We sang a song in church this morning. In it, we asked God to be at the “center of our heart and soul.” It’s intriguing to me that we sang this song (new to me) because someone just asked me, “What is the difference between the heart and soul?” Their question was related to how God heals our inner wounds. So, I thought, here in this article, I would do a little bit of Bible and word study with you, my readers, to discover the soul and heart meaning.
Now, someone might say, “How important is this?” And, the answer is very important! When we understand the meaning of words that are used in the Bible better, we more deeply understand God’s heart for us and His instructions to us. We also begin to better know what “makes us tick” and how to fix the things that ail us. Also, how to strengthen ourselves in God.
So what exactly are the heart and soul in human “construction” and how does each operate in our lives?
Human beings have a body, soul, and spirit
We human beings are made up of three parts, the body, soul, and spirit, according to the Bible. Here is a “classic” verse that says as much:
“May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV)
From the words of this verse, we learn that each of these parts of who we are are important to God as the prayer is for the “whole spirit, soul, and body to be kept blameless” for the return of Christ. So the spirit and soul are mentioned as separate things.
You can see this in other verses – that the soul and spirit are talked about as being distinct from each other. They cannot be used interchangeably to describe the same invisible part of us (as some people use them). Mary, the mother of Jesus, for example sang, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47 NIV)
So, how does the spirit differ from the soul?
The spirit within us is that deepest place in us through which we commune with God. It is the part of us that is regenerated when we receive Christ as Savior. It is the spirit that helps us to worship God and through it the Holy Spirit releases His gifts. Some have called the spirit our “inner man.”
When we are born again through Christ, the spirit is 100% regenerated. This verse helps us understand:
“For by one sacrifice [Jesus on the cross], he [God] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14 NIV)
How do you make people perfect forever, if at the same time, they still need to be made holy? The answer is the spirit is the part regenerated and made perfect forever. On the other hand, the soul has to grow up. As I like to say, “The spirit graduates from college in the ‘born again experience,’ but the soul is still in kindergarten.”
What are the soul and the heart?
So, let’s get down to the soul and the heart. How do they differ from each other?
If you look in Strong’s concordance, you’ll find a Hebrew word, nephesh (#5315) and a Greek word, psuche (#5590) for soul.
And, if you haven’t used Strong’s before, it is a big, hefty reference book that gives all the original Hebrew and Greek words behind the words in our English bibles. Each word has a number. The Old Testament was largely written in Hebrew originally and the New Testament in Greek.
If you look at the original language for words you are studying in the Bible, you will come up with “fuller,” more precise definitions.
So, what is the soul?
The soul refers to the mind, will, and emotions of a human being. It is the place of personality, thinking, decision making, and feelings.
We encounter the world through our soul. Through the soul, we think about the world and have feelings about our experiences and the people in our lives. Additionally, we make decisions, form memories, and exert our will through our soul.
While our spirit is renewed when the Holy Spirit comes, our souls carry spiritual dirt from our past lifestyles. This is why so many believers can continue to struggle with sin after accepting Christ. Their souls still contain dirt that needs to be removed and washed clean by the renewing of their mind (soul) with the word of God.
The above quote is from a site called “Get Bible Answers.” And, what is said in this quote is so true.
The soul needs healing. I wrote about this in an article called “Understanding the Healing of Soul Wounds.” We can have wounds in our thinking and destructive emotional reactions because of our past sins, other people’s sins against us, or because of things passed down in our families.
We get healing in our mind, will, and emotions by the Word of God (studying and meditating on the Bible) and by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Prayer and growing trust in God bring healing.
And what is the heart?
Again, there is a Hebrew word most often used for the heart. It is “leb,” and the Strong’s concordance number for it is #3820. The Greek word most often used for the heart is “kardia,” Strong’s #2588.
Of course, we have a physical heart that pumps blood and keeps us alive. But in the Bible, and elsewhere in many cultures, the heart is seen as the place of emotions and ideals.
Because it is the place of emotions and “deepest thoughts,” it really is a part of the soul. It is interesting that we have given this meaning to the word “heart,” that it is the place where our central intentions are formed. It’s said that purpose and noble thoughts are connected to a good heart, whereas dark motives and bad intentions are linked to a bad heart.
Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45 ESV)
Soul and heart meaning helps growth
Though, as I’ve said above, the heart is part of the soul, understanding these two words helps us to continue to grow in faith.
We grow because we realize our soul is immature even after giving our life to Christ.
We grow because we realize our emotions aren’t always trustworthy guides. Sometimes, we react to situations or people with anger, sadness, or feeling defeated. Those are the emotions of our hearts. But, are they appropriate? Perhaps, we are feeling those things because of old wounds, unhealed memories?
The heart is deceitful above all things…
I love the Bible verse which says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure…” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV) It reminds me of the unreliability of our emotions. The verse makes me think of our frequent blindness to our own motives. We think we’re doing something for a noble reason, but sadly, we may be actually really serving ourselves.
So, the heart (place of emotions) and the soul (of which the heart is part) need discipling. They need to grow up. And we are best off if we put our trust in God and in the words He has given us in the Bible over our ever changing emotions. Faith and God’s Word need to lead us. Our emotions can take us on a roller coaster ride all over the place.!
In fact, Jeremiah said this about what we should rely on, our emotions in the moment or God’s eternal trustworthiness in Jer. 17:7-8 NIV:
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him,
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
And yet, the heart is also the place of belief
Finally, the Apostle Paul wrote an interesting thing about the heart. He said,
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10 NIV)
Have you believed in your heart and spoken with your lips faith in Christ? If not, I pray that you will take this step. It changes everything.
Next week, more about the heart. How does God heal the broken-hearted? What does it mean to have a hard heart? How does God reach the hardened heart?
And then, God’s healing of grief. And finally, God’s help with unforgiveness.
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