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Primer on Spiritual Development (Part 2)

We continue our Primer on Spiritual Development. Yesterday we learned the basic meaning of spiritual development, how do we know that we have a spirit, and the basic meaning of spirit. Today we shall learn about the difference between a spirit and a soul.

4. Is the spirit the same as the soul?

Some people think that the soul is the same as the spirit. This is what we read in the dictionary. Another meaning of “spirit” in the dictionary is “soul.” This is the teaching of some of the great philosophers and theologians, like Thomas Aquinas.

But there are passages in the Bible which clearly indicate that the spirit is different from the soul. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 we read, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (we use the Revised Standard Version). This passage tells us that the whole of us is composed of spirit, soul, and body. In Luke 1:46 and 47 we have Blessed Mary saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She referred to her soul, she also referred to her spirit. So they are two different realities, the soul and the spirit.

Furthermore there are passages in the Bible where we cannot substitute one for the other. If they are the same it means that they are interchangeable. Instead of writing soul we can write spirit and instead of writing spirit we can write soul and the meaning would still be the same. But we cannot do this in certain passages in the Bible, like in John 3:8. We cannot say, ‘so it is with every one who is born of the soul’, instead of “born of the spirit”. In fact we never read an expression like “born of the soul” in the Bible. Again in Romans 8:15 we cannot say ‘For you did not receive the soul of slavery’ instead of “the spirit of slavery”.

So it is clear that the soul is different from the spirit.

5. What then is the distinction between the soul and the spirit? How do we know that this is a soul and not spirit, and vice versa, this is a spirit and not a soul?

The soul and spirit are different in source, in function and in destiny, although they have similarities. The similarities are that they are both invisible and both are inside of the human being. But they come from different realities, they operate differently, and their destination is different.

6. How are the spirit and the soul different in source?

While it is true that all things come from God because he created all things, the spirit comes directly from God. The truth is that our spirit is begotten of God. God does not create our spirit, he begets it, he makes it to be born from him. But the soul is created by God like he created the human body. When God created the human body he created the soul along with it because the body cannot function without a soul. A body without a soul is dead. That is why Aristotle said that even animals have souls. The body of the animals cannot be a living body without a soul.

Thus we read in Genesis 1:27, “So God created the human being in his own image, in the image of God he created him.” This human being was not only body. It had also a soul, and God created the body along with the soul.

7. How are the spirit and soul different in function?

The function of the soul is to make the body live. That is why it is also called the principle of life. Without the soul, the body is just plain matter, like meat in the market. But with the soul the body breathes. In this sense all living animals and plants have souls.

On the other hand the function of the spirit is to make the soul live. That is why the spirit is the breath of life. So, we read in Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” Here also we know that the spirit and soul are not the same. The word “breath” here can also be translated as “spirit”. The spirit or wind was breathed by God into the man, and the man became a living soul. The spirit caused the soul in man to live. That is its function, to make the soul live. When the spirit goes back to God, the soul dies, and the body also dies. It becomes a corpse. A soul cannot act separately from the body. But the spirit can act independently of the soul or body.

On the natural plane the soul is the most precious thing a man or woman can have, because without this soul, his or her body would just be meat. Even if a person has all the money in the world, even if he has all the world, if he or she does not have a soul, he or she is just meat, unable to do anything. That is why Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matthew 16:26). The obvious answer is “Nothing.”

But even this soul cannot live without the spirit. The spirit makes our soul live and is our link with God. That is why Jesus said that without being born of the spirit we cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).

So the function of the soul is to make the body live and the function of the spirit is to make the soul live and operate.

8. How are the spirit and soul different in destiny?

The destiny of the soul is to praise God, and the destiny of the spirit is to enjoy God. We find this in the beautiful hymn of Blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-47). She said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” The word “magnifies” means “makes the Lord great, glorifies, praises.” Then she added, “And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The word “rejoice” means “to have joy in, to enjoy.” In other words, Mary’s soul praised God, and her spirit had joy in God. This is the experience of every person who becomes a Christian in adult life: He praises God and he feels joy in God.

In heaven by our body we will be able to sense God, by our soul we will be praising God, and by our spirit we will be enjoying God.

Tomorrow we shall learn why very many people think that the soul and the spirit are the same, particularly in the human being, and so they conclude that the human being is composed only of body and soul.

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