Some Key Differences and Similarities Between the Spirit and Soul of People
There are several points to consider when analyzing what your Soul and Spirit are and how you can understand yourself better by understanding that these two aspects of you are the true you. While you have a physical body here on Earth, it’s important to recognize that, when this vessel ceases to have life (i.e., Soul and Spirit), you will take on a spiritual body in its place, thereby remaining in God’s image, or three-in-one. I Corinthians 15:44 highlights this fact, “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” We will refer to the spiritual body later in the book when we look at Jesus’ properties following His resurrection.
A key verse in explaining the difference between our Soul and Spirit is found in I Thessalonians 5:23, where Paul states, “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.” In this verse, there is a plain distinction made between the Soul, Spirit, and body of human beings. However, the most marked differentiation is, of course, between the two eternal aspects of our nature: Soul and Spirit. The fact that Paul implores the Thessalonians to keep all three portions of themselves “blameless” adds another dividing line in that, as image-bearers of God, we must look at each part differently and examine each part in order to ensure we are keeping each section clean and pure. This understanding goes precisely with what Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-26, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” Jesus knows that we are more than just what is outside and that we must look into ourselves in order to be blameless inside and out.
The Soul is defined as the part of a person that gives that person his or her personhood. The Spirit is that possession of a person that endows that person with life. The Soul is what you refer to when you talk about your “self”. The writers of the Bible understood this very well. Today, when we refer to ourselves, we say something like, “I feel sad.” However, the Bible writers, including Jesus Himself, referred to the self as, “My soul is sad (grieved).” Perhaps, there is more to that than we realize today. Maybe understanding the fact that the Soul is one’s self helps us to envision the eternal nature within ourselves more appropriately and to live according to that nature more readily. When Bible writers referred to their spirits, they did so with the understanding that this part of them was conveying some feeling from their life-bearing spark to their physical being. Daniel referred to his spirit in this manner, “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me”, (7:15). The life-giving force of our spirits and the clear understanding of our souls work together to bring light to our existence, but they remain separate pieces of the whole.
The Soul and Spirit both live on after death, in what can only be known as an “intermediate state” in Paradise or Hades. Therefore, both are immortal parts of the person. In Luke chapter 16, the story of the rich man and Lazarus indicates that after death, both men continued to exist; one in Paradise and the other in Hades. One was comforted while the other was tormented, therefore they had some form that their eternal souls and spirits occupied in order to convey these felt sensations. Overall, the understanding conveyed through this parable of Jesus is that the self, the life, and a new body will go on in one of two states following death.
Finally, there is a pivotal understanding from Scripture about the fact that the physical body cannot live without the soul and spirit. The importance of this point cannot be overstated, as there seems to be some confusion in the modern world as to what “alive” means. James leaves no room for misunderstanding when he writes, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead”, (2:26). Additionally, it’s important for us, as humans, to understand what “dead” means. “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him,” (Hebrews 9:27-28). Death occurs once the spirit and soul have left the body, never to return to that physical body. Once we have departed, our self and our life take on a new and unfathomable existence.