But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14, KJV)
The difference between the soul and spirit is a theological enigma for scholars and a practical paradox for believers. Yet this distinction between spirit and soul is a practical truth of utmost importance for daily living. For a more detailed explanation, please see this article “What is the difference between the spirit and the soul?”. In this article, I use Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 to highlight an essential part of the distinction between the spirit and the soul.
In E = mc2 (e= energy, m= mass c= speed of light), Einstein describes our natural universe using energy (immaterial) and matter(material). This is the main point I want you to note from this equation: Einstein essentially tells us our natural universe is a complex whole of matter and energy as one. But this complex unity is best revealed in our human nature—the outer body (material) and inward heart (immaterial) functioning as one.
The difference between the soul and the spirit hinges on the word “natural.” Natural, as used here, is distinct from the spiritual or spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 above, Paul calls the unsaved the “natural man” or the “soulish man” because the word natural here (Greek psykikos) means “of the soul.” The same idea is present in Genesis 2:7 when Adam became a “living soul” or the natural man (1 Corinthians 15:44). So, the soul is described as natural.
From Einsteins’ equation, the natural part of man is a mysterious unity of the immaterial (soul) and the material (body). This implies our thoughts, feelings, and will (faculties of the soul) are part of natural life here on the earth; the soul is natural but immaterial, as opposed to the body, which is natural and material. But Genesis 2:7 teaches us that the soul and body (the natural) only live here on earth when the spirit is in them. This spirit, part of the spiritual world, as opposed to the natural world, is immaterial and spiritual.
This subtle but critical difference is aptly captured by Laidlaw in “A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology.”
“Sufficient attention has already been called to the frequent and intimate association of the two terms’ Soul’ and ‘Spirit’ (see article SOUL) occurring so often in the Bible as nearly parallel psychological expressions; yet each implying all through the characteristic distinction: ‘soul,’ the individual and personal life; ‘spirit,’ the principle of life.”
The soul, as distinct from the spirit, is the person (a self-conscious being with a body and inner faculties of thought, emotions, and will), while the spirit is the immaterial spiritual principle that gives life to that person here on earth.
The human spirit does not directly live on the earth per se. None of us directly feel our spirits. Instead, we are conscious of our being, thoughts, feelings, and will (the soul). We know we can think, feel or will; and that we have a body. This explains why you can be blessed in your spirit (spiritual) yet enjoy none of it in the natural (soul and body). God is in our spirit, and His greatest desire is to come into the natural world, but that can only be through our soul—the way we think, the things we believe, the feelings we keep, the desires we have, the decisions we make, etc.
Every believer has the power of God in their spirit, but the power that touches us and those around us is not the power that is in our spirit but the power that has filled our soul! If you grasp this truth, then it will be immediately apparent what Bible study, prayer or even impartation does to us: it renews our soul, aligns it with the spirit, and makes God palpable and tangible in the natural!
In conclusion, God made us to live as one composite being, not in two or three parts. We are a mysterious unity of spirit, soul, and body, yet the spirit can and does indeed leave the body at death. However, while we live on earth (God’s eternal plan for humanity), the soul is natural and immaterial, while the spirit is spiritual and immaterial; the spirit is the vital life principle, and the soul is the living being, the person. I did not discuss the particular case of the disembodied spirit after death (the intermediate state) or the wonders of the new man called the “quickening spirit.” But it suffices to say here that this basic understanding of the spirit and soul will transform your spiritual life if you have a practical understanding.
What is the difference between the spirit and the soul? In what circumstances does the scripture use the word “spirit” and “soul” as synonymous?
Apply the Word
Keep renewing your mind—renewing the soul. As you do, God in you progressively steps out of the spirit into the natural. When your soul is full, people begin sensing God’s presence when they come around you because God is no longer just in the spirit but has now moved into the palpable realm of the natural!
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you fully understand this important concept of the spirit and the soul.
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