Devotional: ‘Natural Man, Spiritual Man or Carnal Man?’

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he refers to three types of people: the Natural Man, the Spiritual Man, and the Carnal Man. What are these three types of men and which are you?

First of all, what is the Natural Man?

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14 NKJV)

The natural man is the person who does not know Christ. They have never been born-again by the Holy Spirit and therefore the Spirit does not live within them. Because the Spirit does not live within them, they neither desire spiritual things, nor can they understand them. Paul says that the things of God are foolishness to such men. To them, salvation and surrender to Christ are a waste of time. Rather than living for God, they would rather live for self. Ultimately such men will stand before God and be judged for their sin. (see Rev. 20:11-15)

The second type of man Paul refers to is the ‘Spiritual Man.’

But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:15-16 NKJV)

Perhaps the most important part of Paul’s description of the spiritual man is that he or she ‘has the mind of Christ.’ To have the mind of Christ does not mean that we reach a level of perfection or infallibility equal to Jesus. Rather it means that Christ shares with us His spiritual wisdom that enables us to see life from a heavenly perspective and therefore make decisions that are wise for both now and eternity. How does someone become a spiritual man?

First of all, to become a spiritual man, someone must be born-again by the Holy Spirit. (see John chapter 3) But that is not all. The spiritual man is also someone whose life is under the control of God’s Spirit. Notice what Paul writes -

But as it is written: “ Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Cor 2:9-12 NKJV)

Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God reveals to us His deep spiritual truths. Such truths include God’s plan of salvation as well as how to live the Christian life. We will study more this week about the spiritual man, but in brief we may say that the spiritual man is someone who is a Spirit-led man.

But there is a third type of man Paul describes and he is the ‘Carnal Man.’ Warren Wiersbe in his New Testament Commentary describes the carnal man as – “the immature Christian, the one who lives on a childhood level because he will not feed on the Word and grow.” Paul said this of the carnal man –

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Cor 3:1-3 NKJV)

The word ‘carnal’ means – ‘fleshly.’ When applied to a Christian, it means someone, who although they are born-again, they are still allowing their flesh to control much of the way they live and think. Paul called the believers at Corinth ‘carnal’ because they were still acting spiritually immature. Rather than bearing the Spirit’s fruit of – love, joy and peace; these believers were yielding to old fleshly emotions such as: envy, strife and division. Notice also that Paul says – ‘Are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?’; or, in other words – ‘are you not living like men who do not even know the Lord?’

Only God knows for sure whether a carnal man is born-again or not. Rather than judging other men, you and I should be judging ourselves. Though we may not be doing some of the things others might do, are there things in our lives that are displeasing to the Lord? Is there a carnality to our Christianity that needs correcting? It is God’s will that every believer live not as the ‘carnal man’ but rather as the ‘spiritual man.’ Tomorrow we will return to this study once again and seek to learn more about this important subject.

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