What does the Bible mean when it speaks of the salvation of the soul?
In brief, the salvation of the soul (soul-salvation) as seen in various passages throughout the New Testament (Matthew 16:26, 27; Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 1:18; Hebrews 10:35-39; 1 Peter 1:3-9; James 1:21; 5:20), an aspect of salvation distinct from salvation of the spirit (spirit-salvation; John 3:5-7; 16-18; Acts 16:30, 31; Ephesians 2:8, 9) and the eventual salvation of the body (Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57), which distinctions are purposely and rigidly maintained by the Holy Spirit throughout the Word, embodies the following characteristics: (1) It involves only the soul-component of a person, as opposed to his spirit and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12); the soul being his life now (sanctification) and, specifically, its relevance (i.e., rewards or lack thereof [suffering]) to the millennial kingdom — the rule and reign over the earth by Christ for one thousand years to be established at His Second Advent; (2) Although soul-salvation, like spirit-salvation, is based on (made possible by) Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, it may be secured only after a person comes to the cross — placing one’s faith alone in Christ alone for one’s personal and eternal salvation, which is spirit-salvation; (3) Whereas spirit-salvation is a past, completed act (a one-time act of the will when a person places his faith in Christ) that results in a secured (guaranteed) eternal possession; soul-salvation is a present, continuous process that, when and if completed successfully, results in a future, inherited possession; (4) Whereas spirit-salvation is a free gift totally apart from any works by man, soul-salvation is obtained by the production of divine good-works — perseverance in faithfulness and bearing the fruit of the Spirit by (through) the person himself; (5) Whereas spirit-salvation is totally the work of the Holy Spirit, soul-salvation is a shared work between the Holy Spirit and the person who has passed from death to life through faith in Christ; (6) Whereas spirit-salvation involves only the judgment of sin in the person of Christ on the cross at Calvary, soul-salvation involves the judgment of the believer (his temporal life of faithfulness or lack thereof) at the Judgment Seat of Christ; and (7) Whereas spirit-salvation has eternal verities in view, soul-salvation has millennial verities in view.
More detailed information regarding soul-salvation is contained in the following commentaries:
Arlen L. Chitwood
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit [lit. “for the sake of the ones about to inherit”] salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)
Salvation in the Word of God is spoken of in three tenses — past, present, and future: (1) Christians have been saved, (2) Christians are being saved, and (3) Christians are about to be saved. The previously quoted verses provide examples of how Scripture deals with each of these three tenses or aspects of salvation.
In Ephesians 2:8, 9, salvation is a past, completed act; in 1 Corinthians 1:18, salvation is a present, continuous work; and in Hebrews 1:14, salvation is a future, inherited possession. Since the Word of God presents salvation in a framework of this nature, it is vitally important in Scriptural interpretation to first ascertain to which of these three aspects of salvation any given passage pertains.
In the first aspect of salvation, dealt with in Ephesians 2:8, the words, “you have been saved,” which is a correct translation, are a translation of two Greek words that form, what is called in the Greek, a “periphrastic perfect.” The “perfect” tense refers to action completed in past time, with the results of this action extending into the present and existing in a finished state. The “periphrastic” construction places additional emphasis on the present, finished state and refers to the persistent results during present time of the past, completed work.
Salvation in this verse is wrought by grace through faith, accomplished completely in past time, and is the present possession of every believer. This present possession, in turn, constitutes an active, continuing, ever-abiding salvation. The eternal security of the believer cannot be expressed in stronger terms than the periphrastic construction of the perfect tense in Ephesians 2:8, for the present results of the past action, in this case, can only continue unchanged forever.
However, in 1 Corinthians 1:18, dealing with the second aspect of salvation, things are presented in an entirely different light than seen in Ephesians 2:8. Rather than the tense in the Greek text referring to a past, completed act, the tense refers to a present, continuous work. The former has already been completed, but the latter has yet to be completed.
Then, in Hebrews 1:14, dealing with the third aspect of salvation, matters are presented yet in a completely different light. The wording in the Greek text of this verse refers to something that is about to occur. Nothing is past or present; the reception of this salvation, in its entirety, is placed in the future.
Further, the salvation referred to in Hebrews 1:14 is not only to be realized in the future, but it is also an inherited salvation. And the thought of inheritance further distinguishes the salvation in this verse from the salvation previously seen in Ephesians 2:8, for the salvation that Christians presently possess is not an inherited salvation.
