Many Christians today are confused about the difference between soul and spirit. We can resolve much confusion by understanding that every person is a spirit that possesses a soul and lives in a body. If we imagine that the soul and the spirit are the same thing we will conclude that we are made up of only a body and soul. However, if the soul and spirit were one in the same, there would be no need to separate them as the writer of Hebrews does in chapter 4:12: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit.” Therefore, soul and spirit are not the same thing.
The Word of God teaches us that man is a tri-dimensional being, possessing a body, soul and spirit. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians concerning this truth:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Thess. 5:23)
THE NEED TO PERCEIVE YOUR OWN SPIRIT
Why is it necessary to know that we are composed of body, soul and spirit? There are many fundamental aspects of this need. Let us look into a few reasons why it is essential for us to learn, not only that mankind is a tri-dimensional being, but also why we must perceive the difference between soul and spirit.
1. We must perceive the difference between soul and spirit because God is spirit
The Bible tells us that God is spirit (John 4:24). In order for us to make contact with the material dimension, we must be matter. Similarly, in order for us to make contact with God who is Spirit, we ourselves need to be a spirit.
We cannot hear God with our physical ears nor see him with our physical eyes. However, the Bible says that we can know Him and make contact with Him through our spirit. However, to the extent that we fail to perceive our own spirit, we fail to perceive God.
2. We must perceive the difference between soul and spirit because the new birth occurs entirely in our spirit
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)
When Adam sinned, he died, and along with him, all his descendants. Adam’s death was not an immediate physical death, but a spiritual one. His spirit died to God. It is not that the natural man does not have a spirit, but that his spirit is dead and unable to make contact with God.
The new birth is the rebirth of this spirit that was formerly dead to God. Our spirit is like a radio that synchronizes heavenly sound waves.
3. We must perceive the difference between soul and spirit because spiritual knowledge is acquired in the spirit
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1Cor. 2:14)
Any knowledge of true value that we acquire in the Christian life we receive through the spirit. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned, meaning that they are perceived through the spirit. Since the natural man’s spirit is dead, he cannot understand the things of the Spirit.
It is not that the things of the spirit are difficult or mysterious, but that since the spirit of the natural man is dead, he cannot understand them. It is as if his spiritual “radio” is not tuned into the frequency of God.
Jesus said that His words are spirit (John 6:63). Since they are spirit, only the spirit can perceive them.
The problem is that many Christians, despite having been born again, still use their minds to understand things that can only be perceived spiritually. Those that do not know how to discern their own spirit usually understand the Bible using only their natural minds, and for this reason, they do not take full advantage of the revelation supplied by the spirit.
4. We must perceive the difference between soul and spirit because God is worshiped in the spirit
God is spirit so He must be worshiped in spirit (John 4:24). It is not so much the way that we worship God as much as from which part of us the worship originates that is important. We must exercise our spirit if we want to worship God. If we fail to discern our own spirit, we will compromise our worship and the most we will be able to achieve is worship on the level of the mind or the soul, which is unacceptable to God.
5. We must perceive the difference between soul and spirit because we must pray without ceasing in the spirit. (Eph. 6:18, 1Cor. 14:15)
Praying in tongues is a type of prayer that we offer on the level of the spirit. Paul explains in his letter to the Corinthians that if we pray in another tongue, our spirit prays (1Cor. 14:14). In the next verse, he adds, “I will pray with my spirit”. We do not have to depend on our minds to pray with the spirit; therefore, we can pray all the time, even when we work or study.
Now the question is . . . how can I pray in the spirit if I do not even know that I possess a spirit? If we worship in the spirit, we must also pray in or with the spirit. You can see that the normal practice in the Christian life implies a clear comprehension that we are spiritual beings each possessing a soul and living in a body, but worshiping and praying through our spirit.
We are spiritual beings with God’s nature, made in His image and likeness (Psa. 82:6). We are not a body, but a spirit. Therefore, we are able to speak to Him, hear Him and have fellowship with Him.
6. We must perceive the difference between soul and spirit because we are exhorted to walk in the spirit
Our entire Christian life consists in learning to exercise our recreated human spirit to make contact with God, to communicate with Him and to be led by Him.
Paul says, “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays…” (1Cor.14:14). Look at the way he says this: “if I pray… my spirit prays”; see that the “I” and the “spirit” are the same thing, showing that Paul saw himself as a spiritual being.
The Holy Spirit does not dwell in the soul, but in our recreated human spirit. Every direction that the Spirit gives to us comes through our spirit. Our spirit fulfills the function of connecting with and communicating with God.
To fail to discern your own spirit can block you from experiencing a victorious Christian life as well as being led by the Holy Spirit. If you can’t hear what the Spirit is saying, how can He lead you?
This is central to the Christian life: God dwells in us in the person of the Holy Spirit, molding us and guiding us in full truth. This cannot be just a teaching; it must be a revelation in our spirit. This is the apex of revelation from God: that Jesus Christ dwells in us and He has become our very life.
The Christian life consists of two substitutions: the first on the cross, where He died in our place; and the second, in our daily lives where He lives the Christian life through us. Everything is accomplished through His grace, not only salvation but also sanctification.
7. We must perceive the difference between soul and spirit because we serve God in the spirit
In the first chapter of his epistle to Romans Paul said that he served God in the spirit (Rom.1:9). The same applies to every Christian. We need to learn to exercise our spirit so we can serve God by doing His will.
We can only know God’s heart and do His will through our spirit; that is why we need to learn how to exercise it. Jesus said, “The Spirit of truth will guide us into all truth” (John 16:13). How can the Spirit guide us into all truth? The answer is by speaking to us through our recreated spirit.
The Holy Spirit dwells in our spirit and He speaks to our spirit. Just as almost every Christian, you can testify to this experience in one way or another by having perceived the voice of God in your innermost being. If someone has never heard the Lord in his spirit he has never been born again, because every Christian is born by the Word of God. If we have not heard His voice, it is because the radio is not adequately synchronized.
I can perceive my body and my soul, meaning my mind and emotions, but how can I perceive my spirit? This question is important since the human spirit is often called the heart in the Bible:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28, 29)
It is through the heart that we can perceive our spirit. We should not think that the heart is merely the physical organ that beats inside of us. When the Bible speaks of the heart, it speaks of something intimate, from the depths of our being.
When we perceive the difference between soul and spirit we are free to benefit from the seven principles that I have just explained