Soul and spirit: What is the difference?

Soul and spirit: What is the difference?

God has given every person a soul and a spirit. What is the difference between these two?

29/11/20216 min

By ActiveChristianity

Soul and spirit: What is the difference?

6 min

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Hebrews 4:12 (NLT).

What is the difference between soul and spirit?

Adam was created from the dust of the earth and became a living soul. Our emotions and feelings and how we experience the things we see and hear, all lie in our souls and are therefore focused on the earthly. Everything that is of the earth is unsteady and can change and that is why our feelings go up and down and change according to what is happening around us. That is also why people who let their soul control their life are never at rest.

Through what I see and hear etc. I am in contact with people, and this has an influence on my soul, on my feelings and emotions. Someone who lives according to his soul is always in unrest because of what other people think and say about him.

Through my spirit I can be in contact with God. But when I am soulish, I live according to how I myself understand things, and according to my feelings and emotions which are earthly. Then my body is used to serve this world, and my spirit is also filled with that which is of this world and I have little or no contact with God.

But salvation in Christ should change that, so that I get contact with God and become spiritual and heavenly instead of soulish and earthly. The result is a life of faith, faith in God and His Word, instead of a life according to my human understanding.

Our spirit should be made alive so that God can speak to us; we should live for Him and for the heavenly things. Then we find rest for our souls. The heavenly things are eternal and cannot change. When we live to please God, we are free from the unrest that comes from worrying about what people will say about us.

God’s Word: A two-edged sword

This is where we need God’s Word. It is sharper than any two-edged sword. It cuts between soul and spirit and shows us our hidden thoughts and desires.  

We usually judge situations according to our feelings and human reasoning; but if I begin to seek God, I open myself to God’s Word. God’s Word shows me the thoughts of my heart and cuts and divides between soul and spirit – between the earthly and human things which I receive into my soul, and the spiritual and heavenly things which I receive into my spirit. I have to believe the Word of God and be obedient to it, and then my soul also comes to rest. (Isaiah 53:12.)

For example, the Word “Overcome evil with good” goes right against our human feelings and our human understanding or what we feel is right; but if we believe the Word and are obedient to it, we come to rest. Then we will see that God’s wisdom is greater than what our understanding and feelings tell us.

There is also the Word to forgive the person who sins against you seven times seventy each day. If you are soulish, you will hold on to that which is earthly, and your pride and your human understanding will make plans to repay the person who wronged you, and you will ask family and friends what they think etc.

Rather let God’s Word come in and separate between what you understand through your soul (especially through your feelings) and the wisdom that is from above, which you understand through your spirit, through what Gods Word tells you. Live by faith in God’s Word and not according to your human understanding; then you will get rest.

Let your thinking be controlled by the Spirit

Peter loved Jesus, but he was seeing things only from a human point of view, which is to spare yourself. This is what people know best. Satan has access to the earthly soul, and the result is a terrible unrest. Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Jesus knew how God thought, which was to not spare Himself. Now He wants to make our spirit also alive so we can receive the wisdom that is from above which is first of all pure, etc. (James 3:17-18.)

The result is a life of faith where we hold fast to the Word of God against our own human understanding and feelings, and use our body to serve God. Then our soul, which is earthly and restless, comes to rest in God and our thoughts will be controlled by what the Spirit says.

“Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking… from heaven! Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe[respect].” Hebrews 12:25,28 (NLT).

All unrest, complaining, and worrying comes from the soulish person who wants to do his own will on this earth. The spiritual person lives by faith in God’s Word. All things serve him for good. (Romans 8:28.) He gives up his own will every day and he rests in God. What a glorious life and peace this is – a kingdom that cannot be moved.

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This article is based on an article by Sigurd Bratlie which first appeared under the title “Pierces and divides soul from spirit” in BCC’s periodical “Skjulte Skatter” (“Hidden Treasures”) in August 1955. It has been translated from the Norwegian and is adapted with permission for use on this website. © Copyright Stiftelsen Skjulte Skatters Forlag