“Oh, he’s so spiritual,” or “She’s so spiritual.” We hear this from time to time, and may have spoken those words with reference to others, but what does it even mean to say someone is spiritual?
Society will offer up myriad answers to that question.
For example, a spiritual person is one who practices yoga faithfully, and who meditates daily. To someone else, a spiritual person is one who cares for people, is kind to animals, and who recycles everything. To still another, the spiritual person is one who can work the Tarot cards, and who is one with the universal goddess. For still others, the spiritual person is one who attends church regularly, has a daily prayer discipline, and who knows their Bible well.
None of these things is guaranteed to make us a spiritual person, not in the sense that God means spiritual – πνευματικος.
But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. – 1 Corinthians 2:15
Who is this spiritual person that is appraising or judging all things, but who is judged by no man? He is the pneumatikos.
Pneumatikos is a descriptive term from which theologians have patterned the term “pneumatology,” the study of the Holy Spirit. It is a combination of two terms, pneuma and logos, meaning “wind” and “word.”
The “spiritual man” concept is strewn throughout the writings of the apostle Paul, and it is clear that he has a specific character in mind when he employs that term. Indeed, Paul seems to use three distinct terms in this regard. There are those who are Christian and “spiritual.” There are those who are Christian, but “carnal,” or “fleshly.” And there are those who are not Christian at all, whom Paul calls “natural.” The “natural man.”
The natural man is the one who is completely puzzled by the spiritual man.
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. – 1 Corinthians 2:14, NASB
Since the natural man does not even possess the faculties to understand this discussion, we will direct our attention specifically toward spirituality as it pertains to Christians. Within that focal area we find both the spiritual man, and what seems to be this “in-between” person who wears the name of Christ, but who is not “spiritual.” This is the believer who is lacking in maturity, living out their faith on a childhood level, refusing to give up gratifying their carnal desires and self-devotion.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NASB
So, obviously, simply being a Christian (in name, at least) does not result in me being a spiritual man. I can wear that name and be quite carnal.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:5-8, ESV
From that passage, I gather that it is vitally important for us to get clarity on who or what is this spiritual man and spiritual woman.
It’s the Mind, Not the Rules
To begin with, it is important to note that the apostle Paul is not addressing behaviors when he speaks of spiritual versus carnal. He is speaking of our minds! Look once again at the Romans 8:5-8 passage above. It is all about the mind – the mind of the flesh versus the mind of the Spirit.
When God grabs my heart and my mind, my feet and my hands will follow. When that happens, I no longer follow rules. I follow the one who holds my heart and my mind.
Paul says we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16b). This truth is emphasized when we realize that “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, NASB). True worship is not a matter of location or activity. It is an outpouring of the inner man and inner woman. The apostle Paul says that living sacrificially and holy, with a renewed mind is our “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1-2).
Walking by the Spirit
There is a war raging in the mind and heart of every Christ-follower, a war for control of our affections.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. – Galatians 5:16-17
This may explain why Jesus and the apostle Paul repeatedly call for us to deny self, to deny the flesh, to die daily, to crucify the flesh. The Spirit and the flesh are at war. The concern is far less what I do and much more what I want to do. It is what I love, that for which I am passionate.
By walking “in” the Spirit, or “by” the Spirit, or “according to” the Spirit, when we are “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), we will manifest the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These are attributes, or outpourings of the Christ-follower that can flow from us in abundance and never get us into trouble. “Against such things there is no law.” No one is ever too kind, too patient, or too gentle.
Winning the War
Paul calls us to walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6, NASB). We have to pick a side. We cannot play for both the home team and the away team – the Spirit and the flesh. We are with one or the other, not both. Jesus himself said, “A house divided against itself falls” (Luke 11:17b, NASB).
While it’s true that Yogi Berra said that ninety percent of the game of baseball is half mental, I am asserting that one hundred percent of the life of a Christ-follower is lived in the inner man, the inner woman. Even the initial conversion experience is regularly referred to as making a “decision” for Christ. As far back as the prophet Ezekiel, God said…
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26, NIV
The apostle Paul confirms this in his letter to the Roman church, saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2a, NASB), and it is precisely in this surrender that Paul can say, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
The spiritual Christ-follower is one with a new worldview, a new way of thinking. We have a God-given system of values, a way of looking at life with God, allowing his character to flow through us and out from us.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” – Matthew 22:37b-38, ESV
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” – Matthew 6:33a, ESV