The Natural Man and the Spiritual Man

Good evening, please open your bibles to 1st Corinthians. The text to which we will turn our attention is found at the end of chapter 2 in 1st Corinthians. We will tonight continue our journey through Paul’s words to the church of God in Corinth, and the church of God today. Paul has been teaching us what it means to be truly wise.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Paul is here in the middle of an extended argument. He has been contrasting the wisdom of this world, or fleshly wisdom, with the true wisdom of God, spiritual wisdom, which is preeminently seen in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.

This wisdom of Christ crucified, Paul says, is the Power of God, and the only sure foundation of his ministry, he makes plain at the beginning of this chapter. But the Corinthians, however, have fallen for the temptation of worldliness. They were fighting and arguing and splitting over worldly estimations of wisdom. They were drawn toward impressive rhetoric and eloquent teaching. And the church was dividing over this. They thought themselves to the wise and mature ones, but in fact they were the infants in the faith, as demonstrated by their falling for the world’s wisdom.

Then Paul moves from contrasting the foolish and the wise to contrasting the spirit of God and the spirit of the world. That’s what we discussed last time. Paul highlights the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work. That’s why we discussed the importance of understanding WHO the Holy Spirit is, in order that we may rightly understand WHAT the Holy Spirit does. Paul is laying this deep doctrinal foundation regarding the Spirit because he will later correct the Corinthians for their errant views on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

And then we move to our text at the end of chapter 2, where we see the third contrast found in this chapter. Paul juxtaposes the natural man and the spiritual man. Or we could say the worldly or fleshly person contrasted with spiritual or wise person.

Let’s read our text together, and then we’ll continue. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16:

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Paul here is laying some pretty substantial theological footings for us, specifically regarding our doctrine of man, or what theologians call, our theological anthropology. It is on the doctrine of man that we will mainly focus our attention. I only have 2 main points tonight. We’ll look first at man in his natural state, or man as he is born into this world. Then, we’ll spend the remainder of the time looking at man as a believer, that is, looking at men and women as they have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, or given the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination.

Before I jump into Paul’s words, let me make a quick recommendation to you regarding the doctrine of man, or theological anthropology. You could do a lot worse than reading Thomas Boston’s classic work, Human Nature in its Fourfold State. He has four parts to the book: man in his innocence (or man as he was created in the garden); man in his state of nature (or man as fallen); Man in his state of grace (that is us as saved, but still living in this fallen world); and lastly man in his eternal state (which looks at what we will be like in heaven). It’s a wonderful book, that is available for free online. Thomas Boston, Human Nature In Its Fourfold State. Much of what I say tonight is covered much more thoroughly in Boston’s work.

So let’s begin and look at verse 14, where we see the inability of natural man. The inability of natural man.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Paul says in this one verse three important things about the natural man, or about men and women as they are born into this fallen world.

First, the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit. He does not accept them. He refuses to acknowledge them as true and good. He may have a cognitive grasp of individual components, he may understand the singular data points and the logical flow of the arguments, but he does not accept as valid and good the things of the Spirit of God.

But Paul goes on. He says that, secondly, not only does the nature man not accept the things of the spirit, but He considers the things of the Spirit to be folly. The fallen, sinful man considers the spiritual things of God to be utter foolishness. He doesn’t merely misunderstand spiritual things, and then retain a sort of neutrality toward them. He mocks them. He derides them. He dishonors the things of God by rejecting them, and rejecting Him. The cross is nonsense, and the idea of a god-man is just silly.

There is no neutrality in the area of spiritual things. That’s in part why Jesus said in Matthew 12:30 that “whoever is not with me is against me.” You can’t be impartial in the realm of spiritual things. You’re either spiritual, enlightened by God’s spirit to see the Cross as the glory of God, or you’re fleshly, blind to the things of the spirit, and therefore conclude that the very wisdom of God seen in the cross is utter foolishness. They are polar opposite positions, with different starting points and irreconcilable conclusions.

God’s work on the cross is either the height of wisdom, and therefore worthy of all acceptance, or the cross is the height of folly, and therefore worthy of all rejection. And the natural man concludes in his blindness and pride that the cross is the height of folly.

But why does he do this? Paul tells us.