Rather, our present salvation was obtained as a free gift during the time we were alienated from God. And, as aliens (outside the family of God), we were in no position to inherit salvation, for inheritance in Scripture is always a family matter.
In the Old Testament, “sons” were first in line to receive the inheritance, with “daughters” next. If there were no sons or daughters in the immediate family, the inheritance was passed on to the nearest family member or members, designated by the law of inheritance (Numbers 27:8-11).
Consequently, an individual must first be a family member before he can be considered for the inheritance, which, during the present dispensation, is restricted to “children” or “sons” of the Owner. That’s why the statement is made in Romans 8:17, “If children, then heirs . . . .” And that’s also why, in Hebrews 1:14, that an inherited salvation pertains to those who have already been saved, those who are no longer alienated from God but are presently family members.
In this respect, the complete scope of salvation — past, present, and future — has a beginning point, with an end in view. It involves the Spirit of God breathing life into the one having no life and thereby effecting the birth from above. And this has been done with a purpose, with an end in view. This has been done so that the Spirit can take the one who now has spiritual life and perform a work in the life of that individual, with a view to an inheritance that will be realized at a future time.
Thus, one should immediately be able to see the importance of proper distinctions being drawn and observed in the realm of these three aspects of salvation. And depending on how one approaches and deals with the different salvation passages in Scripture, either difficulties can be avoided on the one hand or insurmountable problems can result on the other. . . .
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Thessalonians 5:23)
Man is a tripartite being comprised of spirit, soul, and body; and the salvation of man within its complete scope (past, present, and future) pertains to the salvation of man with respect to his complete being. In the study of Scripture it is revealed that each of these three parts of man is subject to salvation at different times. Thus, to understand salvation in its complete scope, one must first understand certain things about man’s tripartite nature. Then, salvation in relation to this tripartite nature becomes the issue. . . .
The salvation of the soul, on the other hand, should never be associated with the past aspect of salvation. Scripture carefully distinguishes between the soul and the spirit, never using the words interchangeably in this respect (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). And Scripture also carefully distinguishes between salvation in relation to the spirit and salvation in relation to the soul. Salvation in relation to the spirit is always dealt with in a past sense, but not so with the salvation of the soul. Rather, the salvation of the soul is always dealt with in a future sense:
Receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9)
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe [are faithful] to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:39)
The statements and exhortations in these verses pertain to Christians alone — those whose spirits have already been saved and whose souls are in the process of being saved, with the salvation of the soul being realized only at a future time. . . .
The Greek word translated “soul” throughout the New Testament is psuche. This word has to do with “the natural life” of the individual. The soul is the seat of a person’s emotions, feelings, and desires pertaining to his man-conscious existence.
The Greek word translated “natural” in 1 Corinthians 2:14 is psuchikos, a form of the word psuche. Psuchikos is the “natural” or “soulical” life (self-life) that man has in common with the animal kingdom. The soulical man is dominated or ruled by his soul, which includes all the experiences, desires, emotions, sensations, likes, and dislikes within the personal life of the individual. Such likes, dislikes, etc. will vary from individual to individual, but all emanate from the soul-life of man. The soulical man is alienated from God and thus possesses no way to grasp spiritual truth. A man must be born from above — made alive spiritually — before he can possess spiritual discernment. . . .
Faith and works appear together in James chapter two relative to teachings surrounding the salvation of the soul, introduced in the preceding chapter (vv. 21-25). And this is the place where numerous individuals invariably go wrong when studying the epistle. They seek to relate both faith and works to the salvation that Christians presently possess. And, doing this, the end result is always the same: (1) a non-biblical teaching relative to salvation by grace, and (2) a corruption of the true message in James.
The relationship between faith and works in James (or other corresponding parts of Scripture [e.g., 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Ephesians 2:8-10; Hebrews 11:4ff]) has nothing to do with the salvation that we presently possess. Eternal salvation, the present possession of every believer, is wrought by grace through faith, completely apart from works.
An unredeemed person cannot perform works to be saved, and a redeemed person cannot perform works to either stay saved or to show that he has been saved. The necessity of the complete absence of works in relation to one’s eternal salvation is just as applicable following the time one is saved as it is prior to the time one is saved. Works cannot enter in at all, else salvation would cease to be by grace through faith (Romans 11:6).
