The Spiritual Man Versus the Natural

November 8, 2020 / No. 4062

Dear Radio Friends,

Let us give a brief review of what was going on in the church of Corinth. There were many different problems that existed in this church. All of these combined caused party strife in the church. No one looked for solid biblical agreement on doctrine and life. Members of the church had divided into groups over these issues, each claiming to themselves the wisdom and teaching of a prominent leader in the church. Along with such party strife came the usual sins: backbiting, that is, speaking about someone to others with contempt and derision. Gossip, that is, judging another person’s actions according to one’s own perception, then talking about him to others as if that perception of things were accurate and true. Slander, that is, spreading rumors and lies about another saint in the church. These sins served only to make the schism in the church sharper. Instead of the mind of Christ dwelling in them, there was hatred and envy.

We considered in connection with chapter 1 verse 10 the remedy for such division: “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Drawing on this word, Paul explains that Christ is not divided. The church is the one body of Christ, having at its head Jesus Christ Himself. Having set forth this blessed truth, Paul proceeds in this letter to give the church sound instruction in the matters separating people. The first instruction he gives is concerning the preachers and their preaching. In chapter 1, the last part, we found that Paul spoke of the preaching as the power of God unto salvation. Those who preached were not out to promote themselves. Their task was to preach. Such was their task because this is what God uses to save His people. It may have seemed to be foolishness to the Gentiles. To the Jews it may have been viewed as contra the laws of the Torah, but to those who were saved it was viewed as the wisdom of God.

But what about the preachers themselves? What about Paul, Apollos, Peter, and so on? We learned that the faithful preacher does not come with enticing words of man’s wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. To some, the gospel preached remains a mystery, a hidden wisdom, because the Spirit does not work in their hearts. To others, this wisdom concerning salvation is revealed by the Spirit of Christ, who works in them while the Word is preached.

Paul then turns our attention to us, the hearers of the Word preached. Are we who listen to the preaching spiritual, or do we hear the preaching only with the natural ear? The preaching is wisdom and power. But it works only in the hearts of God’s people, into whom Christ sends forth His Spirit. To these alone God reveals the things of the kingdom of heaven. The natural man will hear but not believe. Paul makes a comparison between the spiritual man and the natural man in the Word of God we consider today: I Corinthians 2:12, 14. We read, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God…. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” We wish to turn our attention to the contrast Paul makes here between the spiritual and the natural man.

I. Receiving the Spirit

We read at the beginning of verse 4, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit.” We do not find specifically mentioned, however, the spiritual man and woman. But this is the idea in verse 12, where we read, “we have received the Spirit which is of God.” The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit, but we do receive the Spirit. Yet, it is necessary to define what we mean by the spiritual man and woman. You see, all men and women are created with a spiritual side to their nature. This is part of their natural creation. There is a spiritual side to the soul of a person. Every person knows there is a God that must be served. Every person knows there is a spiritual realm other than this present world. Some may devote their lives to proving otherwise, but that only goes to show that they know there is a spiritual realm.

But that is not what we mean when we speak of a spiritual man and woman. We mean by spiritual those who are Spirit-filled. Those who have received the Spirit which is of God. The spiritual man and woman are those into whom Jesus Christ has sent forth His Spirit to dwell in their hearts. Paul explains in verse 12, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God.” By means of the Spirit of our risen Lord, Christ applies to us all the blessings of salvation. By means of these blessings the Spirit reveals to us the things freely given us of God. The term “receives” here in verse 12 means to obtain something as a gift. For example, when we celebrate a birthday, people give us gifts. We obtain that which is given us. We receive these gifts from them. That this is the obvious meaning of the term “receive” becomes clear when at the close of verse 12 we are actually told in so many words, “we know the things that are freely given us.” Actually, the term “freely given” means “graciously given” and therefore implies that the Spirit gives to us that which is undeserved and unmerited, that is, to know Jesus Christ and our salvation. We are not entitled to it. We do not deserve it. We have not merited it. But it is freely given us by God for Christ’s sake. So the idea of receive in verse 12 is that we obtain something that we are freely given as a gift.

