What Is the Difference Between the Soul and Spirit of Man?
First, it is vitally important to realize that there is a definite difference between the soul and spirit according to the Bible. Second, it is equally important to realize that our experience of this distinction very much affects our progress in the Christian life.
In this post we’ll consider a simple question: what is the difference between the soul and spirit? This study will not mainly be from the side of Bible teaching, but from the aspect of life experience. But before we can come to our experience we must first have a base in God’s word.
The Bible reveals man is made with three parts—a spirit, soul, and body.
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…”
No one would say that our body and soul are the same, but some people may consider our soul and spirit to be practically the same. However, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 tells us clearly that our spirit and soul are two distinct parts.
Another verse that emphasizes this distinction is Hebrews 4:12:
“For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow…”
Here there are the “joints and marrow” which refer to the body plus the “soul and spirit,” revealing again that we have these three parts.
It’s also important to see that our soul and spirit can be “divided.” Hence, they’re different. They can be compared to “the joints and marrow.” As marrow is hidden inside the joints, so our spirit is concealed in our soul.
Just like we have to cut through the joints to get to the marrow, we have to cut through the soul to get to the spirit. This is why it’s often difficult initially to discern our spirit from our soul. I know this was my experience.
To illustrate this distinction, we may use the illustration of three concentric circles:
The outer circle refers to our body. Our body is our outer part containing our five senses with which we contact all the things of the physical, material realm.
The middle circle refers to our soul. Our soul is our inner part containing our mind, emotion and will with which we contact all the things of the psychological realm.
The inner circle refers to our spirit. Our spirit is our innermost part with which we contact God and substantiate all the things of the spiritual realm.
How can we practically divide our spirit from our soul?
So let’s consider how we can apply the dividing of soul and spirit in our daily Christian life.
Often our soul is plagued with anxious thoughts, troublesome feelings, and impure intentions. It’s a “mine field” that keeps us from enjoying Christ.
Second Timothy 4:22 says, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”
The Lord is now with our spirit and with Him is grace—God as our enjoyment. But how do we get there? How do get through this deadly “mine field” of our soul?
We already mentioned that Hebrews 4:12 speaks of the “dividing of soul and spirit.” But the application of this dividing is by God’s living and operative word. It is God’s word, as this sharp sword, that is able to pierce our soul in order to break it away from our spirit.
In my last post, “How Bible Reading Can Change Your Life,” I referred to the awesome power of the Scriptures. My friend’s heart was touched by God’s word to such an extent, that she could no longer remain an atheist, but chose to become a Christian.
These same Scriptures are so powerful that they can also cut through our thick soul, dividing our soul from our spirit. God’s word can stop our anxious thoughts, calm our troubled emotions, and subdue our stubborn will. This has been my experience.
As we open the Bible, we just need to open to the Lord, and incline our heart to Him. Then read a few Bible verses and turn them into short, spontaneous prayers to the Lord—thanking Him, praising or petitioning as we feel led. In this way we can enter into fellowship with Him in our spirit.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us the difference between our soul and our spirit. Thank you also for giving us Your living and operative word as such a practical way to divide our soul and spirit. Lord, remind us to apply Your word by prayer, thanksgiving and praise so we may enjoy You in our spirit every day.”
I hope that this practical consideration of the difference between soul and spirit based on the Bible proves as beneficial to you as it has to me. In a continuation post on this topic, I present how God wholly sanctifies your spirit, soul and body in the process of His complete salvation and in my post “What is the Function of Your Spirit?” I cover the spirit in more detail.
References and Further Reading:
- For further development of what I’ve covered in this post, you might also want to read Chapter Three of The Economy of God by Witness Lee, especially the section on “Dividing the Soul from the Human Spirit.” It’s available to read online at ministrybooks.org.
- This hymn on discerning the spirit from the soul strengthens the point of this post. You can also listen to the tune here.
About Tom Smith
Hi. My name is Tom Smith. I'm the writer behind Holding to Truth in Love, and I love the Lord Jesus and His life-giving Word. Please feel free to send me an e-mail through the contact page if you have any questions or to subscribe to future posts if you'd like them to be delivered to your inbox. Thanks!