“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. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.”—1 Corinthians 2:14–15
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”—1 Corinthians 3:1–2
It is obvious to all of us, I am sure, that there are vast differences in Christian experiences. There are some of God’s children who enjoy their religion a great deal more than others do. They have more victory in their lives and greater blessings upon their testimony. Not only is this a condition of Christian life today, but it has ever been so, even in the days of the Apostles, as these Scriptures indicate. You will observe in these chapters the Apostle Paul is not only dealing with these differences, but he is pointing out a way to triumph for every Christian. Don’t forget that. He is pointing out a way of triumph for every believer. You will notice that he divides the human family into three distinct groups, the “natural” man, the “carnal” man, and the “spiritual.”
The term “natural” includes in its meaning all that are outside of Christ. All who are not Christians are covered by that term. Of course, Paul recognized as we do that there are different kinds of sinners. They differ morally, physically, mentally, and in many other ways, but all the unsaved are included in the term “natural,” because they are without the spirit of Christ.
The “carnal” man differs from the “natural” in that he has been born again. He is a “babe in Christ.” I would like you to keep that fact in mind, for there has been considerable preaching in the past about “carnality” that would lead one to believe that any one who can be brought under the classification of “carnal” is not a Christian at all. That teaching is not in keeping with the Scripture. The “spiritual” man is the Spirit-filled believer, and as such he is able to receive or discern the deep things of God.
The Spiritual Test
During the last few years there have been a great many tests given through the press and otherwise as to efficiency and mentality. Paul here is giving us a test as to our spirituality, and he groups us according to our ability to receive spiritual truth and comprehend things that are divine. In the first place he tells us that the natural man is unable “to receive the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.” Mark this: he is not blamed because he cannot comprehend these things. He is not charged with sin because of this limitation. It is simply a plain, emphatic statement of fact that “he cannot receive the things of God” because they are spiritually discerned. He has “the spirit of man.” Paul tells us in the preceding chapter “by the spirit of man he can know the things of man.” Some of these things of men concerning science and philosophy and astronomy are away beyond some of us ordinary people. Wonderful things man can know by the spirit of man, but when it comes to things of God, the natural man, no matter what his native ability may be, no matter how great the wisdom he has acquired, no matter how marvelous may be his genius, “he cannot receive the things of God; neither can he know them.”
Now this is the Word of God. You say, “Why are you emphasizing it so strongly?” Because I don’t know any truth today, that needs emphasizing more than this very fact. You can educate a natural man to the highest possible degree of human intelligence, but his human wisdom will not enable him to receive the things that are spiritual. Let me read from Weymouth’s translation. This without any comment, explains the matter for us.
“For it stands written, I will exhibit the nothingness of wisdom of the wise and intelligence of the intelligent. I will bring it to naught. Where are your wise men? Where your expounders of the law? Where your investigators of the questions of this present age? Has not God shown the world’s wisdom is utter foolishness?” (1 Corinthians 1:19).
Mark you, friends, he is talking about the world’s wisdom trying to fathom the things divine and spiritual, not about things of man. “Hath not God shown the world’s wisdom to be utter foolishness?” “After the world and its wisdom have failed to gain the knowledge of God, God was pleased by the apparent foolishness of the message which we preach to save those who accept it.”
To men and women who have been born again, the message of the cross is the most wonderful word in the world. To us who are saved, says the apostle, it is not only “the power of God, but the wisdom of God.” I never get beyond the place of marvel at the plan of His salvation. When I stop to think that “I am what I am,” and of the hope that I have, my expectation for the future, and all this because of the grace of God, it is more and more a marvel. But to the natural man this is “foolishness.” Why? Because he cannot know the things that are freely given to us of God because he has only his natural wisdom to depend on.
In Nicodemus we have a good example of what I am trying to teach. He was a ruler among the Jews. That means he was a doctor of the law. He was a religious leader and he recognized in Christ a great man, but he did not see His deity as Peter did. You remember when the Master asked the question, “Whom do men say that I am?” Peter replied, “I say thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” What a revelation to come to a man’s heart! I am glad the way is plain and simple. The Lord will lead those who put their trust in Him though they may not have the greatest mentality. Jesus said on one occasion, “I thank Thee, O Father, that thou has not revealed these things unto the wise and prudent but thou hast revealed them unto babes.” Now Nicodemus was a scholar. He came to Christ as a scholar. “I know that thou art a Teacher,” he said. You see he knew that. But Jesus looking at him and fully understanding the difficulty said, “Nicodemus, except a man (the natural man) be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Please note this: “He cannot see it.” It is “foolishness unto him.”
