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Born of the Spirit: Exploring the differences between soul and spirit, mind and heart Created: 1 June 2014

1. What does it matter?   2. The Quick answer
3. What, if any, is the difference between soul and spirit?   4. What, if any, is the difference between soul and spirit and mind, as found in the Bible?
5. What, if any, is the difference between soul and spirit and mind and heart, as found in the Bible?   6. What, practically, happens when a person is born from above?
7. What born from above is not   8. Unanswered questions: I may in fact be completely out of line
9. Others who may believe I am dead wrong   10. How do you know a person is really born from above?

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The trouble with this topic is that for some it is too hard or confusing to get their head around it, so they choose to write it off as a matter of 'splitting hairs'. Some just categorize it as 'unimportant'. But it is important. In fact, it is very, very important. Only once does Jesus use the imperative phrase you must. It denotes something that is absolutely 'Not Negotiable'.

We'll answer a few practical questions, which not many have actually stopped to think about:

I will also also ask questions of myself which may show that my understanding of Scripture may in fact be out of line. And, I will give links to others who take a different view to mine.

1. What does it matter?

It matters a lot. First, Jesus uses the phrase you must[2] (as in the phrase you must be born again) only once during His entire earthly ministry. Thus, He is emphatic about this question. Second, if you or I get this wrong, as I suspect many around us (including teachers, pastors and priests do), we will regret it forever. That's why I have included the section ('Where I might in fact be wrong') in addition to links to other views in this article. I suggest you read up on this issue. Third, so you may understand your Bible a whole lot better. Fourth, so you may conduct your life a whole lot better. Fifth, so you may know what it really means to be born again. And Sixth, so you may snap out of your comfort zone, if in fact you have been trapped in one.

So, if you're not into reading the detail, here's the wrap.

2. The simple answer to the questions noted are:

We've covered the answers to the right questions. Now, how did we arrive there? We'll look at each answer from Scripture.

3. What, if any, is the difference between soul and spirit?

Having been born on this earth as a descendant of Adam and Eve we all have received 'dead spirits'. 'Dead' in this context does not mean that the spirit does not exist, only that the spirit is turned away from God. It has been corrupted, which is as good as being dead in God's eyes because He is life. That's why there is a need to be made alive again. Paul writes about those in the Ephesian church who had experienced being born again (Eph 2:1): And you He made alive (note, past tense), who were dead in trespasses and sins.

Acts 19:1-7 records Paul's earlier encounter with the Ephesian church. What Paul calls "made alive", Peter calls "begotten again". Both these terms come from Jesus' initial teaching you must be born again (Jn 3:7). Peter uses the Greek word "anagennáō" (Strong's # 313) born again. Jesus and Paul use the Greek word "gennáō" (minus the ana at the beginning of the word - Strong's # 1080) for born again. Both meanings are "to be born, to produce again".

Jesus then states emphatically whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.[13] In this passage Paul confirms that born again believers have received a (new) spirit from God (note, not a new spirit that IS God such as the Holy Spirit): Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.[15]

Thus, 'whoever has been born of the Spirit has been given a new spirit' (a new spirit has been birthed in them).This is a practical matter not a metaphoric or symbolic one. It actually happens. There is no speak here of a gradual transformation of a person or any sense of a mere legal declaration of innocense. Although God declares us righteous when we are born again, being born again and being declared righteous is not the same thing. Being born again gets you a new, fresh spirit that is 'alive' (in contact with God). Being declared righteous sets you free from the guilt of your past sins. It is that simple.

Further, although we are gradually transformed into His likeness, this also is not being born again. The gradual transformation of a person's thinking relates to what the Bible calls 'being sanctified' or 'being washed by His word'[14].

From Jesus' words above, what is being birthed when a person gets born again is their spirit. What is been washed by His word is their soul. They are not the same thing. There is a difference. We can be sure about it. 23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.[3]. A spirit is one thing. A soul is another.

From the Greek, spirit (mentioned first in this passage), is Strong's # 4151.

From the Greek, soul (mentioned second in this passage), is Strong's # 5590.

Thus, they are different concepts. In the Hebrew there is a distinct difference also.

Thayer's Dictionary describes the word "spirit" as: the vital principal by which the body is animated; the rational spirit, the power by which the human being feels, thinks, decides; the soul. Thus, Thayer's equates spirit to soul. They describe "soul" as: the seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions (our heart, soul etc.). So, for Thayer's the "soul" relates to emotions, affections, desires and "spirit" relates to thinking and feeling. The distinction seems almost negligible.

But when we consult Scripture we note the vast difference between spirit and soul: And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (see an explanation from the Hebrew [19]); and man became a living being.[4] We see that Natural body plus Human spirit equals Human soul. The human soul is a fusion (or 'intimate partnership') between the human body and the human spirit.

We also know that although they are very closely related God clearly distinguishes between them: For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.[5]

The difference is important to God. He strikes a dividing line between soul and spirit.

