Understanding The Human Soul

By David J. Stewart | December 2012

1st Thessalonians 5:23-24, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”

To help teach you about the human soul, I made the above image using Macromedia's Fireworks program (version 4). The program allows you to work in layers, so each circle and text is a separate layer. Pretty neat stuff. I used Fireworks to make my Jesus-is-Savior.com image years ago in March of 2003.

The outer circle represents the human body, the inner circle represents the soul, and the innermost circle is the human spirit. As you've read in our text verse above in 1st Thessalonians 5:23-24, the Bible does recognize the distinction between spirit, soul and body. It is important that each Christian have a basic understanding of the spirit, soul and body. Learning this truth will help you understand the Bible and human psychology well. This is true psychology, which means “the study of the soul.” Notice in our text Scripture above (1st Thessalonians 5:23-24) the order in which the Bible lists these three elements: spirit, soul, body. In almost every case, people usually mention the body first, and then the soul and the spirit lastly. This is because the spirit is generally ignored by humanity and people live in the flesh.

God warned Adam and Eve that they would die the DAY they sinned. Genesis 2:17, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” So why did Adam continue to live until he was 930-years-old? (Genesis 5:3). The Bible doesn't tell us when Eve died, but we know that she continued to live after sinning in the Garden of Eden, later giving birth to numerous children. Why DIDN'T Adam and Eve die the same DAY they sinned, as God had said? It is because they DID DIE, spiritually, but not physically.

Romans 5:12 teaches that Adam's sin brought sin into the world; and therefore, death (Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death...”) upon the human race. Adam and Eve's spirit DIED the moment they ate of the forbidden fruit. Every human being since, except for Jesus Christ (Who was born from above, the Son of God) has been born spiritually-dead. Now you understand why there is a need to be born-again, that is, born spiritually. “Ye must be born again” (John 3:5). The first birth is a physical, or natural birth. The second birth is a spiritual, or supernatural birth.

The soul is composed of three elements: a mind to think, a heart to feel and a will to decide. Animals have a soul, but not a spirit. Animals have a mind to think, a heart to feel and a will to decide; but they do not have a spirit to fellowship with God, create music, write a poem or repent of sins. Animals cannot sin, nor do they comprehend sin. Animals act on behavioral impulse. Sometimes people behave like animals, but they do have spirits and know better, so they will be held accountable by God as Ecclesiastes 12:14 teaches, “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

Man does not have a soul and spirit; but rather, man is a soul and spirit. Man has a body. A person's spirit is their true being, their very existence, which is given by God alone. Ecclesiastes 12:7, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” As our Creator, God gives the human spirit at conception, and our spirit returns into the Lord's hands the moment that we die. God is not to be trifled with. Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Only a fool doesn't fear God.

I once debated religion with a co-worker, a staunch Jehovah's Witness, who denied the distinction between the human spirit and the soul. Nor did he believe in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Jehovah's Witness deny the Godhead, that is, the triune nature of God (which many refer to as the Trinity). I like the Biblical word, Godhead, that is, if you have a trustworthy King James Bible that contains this all-important word in Acts 17:29; Romans 1:20 and Colossians 2:9. All modern Bible versions attack the doctrines of Christ's deity and the Godhead. The Bible does in fact differentiate between the soul and spirit of a man. Hebrews 4:12, “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.”

Man is created in God's image, just as God is threefold in existence, that is, one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) Who exists in the three separate, equal, distinct and unique Persons of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Bible calls this “the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” in Colossians 2:2. Man is also a threefold being in nature, just as is His Creator.

At death our soul and spirit are separated from the fleshly body. This is the first death. If a person dies the second death (Revelation 21:8), then their body, soul and spirit will be separated from God and cast into the Lake of Fire forever. When the Bible mentions the soul, it always includes the human spirit, for they are inseparable. Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The Bible admonishes all mankind to fear God, for He alone has the power of Heaven and Hell.

Self-righteous people condemn other sinners to their grave in hypocrisy; but only God can condemn (damn) a person to Hell for all eternity. It matters not what men may think or say about you, all that matters is what God thinks about you. You need HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, that is, Christ's righteousness which God imputes to us the moment we receive the gospel as payment for our sins to be saved. Christ died, was buried and resurrected three days later. That's the gospel message. Believe it and the work is done. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, plus or minus nothing!

In sharp contrast to Biblical psychology based upon the Scriptures, modern secular psychology is very different, which is based upon the heresies of atheism, humanism and evolution. Modern psychologists are trained and indoctrinated in heathen universities. Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”

Below is the same image that I presented to your earlier, but it's a different background color and I added some lines pointing to the word soul. It's a simple picture, but it helps me understand the human spirit, soul and body when I study the Bible.

We learn below in 1st Peter 3:18 that we are made alive (quickened) by God's Holy Spirit at salvation. Jesus taught Nicodemus that He needed to be born of water (physical birth) and of the Spirit (by God's Spirit).

Ephesians 2:5 and 1st Peter 3:18, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) ... For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.”

The Spirit of God comes to indwell (live within) us the very moment that we acknowledge our guilt of sin, that is, our sinnership, and trust upon the gospel news that Christ died, was buried and rose from the dead, having shed His blood for our sins...

John 3:5-7,“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”

No one can enter into the kingdom of God without being born anew of the Spirit of God, born from above. Being born-again means to have He, Jesus Christ, Who is the beginning, born in us. What a beautiful Savior!

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit lives within the body of the believer. 1st Corinthians 3:16-17, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” The believer's body is the tabernacle of the Holy Sprit. The unsaved do not have God's Holy Spirit, Who is literally God in us. The unsaved only have darkness in them. Jesus is the light, Who brightens our soul as Christians.

Jesus is the light. John 1:4-5, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Jesus is the light that shines in darkness, lighting men's souls with righteousness. We all have darkness in us as sinners. It is in our nature. John 3:19, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Everyone has darkness in them, but the Lord is the light that shines in that darkness. 2nd Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We can be saved and have our sins forgiven if we'll believe the gospel.

The gospel means “good news” or “glad tidings.” Romans 10:15b, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” The gospel is composed of three things according to 1st Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

Satan and the fallen angels (demons) are spirits. As such they attempt to influence and corrupt the human spirit. Music is spiritual in nature. Books, movies and doctrinal teachings are spiritual in nature, that is, they influence the human spirit. This is why the Bible says to try (or test) the spirits in 1st John 4:1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The Bible teaches that we are in a spiritual war continually. Ephesians 6:13, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Our battle in not against flesh and blood that we see; but rather, against spiritual forces that are unseen by the human eye and undetected by the senses.

It is critically important that we abide in the Scriptures as Christians, so that the thoughts and intents of our heart will be discerned and we will be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) to be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). We cannot change without the Bible. We can choose to walk in the lusts of the flesh, or we can choose to live in obedience to the Spirit of God within us, as He guides us into all truth in the Scriptures. God's Word is a Lamp to light our path. Psalms 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” —Isaiah 9:2

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