What the spiritual person is not.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16, ESV)
I was commissioned into the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1974. One of the books I had was called the “Officer’s Guide.” This guide is still published for use by Army officers today. It contains information that is designed to ensure that officers would look and act in accordance with their important position. This was important for the function of the Army and to reflect highly upon the United States and the Army.
However, unfortunately, there were times when officers did not reflect the high standards expected of them. In these cases, there were often breakdowns in the command structure, performance, and reputation of the officer and potentially their units. In these cases, superior officers would take action to remedy the deficiencies in their subordinate officers.
There is a similarity in the walk of a believer in Jesus. By faith, the believer has become the spiritual person. Yet sometimes believers do not act like the spiritual persons that they are. In these cases, the believer’s ability to walk in victory is significantly diminished. Accordingly, the believer’s ability to hear and respond to the voice of the Lord is hindered.
Am I Living Like a Spiritual Person?
The first and most important filter has to do with the heart of the believer. To apply this filter, the believer needs to honestly and prayerfully ask this question. “Am I living like a spiritual person?” If the believer is not, he or she cannot trust their thoughts or ideas, for they will come from a corrupt heart. This was the question at the heart of Paul’s exhortation to the church in Corinth.
“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Corinthians 3:1–3, ESV)
The believers in Corinth had a drastic flaw in their character. The evidence of this was strife and jealousy between members of their congregation. The cause of this was that they were living by the flesh and not the Spirit. So, let us first look at what a spiritual person is and is not.
What the spiritual person is not.
Looking at the church in Corinth, we see a picture of the believer who is not acting like the spiritual person that the Lord desires. The basis of our self-examination will first of all be to identify flaws in our hearts.
The spiritual person is not an unsaved person. – Chapter 2 of the previous section covered this point in answering the question, “Am I a spiritual person?” Paul wrote to the Corinthians the following vital truth.
“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.” (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)
In the context of this verse, Paul explained that only the Spirit of God can understand the things of God (2:10-13). Thus, the natural man who cannot understand the things of God is the man void of the Spirit. The man void of the Spirit is one who is unsaved since every true believer is indwelt by the Spirit (Romans 8:9).
The man without the Spirit is spiritually deaf. He cannot truly hear the voice of God because he has never heard and responded to the call of salvation. He has never trusted in the finished work of Christ through which one must be saved. Therefore, he does not receive the things of the Spirit and neither does he understand them. The word Paul uses here for understand is ginosko. It refers to a knowledge that one gains through experience (Thayer p35). Since the person has no experience with Christ, he or she cannot understand the things of God.
The spiritual person is not a fleshly driven person. – Paul explains that infants in Christ are fleshly persons. The word for infant, nepios, refers to one who is a babe in knowledge, unlearned, or simple (Thayer p123). This person is a believer, but still acting as an infant in the faith. This acting as an infant is not restricted to those who have just professed faith in Christ. Some have been in the faith for years, but never progressed beyond childish things. Paul indicates two flaws with these people.
The fleshly person is flawed in his or her thinking. – Paul explains that these people are on milk rather than solid food. The writer of Hebrews echoes this thought (Hebrews 5:11-14). They have not adequately grasped the basic tenets of the faith and need the same things explained repeatedly. Thus, they have not matured sufficiently to move to solid food. Often these people are legalistic, needing to follow external rules and regulations. Others are very liberal, believing that they can do whatever they want, and it is ok. This is because they have not progressed to a point where they know what it means to live by the Spirit (Gal 5:16).
The fleshly person is flawed in his or her living. – Paul explains that these Corinthians behaved in a human way, characterized by jealousy and strife. The fleshly person frequently allows certain characteristics of the human nature to control his or her life. This person acts in a childish way regarding the faith.
Anyone who has had children understands the picture that Paul painted here. There is a phase in childhood development that we call “the terrible twos.” It is that period in development where the child already has begun to understand parental instruction and exhortation. When our daughter was at this stage, my wife told her not to touch the stove. What did she do? You guessed it, she touched the stove. She understood mom’s command but chose to disobey. While she did understand the word “no,” she would constantly disregard the warning. This is childish behavior. She was not ready to move onto more advanced things like how to cook or use an oven, because she still did not understand what it meant to heed warnings. Immature and childish believers are like this. They need basic things repeated and are unable to progress because of fleshly behaviors.
Therefore, we conclude that the spiritual person is not an unsaved person. We also conclude that the believer living like a spiritual person does not let fleshly desires dominate his or her life. Thus, these two types of people cannot discern their thoughts to determine if they are from God or their own human desires.