Is there a difference between the spirit and the soul?

First, it is vitally important to realize that in the Bible, there is a definite difference between the human spirit and soul. Second, it is equally important to realize that our experience of this distinction very much affects our progress in the Christian life.

So in this post we’ll consider the difference between the spirit and the soul—not mainly from the side of Bible teaching, but from the aspect of life experience. But, before we can come to our experience we must first have a base in God’s word.

In the Bible man is made with three parts—spirit, soul, and body.

First Thessalonians 5:23 says, “And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete…”

No one would say that our body and soul are the same, but some people may consider our soul and spirit to be practically the same. However, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 tells us clearly that our spirit and soul are two distinct parts.

Another verse that emphasizes this distinction is Hebrews 4:12:

“For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow…”

Here there are the “joints and marrow” which refer to the body plus the “soul and spirit,” revealing again that we have these three parts.

It’s also important to see that our soul and spirit can be “divided.” Hence, they’re different. They can be compared to “the joints and marrow.” As marrow is hidden inside the joints, so our spirit is concealed in our soul.

Just like we have to cut through the joints to get to the marrow, we have to cut through the soul to get to the spirit. This is why it’s often difficult initially to discern our spirit from our soul. I know this was my experience.

To illustrate this distinction, we may use the illustration of three concentric circles:

The outer circle refers to our body. Our body is our outer part containing our five senses with which we contact all the things of the physical, material realm.

The middle circle refers to our soul. Our soul is our inner part containing our mind, emotion and will with which we contact all the things of the psychological realm.

The inner circle refers to our spirit. Our spirit is our innermost part with which we contact God and substantiate all the things of the spiritual realm.

How can we practically divide our spirit from our soul?

So let’s consider how we can apply the dividing of soul and spirit in our daily Christian life.

Often our soul is plagued with anxious thoughts, troublesome feelings, and impure intentions. It’s a “mine field” that keeps us from enjoying Christ.

Second Timothy 4:22 says, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

The Lord is now with our spirit and with Him is grace—God as our enjoyment. But how do we get there? How do get through this deadly “mine field” of our soul?

We already mentioned that Hebrews 4:12 speaks of the “dividing of soul and spirit.” But the application of this dividing is by God’s living and operative word. It is God’s word, as this sharp sword, that is able to pierce our soul in order to break it away from our spirit.

In my last post, “How Bible Reading Can Change Your Life,” I referred to the awesome power of the Scriptures.  My friend’s heart was touched by God’s word to such an extent, that she could no longer remain an atheist, but chose to become a Christian.

These same Scriptures are so powerful that they can also cut through our thick soul, dividing our soul from our spirit.  God’s word can stop our anxious thoughts, calm our troubled emotions, and subdue our stubborn will. This has been my experience.

As we open the Bible, we just need to open to the Lord, and incline our heart to Him. Then read a few Bible verses and turn them into short, spontaneous prayers to Lord—thanking Him, praising or petitioning as we feel led. In this way we can enter into fellowship with Him in our spirit.

“Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us the difference between our soul and our spirit. Thank you also for giving us Your living and operative word as such a practical way to divide our soul and spirit. Lord, remind us to apply Your word by prayer, thanksgiving and praise so we may enjoy You in our spirit every day.”

I hope that this practical consideration of the difference between soul and spirit proves as beneficial to you as it has to me. Also, If you’ve received help concerning the dividing of soul and spirit, I’d like to hear from you.

For further development of what I covered in this post, you might want to read Chapter Three of The Economy of God by Witness Lee, especially the section on “Dividing the Soul from the Human Spirit.” It’s available online at ministrybooks.org.


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How Bible Reading Can Change Your Life

Last year, my wife and I were hosting a dinner gathering in our home and one of our dinner guests was a young woman from China. She was attending a university in the US and was visiting with us while attending a Christian conference. During our dinner together, we asked her to share her testimony of how she became a Christian. Her story confirmed to me the awesome power of the Scriptures and how simply reading the Bible can change a person’s life.

Reading the BibleThe Best Diversion

She began by telling us her story about growing up in China where she and her family were all atheists. She knew nothing of God or His word. However, while attending a university in China she had the most amazing experience.

She would often go to the library each day to seek some diversion from her studies. Though she was a student of math and science, she felt she would like to read something different—possibly something on philosophy. But when she searched the shelves of the library she could find nothing suitable to read.

Turning across the aisle she noticed the religion section. At the bottom of one of the shelves she found a large, white-covered book, with the title “Holy Bible” on it. Having never read a Bible before, she began from the first page in Genesis. She repeated this practice for a number of days and then stopped.  However, after a couple of weeks of not reading the Bible, she felt something was missing. She had this strong desire to continue her Bible reading.

