“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7 (Job 34:14-15; Psalm 104:29-30)
The soul and the spirit are the two primary immaterial parts that Scripture ascribes to humanity. It can be confusing to attempt to discern the precise differences between the two. One way to view this dynamic is to think of a scuba diver, there is basically a wet suit, mask, breathing respirator, air tanks and flippers. You don't need this gear to be you, but you need it to be under water. You are a spirit, you have a soul and you live in a body. Once you get out of the water, you take all the scuba gear off, the gear doesn't change who or what you are. When you die, you take your spirit and soul with you, but you leave your earth suit or your body, on the earth. Consider how Jesus reveals the aspect of the soul and spirt after death in the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31). The spirit is what you are, the soul is where your cognition and consciousness reside in your earth suit. These attributes are accessed through your five senses and your mind or carnally, the brain.
The word spirit refers only to the immaterial facet of humanity. Human beings are spirits they don't have a spirits. In Scripture, only believers are spiritually alive (1 Corinthians 2:11; Hebrews 4:12; James 2:26), while unbelievers are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1–5; Colossians 2:13). In Paul’s writing, the spiritual is pivotal to the life of the believer (1 Corinthians 2:14; 3:1; Ephesians 1:3; 5:19; Colossians 1:9; 3:16). The spirit is the element in humanity that gives us the ability to have an intimate relationship with God. Whenever the word spirit is used, it refers to the immaterial part of humanity that “connects” with God, who Himself is spirit (John 4:24).
The word soul can refer to both the immaterial and material aspects of humanity. Unlike human beings having a spirit, human beings have souls. In its most basic sense, the word soul means “life”; however, beyond this essential meaning, the Bible speaks of the soul in many contexts. One of these is in relation to humanity’s eagerness to sin (Luke 12:26). Human beings have a sinful nature, and our souls are tainted with sin. The soul operates as the life essence of the body, it is not removed at the time of physical death (Genesis 35:18). The soul, as with the spirit, is the center of many spiritual and emotional experiences (Job 30:25; Psalm 43:5; Jeremiah 13:17). The word soul can refer to the whole person, whether alive on earth or in the afterlife.
The soul and the spirit are connected, but distinct (Hebrews 4:12). The soul is the essence of humanity’s being; it is who we are. The spirit is the immaterial part of humanity that connects with God. The human spirit is the incorporeal part of man. Scripture states that the human spirit is the very breath of Almighty God and was breathed into man at the beginning of God’s creation: “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.” Genesis 2:7.
It is the human spirit that gives us a consciousness of self and other remarkable, though limited, “God-like” qualities. The human soul includes our intellect, emotions, fears, passions, and creativity. It is this soul that provides us the unique ability to comprehend and understand (Job 32:8, 18).
The words spirit and breath are translations of the Hebrew word neshamah and the Greek word pneuma. The words mean “strong wind, blast, or inspiration.” Neshamah is the source of life that vitalizes humanity (Job 33:4). It is the intangible, unseen human spirit that governs man’s mental and emotional existence.
“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?” 1 Corinthians 2:11
Every human being is a spirit, and it is distinct from the “soul,” or life, of animals. God made man differently from the animals in that He created us “in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Therefore, man is able to think, feel, love, design, create, and enjoy music, humor, and art. And it is because of the human spirit that we have a “free will” that no other creature on earth has.
The human spirit was damaged in the fall. When Adam sinned, his ability to fellowship with God was broken; he did not die physically that day, but he died spiritually. Ever since, the human spirit has borne the effects of the fall. Before salvation, a person is characterized as spiritually “dead” (Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13). A relationship with Christ revitalizes our spirits and renews us day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Just as the human spirit was divinely breathed into the first man, so the Holy Spirit was breathed into the first disciples.
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:” John 20:22 (Acts 2:38)
Adam was made alive by the breath of God, and we, as “new creations” in Christ, are made spiritually alive by the “Breath of God,” the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 3:3; Romans 6:4). Upon our acceptance of Christ, the Holy Spirit of God joins with our own spirit in ways we cannot comprehend.
“Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” 1 John 4:13 “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:” Romans 8:16