Dividing soul and spirit

Hebrews 4:12 says: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

The emphasis in the passage is on the ability of God’s word to discern the heart behind the actions. Our human nature is subject to frailty and is a source of failure even when our heart is right. We are complex beings and often we, ourselves, don’t understand why we say or do or feel a certain way.

So what can I do about it? Shall I struggle with doubts and uncertainties? Shall I count on others to tell me what they think?

No, there is a rest for the people of God. Only he knows the difference between sin and rebellion on one hand and misunderstanding and human frailty on the other. All man can see is what is on the surface, and my own perspective is clouded. However, God has perfect vision and his word (not the Bible, but what he says) discerns to the most indiscernible parts of my life. If he speaks words of condemnation to me, it is because he sees rebellion in my heart. If he speaks words of comfort, it is because he sees my failure but also that I have failed with a pure heart.

You see, this passage isn’t intended to help us formulate some bilateral or trilateral view of human existence, it is to cause us to rest in the Lord and let him unravel our lives and our mysteries as to why we say, do, or feel as we do.

Heart Purity and Imperfect Humanity

On thing that I think confuses a lot of people is the relationship of humanity to sin. When we mistake human frailty for rebellious sin we have a recipe for absolute confusion on the topic.

And, the truth is, that no one can watch another’s life and see their spiritual condition. Two people can respond to the same situation in very different ways and how they respond is not a reflection of their state of grace.

For instance, in the Bible we have two “sanctified” men being hit unjustly. One of those men is Jesus, who “answered not a word.” No doubt, Jesus lived up to his own Sermon on the Mount, turning the other cheek.

The other man is the Apostle Paul. When he is arrested, the priest orders him to be struck in the face. Paul, instead of turning the other cheek curses him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” Then when it is pointed out to him that he has spoken thus to the High Priest, he immediately apologizes because he knows the Scriptures say that one is not to speak ill of the leader of the people.

The situations are similar, but reactions are not, but they both came from men with pure hearts. How can that be?

Jesus’ response is an example of a human being with a pure heart responding perfectly. Paul’s is an example of a human being with a pure heart responding imperfectly. When Paul realizes that, in his humanity, he has said something improper, he doesn’t get angry and refuse to admit his mistake. Instead, he acts to make it right.

Jesus is our finest example and his behavior is our goal.

Paul is an example of a man who has a pure heart but is still a work in progress. He is also an example of how a sanctified Christian responds when, due to his humanity, he has failed.