Print This Bible Study


the contents of this page may take a few seconds to load . . . thank you for your patience...



One Key to Scripture Interpretation (One of Some)

Distinguishing Between Spirit and Soul Salvation




This presentation will be the first of several pertaining to the subject.  It is submitted with the understanding that always the primary key to properly understanding the correct interpretation of Scripture is one’s submission to the Instructor of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27).


Often a well-intentioned Bible student or scholar will make the exegetical error known as an “illegitimate totality transfer,” which is the assignment of a “meaning” to a word (understood as the total series of relations in which it is used in the literature) regardless of context.  Various biblical words, such as save and life, are subject to such error.  These words and many scriptural passages that refer to man’s “total salvation” often have more than one meaning.  To fail to distinguish the proper meaning and application of the words and passages within their context only leads a person to erroneous, misleading, and, in some cases, blasphemous interpretations.


Two incorrect but dominate schools of interpretation that come to mind are:


  • The Arminian position that if a Christian sins he loses or forfeits his salvation.


  • The extreme Calvinist position that teaches that since salvation is eternal and all is under the blood, a believer’s sins will eventually have no significant bearing in the “after life.”


However, Scripture refutes both positions.  Bible commentators and teachers fail to see that man is composed of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12), and that Scriptures makes a distinction between the salvation of these three component; therefore, it is understandable that such flawed interpretations can surface among good and decent people.


Arlen L. Chitwood, in his book, Salvation of the Soul, Chapter 1, says this:


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.

            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.


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 past aspect of salvation, dealt with in Ephesians 2:8, the words in the corrected text, “you have been saved,” are a translation of two Greek words that form what is called in the Greek text a “periphrastic perfect.”  The “perfect” tense refers to action completed in past time, with the results of this action extending into present time 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 present aspect of salvation, things are presented in an entirely different light than seen in Ephesians 2:8.  Rather than the verb 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 future aspect of salvation, matters are presented in a completely different light yet.  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 had to be a family member before he could 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, effecting the birth from above.  And this has been done with a purpose, 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.


Most will agree that there is little difficulty in understanding that during this lifetime the believer’s body is not yet “saved” or “delivered.”  This will come during the resurrection, which will transform the body into one not unlike Christ (1 Corinthians 15:42-57; Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2). 


But as to the other two aspects of salvation, there is confusion; therefore, the following definitions/explanations are provided.




  • “Spirit salvation” refers to the imputation of God’s righteousness to the person who accepts this grace-gift of God by faith alone in Christ alone.  It is the result of a one-time faith-based decision in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, which (1) is made by and within the will of a person and (2) results in his immediate justification by and before God and (3) can never be nullified by God or man (John 3:16-18; 5:24; 6:37-40; 20:31; Romans 3:21-26; 5:15; 8:38, 39; Ephesians 2:8, 9; Titus 3:5; Revelation 22:17).


  • “Soul (life) salvation,” also called “sanctification,” has to do with a believer’s spiritual growth or lack thereof.  It results from spiritual maturity, which may only be achieved by routinely confessing known sin (1 John 1:9), the exercise of faith (Colossians 2:6), and the absorption of Bible doctrine (John 17:17).   It is based on the accumulation of “divine good works,” i.e., works performed under the control of God’s Spirit (as opposed to “human good works,” which are works performed in the carnal state), during a believer’s temporal life on earth.  This salvation culminates at the Judgment Seat of Christ where a believer’s life (of works) will be judged, the result of which has effect not only in the present during his life on earth but will affect his participation (or lack thereof) in the coming millennium reign of Christ (Kingdom Age) upon earth for 1000 years (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 2:10; Romans 14:10; Galatians 6:7; Colossians 3:24, 25; Revelation 22:12).


The Conflict


When the student or scholar fails to understand that both types of salvation are presented in the Bible a mental conflict erupts during the reading of various passages, and to resolve the anguish he will often make the “illegitimate totality transfer” error of seeing one as the other.  This leads to confusion and an inordinate attempt to try to fit certain scriptures into one’s preconceived theological position.  In brief, to “rightly divide the Word of Truth,” one must distinguish between the scriptures that address eternal (spirit) salvation and those that address rewards to the faithful (the product and result of proper soul/life salvation).


Scriptural Examples


  • Spirit Salvation—eternal and based solely on the vicarious atoning work of Christ on the cross of Calvary—acquired by faith alone in Christ alone.


But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. (John 1:12)


And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  (John 3:14-17)


He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)


Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. (John 5:24)


And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day. . . Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. (John 6:40, 47)


But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:31)


And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30, 31)


Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26)


For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)


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)


And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

(Revelation 22:17)


  • Soul (Life) Salvation—not eternal and based upon a person’s divine good works after one’s spirit salvation—resulting in rewards to believers who have been faithful at the Judgment Seat of Christ, which will extend into the Kingdom Age.


Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  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? (Matthew 16:24-26)


He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25)


For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)


For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)


But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27)


By which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:2)


For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (Galatians 6:8)


How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. (Hebrews 2:3)


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)


Receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9)


[NOTE:  “Eternal life” and its equivalent “everlasting life,” are phrases used in Scripture to distinguish life after physical death—separation of the body and the spirit/soul—as opposed to temporal life prior to physical death.  Additionally, it often carries with it the quality of “abundance of life” as mentioned by Christ in John 10:10.  Depending upon context, it may refer to either “spirit salvation” for all eternity or “soul salvation” during the Millennial Kingdom.  A comprehensive treatment of this matter may be acquired from the following two works:  (1)  The Reign of the Servant Kings, by Joseph C. Dillow and Shock & Surprise Beyond the Rapture, by Gary T. Whipple.]




The ability to recognize the difference between spirit and soul (life) salvation is absolutely key to understanding the correct interpretation of many passages of Scripture.  One is absolutely free upon faith alone in Christ alone.  The other is based strictly on faithfulness (perseverance) and divine good works (works done not “in the flesh” but in and by the power of the Holy Spirit), which eventually will result in participation in the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ (for additional study of this “meat” doctrine of the Bible, the following scriptural references are suggested:  Matthew 21:43; 22:10-14; 24:45-51; 25:1-30; Luke 12:42-48; 19:11-27; Galatians 5:19-21; Hebrews 2:1-4; 4:1-11; 6:1-6; 10:25-31; 12:14-17; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3:5, 12, 21; 19:7-9).