Lesson 8 – The Difference between Soul and Spirit (Reading)

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Lesson 8 – The Difference between Soul and Spirit

Both in the Western and Eastern worlds, many people have had the thought that man is of two parts, an outward part and an inward part. The outward part is the physical part, the body, and the inward part is the psychological part. Christians call the psychological part the soul or the spirit. The Chinese have a strange-sounding term, spirit-soul. The unbelievers know nothing about the spirit. They say that man has only a body and a soul. Whether people call it the soul or the spirit, it is the same to them because they do not know that we have three parts.

The Scriptures clearly tell us that man is of three parts, not only two. In the New Testament teachings there is a great difference between the spirit and the soul. In this regard, we must never forget 1 Thessalonians 5:23. This verse clearly adjusts the wrong concept that man is of two parts. This verse says, “And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse says clearly that God sanctifies us wholly, in not merely one part of our being but in all the parts, in our spirit and soul and body. In the Greek text, spirit and soul and body consists of three nouns and two occurrences of the conjunction kai, meaning and. This proves that these three nouns denote three different items. Therefore, the spirit is not the soul, and the soul is not the body. The soul is something different from the body, and the spirit is something different from the soul.

In this verse we have the full, clear revelation that we humans are of three parts, being tripartite, having a spirit, a soul, and a body. Here, the Holy Spirit gives us the proper order of these three items. The spirit is first, the soul is second, and the body is last. The inmost part is the spirit, the outer part is the body, and the medium between these two parts is the soul. Genesis 2:7 shows us how God created man in three parts. First, God formed man’s body from the dust of the ground. Then He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. The first material used in the creation of man was the dust, and the second item was the breath of life. God used the dust to form a body, and He used the breath of life to form a spirit within the body. Then, when the spirit within the body mingled with the body, a living soul as a third item came into being.

Man is neither merely a body nor a spirit. Angels are spirits, but we humans are not angels. Likewise, it is ridiculous to call ourselves merely a body. Because man was made a soul, the Scriptures often refer to humans as souls. Exodus 1:5 says, “And all the souls who came forth from the loins of Jacob were seventy souls” (lit.). First Corinthians 15:45a says, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” We humans were made in three parts. We were made as a soul with two additional parts. We have an outward body and an inward spirit, and we are the soul as the medium between them. We should spend our time and energy to study this. In some matters we should be simple, but in knowing these things we should not be simple; we should be detailed.

Because we humans are of three parts, we can contact three worlds, the physical world, the psychological world, and the spiritual world. In our body we have a seeing sense, a hearing sense, a smelling sense, a tasting sense, and a touching sense. With these five senses we contact the material things in the physical world. Besides the physical world, there is also the psychological world. The psychological world includes joy and sorrow. We cannot touch or contact the psychological world with our five senses. We may be full of joy, but we cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or feel joy. It is something psychological, not physical. The English word psychological comes from the Greek word psuche, meaning soul. Some Christian teachers use the word soulish as the adjective form of the noun soul. The psychological world is simply the soulish world, the world of the soul.

Besides the physical world and the psychological world there is a third world, which is the spiritual world. God and the angels do not belong to the physical world or even to the psychological world. God is a spirit, not a soul, so He belongs to the spiritual world.

We contact, or touch, the physical world by the physical part of our human being, the five senses of the body. Likewise, we contact the psychological world by the psychological part of our being, which is our soul. We realize that someone has joy or sorrow by our mind and emotion, which are parts of the soul. Similarly, we contact the third world, the spiritual world, by our spirit. John 4:24 says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truthfulness.” It is clear that we worship not by the body or the soul, with the mind and emotion, but by the spirit. Because God is the divine Spirit, we must contact this divine Spirit by or in our human spirit. This is our spiritual part, by which or through which we contact the spiritual world.

We may illustrate the three different kinds of contacts—physical contact, psychological contact, and spiritual contact—by the way we contact a brother. When we come together, we shake hands; this is to contact the physical world by our physical part, our body. However, we contact the brother not only by our physical part but also by our psychological part. The brother may have had some problems at home, so while we shake his hand, he appears to not be happy. This may cause us to suspect that he is not happy with us. This kind of suspicion is not in the hand, that is, in the body, but in the mind of our soul. Then when we two kneel down to pray, he may utter something from his deepest part, his inward part. At that time we sense what is in his deepest, inmost part; we sense in our spirit what is in his spirit. In this way, we come to realize that he was not actually unhappy with us. First we shake hands with the brother; this is the physical contact. Then we suspect something about him; this is the psychological contact. Finally, we pray together and sense something in our deepest part about what is in his deepest part; this is the spiritual contact.

There is a great difference between the soul and the spirit. As we have seen, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, supported by Genesis 2:7, shows us that we are tripartite, of three parts—spirit, soul, and body. Hebrews 4:12 shows us clearly that the spirit and the soul need to be divided and distinguished one from the other. It says, “For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” In this verse we see that the spirit and the soul can be divided.
There is the need to divide our spirit from the soul and our soul from the spirit. Hebrews 4 begins to deal with the service of Christ the High Priest. When a priest offered sacrifices to God, he always used a cutting instrument to divide the parts of the sacrifice. We are the sacrifice to God, and the Lord Jesus is the High Priest. He has the word of God as the sharp two-edged sword, which can divide the human soul from the human spirit. To be sure, if we are with the Lord and in His word, the Holy Spirit will divide our soul from our spirit by the word. He will show us through the word of God what is of our soul and not of the spirit. Through the word of God the Holy Spirit always reveals to us the difference between the soul and the spirit.

There is a great difference between the soul and the spirit, and the soul can be divided and should be divided from the spirit. Moreover, 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 shows us that unless the soul is subdued by the spirit and submissive to the spirit, the soul is against the spirit and contradicts the spirit. These verses say, “But a soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually. But the spiritual man discerns all things, but he himself is discerned by no one.” Soulish implies the meaning of natural or psychological. A soulish man is a natural man, a man living in the soul. The soul is absolutely impotent in spiritual matters.
In these two verses we can see two kinds of persons: the soulish man and the spiritual man. The soulish man, and the soul itself, cannot understand or receive the spiritual things and even considers the spiritual things foolish. The spiritual man, however, discerns the spiritual things and likes to receive the spiritual things. It is by the spirit that we understand and discern the spiritual things, and it is in the spirit that we desire to have the spiritual things. If we are soulish, we simply cannot understand the spiritual things, we do not like anything spiritual, and we even think that the spiritual things are foolish. Thus, the soul itself is a contradiction to the spirit. We can realize this by our experience.