The Bible distinguishes between your body, soul, and spirit. The Apostle Paul mentions this in 1 Thess. 5:23 and 24, when he prayed:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”
Many do not know the difference between their soul and their spirit. They know that their body is not the same as their soul, because the difference is quite obvious. But the difference between soul and spirit is not often taught.
When Jesus Died
The Bible tells us that Jesus’ spirit, soul, and body went to different places when He died.
First, a man named Joseph laid His body in a tomb. Mark 15:46 says,
Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down (from the cross), wrapped Him in the linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
Second, Jesus’ soul went to hades, often translated into English as “hell.” We learn this from Peter’s Pentecostal sermon, where he tells us in Acts 2:24-27,
“And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him… ‘Moreover, my flesh also will abide in hope, because You will not abandon My soul to hades, nor allow Your Holy one to undergo decay’.”
Peter was quoting Psalm 16:10, where King David said,
“For You will not abandon my soul to sheol; neither will you allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”
Peter said that David was prophesying of someone in the future—that is, Jesus—whose body did not decay, nor was His soul abandoned in “sheol” (which is the Hebrew equivalent of hades).
Neither David nor Jesus were “abandoned,” because Jesus was raised from the dead, and David will be raised in the future. Nonetheless, both of their souls spent time in sheol or hades.
For our purposes here, we see that souls go to hades, while dead bodies go to tombs. Souls do not go to tombs, nor do bodies go to hades. At death, each has its own place to go.
Finally, just before Jesus died on the cross, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). From this we see that the spirit does not go to the tomb, nor does it go to hades. It goes to God. So we read in Ecclesiastes 12:7,
“then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
The Scriptures teach us that death is a “return.” This means that the body returns to what it was (“dust”); the soul returns to hades (“sleep” or unconscious state); and the spirit returns to God, which is its place of origin.
The Soul is Mortal
As with Adam, we are all born naturally as living souls. Our soul is made up of mind, will, and emotion. The soul is the seat of consciousness. It is the identity that we were born with. When we say “I,” we usually mean the “I” that is our soul.
In Ezekiel 18:4 the prophet tells us,
“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”
We are all aware that bodies die, but souls also die with the body. Therefore, souls are mortal.
This is based on the fact that Adam was made a living soul (Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:45). When Adam sinned, the penalty was death (Gen. 3:3). Did his body sin, or was it his soul that sinned? Both, of course, and for this reason, both his body and his soul became mortal.
Body and soul are linked together in the law of God, for we read in Lev. 17:11, “the soul of the flesh is in the blood.” Another way of reading this is, “the fleshly soul is in the blood.”
This is also the key to understanding the relationship between body, soul, and spirit.
Flesh, Blood, and Breath
We are all aware that our body is made of flesh. But as we also see, the soul is in the blood. The word spirit is also the word for breath, wind, or air in motion. The breath gives life to the blood, which is diffused throughout the body.
Body = flesh.
Soul = blood.
Spirit = breath.
Even as flesh, blood, and breath are distinct, so also is it with the body, soul, and spirit.
Two Conscious Identities
The Apostle Paul speaks of two identities in the seventh chapter of Romans. His natural identity (soul), given to him through his earthly parents, was fleshly, or carnal (Rom. 7:14). But Paul also had a spiritual identity that resided in his spirit. This he called the “new man,” or the “new self.”
This new man was begotten by the Holy Spirit within his human spirit, and Paul said that he was now that new man, rather than the “old man” that he was born with. Even though his old man continued to be carnal, he no longer identified himself with that soul-man.
How did Paul obtain this “new man”? He was begotten by the Holy Spirit by faith. Faith comes by hearing the word (Rom. 10:17). The word, then, is the “seed” that begets the new man in our spirit. So 1 Peter 1:23 says,
“For you have been begotten a second time, not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable (seed), that is, through the living and abiding word of God.”
By believing the word, we receive the seed of God, our Father, that begets the children of God. This is the new man, the new identity, created in our spirit. When you understand how this works, you are then able to identify with that new man and know that it is the real you.
This realization, of course, causes a conflict with the old soul-man you once were. The old man still demands to have dominion over you. Because it is mortal and corrupt, it follows the law of sin and repeatedly attempts to make us sin. Even the Apostle Paul himself saw this conflict within himself. Rom. 7:18-20 says,
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
Paul’s language may be difficult to understand, but he makes it clear that the will of the flesh still remains in him, but that he is no longer that person. His identity was changed from the old man to a new spiritual man.
This new spiritual man, Paul says, serves the law of God, while the old man serves the law of sin (Rom. 7:25). So Paul tells us to live our lives through the conscious identity of the new man, so that we do not fulfill the desires or wishes of the fleshly old man.
How to Inherit the Promises of God
Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:50,
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
Flesh and blood represent body and soul. Both are fleshly, and neither can inherit the Kingdom. They were sentenced to death when Adam sinned, and this sentence cannot be reversed.
So how can anyone be saved? Can the flesh be perfected by self-discipline? Can the soul (mind) become immortal by education or by training? No, there is instead another way.
The only one that can inherit the promises of God is the new man that has been begotten by God. The soul is neither immortal nor is it an inheritor of the Kingdom. It must die. We may reform it and train it to stop sinning, but unfortunately, it has already sinned. It has therefore been disqualified already.
The way to be saved is to accept the word of God by faith, for this is the “seed” that begets the children of God who inherit the Kingdom. The new man that is created is the inheritor. You are that new man when you reckon yourself to be so. A simple model prayer is this:
“Heavenly Father, I believe that Jesus is the Christ and that His blood has paid the penalty for my sin. Create in my spirit a new man, and I now declare that I am no longer the old man that my earthly father begat. I declare that I am now the new man, a new creature in Christ. Teach me now how to live my life as this new creature.”
What Happens When You Die?
Most people have been taught that when you die, your body dies and your soul goes to heaven or hell. Few people know anything about their spirit. But as we have seen, both the body and the soul die.
No one’s soul goes to heaven. Neither is it immortal. It goes to hades, or “hell.” The word hades literally means the unseen, a place of imperception. It is not a place of conscious torment. Eccl. 9:5 says, “the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything. The Bible most commonly refers to this unconscious state as “sleep.” Dan. 12:2 says,
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life…”
Paul echoes this in 1 Cor. 15:51, saying,
“Behold, I show you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a moment… for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised.”
The good news is that even if your soul falls asleep in death, your spirit will return to God. Your spirit has been given a conscious identity, and it is the real you. When your spirit returns to God, you will not yet be complete, because your soul and body cannot come with you. But in the end, Paul prayed: “may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete” (1 Thess. 5:23).
This is why the resurrection is important. Even though your spirit may be preserved, you are not complete until you have received a new soul and body to go with it.