A soul is what most people think of when asked to describe a spirit, but the true answer is much more complex. Spirit isn't simply a force within us that keeps us alive.
Before the creation of the world, we see a scene of the Spirit of God hovering over dark, chaotic waters. The Hebrew word ruakh is used anywhere in the Bible to describe the Spirit of God.
This word describes powerful, invisible energy that's necessary for life, making it a fitting description of the Spirit of God.
But what about the spirit of man?
In this article, we’ll discuss what spirit is according to the Bible.
The official definition of spirit is the nonphysical part of a person, which is the seat of emotions and character — the soul.
Many people believe that the word spirit means supernatural beings, such as good spirits or evil spirits.
In everyday life, however, it's hard to differentiate between the Christian and secular definitions. While it’s simple to differentiate between body and soul, it’s challenging to separate the soul from the spirit.
What is the real meaning of spirit, and what are the main differences between spirit and soul?
Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is an ancient Greek word for "breath." In a religious context, it stands for "spirit" or "soul.” As a classical philosophy term, psyche (ψυχή) originally meant “breath of life” but is today often translated as "spirit" or "soul." The word “spiritual” is the adjective form of the word spirit, which comes from the Latin word for "breath" and means “the thing animating life.”
In scripture, body, soul, and spirit are mentioned in a few different places. One of these is in the New Testament in 1 Thessalonians 5:23:
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It’s clear from this verse that we’re composed of three separate parts: the body, the soul, and the spirit. In the original Greek language, the word "and" means to differ from one another. Thus, each of these three parts is unique and has its own role in us.
Consider a circle divided into two levels and a central core. The body is the outermost level, followed by the soul, and spirit is the core. Essentially, the soul is our mind, our emotions, and our will. It's what forms us into unique individuals. God created our souls when he created us. Therefore, our souls belong to the Holy Spirit.
Because every human except Jesus has sinned, everyone must experience eternal death. Fortunately, God has provided a means of salvation for those whose souls are doomed to death. However, while we express God's greatness in our souls, we can never express God's power since we are human.
Therefore, God's love is expressed in the spirit.
Although our souls are the source of our expression as humans, they cannot experience God since only our spirit can do so. Souls serve as channels for the worship and love of God but not the cause of it.
Our spirit is how we fully express and experience God's power and grace. We connect with God through the spirit only when we believe in God and receive Him through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible mentions the human spirit numerous times.
From the very beginning, the word of God reveals that the Lord created human beings with three parts, including a spirit. Genesis 2:7 says:
“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
Adam's physical body was created by God from dust on the ground. Man became a living soul when God breathed into his nostrils. As such, this points to the soul of man, composed of the mind, emotions, and will.
But what role does the human spirit play?
Although we don't see words like the human spirit, we do see the breath of life. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word translated as breath is neshamah. This same Hebrew word is translated as spirit in Proverbs 20:27: “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts.”
As a result, we see that man has a human spirit when God breathes into him. As human beings, we have an innate and deep spirituality.
By creating our spirit, God allows us to be in touch with Him and to receive His love. While the body and soul serve different functions, only our spirit can contact God. We can see this from numerous Bible verses, including John 4:24: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The spirit is what enables us to worship God, who is the Holy Spirit. It’s the spirit that allows us to reach God, making it a vital principle of life.
The human spirit is like a radio, and God is the waves. Our spirit is the part of us that dials into what God is — so if we are to reach Him, we have to rely on our spirit.
An individual's spirit comes from God, connects directly with God, and returns to God after death. Ecclesiastes 12:7 speaks of the time of death as the time when the "spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
In the spirit, God gives; and in the spirit, God takes back. In this way, man and beast are distinguished. "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?" (Ecclesiastes 3:21).
Unlike the human soul, the human spirit doesn't have a personal identity. God is simply communicating with the individual through this link.
God leads us to follow Him through our spirit: "If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit" (Galatians 5:25). In a way, the spirit resembles all life because it originates from God. Everything it needs is provided by the Spirit of God. Without the Spirit of God, a person is lost.
Our bodies, souls, and spirits all have specific functions.
In the body, we experience our physical senses such as vision, taste, smell, hearing, and touch. In contrast, our soul is our humanity, which gives us the ability to feel emotions. Our human limitations allow us to magnify God.
Lastly, the spirit is our deeper connection with the Lord, giving us a sense of liveliness. In our spirit, we express our love to God and Jesus Christ because this is one of the gifts Christ gave us when he became human and died for our sins. Thus, we can only apply our spirit if we believe in the divine.