Body, Soul And Spirit: What’s The Difference?

“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.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

Body, soul and spirit – the Bible says we have all three, but since we live in the flesh, we don’t always understand that all three of these parts actually define who we are.

It’s fairly easy to understand what is meant by the word “body.” We live in the here and now and can readily understand and believe in those things that we can see and touch. When our days end, that is when we experience physical death, the Bible teaches that our bodies will literally break down in to dust, at least until Jesus returns. “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

What is difficult for most Christians to understand is the other two parts that shape us into what we are – soul and spirit. What is the difference between the two? We know that it is our souls that actually get saved; the other two parts of us just happened to be along for the ride. The Apostle James confirms this truth. “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness,” he told his church in Jerusalem, “and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)

So you see it is our souls that get saved and it is our souls that will first get to see heaven. That’s what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8) Interestingly, our loved ones will somehow be able to identify us, just by our souls because the Bible says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) For those of us living in this world, that may be difficult to understand but is no less true.

What about our spirit? Notice here that I’m talking about spirit with a little “s”. If we’re saved, we all have the (Holy) Spirit to help us with and through everything that life brings our way, but just what is the other spirit that the New King James Bible mentions 221 times?

Sometimes I think we confuse soul with spirit and vice versa. Some of us actually think it’s one and the same. In other words, there is no real difference between these two parts of us. Apparently, some of that thinking was present in the days of Jesus, too. Even Paul indirectly recognized how difficult it can be to tell the difference when he talked about the power of God: “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, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

The truth is all of us, saved and unsaved, have a spirit. Job said, “There is a spirit in man and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.” (Job 32:8) I think our spirit is the piece of us that determines how we relate to one another. “She has a sweet spirit,” one may be heard to say about a fellow church member. We’ve often heard some of our young people characterized as having a rebellious spirit.

For those of us who are saved, our two spirits learn to work together. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16) Once we understand that we are not facing life alone, our spirit can team with God’s Spirit to accomplish some amazing things.

So what happens to our spirit when we die? It also returns to God, at least that’s what Solomon once wrote. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,” he said, “and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

Is it important to know the difference? I think so. The more we understand about what makes us tick, the more we realize just how right David was when he said, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well.” (Psalm 139:14)

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