Away back a century ago when Wilberforce was great because of his bills before the English Parliament to do away with slave trade in Europe, it is related of him that he was greatly concerned about Pitt, the Prime Minister of England, a very brilliant man, a great statesman. In those days Lord Cecil, a man of God and a strong preacher of the Gospel was being greatly used in the conversion of his fellows. Wilberforce felt that could he bring Pitt under the influence of Cecil’s preaching, he would surely be convinced and converted. When the occasion presented itself, he urged Pitt to accompany him to one of Cecil’s meetings, which he did. It is said that on that occasion the preacher seemed to be at his best and the Gospel was preached in the demonstration of the Spirit and in power. On leaving the meeting, Wilberforce was anxious to know the effect it had upon the Prime Minister, and he asked him what he thought of the sermon. Pitt replied, “To tell you the truth, Wilberforce, I gave that man my most careful attention from start to finish, but I was wholly unable to understand what he was talking about.” Now think of it! Here was a man with a great mind as to things of the world. He could deal with great political problems, grasp the trend of any argument as to politics or material things, but he was “wholly unable” to receive the simple and plain teachings of the cross of Christ. Why was that? Because he was a “natural” man, with only the spirit of man in him.
Oh, my dear brother, my sister, if you had a vision of the cross of Christ, if you are rejoicing and enjoying the consequent peace and assurance that comes from that vision, thank God that one day the Holy Spirit came to your help, opened your blinded eyes and gave you the true conception of the mission of Christ.
A number of years ago while in a former pastorate, I was asked by a ministerial association to read a paper one Monday morning. The subject assigned was “The Deepest Need of Man.” I think that subject was given me for a purpose. Now I took good care to embody in that essay nearly all of the third chapter of Romans, because I don’t know of any place where you will get a better picture of the deepest need of man than you will get there. It is needless for me to say that my presentation of the subject was not wholly acceptable to the many present. Indeed, it met with much hostile criticism as I had expected. A week or two after the incident, I happened to be dining with a few ministers of the Gospel who were saying goodbye to a brother preacher. One of those who had objected to the statements in my paper jokingly asked, “Well, Philpott, what about the old theology this week?”
“Oh, it’s all right,” I replied, or said something to that effect. I did not care to argue on this occasion.
“But seriously,” he said, “I am thinking about what you were saying the other day, and I have been wondering what you would do if one of the students from the college came up to your house some evening greatly perplexed and requested you to explain for him the first three chapters of Genesis. Suppose the professor at the school had been teaching him a modern theory about creation which conflicted with the plain statements of the Book. How would you deal with this young man?”
“Well,” I said, “I would ask him first of all if he knew anything at all about the third chapter of John’s Gospel.”
“Why,” said my friend, “what has that to do with it?”
I replied, “Doctor, it has everything to do with it. God does not begin with a sinner at the first three chapters of Genesis. He begins at the third chapter of John. ‘Ye must be born again or ye cannot see the kingdom of God.’ When he has experienced the change of heart that Christ Himself emphasized was absolutely necessary to the understanding of things spiritual, he will have no difficulty whatever with the first three chapters of Genesis.”
The Spirit of God that moved men to write the holy Word can interpret and confirm it even to ordinary people. The first three chapters of Genesis are no more wonderful than the experience of the new creation that takes place when men and women receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. I am convinced that nearly all of the destructive criticism in our day is coming from men who have never experienced the new birth.