4. What, if any, is the difference between soul and spirit and mind?

Where a soul is the complete natural body (every part of it) fused with the spirit of the person, the mind relates just to the brain of the person in fusion with their spirit. Therefore, where Natural body plus Human spirit equals Human soul, the mind of a person is literally the actual, physical brain of a person in 'intimate partnership' with the spirit of a person to give him/her the ability to hold memories and to process information mentally.

Where there has been brain damage, the mind of a person will have been affected because their physical brain will have been affected. Where there is a chemical imbalance in a brain, the mind of a person will also have been affected because their physical brain will have been affected. This is how born again Christians (people who have received a new human spirit) may still suffer from mental conditions (refer a related article).

A regenerated spirit is not sufficient to automatically create a regenerated mind. To renew the mind, the Bible says believers need to be 'washed by His word'. Jesus said, Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth[6]. The people Jesus was referring to were not going to be washed physically by the word of God. Nor were they going to be washed spiritually because they will already have been given birth to by the Holy Spirit (so, there is no need to 'wash the spirit'). God creates new spirits[7] . He does not wash old ones. Still, He does wash unwashed souls to make decisions in line with His will.[20]

This is an important point: Our spirits are eternal ('dead' or alive). Our souls are temporal. Yet, whilst on earth our souls make the decisions and our spirits (like our carnal bodies) only get to 'advise' (or prompt), when a born again believer listens to his spirit he does godly things. When he listens to his natural body he does ungodly (carnal) things because the natural body is still corrupt - it is alienated from the life-giving Spirit[18].

The spirit of a person knows everything[16] about the soul of a person but is not capable of 'overriding' the decisions made by it. Yet, we are spirit but we have a soul. Some preach it the other way around. This is not correct. When Jesus died He gave His spirit into the waiting hands of the Father. At that point, His soul (His natural life) ceased: And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last.[17]

Natural body plus Human spirit equals Human soul (Gen 2:7). Jesus' natural body came to rest when His spirit departed from it. Thus, Jesus life on earth (or soul) ceased at that moment as well.

This picture beutifully unfolds again in the account of Ezekiel prophesying over, dead, dry bones to give them life. Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” (Ezekiel 37:9). The Hebrew word for breathe here is exactly the same as the one used in Genesis 2:7 where God infused life into a lifeless body by breathing 'active breath' (spirit) into them. And, as we see from Ezekiel's acount, whilst it was a man doing the breathing, it was God creating the life and it was God bringing about the spirit in terms of such life: Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.” Extraordinary! Yet, as we see from Genesis 2:7 - it is nothing new.

5. What, if any, is the difference between soul and spirit and mind and heart?

Add emotions, desires and in particular the human will to the mind of a person and you have the heart of a person. Therefore, where Natural body plus Human spirit equals Human soul, and where the soul's mind goes on to collaborate with their will, emotions and desires of a person, you will have found the heart of a person.

This is the very essence of any human being (For as he thinks in his heart, so is he[9] ). It includes all the faculties in order to make up a person's complete personality. It stands to reason then that it would be the heart of a person which God judges (by His word): For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.

God looks at the heart of a person to see the nature of a person: But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.[8]

The good news of the Gospel is that God has fulfilled His promise through Ezekiel 18:31: Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? and Ezekiel 36:26: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh,

As New Testament human beings, the Good News is that we have the option of receiving the new heart that God promised long ago He would give: For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.[10]

6. What, practically, happens when a person is "born from above"?

16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.[1]

Two points here are very important:

So, what is renewed when a person is born from above is not their soul but their spirit. It is an instant affair. In the same way that the Holy Spirit put a fresh new spirit in Adam by breathing into his nostrils (Gen 2:7), He does so for the person who repents and believes. It is the Holy Spirit that 'births' a new human spirit into a person. Peter calls it 'begotten again'[12] . Being born and being filled are not the same thing. Born means born. Filled means filled. When you are born you take on a new nature. When you are filled you accommodate another's influence. Refer how Satan filled the heart of Ananias in Acts 5 which saw him do an ungodly thing, and how the disciples (these were men who were already born again) were filled by the Holy Spirit: And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.[11]

A disciple is someone who has already been born again. Therefore, it would not make sense to suggest that a person who has had their human spirit replaced by the Holy Spirit now would be "filled" by the Holy Spirit (why would there be any need?). On the contrary, it does make sense that a person who has received a new human spirit from the life-giving Holy Spirit, can have the thoughts - their mind or soul - filled with the promptings of the Holy Spirit because no human being a part from Jesus is yet to have perfectly transformed their mind in accordance to the character of God.

7. What "born from above" is not.

Being born again has nothing to do with joining a church or being accepted as a member or even making a commitment to the Christian faith. The fact that so many teach, 'enforce' and accept this false idea of being born again is perhaps not surprising; Christianity, for most, is merely a lifestyle handed down on the back of tradition, albeit religious tradition.