James in his epistle, teaching a justification on the basis of works, does not deny that man is justified by grace through faith, apart from works. To the contrary, James acknowledges this fact (1:17, 18), and the entire message of his epistle is built upon this fact. And, in keeping with this fact, justification by works in James cannot enter in until man has first been justified by grace through faith. Then, and only then, can works appear.
This is the way in which the matter is handled at any point in Scripture where faith and works are dealt with after this fashion. This has to be the case because neither the unsaved nor the saved can produce works in this realm. The unsaved person can’t produce works of this nature, for he is spiritually dead; and the saved person can’t produce works of this nature, for works would have entered into an area where works cannot exist. From a biblical standpoint, man’s works simply cannot enter where eternal salvation is involved.
(Works surrounding eternal salvation can enter only as they pertain to Christ’s finished work at Calvary, or to the Spirit’s work of breathing life into the one having no life [on the basis of Christ’s finished work]. Unregenerate man, “dead in trespasses and sins” [Ephesians 2:1], cannot act in the spiritual realm. Divine intervention alone can and must occur [Ephesians 2:5].) . . . .
The importance of feasting on the Manna from heaven cannot be overemphasized. A Christian must receive “the implanted Word [Neshamah]” or he cannot realize the salvation of his soul. The reason is very simple: Apart from the reception of this Word there can be no spiritual growth to maturity. And without spiritual growth, wrought through a continued inbreathing of “life” into man, there can be no movement of the spiritual man, producing “works” emanating from “a living” faith.
The race will have been run in no certain manner, with no fixed goal, as one beating the air. And, as revealed in 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:11, a race run in this manner will result in the individual being disapproved, for he will have been overcome and thus overthrown in the wilderness.
Accordingly, such an individual at the judgment seat of Christ will have his works tried, with a view to approval; but these works will be shown to be “dead [barren]” works, emanating from unfaithfulness, producing nothing but “wood, hay, and straw.” These will all be burned in the fire, leaving the individual in the position, “saved [salvation of his spirit]; yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). His works will be disapproved; and works of this nature will have failed to bring faith to its proper goal. Consequently, the individual’s faith will also be disapproved, and he will “suffer loss” — the loss of his soul.
A. Edwin Wilson
The book of James has long been an enigma to Bible commentators as well as teachers. Trying to reconcile justification by works, according to the epistle of James, with justification by faith, according to the epistle to the Romans, has left more than one Bible student hopelessly perplexed. Martin Luther, in seeking to emphasize justification by faith, declared the epistle of James to be “an epistle of straw” and said that it had no place in the canon of Scripture.
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:19-22). Here we see that there is a connection between the saving of the soul and the doing of the Word. Because of a failure to distinguish between body, soul, and spirit, there is utter confusion in attempts to interpret scriptures dealing with the salvation of the soul. The salvation of the spirit has to do with eternal life as a gift of God. The salvation of the soul has to do with the life of a Christian from the day of his salvation until the end of the time of his responsibility (which terminates either in death or the rapture), which life results in rewards or loss of rewards — to be manifested during the coming reign of our Lord over the earth for a thousand years.
I believe the key to the book of James lies in the expression “salvation of the soul” (James 1:21) and “saving a soul from death” (James 5:19, 20). James is expounding upon the life one lives after he is saved, and such a life is dependent upon good works if one is to receive rewards. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:26, 27). Paul in Romans is treating eternal life, which is a believer’s present possession by virtue of his faith apart from works. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Here in Matthew 7:21, occupying a position of sovereignty in the kingdom of the heavens (the millennial reign of the Lord over the earth) is dependent upon doing the will of the Father after one has been saved. To call Jesus “Lord, Lord” is impossible except one has the Spirit of the Lord indwelling him (1 Corinthians 12:3). Therefore, we know that the ones to whom the Lord addresses Himself in Matthew 7:21 are saved. But having eternal life does not guarantee one a place of sovereignty in the kingdom of our Lord, that being granted only to those who do the will of the Father.
In James chapter one, verses 21 and 22, it says that it is not sufficient to be a hearer of the Word (have eternal life), but one must also be a doer of the Word (possess good works) if he is to save his soul, that is, if he is to save his life as a Christian and have rewards that will be manifested at the appearing of our Lord and will prevail during His reign. When one is a hearer of the Word, he becomes a Christian. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Good works come from doing and these good works earn the doers commensurate rewards. In the light of 1 Corinthians 3:14, 15 we learn that it is possible for one to be saved, to be a possessor of eternal life that can never be lost, and yet have no good works to his credit.
