“Now the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly: and your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”, 1 Thess. 5:23.
The apostle is taking care to ensure that sanctification extended to the whole person and so specified all that a man is made of. It is not good enough that a person is outwardly holy. His motives and desires are to be holy also.
We are made up of these three elements. The spirit and the soul are very closely linked.
The differences can be described roughly like this:
a tree has a body - and a life that is devoid of feelings;
a dog has a body and a soul - a life that is capable of feelings;
a man has a body, soul and spirit – that element that makes him responsible to God.
Now let us expand on these elements.
The body, the physical part; is the vehicle for expression of oneself. It is through the body that we do things - for good or for evil – the instrument of our feelings and the channel of impressions outside of ourselves. When a person dies, we view the body and say that he or she is gone. The body, the vehicle, is there, but the person is not.
The soul. In the original languages, “soul” also means “life”. We know the SOS distress signal which is short for “Save Our Souls”, i.e. save our lives. The soul involves natural life; it can be considered the seat of affections and vital action; it involves a will and more or less intelligence. All this distinguishes the animal and human condition from the vegetable creation. So a dog has a soul, although not an immortal one. It has a will; it has instincts and feelings, and a degree of intelligence. However a dog – as an example of the animal world – cannot reason about why it is here on earth, about time and eternity. I could go on at length, but to put it concisely, an animal cannot get involved in abstractions.
The spirit. Scripture states that God “formed Man, dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul”, Genesis 2:7. God commanded the living creatures into being, but this direct and intimate action was unique to Man. Hence in Acts 17:29 Paul stated that “we are the offspring of God”.
In both Hebrew and Greek, the word “spirit” means breath, or a current of air such as a wind or a blast. By analogy or figuratively it means a spirit, and is used for the Holy Spirit, an individual’s spirit, or even a demon. It is worthy of note that in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came upon those gathered in the upper room that it was marked by a “violent impetuous blowing”, to which a Bible translator comments in a footnote – “It is not ‘wind’, but they heard blowing, as of hard breathing, for which the Greek is used. ‘Blast’ is too sudden and passing”.
Our spirit is our direct link with God. The spirit and soul are never said to be separated. Another has described it like this - ”the spirit, the point of contact of the soul with God, is included in the expression ‘soul’, since it is by the breath or spirit of life that man became a living soul”.
The heart is the soul viewed from the side of the affections, and often the affections themselves; as we say, “with all my heart”, or “he has plenty of heart”.
The spirit is the soul viewed from the side of its intelligence, by which it is placed under responsibility to God.
Mary the mother of Jesus said in Luke 1:46-47, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour”.
MM June 2008