He says at the end of this verse a third aspect of the natural man’s condition, and this is hugely significant for us to understand. Paul says that the natural man is NOT ABLE to understand the things of the Spirit. He’s not able to grasp the things of the spirit.

It’s not that he has entered into clear-headed deliberations from a neutral and clinical position of impartiality. No. Paul’s understanding, THE BIBLE’s understanding of every man, woman, and child ever since the fall in Genesis 3 is that we are blind toward the things of God. We’re blind, unable to even discern the things of the spirit.

We’re blinded by sin, blinded by love of man’s praise, blinded by our pride, blinded by our selfish ambition, blinded by our lusts, blinded by our own darkness. Not only that, we love our blindness, and we’re opposed to the light. That’s why Jesus said in John 3:19, “the light [that is, Jesus] has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” Man is morally unable to perceive the light, to see the things of the Spirit of God, and thus needs God’s Holy Spirit to work in his heart, give him understanding, illumine his darkened mind and heart, if he is ever going to come to love the things of God.

That’s the state of fallen man. He:

(1) doesn’t understand the things of God

(2) he believes them to be folly,

(3) he’s not able to understand them.

A couple of quick applications for us from this theology of fallen man. First, we ought to have Utter dependence upon the work of the spirit in conversions, rather than fleshly efforts and tactics. I’ve mentioned this in other sermons so I won’t linger here. But Paul’s arguments about the nature of wisdom, how that wisdom is revealed, and how mankind exists in his fallen nature ALL should eliminate from our thinking the idea that we can humanly manufacture converts.

People all the time slip into the temptation to try and use fleshly means to produce spiritual results. They turn to the latest marketing research, or public speaking tactics, or demographic surveys, or advertising wisdom, or whatever. They say things like,

“we’ve got to reach a new generation, so we need new tools. Preaching was fine for Paul’s generation, because they were used to extended public monologues. But we’ve got to reach millennials and generation Z people, and they’re all visual. We need videos and clips and sound bites and drama and whatever else. Boring old preaching will never work. Preaching will drive them away.”

Rubbish. Paul’s argumentation here stands as valid today because his arguments are built upon the very nature of man, the core of his very being. Man today may think he is more sophisticated, or more learned because he has electricity and phone, but man’s nature has not changed since Genesis 3. He was blind right after the fall, is blind to things of God now, and WILL Be blind to the things of the spirit until GOD opens his eyes. And how has God works to open man’s eyes is through the preaching of the cross. Through simple, unadorned, unembellished, preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified in the place of sinners.

Thus, our understanding of the nature of fallen man ought to produce in us Utter dependence upon the work of the spirit in conversions, rather than fleshly efforts and tactics.

Second, not only do we eschew fleshly tactics that try to humanly manufacture conversions, but also our understanding of fallen man’s condition ought to produce an Utter dependence upon the work of the spirit for evangelistic fruit. Paul’s teaching ought to produce an Utter dependence upon the work of the spirit for evangelistic fruit: prayerful, spirit-reliant, zealous, and bold evangelism ought to mark the people of God.

That’s what we were reminded of last week at the missions conference. Confidence in God’s sovereign mission and His spiritual work in the hearts of his people should propel us to bold proclamation of this good news, whether at work or in our neighborhood or in Timbuktu. Wherever we are called, God’s electing and saving purposes, and his work through Jesus on the cross to bring those purposes to fulfillment, ought to be the fuel that drives us to speak warmly of the God who has saved us.

Christ died for my sin. Christ washed me of my anxiety. Christ atoned for my laziness. Christ redeemed me from my enslavement to the fear of man. All of it has been done away with on the cross. What love he has shown me! What love I have tasted at the cross! Love. Love! That’s what drives us to proclaim the good news. Not mere duty. Not mere obligation.

Love is what sustains the fires of evangelism. Love is what keeps us going when we don’t see any immediate fruit. Love is what sustains us when we’re maligned and mocked. And I can love through it all because I have seen true Love: the god-man Jesus hanging on the cross in my place.

And the only reason I can see that Love is because the Spirit has made me able to see it. Have you seen that love? Have you tasted the true, sacrificial love of Jesus that is seen most clearly at the cross? If so, cherish it. Meditate upon it. Have it in your heart and before your eyes often, and you’ll find it easier to speak warmly and often of Jesus.

