Several years ago I wrote a blog post on Wholeness, as well as an article – God Wants You Whole. Since that time my appreciation for this term has evolved and I believe that I have a more theologically correct understanding of the word.
Definition of ‘Wholeness’ According to the Miriam Webster Dictionary – The condition of being sound in body. The quality or state of being without restriction, exception, or qualification. (A noun) Antonyms: imperfection, unsoundness
Definition of ‘Whole’ According to The Free Dictionary – Containing all components; complete. Not divided or disjoined. Not wounded, injured or impaired. Sound or unhurt. (An adjective) An entity or system made up of interrelated parts. (A noun)
We often hear people in the church say, “I’m whole in Christ,” or “Christ has made me whole.” The next time I hear that in conversation, I plan to ask them just what they mean by being whole in Christ.
Since this term is most often used in Christian circles in the context of well being and mind-body-spirit health, I offer the following definition:
Wholeness – A Biblical Definition
The state of being perfectly well in body, soul (mind, will and emotions) and spirit. This was God’s original design for man before the fall and is now attainable once we join Jesus in heaven.
Let me explain why I think this is a biblical – a theologically correct – use of the term.
Wholeness – God’s Original Design for Man
The Bible tells us that “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) God created a physical body from the earth and then breathed spirit into it. The spirit gave life to the body and man became a living soul. From that point forward, humans have a spiritual nature with a soul within a physical body. God made Adam and Eve as complete or ‘whole’ beings. Each part of them were intricately interwoven with the other parts in a marvelous way. They were a masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10) Just as the body itself is a whole unit made up of many parts (1 Corinthians 12:12), our whole self was created to function as a complete unit.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist denomination, wrote that man was created as “a well-working system.” Wesley would say that “The perfect model or expression of health would be Adam before the Fall, a balanced, harmonious, human organism designed for immortality. Since the Fall, the wholeness to be realized is wholeness within the limits of mortality.” (Phillip W. Ott, John Wesley on Mind and Body: Toward an Understanding of Health as Wholeness)
The Bible also tells us that God created man in his image – in the likeness of God and his Son. (Genesis 1:26) When Adam and Eve were created, they were without blemish. They had no shame because they were sinless. (Genesis 2:25)
In the Garden, Adam and Eve were whole before they sinned. They were the epitome of the term wholeness, from a whole-person health perspective.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the perfect design of man was destroyed. Originally created in the image of God, this image became marred, and has been marred ever since as this image has been passed down to us all. The spirit of a person who has not been saved is dead. (Romans 5:15-17) What was once a perfectly knitted and intact spirit, soul body became imperfect. Each of us were born into this world as flawed and imperfect beings. We inherited this from Adam and Eve.
Once born physically, our soul has been subjected to all sorts of negative impact from the sin present in the world. As well, our own sins and sinful behaviors create an environment that adversely impacts on our emotional, mental and physical natures and health.
Salvation, Sanctification and Restoration
When a person accepts Jesus into their heart, he’s rescued or delivered from sin and eternal separation from God. We call this salvation. The Greek word is sozo. God puts his Spirit into our hearts (2 Corinthians 1:22) and our spirits then become fully alive. Throughout our life on earth, our spirits will bear the image of God – we are completely well in spirit. We are positionally sanctified from a spiritual perspective. Acts 26:18, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:13
Salvation is the first step toward regaining complete wholeness – in mind, body and spirit – as Adam and Eve were before the fall. Although we become a “new creation” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17), aspects of our self that have been tainted by sin require healing and restoration.
The different parts of our soul – our mind, will and emotions – are marred. They require an ‘overhaul.’
It’s by the work of the Holy Spirit within us that we have an opportunity to progress in our souls toward even greater wholeness. Our marred emotions, will and thinking can be transformed by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As we surrender more and more to the Spirit of God, he can work accordingly in our lives. Sanctification is a process. We become transformed or renewed, day by day, into the likeness of Jesus. (2 Corinthians 3:18 and 4:6)
Our responsibility is to purify ourselves from all that contaminates us. (2 Corinthians 7:1) We are encouraged to take an active role in “stripping off all that hinders us” (Hebrews 12:1) so that we can better bear the full image of Christ that Adam and Eve once had before they sinned. This is God’s desire for us. (Romans 8:29) We are to “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12) that began when we were initially saved. We do this by surrendering more deeply to God. We humble ourselves and acknowledge our dependence on Him. We are more obedient to his ways. We hunger and thirst for more of Christ and we die more to our self nature. Galatians 5:24, Luke 9:23
This is also a process of restoration, or healing, especially of our hearts. Various issues of the heart prevent us from being able to be like Jesus. Damaged emotions, belief in lies – especially of Satan’s lies – and unhealed relationships all contribute to our inability to live a life like Christ – a life that fully glories God the Father. The more we allow Christ into the places of our hearts and minds, the greater opportunity we have to be restored or healed. Healing and restoration are a part of the sanctification process. The more healing we experience – especially on the inside – the more our lives will bear the fruit of the Spirit. As this occurs, our lives become a better witness or ambassador for Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
As Dallas Willard wrote, in his book Renovation of the Heart, we must desire to be transformed and we must be intentional if we are to receive restoration in our soul. It will typically not just happen.
Our bodies can be in varying degrees of health, wellness or state of wholeness. Even if they appear to be healthy on the outside, there may be subtle things occurring on the inside that are not well. And, I imagine that none of us have completely healthy behaviors all the time. None of us fully live out Paul’s encouragement to us in Romans 12:1 – “… I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice — the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?”
The Apostle Paul makes it clear that our bodies groan and are burdened. 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 and 5:4 He also tells us that we eagerly await the second coming of our savior who will then transform our ‘lowly’ bodies so that they will be like Jesus’ ‘glorious’ body.
As we live life on this earth, we have the opportunity to be more and more transformed into the image of Christ – the original state of Adam and Eve before the fall – with ever-increasing glory (greater wholeness). 2 Corinthians 3:18
In a message to the American Association of Christian Counselors, John Piper indicates that “praising the glory of God’s grace is the apex of (mental health) human wholeness.”
Prayers for You
As Paul’s prayer was to the Thessalonians, my prayer for you is that “God himself, the God of peace, will sanctify you through and through – in your whole spirit, soul and body…” 1 Thessalonians 5:23
I also pray that “God, who has begun a good work within you, will continue his work (restoration, healing and transformation) until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
Wholeness in Heaven – A Glorified Body
When Jesus return to earth, we will be raised into heaven and receive new glorified bodies, and we will bear the likeness of Jesus.
“Through his power to bring everything under his authority, he will change our humble bodies and make them like his glorified body.” Philippians 3:21
“Dear friend, we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2
If you are a follower of Jesus you will some day be in heaven. And in heaven, you will be in a state of perfect wholeness – in spirit, mind and body – and God will be magnificently glorified!
An Invitation to Join the Discussion
I invite you to join in a discussion about the term wholeness. Simply visit the blog post to make comments – Wholeness: An Updated Definition and Explanation.
Learn about our PathWay 2 Wholeness program.
Wholeness Graphic with Supporting Scriptures – A visual graphic, in pdf format, that represents the above concept.
Join us for one of our live monthly seminars – Understanding and Applying the Link Between Faith and Health.
I want to acknowledge the help of Judy Gatehouse, a Faith and Health Ambassador, who helped develop an iteration of the graphic above and who, in some long conversations, contributed to my current view on wholeness. Thanks Judy!