What makes people special? Humans are the only species to create language, to build cities, and to move beyond the laws of nature and institute civilizations. Humanity can do all of these special things because God created them to carry the Imago Dei - the image of God. God creates, so people can create. God institutes order, so people can institute order.
Part of being made in the image of God also means having a bit of His character. God is Spirit, so people have spirits. The Bible asserts, “But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (Job 32:8). The spirit of a person was put in them so they could connect with God and be like Him. Just as part of God’s character is Spirit, people have spirit that endows on them the image of God.
What Is a Spirit?
When considering what it is that makes a human made in the image of God, the idea that God gave man a spirit – and defining that – is key. Everyone has a mind that allows them to think and reason. The heart helps people feel and connect.
The Greek word for soul is psyche, which can also be translated as personality. The soul is the unique character traits attached to the part of the spirit in a specific body, mind, and heart. The Greek word for the spirit, pneuma, translates roughly to breath; it is the living essence that connects the body, heart, and mind, and will return to God when a Christian dies. The spirit is that which is eternal in a person. In fact, when Jesus died on the cross, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). He committed His eternal spirit, which continued to exist, even though His body stopped functioning. At the resurrection, His spirit and body reunited.
The body will die, but the spirit will continue into the next life, either in Heaven or Hell. Christians believe the spirit and the body will be reunited one day, made perfect to live forever with God. The Bible asserts the spirit helps people know God is real, and that when someone becomes a Christian, testifies to being a child of God.
According to a traditional understanding of this issue, animals can be seen to have souls - personalities specific to them - but do not possess the spirit of God that will go on into eternity the same way it is understood that humans will. Whether or not this means they will not be in Heaven is a different topic.
God is spirit. One of His persons in the Trinity is the Holy Spirit. Over and over again the Bible refers to God as spirit, even before the creation of the world. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). When He breathed life into Adam, something He only did for humanity, He gave Adam a spirit, so that Adam could truly be in His likeness.
There are other spirits. Angels and demons exist in a spiritual capacity. They are eternal beings that wage spiritual warfare, obey or disobey God, and can make themselves present in the world, but are of it. The Bible encourages believers to use the Holy Spirit, prayer, the Bible, and discernment to evaluate both the spirit of other people, and sometimes potential supernatural spirits. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
What Does the Bible Say about the Spirit?
While there is no one passage in the Bible which defines what the spirit is, there are verses that discuss it. These verses include, but are not limited to:
Genesis 2:7 “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
Ecclesiastes 3:21 “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?”
John 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Acts 7:59 “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’”
Romans 8:16-17 “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
1 Thessalonians 5:23 “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Can the State of Our Spirit Change?
God’s spirit is perfect and unchanging; man’s spirit is influenced by sin, by struggles, by pain, and by situations. Throughout the Scriptures, the spirits of people are described in different states, often because it is constant battle with the flesh; “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
Paul encouraged believers in his letter to the Ephesians that a believer can have their spirit strengthened, “That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:16-17). Ultimately, without God’s Spirit, all people will cave into the pressures of the world and the desires of the flesh. Through salvation and a relationship with the living God, the human spirit can be elevated, encouraged, and do the will of God.
The prophet Isaiah wrote about the encouragement of the human spirit:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31).
Those who rely on the Spirit of God for nourishment, refreshment, and knowledge will always have their spirit replenished, because God is everlasting.
A Prayer to Love God with Your Whole Spirit
Thank you for giving me life. I lift up my voice in praise for Your mighty hand and Your infinite creativity and wisdom. You gave me the breath of life, Your Spirit, and Your image. When I strayed away from You and sinned, You extended forgiveness and grace. You sent Jesus Christ to die in my place on the cross, to pay for my sins, so that I may have my sins blotted away. Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to indwell me and to guide me.
Lord, please strengthen me through Your spirit, so that I may worship You and love You with my whole heart, spirit, and mind. My spirit is willing and eager to serve You, but my flesh is weak. I often do what I know is wrong, or I walk away from You, letting my relationship grow cold. I will stumble and fall, but You keep picking me up. Lord, I ask that you continue to keep me connected to You, strengthening my love for You. Help me to see You working and moving. I want to love You with my whole spirit Lord.
In Jesus’ name I pray,
It can be confusing when trying to study the things that are eternal, ethereal, and impossible to see. Faith is an important part of the Christian life, but everyone wants to understand their own nature. The spirit is that gift of breath and life from God that experiences a relationship with Him now, and will go on into eternity to be with Him. Prayer for a strong spirit that is empowered by God will always be answered, and when the spirit is strengthened, every Christian can finish their race well.
Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated and Expanded Edition. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 2007.
Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Old Testament and New Testament. United States of America: Victor Books, 1987.
Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.
Wommack, Andrew. Spirit, Soul, and Body. Tula: Harrison House, 2010.
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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.