But the word “receives” appears once again in verse 14 of our text. In the original this is a different word than the “receives” in verse 12. Here the word means “to take hold of” or “to embrace.” This term perfectly complements the example we used a moment ago. When a birthday rolls around each year, many times we are given gifts. These gifts are freely given, and even at times when we are not deserving of them. But when that gift is given us we “take hold of it,” we receive it. We quickly rip off the wrapping, see the gift, and then embrace it because we like it so much. With a spirit of gratitude, we thank the one who gave us the gift. We do not feel entitled to it. We do not think we deserve it because we have a right to it. We recognize that it is a gift graciously given us and we embrace it with a humble spirit of gratitude and thanks.

This exemplifies the Word of God that Paul intends to teach us. It all swirls around the doctrine of revelation. God’s elect people, along with the rest of the fallen human race, were lost in sin and unbelief. Our eyes were darkened, our ears were closed in sin. Our understanding and desires were attached to the things of this world. Our hearts, the spiritual centers of our beings, were hardened. We had no right to eternal life, no right to fellowship with God. We were aliens and strangers to God’s covenant. Then we received from God in His grace the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our Savior sent forth His Spirit to dwell in our hearts. That Spirit applies to God’s people everything that surrounds our salvation. We are regenerated, called, and given faith. God imputes to His people the righteousness of Christ, and through the Spirit we are sanctified and cleansed. All these gifts or blessings of salvation that Christ earned for us on the cross God freely gives, imparts to you and me through the work of the Spirit. These are the things that are freely given to us of God. All these we receive. We have obtained them as a free or gracious gift from God. By means of this work of the Holy Spirit in us, God reveals Himself to us. He makes us to know Him.

Revelation is entirely a gift of God’s grace, which He grants to His elect people alone. God does not reveal Himself to the reprobate of this world. Oh, it is true that He testifies of Himself to the wicked. He manifests Himself to the reprobate man and woman. As we mentioned, this testimony of God that He exists and must be obeyed is a natural part of man’s creation. God does not leave Himself without a witness to ungodly men and women. But this is not revelation! We learned in our last broadcast that the Spirit has revealed the deep things of God to us, that is, to those who are in Christ Jesus. This is the clear teaching of Jesus Himself in Matthew 11:25: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” Or again in verse 27: “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” God reveals the things of the kingdom of heaven only to His elect people in Christ. We come to know them.

We will come back to that knowledge in a moment. But before we do, we need to consider the natural man that Paul speaks of in verse 14 of the verses we consider today. The natural man is wicked reprobate man, in whom God does not work by His grace. That man or woman, Paul says, does not receive the things of the Spirit, that is, the blessings of salvation bestowed by the Spirit. God does not give the Holy Spirit to him, so he does not obtain this gift. As a result, in unbelief he does not want the blessings of the Spirit either. He is hardened in his sin. He despises the gifts of the Spirit. He refuses to take hold of them. He is repelled by them rather than embracing them. Because God is not gracious to the reprobate man in any way, he will not receive the things of the kingdom of heaven. But this is not all. Paul tells us that the wicked man receives from God the spirit of this world!

I know that in verse 12 Paul informs us that we have not received the spirit of this world. But this implies that the natural man does receive this spirit. The spirit of this world is a combination of a couple of things. First, natural man is given over to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience. In other words, natural man is given over to the rule and dominion of Satan, who leads him in the way of sin and unbelief. In the second place, the spirit of this world is the mindset of this evil world. Natural man and woman are given over to the vain and empty philosophies, trends, and goals of this unbelieving world. Natural man is of this world, so he thinks like the world. He sees no farther than this present world and uses this creation in the service of man rather than the service of God. Natural man refuses the things of the Spirit because God has not revealed them to him. God has hidden these things from the wise and prudent of this world. God raises up pastors and teachers in His church who preach God’s Word in power. God uses the preaching to save His people. But Paul says that the things that are preached are God’s hidden wisdom. They remain a mystery to the natural man because only one who is given the Spirit will come to an understanding of them. God does not give the wicked man the things of the Spirit. God hides these things, Jesus says, from the wicked of this world.

