Is there a difference between the soul and the spirit?

The Question:

Please explain the meaning and difference between our soul and our spirit.

- NH from Alabama


The Answer
Part 1: The Soul Realm
Part 2: The Spirit Realm

The Soul Realm (Part 1)

The terms, soul and spirit are sometimes used interchangeably by some Christians and some denominational groups. While I feel the soul and the spirit are two separate things, I don't want to get too legalistic about it. I may say; "My soul magnifies the Lord" or "My spirit is greatly rejoicing" and in my heart I pretty much am talking about the same thing.

Still the Bible speaks of the soul and spirit as being different. Listen to Hebrew 4:12; "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the soul and spirit…" Though there is a division between them there is a commonality. Both the soul and the spirit are unseen; part of the invisible spiritual realm.

The soul is generally regarded as that part of us that holds the life principle. Though it is not visible, it is attached to and part of our physical body. Normally, the soul is the seat of our emotions, our will and our moral actions. The soul is in a lower realm than our spirit which will live forever. The soul should be in subjection to the spirit since that is our highest self.

Think of your body as having two parts: your physical being and then all your emotions, thinking and decision-making processes. Your soul may long for happiness, may experience jealousy, may be pulled to wrong choices or may be deeply lonely. Often the soul is pretty selfish looking out for the interests of me, me, me. When you die, your soul dies with you. But don't worry, the REAL you lives on.

Next: How does the spirit function?


The Spirit Realm (Part 2)

The best way to understand the spirit is in relation to Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. This is the passage where Jesus tells the astonished Jewish leader that he must be born again. Nicodemus asks; "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (John 3:4) Jesus clarifies to him in verse 6; "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

When a person has this second birth, the spirit springs to life and can now comprehend the kingdom of God where before it never made sense. The spirit is that eternal "us" which lays dormant until the time when we are born again. If a person is never born again, they will experience, not eternal "life" but eternal death - separated from God.

What does the spirit do? The spirit is charged with ruling over our body and soul. As we advance in maturity in our Christian walk, it is the spirit that controls more and more. The spirit lives from the perspective of the kingdom of God -- the heavenly perspective. The spirit operates in faith and sees life from an eternal launch point. While the soul anchors us in earth, the spirit anchors us in heaven.

Let's go to the garden of Gethsemane to see the operation of both the soul and the spirit. When Jesus said; "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me" it was his soul speaking. In the natural he did not want to die on the cross. But then he finished the sentence by his spirit; "Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." (Luke 22:42) Though he was in deep agony of soul and shed great drops of blood his spirit was firm in embracing the cross.

When you are in doubt about where some thought or emotion is coming from, either your soul or your spirit, ask yourself who will benefit. Then, model yourself after Jesus. Choose always to live by your spirit.

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