The Carnal Man
Now coming to the second group, let me read you the apostle’s words, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk and not with meat, for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” The vital difference between the natural man and the carnal man is that the latter has experienced the new birth. He is a babe in Christ. You cannot have a babe without a birth. Everything begins there. So by birth this man has come into a right relation to Jesus Christ. Not only has he received Him as his Saviour, but he has received the spirit of sonship. “Because ye are sons God has sent forth the spirit of His Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father’.” It is certainly a wonderful experience to become a child of God through Jesus Christ. It means that we are saved from the wrath to which the natural man is exposed. Paul, in the second chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians says, “By nature we are children of wrath even as others.” So you see the natural man is exposed to the wrath of God. But the man who receives Jesus as a Saviour is delivered from this judgment. “There is, therefore, now no condemnation (no judgment) to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Speaking of the believer, Jesus said, “He shall not come into judgment.”
Paul’s concern for these Corinthians was that their babyhood days were greatly protracted. There was not the growth and the development that there should be. They were dominated very largely by the flesh.
I heard Andrew Murray many years ago say, “If you want the real meaning of the word ‘flesh’ as used in the Bible, take off the last letter and spell the word backwards.” The carnal man is dominated more or less by selfish desires, selfish wisdom and ambitions. He is not fully and unreservedly submitted to the control of the Holy Spirit, and hence the flesh dominates him. “I cannot speak unto you as unto spiritual,” says the apostle, “because ye are carnal, and walk as men.” Now I am afraid a great many of God’s children are in this condition of protracted infancy. In another Epistle, the apostle, speaking of some things “hard” to be uttered says, “Seeing ye are dull of hearing, for the time ye should be teachers ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat.” The apostle declared that he had to treat these Christians as babes when they really should be teachers.
Now do not think I am censorious, but I honestly believe that that picture of babyhood fairly represents a great percentage of church members in this day, and it is sad indeed. A baby, you know, is one of the most delightful things in the world, with its dimpled fists and pink toes and winning smile. But after six or eight months if there is no growth, if the baby remains the same size and there is no development in its body or brain power, you begin to get serious and worried. At the end of two or three years if the child has not grown at all you say, “There is surely some dreadful disease at work here.” Surely. That is what is the matter with the church, and Paul called the disease “carnality.”
There is another thing about babies that we all must recognize. They need a great deal of attention. They never take care of any one else; they must always be cared for themselves. They must be cuddled and coaxed and sometimes punished. The Lord pity the preacher who has a membership made up entirely of babies. It is a sad thing when after months and years of professed Christian experience there is no victory, no triumph, no definite ministry for the Master. If half of the church members were to stand on their feet and testify to actual experience, they would tell you that the first three months were the best months of their Christian life. Beloved people, if this is the condition there is something radically wrong.
You will notice as you read on in this chapter that some of the marks of the carnal state are “envying, strife and division.” If you compare the fifth chapter of Galatians you will find that these are the works of the flesh.
The Spiritual Man
In the fifteenth verse of the second chapter Paul says that the spiritual man discerneth all things. There are two great changes that come to us. The first we have been considering, the change from the natural man to the babe in Christ. But there is another change, my friends, which is just as distinct and just as real and definite, which takes place when a definite and complete consecration is made by the believer. It is for this that the apostle appeals in Romans 12:1.
Someone asked me the other day if I believed that all believers have the Holy Spirit, and I answered immediately, “Of course I do.” “Without the Spirit of Christ we are none of His.” But beloved friends, there is a vast difference, as someone has said, between your having the Spirit of Christ, and the Holy Spirit possessing you. That is the thought that we are trying to emphasize. When the life is really opened up to Him he takes possession of it and bears the fruit. I think we have a good picture of these two experiences in Romans 7 and 8. Maybe some here won’t agree with me when I say that the 7th of Romans represents the experiences of many a Christian. “Do you really think that the 7th of Romans is Christian experience?” someone asks. We reply, “No, but the 7th of Romans is the experience of a great many Christians. The 8th of Romans is Christian experience, and it is the experience of the spiritual man.” In the 7th, Paul says, “The things I would do I cannot do,” etc.
I say, “Paul, what’s the matter?”
In the 14th verse he tells me, “I am carnal. I am dominated by the flesh.”
But when we go into the 8th chapter we get the picture of the spiritual man. He is made “Free from the law of sin and death” by “the Spirit of life.” In the first sixteen verses of this chapter you have the seven fruits of the Spirit. If you want a contrast between the carnal and the spiritual, take chapters four and five of Ephesians. There the Apostle Paul is showing the things of the carnal man. They are “envy, hate, malice, foolish talking, jesting,” etc., and we are urged to put off all these and be “filled with the Spirit.” This is God’s way of producing Christian life and testimony.
