What About Ghosts

Ecclesiastes 12:7

We all have a spirit. Or, we are all spirits living in a body. 

The Scriptures teach that we are composed of body, soul and spirit. For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 mentions body, soul and spirit when it says:
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV)

Hebrews 4:12 makes a distinction between soul and spirit when it says:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

This is not a complete list of verses or a complete argument for the existence of the soul and spirit. The view I am giving is that of a “trichotomy,” which is to say that the essence of a man or a woman includes these three elements. Some also teach that perceiving a person as a dichotomy is more accurate, which is to say that the essence of a person includes material and immaterial elements. A person holding to a dichotomous view would not draw a distinction between soul and spirit.

My understanding is a spirit is form of existence. According to John 4:24, God exists as spirit. The soul is not a form of existence. The soul is the person or the mind. The soul is who you are.

The materialist teaches that the material world is all that exists. Materialism teaches that the spiritual world does not exist. Rather than a soul or spirit, the entirety of a person is the physical body. The mind is only the brain and its function. The thoughts and decisions of the individual are nothing more than the chemical and electrical impulses of the brain. In this thinking, when the brain ceases to function, that is the end of the person. There is no more. This view does not allow for life after death. 

The brain is the control center of the body. As long as the soul is connected to this body, there is an integral connection between the soul and body. This connection means that the soul can only express itself subject to the limitations and boundaries imposed by this body and thus the brain. Because of this, injuries to the brain can affect what we call personality and intelligence. However, once free from this body, the soul of the person is free from the limitations imposed by this material body.

However, we must not think that we are designed to exist forever in an unbodied state, or as spirit. We were designed to exist in a material body. However, the bodies we now have are broken because of sin. The entire creation has been affected by sin and is looking forward to the restoration of all things. At the resurrection, we will have perfect bodies that will not age or break down. 

This brings us to a question that is important for us to understand. What happens to the person who dies? Is the spirit in some sort of limbo while it waits for a new body?

Have you seen the ghost hunter television shows that are sometimes popular? Have you read the stories of haunted houses? Have you read Harry Potter where ghosts are part of the story? There are many popular theories, stories and even sightings of ghosts. Some believe that the spirits of dead relatives visit them. Others believe that the spirits of dead people inhabit physical locations, such as houses. 

Seances are held where people try to contact the dead, and mediums are frequently consulted for advice from the deceased. 

These things are real and powerful influences in our world today.

The Bible gives clear instructions and teaches us some foundational truths concerning what happens to the spirits of the deceased.

The first truth I want to cover is that the spirit goes back to God who gave it. This is stated clearly in Ecclesiastes 12:7 and implied in 2 Corinthians 5:8.

First, Ecclesiastes 12:7 says:
...and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7 ESV)

Then in 2 Corinthians 5:8, we find these words:
Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8 ESV)

This truth is significant on several counts. For one, it helps to provide an answer to the question of ghosts. First of all, the spirit has no choice in the matter. Just as we have no choice of when, where or how we are born, we have no choice in what happens at our death. The spirit is given by God when a child is conceived in the womb and the child has no choice or say in the matter. When the person dies, the spirit goes back to God without reference to that person’s wishes.

This is connected to another truth, illustrated by a parable Jesus gave. The unbelieving dead end up in a different place than the believing dead. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man is said to be in Hades and in torment, while Lazarus is said to be far-off with Abraham. Also, in Revelation 20:13, the Scriptures say that Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them. These two Scriptures indicate that the spirits of the departed dead go to either Hades or paradise. When Jesus was on the cross, He said to the thief who had said, “Remember Me,” “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The believing dead are in paradise and the unbelieving dead are in Hades, being held until the day of judgment. 

The spirits or ghosts of the dead do not remain behind, nor do they inhabit physical locations. 

Scripture warns very seriously against trying to contact the dead through mediums or other means. Deuteronomy 18:11 along with other Scriptures (Leviticus 20:27) forbid consulting the dead, mediums and other forms of contacting spirits.

Seeking wisdom from beyond the grave is a dangerous practice. 1 Timothy 4 warns us:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (1 Timothy 4:1 ESV)

Demons can pose as angels and by doing so have deceived many. They can also pose as the spirits of departed loved ones and/or spirit guides. It is for this reason that God strictly forbids mediums, spiritists, sorcery, seances and seeking to communicate with the dead.

As believers, we are given the Holy Spirit of God and the word of God for our guidance. If we have the Spirit of God, why would we seek guidance from a lesser spirit? Seeking out spirit guides is for this reason a dangerous and ill-informed practice. There is one Spirit who is the guide of believers in Jesus Christ and one Spirit only.

Since the spirit goes back to God who gave it, the second truth I want to cover is what happens during the time between when a person dies and the resurrection.

As we have already stated, the believing dead are immediately in Paradise, and the unbelieving dead are in Hades. They both await the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. We will cover the judgments to come in a future message, but I want us to consider a couple of truths about the time between death and the resurrection.

First off, there is no purgatory. The New Testament teaches that a believer is immediately in the presence of God and an unbeliever is not. The thief on the cross was promised that he would be in paradise that very day. He had no time to do any good works to pay for his sins. The Bible teaches that Jesus died once for all of our sins and that His sacrifice both appeases God’s wrath and pays for our transgressions. There remains no further price to be paid, and to try to pay for God’s free gift is an insult to His grace. We are forgiven freely by His grace and made righteous in Christ. For the believer in Jesus, no further suffering is needed, and for the unbeliever, there is no other payment that can be given. John 3:18 says that the unbeliever is condemned already because they have rejected God’s free gift.

Some people or groups teach the concept of soul sleep. This teaching says that the souls of the dead sleep and are unconscious until the resurrection. Such teaching directly contradicts the Scriptures that say to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

Another teaching or thought is that once we are out of the body and in heaven, we will be outside of time. Several statements in Scripture contradict such teaching. In Revelation 6:9-10, the Bible speaks of the souls of saints who died for their faith gathered under the altar. They are said to be crying out, “How long, Lord, how long?” If they were outside of time, “how long” would be an irrelevant question. Revelation 8:1 says there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. A half-hour is a measure of time. Although time will have no end in heaven, it will still exist. Only God is outside of time since He created time. We are not and will not become God and will always live in a progression of moments. 

The important thing in all of this is that we will eternally have a spirit, and John 4:24 tells us:
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (ESV)

Our connection with God is through our spirits. Romans 8:16 explains to us:
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:16 ESV)

Concentrating so much on our physical lives that we neglect the spirit that lives forever is a mistake. Jesus set an example for us when He said:
I have food to eat that you do not know about. (John 4:32 ESV)

The disciples with Him that day were perplexed as to what this might mean. So, Jesus explained:
My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, There are yet four months, then comes the harvest? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. (John 4:34-35 ESV)

Jesus had been doing spiritual work of sharing the gospel with a Samaritan town. That day he chose to go without food in preference for this spiritual work. He did not always do this. He ate. He slept. He also got up very early to pray. He also knew the Scriptures by heart. Paul encouraged Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake, taking care of His physical body, and he also exhorted Timothy not to neglect his spiritual gift.

Which is more important: our physical or our spiritual life? 

If it becomes a choice between the two, which one wins?

The apostles and Jesus showed us by example how to choose, each one laying down his or her physical life in preference for the spirit.


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