The Awesome Power of the Scriptures

While she was reading she came to the Bible verse that says, “And the dove came to him toward evening time, and there in her beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had abated from the earth (Gen. 8:11).

When she came to this verse she was so deeply touched that she said, “I want to become a Christian.” No one told her that she needed to become a Christian, and the subject of this verse wasn’t even about becoming a Christian. Instead, the power of the Scriptures touched her related to the need of becoming a Christian, and this simple experience began her quest to find out how she in fact could become a Christian.

Although time does not permit me to tell the rest of her story, I cannot help but marvel at how a born atheist, without ever hearing the preaching of the gospel, could want to become a Christian just by reading the first eight chapters of the book of Genesis (which, by the way, does not even mention Christ’s name). All I can say is that the Spirit of God is ready to meet people on any page of the Bible.

How many lives could be changed if more people would pick up the simple practice of my Bible-reading friend. Many more of us could share how reading God’s word changed our lives.

I know my own experience confirms this. Though born in a Christian family, I can still testify that it was my own personal reading of the Scriptures that sent me on a quest to enter into the reality of what I read in God’s word.

A Simple Daily Practice of Reading God’s Word

I believe you’ll be amazed at what ten minutes of daily Bible reading can do. This simple daily practice of reading God’s word with prayer will change your life. For more details on this you may want to read my post entitled, “Practical Points on Bible Reading…

Since one of the main reasons people give for not reading the Bible is that they don’t understand it, I’ll also recommend my favorite study  Bible—the Recovery Version. It’s a Bible you can really understand. For more than two decades, my personal reading habit has been strengthened by all the helpful features of the Recovery Version. You can read the Recovery Version Bible online, and you can order a free copy of the New Testament Recovery Version Bible from Bibles for America.

Thank you for reading this post, and I hope that all of us can pick up this habit of daily reading the Bible to experience the power of God’s word.

5 steps to vitalize your Bible reading in the new year

Holding to truth in love is not just about learning Bible doctrines. It’s a present, active participation in all the divine realities in God’s word, both personally and with others. So I’d like to begin the year with a fresh vision of how we can hold to these divine realities. A great way to advance practically is to learn from others and be encouraged by one another.

So in this post we’ll  appreciate the pattern of the God-seeking psalmist in Psalm 119 to be infused with a fresh love for God’s word and to enjoy it to the uttermost.  In this way we can experience all its positive functions and blessings. By the infusion of God’s living word, we’ll be prepared to be men of God personally (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and Christ’s loving bride corporately (Eph. 5:26-27). But, before we look at Psalm 119, I’d like to ask you to consider four questions.

First, “What are you seeking when you come to the Bible?”
If your answer was not a “Who,” then the first step is to adjust your view from things to a Person—the wonderful, living Person, Christ. The Lord Jesus told the Jewish religionists that the Scriptures testified concerning Him (John 5:39). Their problem was that they searched the Scriptures, but didn’t match it with coming to the Lord Jesus Himself so that they might have life (v. 40). My favorite hymn on coming to the Lord in His Word is “I Come to Thee Dear Lord,” by Witness Lee.

It’s important to see that Christ is the reality of God’s Word, even of the Old Testament law. Paul indicated that all the Old Testament ordinances were just a shadow of Christ. He is the “body” of all those shadows (Col. 2:14-17). He is God’s living testimony. In the same way the psalmist spoke of the law as God’s “testimonies” 22 times (Psalm 119:2). They weren’t just some laws to regulate man, but God’s testimonies to reveal God to us. For example, the kind of laws a person makes “testify” of the kind of person they are. Well, Christ Himself is a living portrait of what God is, and the Scriptures testify concerning Him (John 5:39, Luke 24:47).

The key to getting life from your Bible reading is not to separate your contact with the Bible, God’s written word, from your contact with Christ, God’s Living Word (1 John 1:1). So start your Bible reading by calling on the Lord Jesus, and turning your heart to Him by some prayer of fellowship (For more on this point, see my post 14 Words to Enrich Your Fellowship with the Lord.)

Today, the wonderful Christ revealed in the Bible is the life-giving Spirit in resurrection (1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:17). As the Spirit, He is the reality of every promise and blessing in God’s word—even of the law (John 16:13).

Second, “Have you prepared your heart to meet the Lord in His word?” Paul said of the unbelieving Jews, that a veil lies on their heart when they read the Scriptures. But, whenever their heart turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away (2 Cor. 3:15-16). The condition of our heart makes a huge difference in our reading the Bible. If our heart is wrong, we can read the Word but receive very little.

