THE NATURAL AND SPIRITUAL MAN
T. PIERCE BROWN
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, “Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man.” In my judgment, few commentaries do justice to the question of what is meant by the natural and spiritual man. Most of the new “translations” miss what he meant, partly because they were not careful to reproduce what he said, and partly because they had preconceived theological ideas about the matter.
Practically all denominations are perverted in their concepts of almost everything having to do with salvation because of their Calvinistic theological bias. Their basic idea is that the natural man is an unsaved man, born that way because of the perverted nature he inherited from Adam. As an unsaved man he can not understand what God wants. This is the reason for the statement in the Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, page 73, article 7, on Regeneration which states, “We believe that the scriptures teach that in order to be saved, man must be regenerated or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is affected in a way beyond our comprehension by the Holy Spirit in connection with divine truth so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, faith and newness of life.” Of course this does not solve the problem, for this so-called “regeneration” did not save the man, but only gives his mind a holy disposition. Note that he must have this before he can repent, have faith or newness of life. So the basic idea of all who accept the Calvinistic viewpoint is that all men are born depraved, unable to understand God’s will, and unable to do it if they did understand it, without a direct and miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit.
Before we look at the meaning of the passage, let us examine the meaning of some of the words in it. The English word, “natural” occurs at least ten times the New Testament. It is here from the Greek word “psuchikos,” which basically means “sensuous,” or that which is related to the animal senses– the ability to taste, touch, smell, feel and hear.
So, a person by his animal instincts and feelings cannot receive, learn, understand or know the things of the Spirit of God. Why? It is not because he is a wicked man, or an unsaved man. It is simply because no man, saved or unsaved, can find out by his natural senses the things of the Spirit revealed by our Father.
Surely that is so plain that it scarcely needs to be elaborated upon or illustrated, but for those who may need additional illustrations to explain it to others, this may help: What is the nature of God? Consideration of his nature is a spiritual theme, is it not? Can any person, saved or unsaved, discover that by his own senses, or natural means? Can any microscope or telescope, scales, or measuring device help us to find the correct nature of God? Or is this information only hidden from the unsaved man, even one who has been presumed to be regenerated and have a “holy disposition” of his mind? Surely any thoughtful person knows the answer to those questions! The only way those things can be known is to have them revealed through the Spirit. The Bible is that revelation. It did not come by natural means, but that is not because man has a “sinful nature.”
Even such a question as, “What is the origin of man?” cannot be discovered by any scientific method or instruments, (instruments of the natural man) no matter how sophisticated they may be. Foolish man is searching to discover by scientific experiments, inter-planetary travel, speculation, philosophy or just by observation, the origin of the universe. Natural man can not find it out by any natural means, but the Spirit of God revealed it in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Notice something very significant. We get all our information about some things by our natural, animal senses. There is nothing wrong or sinful about that. God made us that way! The scientist can, with the electronic microscope, discover many things about the atoms. But where they came from is not one of them. An astronomer can look into the heavens and see some of the wonders and glory of God by his natural means, but how they got there he must learn only by spiritual means.
The Bible picture of mankind is of an inner man and an outward man. It is not that the sinner is all outward or fleshly, and the saint is all inner or spiritual. In general, the sinner is directed by his outward or fleshly appetites, whereas the saint is directed or led primarily by the Spirit of God. However, this does not mean that the sinner cannot follow the directions of the Spirit, nor that the saint cannot be carnal and follow the directions of the flesh (1 Cor. 3:3).
When Paul said in Romans 8:9, “But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you,” he obviously did not mean that those Roman Christians were not in the fleshly body. As long as we live on the earth, we will be in the flesh in some sense. When we die, what is buried will be the natural body, whether we are saint of sinner, as 1 Corinthians15:44says, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual [body].” If one reads carefully Romans 8:5, he can see more clearly what is involved. “For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh, but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” Note the expression, “after the flesh.” That is, those who follow after the things of the flesh. They are led by their own feelings, instincts and desires. This does not mean that every fleshly feeling, instinct or desire is sinful. It does mean that if they control your life, you can never be saved. And even after you become a Christian, if you let your life be controlled by them, you will be lost.
When Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,” he is not suggesting that the wisdom of the world is bad or sinful. It is simply that one can not by all its wisdom know God and his will! To substitute human philosophy and wisdom for God’s revelation is sinful, but to use human philosophy and wisdom as God meant for them to be used is not. And they are available both for saint and sinner.
Let us summarize what is involved in the expression, “the natural man.” It is not just the unsaved man that is under consideration, but any man whose understanding, life and actions are controlled or directed by his own natural senses, whether they be emotions, thoughts, instincts, desires, tastes or feelings.
A person who is spiritual is a person whose understanding and actions are produced and directed by the Spirit of God. The word “spiritual” basically means, “produced by the Spirit of God.” Can a person be “spiritual” who is not a Christian? Any action that is produced by the Spirit of God is a spiritual action. One can understand that better if he asks the question, “Did I do that simply because I wanted to, or did I do that because I was following the leading of the Spirit?”
For example, the sinners on Pentecost who were pricked in their hearts by the Spirit were being led by the Spirit as they heard Peter say, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts2:38). Their action was therefore a “spiritual” action. But does not Paul say in Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God”? Yes, and whenever you can find a person who is continuously being led by the Spirit of God, he will be a son of God.
But every action of a sinner in turning away from his sins and becoming a child of God is a “spiritual” action, for it was originated and given by the Spirit, not by the natural wisdom of man. And it did not take a saved man to understand and obey the answer to the questions asked by the Philippian jailer (Acts16:30), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts8:36), or Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:6)! The answers given to them can be understood by all “spiritual” people who want to be directed by the Lord to know what to do to be saved. But those who are directed by and follow the natural man can never understand that, and will not obey it. We realize that this is not a complete exegesis of 1 Corinthians 2:14-14, but if it helps you to realize that “a natural man” is one who is being directed by his own natural impulses, feelings, knowledge and desires and a “a spiritual man” is one who is being directed by God’s Spirit, it may be helpful. A saved man may do many things that are just “natural” because he is a human being. They are only sinful if they are done in a way that is contrary to God’s will. An unsaved man does that which is spiritual when he does what God decrees. To the man who is only interested in doing what his senses leads him to do, the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness. But the man who is interested in doing what the Spirit wants can understand and obey them. If this were not so, it would have been silly for anyone to ever preach the gospel to anyone. Why this would ever have to be explained to anyone is a mystery, for it seems so simple that a little child should understand it.