What Is the Difference between the Soul and the Spirit?

hand pointing at open Bible

Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.

The terms soul and spirit have been discussed at length in philosophy, literature, and the writings of various religions. They’re sometimes used interchangeably because people believe they’re the same thing.

But what does the Bible say? Are they the same thing? And does knowing if they’re different matter?

In this post, we’ll look at verses and notes in the New Testament Recovery Version to see that the soul is different from the spirit, and how they’re different. We’ll also discuss why knowing they’re different is important in our relationship with God.

Two key verses

First Thessalonians 5:23 says: 

“And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This crucial verse reveals we have three parts: a spirit, a soul, and a body. In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the presence of the conjunction and in the phrase spirit and soul and body indicates they’re three different things. The body is obviously distinct from the soul, and the soul is also distinct from the spirit. 

Then Hebrews 4:12 says:

“For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

The joints and marrow in our physical body are close together, but they can be separated. Likewise, the Word of God can divide our soul and our spirit, showing that they’re different parts.

So we see from the Bible that the spirit and the soul are not the same thing. God’s Word also reveals that the soul and the spirit have different functions related to God’s purpose

Our soul

In this universe, there are three realms: the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual. God created us with a body that can substantiate the physical realm. But what about our soul?

With our soul, we can substantiate things in the psychological realm. In fact, in Greek, the word translated as soul is psuche, which is the root of the word psychology, the study of the soul.

In the Bible, we can see that our soul is composed of three parts: our mind, our emotion, and our will.

Let’s start by first looking at the mind.

The second part of Psalms 139:14 says:

“Your works are wonderful, and my soul knows it well.”

This verse tells us the soul knows. Other verses indicate that the soul also considers and remembers. Knowing, considering, and remembering are all functions of the mind, showing that the mind is a part of the soul.

Then, many verses throughout the Bible show that the soul loves, hates, feels joy, grieves, and desires.

For instance, Song of Songs 1:7 begins:

“Tell me, you whom my soul loves, Where do you pasture your flock?”

And 2 Samuel 5:8 refers to enemies who were “hated by David’s soul.”

Loving and hating are functions of the emotion. So these and other verses are solid proof that the emotion is a part of the soul.

Finally, Psalms 77:2 says, “My soul refused to be comforted.” And Job 7:15 says, “my soul would choose.”

Choosing, deciding, and refusing are functions of our will, indicating that the will is also a part of our soul

Our soul has the ability to know, understand, love, hate, choose, and refuse, allowing us to substantiate the psychological realm. Our soul is our very person, and it expresses our personality.

Our spirit

Our body is the outermost part of our being, our soul is inward, and our spirit is the innermost, deepest part of our being.

Our spirit enables us to substantiate the spiritual realm. In particular, it enables us to  receive and contact God Himself

John 3:6 says:

“That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

When we believed in the Lord, we were born again of the Spirit, and received Him as the Spirit in our spirit. 

Then John 4:24 says:

 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truthfulness.”

God being Spirit means His substance is Spirit, and our spirit corresponds to God. Just as we have to use our ears as the proper organ to substantiate, or experience, sound, we must use our spirit to contact, fellowship with, and worship God.

So our human spirit is the key not only to our regeneration, but to all our spiritual experiences for the rest of our Christian life. 

Our spirit and soul in God’s plan

We’ve seen that our spirit is the organ we must use to contact and receive God, and that our soul is the organ for expression.

Through the fall of mankind, our soul was corrupted with Satan’s evil nature. So before we were saved, we could only express ourselves with our fallen human nature that we were born with.

When we were saved, we were born again, and Jesus Christ came to live in our spirit to be the source of our life and our living. And He doesn’t want to remain confined to our spirit. He wants to spread into our soul and even transform us into His image. This is a lifelong process.

Of course, we need to use the faculties of our mind, emotion, and will as we go about our lives. But Jesus Christ wants us to experience and enjoy Him by contacting Him in our spirit. He wants us to live by Him and in oneness with Him. This is why we need to build up the habit of exercising, or using, our spirit every day. 

The more we do, the more He has the way to spread into our soul and saturate it with Himself. As a result, more and more, we’ll think as He thinks, feel as He feels, and choose as He chooses. We’ll then express God to those around us, and God’s original plan for us will be accomplished.

Seeing the role of the soul and the spirit in God’s eternal purpose is crucial for our Christian life. We can’t get into all the details here in this post, so we strongly encourage you to download and read The Economy of God by Witness Lee. In this book, Lee goes into detail about the functions of our spirit and our soul with many practical examples that help make matters clear. You can download this eye-opening e-book for free from anywhere in the world here.

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