The Difference Between the Soul and The Spirit (Hebrews 4:12)

Written by Juli Camarin on .

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)

Part 2 of 3

The Word is powerful because it is able to discern the difference between the soul and spirit. These two words are so similar that most understand them to be the same thing. Even our language uses them interchangeably, but the Biblical definition is vastly different. I Thessalonians 5:23 shows us that mankind is made up of three parts, a spirit, a soul and a body. Understanding this truth is a key to unlocking and understanding many scriptures.

Our spirit is our life force. It is the part of us that was born again when we put our faith in Jesus. The default sin nature was taken out and we were give a new spirit that is identical to Jesus (Romans 6:6-7; I John 4:17). The believer’s spirit is the part that has been sanctified, sealed and redeemed (Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:15-17) . The spirit you have now is the same spirit you will have for all eternity, it is perfect (Romans 8; Hebrews 10:10; 10:14).

The soul can be described as your personality, your thoughts, your attitudes and what makes you unique. Perhaps this is why we use words like spirit and soul interchangeably because we cannot see either one, yet we understand that we possess something that makes up who we are as a person.

The body is the container for the spirit and the soul. It is the physical structure of a human. It is our flesh and blood. It is who we are when people look at us. This is the third part to mankind, without any one of these things, we cannot sustain life.

The spirit and the soul appear to be so similar that we group them together. But Hebrews 4:12 says the Word is capable of showing us the difference between the spirit and the soul. It is like a sharp sword that is able to penetrate and divide the two. The Amplified Bible puts it this way, “For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 AMP).

This is an important concept because we look at certain scriptures and wonder who they are talking about. We read passages showing us that we are identical to Jesus in this world, God considers us pure, righteous and holy and we don’t believe it because we look to the realm of our soul and assume that God has made a mistake. We quote passages saying we are raised and seated with Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6) but continue to struggle with hardship in our homes. This is because we haven’t understood the differences between the spirit and the soul and this plays out in how we interpret and understand the Bible.

The born again spirit we received the moment we were saved is identical with Jesus (Romans 8, Hebrews 10:10, 14). This is how God sees us, He looks at our spirit. This is why He sees us a righteous, because the sin nature is gone. Consequently this is how the devil sees us also. He looks at us dressed in our full armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) and cannot tell the difference between us and Jesus (Isaiah 59:15-18). This is why he trembles when we are around. The spirit is truly who we are because of what Jesus did.

However, we look at ourselves through the eyes of our soul. We see where we struggle, we know the thoughts we have, we know how we mess up. So there is a huge disconnect when we read the Bible because we don’t understand who we are in the spirit and how God looks at us. Then we get frustrated thinking we need be holy and righteous when in fact we already are.

This is why this passage of scripture is so powerful because it shows us the Word of God is able to discern between the two. Knowing the difference between the spirit and the soul brings enlightenment to the scriptures because we are able to discern what part of our makeup is being talked about in passages. Paul wrote, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:23). Our spirit is already blameless, but our soul, the thoughts, attitudes and intent of the heart, needs to be renewed and reminded of who we are in the spirit so we will experience them in the physical realm as well.

Tomorrow we will look at Part 3; The Word Exposes Our Thoughts and Attitudes.