Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NASB)
The soul is the part of us that allows us to say things like, “I cut my finger,” or “that hurt my feelings.” It is our individual patterns of emotions, will, and reason (thinking) all wrapped up in one “inner self.” Some people call it personality. When focusing on one’s logic or reasoning, it can be called the conscious mind. It is the part of us that realizes we possess a body–that we are more than a body. It is our capacity to think and to feel and to decide. Consequently, we can see that animals have this awareness to degrees. Therefore, I have no problem with saying animals have souls. But, it would be faulty to say animals have spirits.
The spirit is the part of us that allows us to say things like, “I believe that,” or “that is wrong” or even “I know that’s morally wrong but I want it anyway.” Animals do not have this ability, though they do have instinct and “pack relationship” which teaches them to take risks against danger. The human spirit differs from instinct, learned responses or pack relation behavior in that it is infinitely exceptional. Or, as classic philosophers put, it allows us “to think about our thinking” and ethics.
The human spirit is what instructs our moral compass (conscience) and puts slants (prejudice, biases) on our emotions, will and reason. The spirit is where wounds and traumas to our emotions and mind register, and sometimes, lodge. While humans are open to suggestions from other humans about things to contemplate, one’s own spirit is where one’s deepest thoughts and intents originate, sourcing the “why” for our beliefs and housing what forms our motives and affinities (Hebrews 4:12). It is also that part of us which innately classifies a thing or event or deed as “evil.” From it, we find deep-seated alignment with (or rejection of) what we choose to entertain in our conscious minds; it is a kind of self-identification determiner, a moral filter which all mankind shares but is itself unique to each individual. And it is that which only the individual can be accountable for. Er go, human morality, crimes, crimes against humanity and punishment.
God’s Word discerns (and shows) us the difference between our soul and spirit. Our spirit is the part of us that realizes we possess the power to discern right and wrong in relation to God and other humans and the rest of creation. Solomon described it as our having, “eternity in our hearts“–i.e. The desire to see ourselves, troubling life events & others from an all-knowing, timeless point-of-view.
More in depth:
Often times, people call the human spirit the Imago Dei… “The image of God”…which makes sense, because the Bible says we were made in his image, and that obviously wasn’t something physical, nor merely soulish… but rather spiritual. Others (psychologists) call it the subconscious mind, conscience or one’s moral psychology.
God does not come to alter your personality. He comes to remake your spirit, which has been cut off from him and distorted through sin. This new birth is promised by Jesus Christ, who died and arose from the grave in order to provide it (John 1-3). As goes the spirit, so go the soul and body–made whole, and preserved.