If you haven’t tasted that love, then consider the cross of Jesus. How he gave up everything to save His enemies. How he laid down his life for rebels and enemies. How he did it all, not to gain something he lacked, but simply because of the benevolent goodness and love in himself. Think about that love, and call out to God to reveal more of that love to you. Come and sit at the feet of the cross and hear more of his love and have your heart of stone melted by his love, and have your eyes enlightened by his illuminating Holy Spirit.

Next, we’ve examined man in his natural state. Now let’s look at my second point, from verses 15 & 16, and see the spiritual ability of the enlightened. The spiritual ability of the enlightened.

15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

A few quick words about what Paul is and is not saying in this text, and then we’ll spend the balance of our time really driving home some practical points of application for us.

When Paul says that the “Spiritual person judges all things,” he is not saying that we become omniscient when we get saved. He’s merely contrasting that in the realm of spiritual wisdom, the spiritual person is qualified to discern, as opposed to the natural man, who is not fit to be a judge of ANYTHING spiritual. The fallen man may be a fine judge in other areas: he may be a wonderful brain surgeon, or a great engineer, but he’s not fit to be even a voice at the table when it comes to discerning spiritual truth.

And why is that, you may ask me? Go back and listen to the previous point. That’s why. The natural man is unfit because he is unable. And consequently, that’s why Paul says the spiritual person is himself “judged by no one” or we could say “subject to no one.” It doesn’t mean that the believer is above criticism, or that we have nothing to learn from non-Christians.

It means that because the believer has been given “mind of Christ,” which is alien to the unbeliever, and therefore insofar as the mind of Christ is foreign to the unbeliever, so too will WE be alien to the unbeliever as well.

Remember Jesus’s words from John 15:

18 d“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose   you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.  But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

The gulf between a believer and unbeliever is huge, and the chasm between spiritual belief and worldly inability to believe is so great that only the Spirit of God can bridge the gap.

But Praise be to God that the Spirit has bridged the gap in us. That’s the good news of cross. That although we were dead, we were lifeless and hopeless, we were unable to see the glory of God revealed in the cross, were stuck in our sins and loving every bit of it,

But, God has come. God has worked. God has redeemed. God has sent his very spirit to remove the blinders of Sin and let us see his glory revealed at Calvary. He’s let us understand and cherish the work of grace done by Christ dying in the place of sinners like you and me, and he’s set us on a new trajectory of life and holiness that is guided by his very own Holy Spirit.

That’s the gospel. Not that we were so great and so clever and so sharp as to figure it out on our own. We were blind. We were unable. We were incapable of even seeing God’s glory right in front of us. But he acted. Praise be to God for his spiritual work of enlightening our eyes to see His glory displayed on the cross at Calvary.

But the Spirit’s work in the life of a believer doesn’t stop at illumination and conversion. The Holy Spirit doesn’t stop working in us after he reveals the wisdom of God to us. I’d like to spend the remainder of our time tonight thinking a little bit about what comes next.

To what end are we enlightened by the Holy Spirit? Why does the spirit reveal to us the wisdom from God?

To begin to answer that question I’d like for you to turn to 1 Thessalonians 4. 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, just a few books later in the New Testament. Paul wrote this letter while he was in Corinth, which, as we have discussed, was a city full of sexual sin and perversion that was committed under the cover of darkness.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, and as I read it, take note of his connection between knowledge and holiness, connection between what you KNOW and your PURITY:

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you KNOW what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.For this is the will of God, your sanctification [or Holiness. But what exactly do you mean Paul?]: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

We’ve come to know, and therefore should be holy. God has given to us his very Spirit of Holiness, and it follows that we too would grow in our holiness, in our purity. To say it another way, Paul is arguing that the Wisdom of God has been REVEALED to us, we’ve come to KNOW it, and therefore we ought to be PURE, we ought to be HOLY.

And he specifically ties it to sexual purity, which doesn’t surprise me given the issues that he has seen at Corinth. Verse 3: This is the will of God, your sanctification: {which he immediately expounds by saying] that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

We’ll cover this topic more fully in the coming chapters of 1 Corinthians, but the point is worth making here too: people filled with the Holy Spirit ought not be engaged in unholy things. This was an unpopular message in Paul’s day, and it is equally unpopular today, but sexual activity is only Holy when it is done within the bounds of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage covenant.

