The soul and the spirit are the two primary immaterial aspects that Scripture ascribes to humanity. It can be confusing to attempt to discern the precise differences between the two. The word “spirit” refers only to the immaterial facet of humanity. Human beings have a spirit, but we are not spirits. However, in Scripture, only believers are said to be spiritually alive (1 Corinthians 2:11; Hebrews 4:12; James 2:26), while unbelievers are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13). In Paul’s writing, the spiritual was pivotal to the life of the believer (1 Corinthians 2:14; 3:1; Ephesians 1:3; 5:19; Colossians 1:9; 3:16). The spirit is the element in humanity which gives us the ability to have an intimate relationship with God. Whenever the word “spirit” is used, it refers to the immaterial part of humanity that “connects” with God, who Himself is spirit (John 4:24).
The word “soul” can refer to both the immaterial and material aspects of humanity. Unlike human beings having a spirit, human beings are souls. In its most basic sense, the word “soul” means “life.” However, beyond this essential meaning, the Bible speaks of the soul in many contexts. One of these is humanity’s eagerness to sin (Luke 12:26). Humanity is naturally evil, and our souls are tainted as a result. The life principle of the soul is removed at the time of physical death (Genesis 35:18; Jeremiah 15:2). The soul, as with the spirit, is the center of many spiritual and emotional experiences (Job 30:25; Psalm 43:5; Jeremiah 13:17). Whenever the word “soul” is used, it can refer to the whole person, whether alive or in the afterlife.
The soul and the spirit are connected, but separable (Hebrews 4:12). The soul is the essence of humanity’s being; it is who we are. The spirit is the aspect of humanity that connects with God.
I believe it is Biblical to suggest that our soul is where we find the uniqueness of our humanity as expressed by our personality, creativity, ability to reason, etc. Our “spirit ” however is the fulcrum from which the human “will” is initiated, either actively,or passively.
Biblically speaking, because a human being is “spiritually dead” apart from Christ, one does not have the “will ” to respond to the good news of the Gospel unless or until God literally breaths the Life of His Spirit into the human soul, and we are hence, “born of the Spirit” of God. At that point, one is free to respond in obedience to God’s Word, since it is “spiritually discerned” as expressed in the New Testament by the apostle Paul.
I think this distinction between soul and spirit is powerfully important and profound because it illustrates at its’ very core why a truly “born-again Christian can continue to struggle against sin. (Corinthians 7).In essence, our “soulish” or “old nature wills to keep us in sin’s bondage, however, our “new will” by the power of the Spirit of Christ in us gives us the discernment and ability to overcome sin and understand and execute the perfect will of God.
The distinction between soul and spirit can be confusing. For example, those who experience near death and return are able to see and hear what has happened to them during their experience. Are their spiritual eyes and ears part of the soul or part of the spirit?