For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, KJV)
I want to get the reader to consider something that I feel has been tragically neglected, yet is absolutely required if one wants a genuine relationship with God; that is, the distinction and division of soul and spirit. Many believers are misled and deceived, but don’t realize it (who realizes they’re deceived, after all?), and one of the causes of this is the failure to realize this distinction.
Some prominent teachers in Christianity insist that spirit and soul are synonymous, that they both refer to the one inner, invisible part of us. Because soul and spirit are indeed both contained in our inner, “invisible” being, it is perhaps easy or tempting for some to say they are the same thing. But I think that is totally false and a dangerous, lazy doctrine. Scripture teaches that within us is a soul AND a spirit, and they are distinct. The scripture at the top of this post clearly shows that the “word of God” (His actual voice or expression) pierces deep and DIVIDES, or separates, soul and spirit. This makes no sense if they are the same thing; only if you read this scripture with your mind already made up would you come to that conclusion.
As I’ve said before, simply put, the soul is the natural, inner part of us that we are born with, which everyone is totally familiar with. It’s our human mind, reason, will, and emotions, our “self.” In fact, the word for “soul” in Hebrew (nephesh) and Greek (psuche) is sometimes translated “mind” or “life,” referring to our natural, human faculties. Our spirit is deeper, it is beneath our mind, will or emotions. It’s the part that senses or knows something in a way that goes beyond our ability to explain or “rationalize.” It’s the part that yearns for Truth, for meaning, for God, and connects with God. It can influence our soul and lead to a variety of emotions and actions. Sometimes we feel a certain way for no discernable reason; the spirit is likely behind that. Throughout scripture, in both the Hebrew and Greek languages, the word for “spirit” is the same word for “wind” or “breath.” I believe this is a reference to the untraceable, invisible, primal ways of God and His nature. Much more could be said, but this is in a nutshell the difference.
Consider this scripture as well: (1 Corinthians 2:14) …and the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for to him they are foolishness, and he is not able to know [them], because spiritually they are discerned.” The “natural man” refers to one in whom the soul is ruling. One person could be a “natural man” and a “spiritual man” at different times, depending on which part is dominating. The Greek word for “natural” here is psuchikos, and the word for “soul” throughout the New Testament is psuche. Likewise, the Greek word for “spiritually” in this verse is pneumatikos, and the word for “spirit” throughout the New Testament is pneuma. So a very literal translation is: “the soulical man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to know them, because they are discerned by the spiritual (man).” Read that again carefully. This is saying that you can’t receive, discern, or recognize ANYTHING from God by way of your soul – your natural human faculties such as your emotions, reason, mind etc.
This negates knowing or relating to God by understanding scripture or having proper doctrine. This negates any understanding or connection with God that is based on what seems right to you. This negates the claims religion has on connecting with God or pleasing God – what God wants and what God is saying are only perceived spiritually. The scriptures just keep you on track and point you to God to hear and follow Him yourself, through Jesus Christ. Here’s the same verse in the Amplified version, which includes more of the nuances of meaning behind the original languages: “But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them [of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them] because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated.”
So if it is the word of God which pierces and “divides asunder” between soul and spirit, then just what is the word of God? First of all, the “word of God” is NOT the Bible. The Bible is words of MEN which were inspired by God. The word of God is very simply the voice and expression of God. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s a living, spiritual word and can be heard by an individual as God speaks to them, spirit to spirit. It can be declared by men as God speaks to them, which is true prophecy. The Bible wasn’t even printed until 1516, so for nearly 1500 years after Christ, his followers heeded the word of God in their hearts, His voice. (Hebrews 11:3) “…the worlds were prepared by the word of God…” The scriptures, again, are words of men who were inspired by God, which is very different, which point men to God through Jesus Christ, to receive God’s word in relationship with Him. The Bible never claims otherwise, only men do.
The word of God is active, alive, present. It is this spiritual voice and expression of God that penetrates one’s heart, with wisdom, and declares what is of the spirit and what is of the soul. Many “good” or “religious” things are from one’s own soul, and while they may have value and appear good to men, God has no desire for them. When God’s word comes to a person, it will expose the motives of the heart, and show what originated from the soul (self) and what is of the Spirit (God). If one learns to still the mind, to sit in God’s presence and listen, one can learn to hear God’s voice and begin to move from being a soulical man to a spiritual man. It’s not easy, but the hungry heart will persevere and God is a patient Father and His grace is a wonderful teacher.
Here’s some invaluable resources with further teaching on this topic:
May God be in your heart.