Body, Soul, and Spirit
A recent caller asked, “When our body passes away, it goes to the grave, but what about our soul and our spirit? Scripture tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Does this mean that our spirit goes to heaven? What about the soul? The difference between the spirit and the soul, this is what I’d like to know.”
Turns out that a lot of people wanted answers to these same questions, so I’ll address them here, deferring, of course, to my husband’s notes and commentaries.
First, we must understand how God created man. The Scripture says: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground (proclaims the physical body made of clay), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (the ‘breath of life,’ which comes from God, pertains to the soul and spirit of man; this was done with the first man, Adam, God breathing the soul and the spirit into man, and thereafter it comes automatically at conception); and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7, The Expositor’s Study Bible).
So we see that man is a triune being—he has a body, a soul, and a spirit. Let’s get a better understanding on these three distinct parts of man.
MAN, PART I: The Body
We are most comfortable and knowledgeable about the physicality of man simply because we deal with it every time we take a breath. We know what our bodies require. At its most basic level of survival, the body must be fed, watered, rested, and clothed. But at the highest levels of pride and vanity, man forgets that his body was made from dust—a material next to nothing and defined as “fine particles into which something disintegrates.”
II Cor. 5:1 says, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved…”
In the Greek, the word tabernacle means “tent.” The human body, though wonderfully made, is a temporary dwelling place; no one uses a tent as a permanent habitation. “Dissolved” in the Greek is kataluo—to come to naught—and it refers to the human body dying and going back to dust.1
Man’s body was originally created to last forever, but due to the fall, it is now temporary and destined to return to dust. Still, man spends the majority of his time, energy, and money on that which is constantly dissolving. Something in him wants to improve upon what God has already made, so he is ever teaching himself, adorning himself with fine clothes and jewelry, and searching for secrets to greater strength and longevity. Man cannot create like God, but he tries.
My husband tells this humorous story: One day man approached God and informed Him that he was now so brilliant that he no longer needed his Creator. So God proposed a contest between them: each would create a human being. Man looked himself over and, convinced that he could duplicate his own form, agreed to the contest. God started by reaching down for a handful of dirt. When the man reached down to do the same, God said, “What do you think you’re doing? Get your own dirt.”
Here’s the thing, men judge the value of something by the materials from which they are made—diamonds, gold, etc. But what God creates is beyond value because it pertains to Him. His hand makes something from nothing.
MAN, PART II: The Soul
Man is also a living soul, which is eternal and cannot be destroyed. The soul pertains to one’s feelings and passions, and it is used to address the body. Some scholars refer to the soul as the natural life with all of its affections and emotions.2
In Genesis 2:7, after God formed him and breathed into him, the Bible says, “and man became a living soul.”
Man’s body lay lifeless until Adam inhaled the breath of Almighty God and lived. Bible scholar Matthew Henry writes, “The soul was not made of the earth, as the body; pity then that it should cleave to the earth, and mind earthly things.”3
We cannot see our souls, but we can express ourselves through them. Psalm 103:1 says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Scholar John Gill says of the psalmist in this verse: “His better part, his soul, which comes immediately from God and returns to Him, which is immaterial and immortal, and of more worth than the world: God is to be served with the best we have; as with the best of our substance, so with the best of our persons; and it is the heart, or soul, which He requires to be given Him.”4
Remember the lawyer who tested Jesus by asking, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” And the Lord responded, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:36-37). In this passage, the soul pertains to all consciousness. In other words, we are able to love the Lord with all awareness, and we should.
In Matthew 26:38, Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”
Gill explains: “That Christ had a human soul, as well as a human body, is clear from hence; and which was possessed of the same passions as ours are, but without sin, such as joy, love, grief, sorrow … and at this time its sorrows were exceeding great: his soul was beset all around with the sins of his people; these took hold on him, and encompassed him, which must, in the most sensible manner, affect his pure and spotless mind; the sorrows of death and hell surrounded him on every side, insomuch that the least degree of comfort was not let in to him; nor was there any way open for it, so that his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow; his heart was ready to break; he was brought even, as it were, to the dust of death; nor would his sorrows leave him, he was persuaded, until soul and body were separated from each other.”5
MAN, PART III: The Spirit
It is with man’s spirit, which is also eternal, that he addresses God. The spirit is the part of man that knows: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 2:11).
