One of the great needs in the church today is the discernment to divide between soul and spirit. According to the Bible, it is the Word of God itself that will enable us to make this distinction:
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, emphasis added).
We need the power of the Word to reveal that which is of the soul and that which is of the spirit. Human beings are made up of three parts: body, soul, and spirit (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23). The human soul consists of the mind, will and emotions. The human spirit—after being born again—is the aspect of our being that is able to fellowship with God.
The soul is an important part of the human make-up. But it is the spirit that is made alive in Christ at salvation, and that makes true connection with God. We are called to be a spiritual people, not a soulish people. Our emotions should be expressed, but they should not be the driving force in our lives. We should grow in our minds, but should not be controlled by our own intellect and understanding. We are not to set aside the soul or the body, but the spirit must be prioritized.
I wonder how much of today’s preaching is more soulish than spiritual. How much of it is primarily affecting the intellect or emotions, but not penetrating to the spirit?
We have made a science of preaching sermons. It has become so calculated: if we say the right things, at the right time, and in the right way, we can expect a certain response from the congregation. Instead of aiming for true transformation we often preach to get a momentary reaction from the crowd. I believe that much preaching today (and ministry in general for that matter), is aimed at the soul instead of the spirit. The long-term effects of this soulish preaching produces little lasting fruit.
Preaching that is aimed at the mind increases head knowledge without reaching the heart. This does not build up the spirit or draw people into a deeper intimacy with the Lord, but instead “puffs up” (see 1 Corinthians 8:1). Preaching that is aimed at the emotions may stir people for a moment, but after the message is over it is “business as usual.”
So while preaching to the mind brings information and preaching to the emotions brings inspiration, neither produce lasting transformation. The result of soulish preaching is actually harmful because the people of God do not get the spiritual nourishment that they need. Meanwhile, since the soul has been stimulated, there is a false sense of spiritual fulfillment. But the spirit has not been fed; it has been merely pacified.
Ministering to the soul instead of to the spirit has become a cheap substitute in the body of Christ. On one hand we have an over-intellectualized Christianity that exalts the mind above the spirit. On the other hand we have emotionalism that manufactures and manipulates emotional responses. If we seek to build the church or the Christian life prioritizing the soul over the spirit, we will end up off course.
The answer is not to ignore the soul. Our mind, will, and emotions are critical to who we are. But we must put them in the proper place. We must prioritize our spiritual growth by spending time in the secret place, in fellowship with the Lord. We must feed our spirit upon God’s Word and apply it to our lives. When it comes to ministry, we must preach the true Word of God, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and proclaimed with authority. This will feed people’s spirits and cause growth in Christ. The emotions and intellect will be involved, but not as the primary aim.
Let’s seek the very presence of God among us. Let’s not settle for anything less than being built up into the spiritual house that God says that we are: “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).