Otherwise, if it was a nature, I would be able to follow the law of God. Since it is not a “piece of me” that is following the law, and another piece that is carnal, but my whole self desiring one thing and doing another, then there is no true dichotomy. Since my mind is an aspect of my self, my mind is there for willing, and if I will God, God will come to me to bring me up to Him.
To recap, if I were to change the terms of “my mind” and “my flesh” to simply “my desires” and “my actions” or “my self”, it makes sense.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I desire to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I desire not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me nothing good dwells; for to desire is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I desire to do, I do not do; but the evil I desire not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I desire not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
I find then an aspect, that evil is present with me, the one who desires to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the depths of my desires. But I see another apect in myself, warring against me, and bringing me into captivity to the aspect of sin which is in me. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my desires, I myself serve God, but with my actions, sin.
How then will I turn my actions into the direction of God? By the very Spirit of God Himself dwelling in us, we will be lifted up to God, not by our own selves!
St. Paul explains:
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8)
What “Spirit” is St. Paul talking about? It seems to me that this is not a dichotomy between human flesh and human spirit, but between human persons and God! The Spirit of God is what will help you to ascend to God. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead will bring life to our mortal persons. Therefore, it is not a mere human spirit that raised God from the dead. And if anyone wonders if St. Paul believes in the full deity of the Spirit with God, consider Romans chapter 4, where he talks about believing in the same God who Abraham believed with strong faith, the same God who raised Jesus from the dead. Now, instead of sin dwelling in me doing evil, it is the Spirit dwelling in me doing Godly acts.
Therefore, if we are to attain true faith in God, true righteousness in Christ, and true life in the Spirit, we need the Spirit to dwell in us, to become united in the Sonship of Christ as sons of the Father (cf Romans 8:15). Christ, who is God or “spiritual” by nature, became man so that man may be “spiritual”, walking in the Spirit.
So if we were to get rid of the dichotomous or tripartite idea of human nature, what then do we make of our deaths, particularly our afterlife before the general resurrection in the second coming of our Lord? Well, a few things:
1. We are nothing in ourselves and “there is no good dwelling in us” (Romans 7:18). Only God is good (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Therefore, it is necessary that the one who is good by nature dwell in us to perform goodness. The Holy Spirit dwells in us for this purpose.
2. Because of not adhering to a dichotomous or tripartite humanity, we affirm the importance of rising from the dead with Christ in the second coming, back to our natural selves with ALL aspects of our humanity, not only parts of it. Our flesh included will rise from the dead, in the glory of Christ. Therefore, we no longer “die”, but we “sleep” or “depart”, in hopes for the resurrection in the second coming.
3. When we “sleep”, there is no separation of soul and flesh, just as our actual living sleep. At the same time, we do have a level of consciousness even when we “sleep”. Between our departure and our resurrection, God by His grace and mercy allows us to be conscious, rather than have us end in a state of true non-existence, “true death”. In that case, His plan is not necessarily arisen out of a manner of making us dichotomous or tripartite, but making us to continue to experience the true essence of our being congruent to how we lived our lives when we were alive. In a way, you can analogize this to a form of “dreaming”, and the dream reflects in some way the day’s experiences. But in physical disintegration, it is given by the grace of God an ontological reality of experience, and not an abstract “dream”. In other words, it is not “just a dream”. It is real.
Number 3 is a little difficult to unwind, but I hope to achieve something that can put to sense a lot of information from the Church which I was taught. This is after all my rambling thoughts that I am trying to make sense for myself.