The spirit of an individual can anguish (Job 7:11), long for God (Isa. 26:9), and be broken (Job 17:1). As well, the spirit of man is associated with words that emphasize responsible choice or basic personal attitude. For instance, God has produced in Sihon a stubborn spirit (Deut. 2:30). The Psalmist’s spirit enquired (Ps. 77:6). God honors one whose spirit is humble and contrite (Isa. 66:2). He saves the crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18), whereas the haughty in spirit will fall (Prov. 16:18). Consequently, the spirit of man far more refers to an individual’s character and attitude toward God, rather than mere existence as a living, emotional being.6
Man can only reach God spirit to Spirit—his spirit to God’s, and here’s why: When the Lord told Adam and Eve that if they took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die a spiritual death—separation from God. However, man’s spirit dies only to God, not to evil or satanic spirits, which are the cause of the trouble, heartache, poverty, sickness, war, hatred, prejudice, etc. in the world today. The only way that the fallen, depraved spirit of man can be awakened to God is for the Word of God to be preached or given to him in some manner, which is then energized by the Holy Spirit. At that point, man is awakened to his terrible lost condition and placed under conviction, which is the purpose and work of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:7-11). That is man’s opportunity to accept or reject the Lord. If man accepts, he is instantly regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit with the divine nature of God instantly imparted to him. Jesus called this “born again” (Jn. 3:3), and from that point on, man can reach out to God and respond.7
Destination Of Soul And Spirit
The condition of the soul and spirit—saved or unsaved—affect the destination of the soul and spirit—heaven or hell.
The Word of God says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10).
The moment the body dies, the soul and spirit separate from it. If you’ve ever watched a person die, you can almost see this separation happen. Throughout our years in ministry, my husband and I have been with families as their loved one takes that last breath, as the eternal separates from the temporal, you can almost see the spirit and soul lift away from the body, which quickly resembles a form, a shell.
When a child of God exhales his last breath on this earth, his soul and spirit separate from his physical body and he is taken immediately to heaven, into the presence of his Redeemer. From that moment on, the believer dwells with Christ, abides in His presence, partakes of His joy and His glory, and is permitted to sit with Him on His throne (Rev. 3:21). The transition is immediate; Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43).
The following is a short list of what doesn’t happen to believers when they die:
•They are not annihilated.
•They do not sleep or remain in an unconscious state.
•They are not in some intermediate state such as purgatory, or a state where all the souls of the just and the unjust are assembled in a common abode.8
And, while we’re on the subject of believers dying, let me throw this in because we hear a lot of concern from Christians over whether or not it’s okay for believers to be cremated. The answer is yes, it is perfectly okay. Cremation is not a sin, nor is it mentioned in Bible, so there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Due to the high cost of burials, many families are choosing cremation because that’s all they can afford. There seems to be a misconception that the destruction of the body will somehow hinder God regarding the rapture, and Him being able to resurrect a body from ashes. But listen, the same God who formed man from the dust particles of the ground is also able to call forth the most finite DNA of those whose bodies have been destroyed, not only by cremation, but also by fiery accidents, explosions, and watery graves. So rest easy, when the trump of God sounds, the Lord is more than able to call forth every person.
Once again, the body is temporal; it is the destination of the eternal soul and spirit that should concern us, especially those who are not saved.
When people who have not made Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives die, their souls and spirits separate from their bodies, only they go to hell.
Luke 16:22-23 says, “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Most likely a great funeral was held for this rich man where people mourned his life and accomplishments. Yet because of his denial of Christ and Him crucified, when his eyes closed in death, they opened in hell.
To not believe that there is a literal place called hell is not to believe the Bible. So, one has a choice: He can believe what the Bible says about this place, or he can disbelieve it. But failing to believe what the Bible says about hell in no way negates the soul from going there upon death of the body.9
Understand, first, second, and third opportunities to make things right with God are on this side of the grave. There is no such thing as a purgatory or another chance after death. There is only one way to salvation: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6).
What Exactly Is The Glorified Body?
In heaven, your soul and spirit awaits its glorified body, which comes at the rapture of the church. I Thessalonians 4:16-17 says, “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ [those whose physical bodies have already died and gone back to the dust of the earth] shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
At the rapture, God will replace what was the believer’s physical body with a glorified body and simultaneously unite it with the soul and the spirit, making the believer whole. This new, glorified body will be a body of perfection with no sin nature. There will be no ability for the individual to ever sin again because they will be in a glorified state.10
If you are unsure of the condition of your soul, consider what Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “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.”
1 Jimmy Swaggart Commentary on II Corinthians, pg. 164.
6 Jimmy Swaggart Commentary on Zechariah.
7 Jimmy Swaggart Commentary on I Corinthians, pg. 90.
8 Jimmy Swaggart Commentary on II Corinthians, pg. 177.
9 Jimmy Swaggart Commentary on Luke.
10 Frances & Friends, July 8, 2019.