So we need to prepare our heart by dealing with seven conditions: 1) no exercise of heart for the Word, 2) a divided heart—one loving other things, 3) a lack of heart, 4) a heart with hindrances, like unconfessed sins, or unforgiven offenses, 5) a heart not consecrated or willing to be subdued by the Lord, 6) a heart not humbled before Him, and 7) then needing to exercise our whole heart, even our whole being to contact the word.

We need to use our eyes to read the word, our mouth to speak it, pray it, and sing it. We also need to use our mind to understand it, our emotion to love it. and our will to take the way of the word. Finally, we need exercise our spirit to contact its spiritual essence. This is the kind of practice we need to really “hold to truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

When we deal with our heart and  exercise it properly, turning it to the Lord, the veil is removed from our heart and we can contact the Lord on every page of the Bible.

Third, “How are you contacting the Word—in the letter or as the Spirit?” There are two aspects of the Word—the letter and the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6). If we only contact the Word in the letter, merely caring for its commandments, we will come away deadened, because the letter kills. But, if we go beyond the letter, as the God-seeking psalmist did, to contact word in the aspect of the Spirit, we’ll get life from our reading—even from the law. Since all the blessings the Father has given to us in Christ are spiritual in nature, we really need to take God’s word in the aspect of the Spirit in order to receive these spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3). So if we contact the Bible—even the law, as the word breathed out by God whom we love, we’ll enjoy the Word in the aspect of the life-giving Spirit.

Fourth, ask yourself “What kind of Bible-reader will you be—a letter-keeper or a God-seeker?”  Whenever we come to the Bible we can be one of two kinds of Bible readers—a “letter-keeper” or a “God-seeker.” A “letter-keeper” is one like the Judaizers and Saul of Tarsus, who try to be blameless according to the letter of the law to fulfill it by their own efforts (2 Cor. 3:6).

On the other hand, a “God-seeker” is one like the psalmist in Psalm 119 and the apostle Paul (1 Tim. 4:6). Such a one seeks God, loves His name, entreats His face, walks in His presence, considers His word sweeter than honey to nourish them and a shining lamp to enlighten them. Such a God-seeker realizes that the living God is to be touched in every chapter and verse of the Bible and pursues after Him with every part of their being.

Which kind of Bible reader will you choose to be? After comparing the two choices, I hope you’ll join me in choosing to be a loving God-seeker.

Fifth, follow the pattern of  the psalmist in Psalm 119, to practice from A to Z the proper attitude of God’s loving seekers toward God’s law as His living Word:
A. Choose God’s word (Psa. 119:173).
B. Believe God’s word (v. 66).
C. Lift up our hands to it, receive it warmly, saying Amen to it (v. 48; Neh. 8:5-6).
D. Love God’s word (v. 97).
E. Delight in God’s word (v. 24)
F. Taste God’s word (v. 103; cf. 1 Pet. 2:2-3).
G. Rejoice in God’s word (v. 162).
H. Sing God’s word (v. 54; Col. 3:16).
I.   Regard God’s word (v. 117).
J.  Have a perfect heart in it (v. 80).
K.  Incline our heart to it (v. 36).
L.  Seek it, long for it, and hope in it with prayer (vv. 45, 40, 147)
M . Trust in it (v. 42).
N.  Muse on it (v. 15).
O.  Consider it (v. 95b).
P.  Esteem it to be right (v. 128a).
Q.  Learn it (v. 73).
R.  Treasure it (v. 72).
S.  Treasure up God’s word in your heart (v. 11).
T.  Remember it and do not forget it (v. 52)
U.  Stand in awe of it (v. 161).
V.  Cling to it (v. 31).
W. Do not forsake it (v. 87).
X.  Turn your feet toward it (v. 59).
Y.  Keep, observe and do it (v. 69).
Z.  Walk in it and run the way of it (vv.1, 32a).

“ Lord Jesus, I love You and love Your word. Lord, make all my coming to the Bible, my coming to You. Lord, deal with all the hindrances in my being that keep me from touching You in Your word. Grant me to go beyond the letter to touch the Spirit of the Scriptures. Lord, I choose to come to You in Your word as Your loving seeker like the psalmist. Lord fill me with the attitude of your loving seekers and Lord, establish my footsteps in Your word.”

This post was inspired by message eight of the of second Crystallization-Study of Psalms held in Anaheim, CA on December 29, 2011.

If you’ve enjoyed having your touch with God’s word vitalized, please share your experience so that we can learn together how to practically “hold to truth in love.”