The Holy Spirit is also not the One who fuses His Spirit with the body of a believer when they are born again. Some teach this. It is a quite incredible teaching as this means that the Holy Spirit has united intimately with sin and corruption, which cannot be. Where the Holy Spirit does not 'fuse' or united with darkness and sin, He does indwell as sinner insofar as He is 'allowed' influence upon the thoughts of a 'Spirit-filled' believer.

Being born again and being Spirit-filled is not the same thing. The former relates to the human spirit. The latter relates to the human soul.

Whereas being born again relates to having received a completely new human spirit, being Spirit-filled, essentially means that a believer's thoughts are being strongly influenced by the Holy Spirit. This may even be accompanied with an almost 'tangible' sense of the "Anointing" - the presence of the Holy Spirit (refer 1 John 2:27).

And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit[11]. A disciple is someone who has already been born again. Therefore, it would not make sense to suggest that a person who has had their human spirit replaced by the Holy Spirit now would be "filled" by the Holy Spirit (why would there be any need?).

Being born again is also not a mere 'settling of legal affairs'. It is not simply declaring a sinner to be a righteous person on account of their faith. Of course, when a person gets born again they are righteous before God. But it is not merely a matter of legal decree. Being born again is a very practical matter; when you genuinely repent and believe with all your heart God puts a new spirit in you. Now He sees the new spirit, not the old corrupt one.

8. If I am right then:

  1. Why does the Bible speak of God having a soul? I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. (Leviticus 26:11, Hebrews 10:38) {Honestly, I don't think I have an answer to this question. Perhaps some things we are not to understand about God (as yet)?}
  2. Why does the Bible say, I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezekiel 36:27); does this not mean that God has replaced our 'dead' human spirit with His Holy Spirit? {No, I do not believe that is the case. Possibly this relates to chronology. In the verse directly prior this one (verse 26), the Bible says, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. From verse 26 we may read that He will first give believers a new human spirit follow which He will fill them (their minds or souls with His Holy Spirit. Thus, we may read verse 27 to mean that God will already have renewed the spirit within a believer by the time He fills them with His Holy Spirit. This order of proceedings is witnessed in the believers of the early Ephesian church who where born again and then thereafter received the infilling of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. (refer Acts 19:1-7)}
  3. Why does the Bible say, But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) {The use of the word mind here is from the Greek word no (Strong's #3563) which may also be translated 'the power of considering and judging soberly, calmly and impartially'. This interpretation is in line with the fact that, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).}

9. Others who may believe I have it dead wrong

10. How do you know you have been born again?

This is no small matter.

We may know if a person is born from above by the following:

Note, it is not just a matter of 'having faith' or 'loving another'. All the conditions noted above are met simultaneously by those who are born of God. The difference between a born again believer and one who is not born again is the automatic change (or commencement of change) in their attitudes, desires, (lack of personal) ambitions and godly priorities in life. These will increasingly align with Scripture and there will be a sense of urgency about it. Moreover, what should be clear in the life of a born again believer is that they have a genuine desire for the word of God. The will love it and they will love knowing more about it:

3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

11. Conclusion

May I invite you to be honest with yourself and with God. Have you genuinely been born again? Have you received a fresh, new, regenerated spirit from the life-giving Holy Spirit, and is your mind increasingly being renewed day by day to follow His way? If so, you are blessed indeed.

Related articles:

Footnotes:

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 [back]

[2] John 3:3-8 [back]

[3] 1 Thessalonians 5:23 [back]

[4] Genesis 2:7 [back]

[5] Hebrews 4:12, Amplified Bible [back]

[6] John 17:17 [back]

[7] 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26) [back]

[8] Acts 5:3-5 [back]

[9] Proverbs 23:7 [back]

[10] Hebrews 4:10 [back]

[11] Acts 13:52 [back]

[12] 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5) [back]

[13] 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8) (back)

[14] 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:17). ... just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27). This process relates to accommodating the truth of God's word into your heart so that you may become holy as He is holy. (back)

[15] 9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy[b] Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:12). The use of the Greek word "lambánō" (Strong's #2983) for receive means "to take with the hand; lay hold of; any person or thing in order to use it; to take up a thing to be carried; to take upon one's self ". As such, it is not to be interpreted as having received a new human spirit from God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, but rather as having received the help of the Holy Spirit. Compare John 15:26 (Amplified): But when the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby) comes, Whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth Who comes (proceeds) from the Father, He [Himself] will testify regarding Me. (back)

[16] 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:11) (back)

[17] Luke 23:46 (back)

[18] 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25) (back)

[19] 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 being. (Genesis 2:7). The word translated "breath" here is from the Hebrew word "neshâmâh". Strong's # 5397. Brown-Driver-Briggs' give this meaning to the word: breath, spirit, breath (of God), breath (of man), every breathing thing, spirit (of man). From this verse we see that God gave a human spirit to the lifeless body of Adam so that he may become a living soul. The word "being" above is translated from the Hebrew nephesh (Strong's # 5315), which means "soul". (back)

[20] 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2) (back)

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Please consult the Bible and test what is written here. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in this area. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not Scriptual. Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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