Throughout the New Testament the expression “salvation of the soul” has to do entirely with the saving of the life of a Christian so that he will not appear before the Lord empty handed and have all his works destroyed by fire, though he himself shall have eternal life and shall never perish. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).
I believe that once an individual sees that Romans treats of the salvation of the spirit (which has to do with eternal life) and that James treats of the salvation of the soul (Which has to do with Christian living and subsequent rewards), such a one will not try to reconcile the books of Romans and James as meaning the same thing but will accept the fact that they treat of different subjects entirely and there is no conflict at all.
Gary T. Whipple
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
According to the Greek text, the last part of this verse must be translated “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
With this understanding we are introduced to a new kind of salvation that operates in the present continuous tense. Unlike the completed past tense salvation, this salvation reveals to us a present and continuous work (not yet completed) that begins in our lives at the moment our spirits are saved and continues in a present tense until it ends at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Scriptures call this salvation, the “salvation of the soul” (1 Peter 1:9). And since the words “soul” and “life” in the New Testament are translated from the same Greek word “psuche,” this salvation, is also known as the “salvation of the
life.” Moreover, this present continuous salvation of the soul has nothing to do with eternal life, as past tense salvation does, but rather the saving of a believer into the millennial kingdom of Christ. If a believer lives for himself here (gains his soul), he will lose it there (at the Judgment Seat of Christ). If he loses it here for Christ’s sake, he will gain it there.
To further understand this, the Scriptures speak of the soul or life of man in three aspects. (1) The life principle of the body (Leviticus 17:11). (2) The life essence of man, with or without his body, with all his normal faculties (Luke 16:22-23, Revelation 6:9-11). (3) The life quality of man either in this present life or the life to come (James 1:21).
It is this third aspect or the “life quality of man” that is in view when the Scriptures speak of the salvation of the soul. One who loses his soul at the Judgment Seat of Christ loses his future quality of life. He will either have eternal life with rewards, or he will have eternal life without rewards. He will either be chosen to rule and reign with Christ in His coming kingdom, or be excluded from that kingdom. . . .
Salvation of the soul then, is dependent on the quality of life a believer chooses while on earth. If he allows his old nature to rule his life, he will produce works of wood, hay, and stubble. These will be burned up at the Judgment Seat of Christ, with the results being the loss of his soul (future life quality [in the millennium] without rewards). If however, through the Word of God, he permits his new nature (the Holy Spirit in him) to rule over his life, he will produce works of gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Corinthians3:11-15). Since these works cannot be burned up, the results of this testing will be the saving of his soul (future life quality [in the millennium] with rewards).
When one fails to learn the difference between the new birth (salvation of the spirit) and life in the coming kingdom (salvation of the soul), he will become confused over many passages of Scripture that speak of these two salvations. . . .
Therefore, the term “salvation” in its full context means not only receiving God’s Life in our spirits, but also renewing every part of our soul and body as well. This takes time and effort.
The first step in salvation (justification) gives us peace and satisfaction and joy. The second step in the process of full salvation (the sanctification of our soul) gives us the power to overcome sin and self, receive personal deliverance from the enemy and the freedom to walk in God’s way. Many Christians, however, take only the first step (justification). Like the Israelites, they only put the blood on the doorposts of their house (Exodus 12:22), but they forget to purge the leaven from their lives (sanctification). They trust God for the salvation of their spirits, but they fail to declare war on their flesh. Consequently, they prevent the power of God from doing the work of sanctification in their lives.
Complete salvation is not only believing in the Lord, it also includes walking with the Lord, overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil and enduring to the end. Again, a lifelong process. First, we are saved (in our spirit) from the penalty of sin; next, we are saved (in our soul) from the power of sin, and finally, we are saved (in our body) from the presence of sin. Our spirit is saved by God at the time of our new birth; our body is redeemed by God at the time of the rapture and translation; but the salvation (or the transformation) of our soul by the Holy Spirit is dependent upon and determined by the individual himself.
 Selections from Salvation of the Soul by Arlen L. Chitwood, The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 2003, pages 1-3; 7-9; 68, 69; 108
 Selected Writings of A. Edwin Wilson, edited by Arlen L. Chitwood, Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1996, pages 153, 154
 Shock & Surprise Beyond the Rapture by Gary T. Whipple, Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 2003, pages 20, 21
 The Kingdom, Power, & Glory — The Overcomer’s Handbook by Nancy Missler, The King’s High Way Ministries, Inc., 2008, pages 37, 38