In the 5th of Galatians Paul tells us what the fruit of the Spirit is. In other words, it is a picture of real Christian character. I frequently hear men talking about character building. That is a favorite theme for some when they address shop meetings and gatherings of young men. Why, bless your heart, if you will open your life to the Holy Spirit He will give you more character in ten minutes than you can build in twenty years. It is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, temperance (or better translated self-control). Talk about controlling your passions and desires! Here is the secret.
I had an old friend who some time ago went to heaven, whom God greatly used both as a preacher and writer, especially on the deeper life. He told me this incident:
“I was in a Western university and thought that I was going to be thoroughly equipped for the work of the ministry. Just before the graduating exercises the class to which I belonged was addressed by an old-fashioned preacher of the Gospel, a man who had been greatly used in the conversion of his fellows. After he had talked to us about the trials and triumphs of the ministry he finished by saying, ‘And now, young men, you are leaving this institution with a feeling that you are thoroughly equipped for the great work of saving men, but let me tell you this: when the Holy Spirit gets full possession of your heart and mind, He will teach you more about the things of God in a few minutes than you have learned all these years from men and books.’ I prided myself upon that academic training and was so annoyed with what the old man had said that I could hardly retain my seat. But several months later, while meeting the actual difficulties in the work, I was brought to a place where I felt that something more must be accomplished in my life and I hungered for the ‘fullness’ of God.”
You know, my dear friends, when you hunger for the fullness you are soon going to get somewhere, for “he filleth the hungry soul with goodness. He satisfieth the longing soul.” So my old friend said, “I knew more about God and things spiritual in a few minutes than I had learned all those years before.”
Is this fact not illustrated most clearly and strongly in the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles? They were just “Babes in Christ” prior to that day when the Holy Spirit filled them. They could not grasp His plan or His program. A material kingdom bulked very largely in their conception of things. But filled with the Spirit, Peter seems to have comprehended the whole plan of Christ in a few minutes.
I have sometimes thought that when Peter was an old man someone asked him, “What was the secret of the wisdom and power accompanying that sermon on the Day of Pentecost?”
He would reply, “The Gospel was preached unto them by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.”
Take for example the sermon of Stephen in the 7th chapter of the Acts. What a defense of the faith! They could not “resist the wisdom with which he spake, and his face did shine like the face of an angel.” When we ask the secret of this layman’s power we are told that Stephen “Was a good man, filled with the Holy Ghost.”
We have also a striking example in the case of Paul himself. Saved on the road to Damascus, three days later there came to him an ordinary layman who prayed that he might be filled with the Holy Ghost. But you will observe in that chapter he does not talk about the fullness of the Spirit. The statement is, “filled with the Holy Ghost he preached that Christ was the Son of the living God.” “Out of his innermost soul,” said Jesus, “shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Holy Spirit.” I like the thought of living water. You can’t produce living waters by human energy. You can have all sorts of education and great orations, you can be a wonderful preacher, but you cannot produce living water. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
A number of years ago I heard of a brother minister who was pastor of a church. The church was “dead” indeed. He came to a place of wholesome dissatisfaction, that is, he was not satisfied simply to draw a salary and read statistics at an annual convention. He felt that God had called him to something definite and real as a preacher, and more than that he was convicted of his self-seeking and indifference to the needs of the world about him. This led to heart searching and seeking after God. He spent one whole night in prayer and came to the place of a full and glad surrender. He had a special sermon prepared for his congregation on the following Sunday morning. He was looking for something definite now. After giving out his text he preached but a few moments when he seemed to be terribly confused. Everything went from him and the devil whispered in his ear, “This is the outcome of your consecration and your night of prayer. See what a fool you made of yourself?” He was so embarrassed that he sat down behind the pulpit and buried his face in his hands to weep. He expected the whole congregation would arise and leave the building. On hearing a commotion he ventured to look up only to find that the people were coming down the aisles to kneel about the platform seeking the fullness of the blessing of God.
You see, the rivers of living water began to flow. “It is not by might, nor by power but by my spirit saith the Lord.”