I read an article this week that said that 1 in every 6 people born between 1997 and 2002 identifies as something other than heterosexual. That’s a huge number, 1 out of every 6. Believers, we must not equivocate on this issue of sexual immorality. It’s not cute to be a little bisexual. It’s not exotic and exciting to have a little experimentation. Homosexuality, or sexual immorality of any kind is absolute sin. No questions about it. Churches are caving on this issue all around us, parents are failing their children on this issue every day, but we must be clear.

Sexual sin is wicked and despicable before God, and it will ruin your life here too. It is the path of death. That’s why Paul makes very clear later in 1st Corinthians that the sexually immoral, and adulterers, and those who practice homosexuality WILL NOT INHEIRIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

We’ve been called to be HOLY, to keep our bodies pure. Believer, if you’re dabbling with sexual sin, be warned, you’re dabbling with death. Cut it off and RUN. Run far. Get help. Confess your sin to God, and flee the temptation. Keep your feet far from the path of Lady Folly, Proverbs says, and stay close to the wife of your youth.

Holiness. Purity. Abstaining from Sexual immorality. That is the will of God for you. That’s a big part of WHY He’s revealed His wisdom to you by His Holy Spirit. That’s what it means to be a spiritual person, a wise person, a person who understands and knows the wisdom of the cross. To be spiritual, to be wise, is to be Holy. It is to be pure.

Which also leads to a related passage for us in the book of James. James says something similar about Godly wisdom in James chapter 3. Do you remember what James says about heavenly wisdom?

James says in chapter 3 verse 17 that, “the wisdom from above is first pure, which is exactly what Paul would say. But then James continues:

the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable,

Peaceable. We might translate it as Peace-loving. Heavenly wisdom produces a winsome amicable-ness. Not pugilistic. Not always hunting for the next fight or debate. Not always at the center of some controversy.

Heavenly wisdom is the opposite of the kind of person Paul warns about in his letters. Titus 3:9, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” This kind of foolish person always seems to be arguing and debating and investigating something that is, at best, of secondary importance. In the church, they’re the leading expert on their favorite doctrine, for example. Always looking to debate about the doctrine of election. Or always looking to correct somebody else’s eschatology. Always wanting to connect everything to the book of Revelation.

You’ve probably seen how this kind of person can be tempted toward conspiracy theories too. Paul had them in his day, that’s why he said: avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law.

“You see if you take this passage from Malachi and go back to this section in 1 Kings, and then divide this number by the square root of the heads of households in Genesis 4 and carry the two over to Revelation 7 you’ll see that the mark of the beast is actually this or that.” That’s not heavenly wisdom. That’s foolish distraction, at best.

To tie together James and Paul on wisdom: Heaven wisdom is peaceable, because it is focused on the Cross, the preeminent peacemaking event. It’s not distracted by secondary discussions that are unprofitable and worthless.

But that’s a real temptation for us, whatever the topic of choice. Maybe it’s a pet doctrine, maybe it is politics, maybe it is masks and vaccines, maybe it is education and homeschooling. Whatever the hot button issue, if it has distracted us from the cross and it prevents us from being peace-makers, then we’ve missed the point.

Now let me land this plane back in 1 Corinthians. Paul’s arguments in 1 Corinthians chapters 1 & 2 have been occasioned by the Corinthian church being unholy and divisive. They have not been pure and peaceable, thus demonstrating their foolishness. They have not been acting as if they were filled with heavenly wisdom. And the church was suffering because of it.

The reputation of the church, and the name of Christ was assuredly being tarnished in the community of Corinth. Brothers and sisters, we need to be ever on guard against such temptations ourselves.

Our church, our relationships, our marriages, are separated from severe disunity and peril by just a little bit of worldly foolishness. A little bit of pride, a little bit of tolerating sexual sin, a little bit of a quarrelsome spirit, and we’re headed down the road of acting worldly and destructive.

May God help us to walk in the spirit, putting to death the deeds of the flesh, walking in heavenly wisdom, united in the mind of Christ. Amen.


You might also like...