A reader asks:
Is there a difference between spirit and soul? Someone told me that the spirit is your life, the soul is your mind, will, and emotions. They told me that the spirit that is saved by salvation and you must “work out your souls salvation”. I’m not thinking this is true. What do you say?
That’s a common thing people say but in reality, in Scripture, the spirit and soul and synonymous… it is the eternal part of man, or the living, animated part of animals. Animals have a spirit or soul in the sense that they are alive, or aware, but not eternal and not created in God’s image.
Perhaps that’s why the Bible uses the terms together sometimes in the same passage when describing people, to differentiate humans from animals. Animals are “alive” (unlike plants that are living but animated) but not eternal like humans. Animals “live and breath” but are not a special creation in God’s likeness with an eternal spirit.
Many teachers try hard to define “soul” from “spirit” but in the end, the Bible really speaks of them as one and the same. In the verses where they are both listed, I believe it is to emphasize the special nature of humans over any other living creature.
“Working your salvation” (Phil 2:12) speaks of transforming your behavior and life into the image of Christ (ie. Sanctification). To make that apply to some separation of soul and spirit is conjecture and simply not found in Scripture.
We should not try to define terms found in Scripture by any other definition than what is found in Scripture. The Bible uses soul and spirit interchangeably so there is no need for us to force some sort of separate definitions on the terms. I’ve heard a lot of Scripture tortured by trying to declare this difference between soul and spirit: man is like God in three parts (body, soul and spirit); the soul is the thinking, emotional part of man and the spirit is the regenerated eternal part. Many heresies and false teachings and plain silliness have come from trying to force definitions on “soul” and “spirit” that simply cannot be found in Scripture.
In the end, we should always simply let the Bible speak where it speaks, and accept what is not revealed or defined. Given all of Scripture as a whole, soul and spirit are basic interchangeable, and no separate definition exists for them. So we have no reason to force clarification beyond that.