So, what is the difference between our soul and our spirit? I was so glad to have this question posed to me this week. We talked about Heaven, and the need for our soul and spirit to be encased in a physical body. Many theologians will argue over whether we have two parts (body and spirit) or three parts (body, soul, and spirit). I personally believe that the Bible teaches the tri-unity of humans as a copy of the tri-unity of God, a part of us reflecting the image of God.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 says “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This tells me that our sanctification involves work on all three parts of mankind, since sin has marred God’s perfect creation.
For those who do not differentiate between soul and spirit, there is Hebrews 4:12, which says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This clearly states that there is a difference between the soul and spirit. Soul is your psyche (from the Greek psuche), which is the real you (apart from your body) which lives forever. Spirit is your pneuma, which is your mind and the rational part of you, comparable to the Spirit of God.
Jesus also showed the importance of all three parts being involved in the greatest command of loving God, saying (Matthew 22:37) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The original language describes the three as follows: The heart refers to the seat of your emotions. Kardia is used to refer to both your physical heart, that which keeps your body alive, and your spiritual heart, which keeps your spirit alive. The soul refers to the life God breathed into mankind. In Genesis 2:7, God breathes life into Adam. The mind refers to the spirit, and the ability to reason. This is the one aspect that separates mankind from the animals, the being part of us that reasons and is able to choose.
In Matthew 10:28, Jesus explains that the most important part of you, which determines your destination, is your soul, or psuche (also Matthew 16:26). Your body can be changed or made new, and your spirit can be renewed or reborn, but your soul lives forever and determines your destination. A soul that is headed to destruction, is said to have a dead spirit. Colossians 2:13 tells us “You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,” We know that this does not refer to a dead body, and the soul can never die, so therefore it must be the spirit that is dead. As we see in the context of the whole of Scripture, to be dead is to be separated in our relationship with God due to sin. Therefore, the spirit must be renewed to new life in order for the soul to be saved (also Ephesians 2:4-5, 1 Corinthians 2:11).
As beings, made in the image of God and separate from creation, I believe we reflect God’s perfect tri-unity. God the Father is the soul, or essence of being. God the Spirit is the spirit, or personality of being. God the Son is the body, or physicality of being. God is perfect, therefore all three aspects are perfect and eternal. We are imperfect, therefore our spirit and body need renewing due to the effects of sin. If the spirit is alive (a right relationship with God), then the soul is united with a new body and is sent to the presence of God forever. If the spirit is dead (living in sin), then the soul is united with a new body, to be tormented in hell forever. A spirit that is alive is able to understand the things of God (Scripture, Spiritual Realm), whereas the spirit that is dead is not able to understand (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).
To sum it all up, the body is how we experience the physical realm of God’s creation, the spirit is how we experience the spiritual realm, and the soul is the essence of you that responds to both realms and lives forever. Romans 8:4 reminds us “In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” The flesh is our body and the experiences of the physical realm. Paul is reminding the believers that we must respond to the spiritual realm that lasts forever, rather than the desires of the physical realm that are temporary (and lead us in the wrong direction).