II. A Spiritual Knowledge

The result of the work of the Spirit in our hearts, as we learn in our text and the verses surrounding, is the ability to know the things of God. When God by His grace through the Spirit reveals to His people the things that pertain to His kingdom, they know them. Now, we made reference several times to “the things” Paul speaks of here but have not explained what exactly those things are. Paul makes repeated reference to “the things” throughout this chapter. In verse 9 the things refer to that which God has prepared for us in heaven. In verse 10, they are the deep things of God. But what specifically are these things?

The only answer can be that they are the whole of our knowledge concerning God, man and his fall, Jesus Christ and our salvation, the church and the things that will take place in the end times. Added to this is the knowledge of heaven and its beauty. Those to whom the Spirit reveals all these great and marvelous truths of Scripture are given freely by God in His grace to know them. But this knowledge is not merely an intellectual ability to memorize and recount these truths for others to hear. It includes that, of course. Knowledge indeed involves the intellect. The knowledge we receive of God has content. The less a saint knows of the objective truths of Scripture, the weaker is his faith. This is true because the knowledge of our text is, in fact, the knowledge of faith. It is a certain knowledge—a knowledge by which we hold as true everything that is taught us in the holy gospel. When the Spirit is active in the heart of God’s people, that Spirit works in them a firm, unwavering conviction that all the things of God’s kingdom taught in the Bible he has come to know are true. Not simply factual. That too, but also that they are part and parcel of life and the very things that motivate him or her in life. They steer the believer, they navigate or pilot him or her to determine right from wrong, both doctrinally and in faith and walk. All these things make sense to the child of God! They make sense! They are clear and easy to understand. With the knowledge of faith, he embraces these things as the most precious of gifts. He receives them from the hand of God and walks in confidence that he is Christ’s and Christ is God’s.

All this is true because the Spirit of Christ has applied to the heart of each and every elect believer the work our Savior has performed for us on the cross and in His resurrection. The Spirit imparts to us the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the power of Christ crucified we have come to know the things of the kingdom of heaven.

The natural man? The natural man cannot know the things of the Spirit, Paul explains in verse 14. He cannot know them. He has no ability in him to know them. The Spirit does not dwell in him. The Spirit does not reveal these things to him. It is therefore impossible for natural man, reprobate man, to know God and the things of the Spirit. It is like asking an 8-year-old boy to pick up a sack of concrete that weighs 80 pounds and carry it across the yard. The boy does not have the muscle to do it. He cannot do it. The ability is not in him. So it is with the natural man, he does not even have the ability to know God in the true sense of the word. He can know about God and say that he believes there is a God. He might know about Jesus Christ and salvation. But the natural man does not love them. His life is not devoted to them and their service.

This is therefore the idea behind what Paul instructs us in the rest of verse 14 concerning the natural man: the things of the Spirit are foolishness to him. Paul tells us that the natural man does not receive, that is, embrace or take hold of, the things of the Spirit. It is not as if men are able to resist the work of the Spirit. When God chooses to work in the heart of a man through His Spirit, that work of the Spirit is irresistible. He is all powerful to bring a sinner to repentance and faith. The natural man, however, is not able in himself, apart from the work of the Spirit, to know the great truths of Scripture the believer has come to know and believe. These wonderful truths that become the very heart and core of our existence are foolishness to the natural man. He laughs at them. He rejects them. He scorns the believer for maintaining them. He has no spiritual ability in him to be humbled by God’s Word and bow in sorrow over sin.

III. Spiritual Discernment

This is true, of course, because the natural man has no spiritual discernment. Such is what we learn at the end of verse 14. Spiritual discernment is the ability to examine something to determine its value. The natural man does not have the spiritual ability to discern spiritual things. By God’s grace and through the working of the Spirit we make a spiritual discernment of what has been revealed to us. When we examine the things of the Spirit we find them to be excellent! The Word of God is in no way deficient! The gospel contains everything we need for spiritual life and health. It is hard to believe that so many do not want it, so excellent it is to us!

So, here is the conclusion to the matter: the believer hears the preaching of the gospel. He determines that the gospel preached is excellent no matter who preaches it. This is true because the Spirit has revealed to him the deep things of God and of Jesus Christ. The members of Christ’s church will then rejoice in the gospel proclaimed to them. What a precious gift we as God’s people have freely received from God. We know Him! Not many do. In that we rejoice.