Elon, North Carolina
In I Corinthians 2:6-3:4 the Apostle Paul describes four categories of people. Paul, by the Spirit, has divided the whole human race into four different groups based on spiritual levels. Everyone on the planet fits into one of these four categories. There is one category for the unsaved and three categories of Christians. The question is which category do you fall into? If you are a Christian, which kind of Christian are you? I want to look at these four kinds of people, give you a definition of each and some characteristics of each group of people.
GROUP ONE – THE UNSAVED
The first group of people is the unsaved. It describes the majority of people on the planet. What does Paul call this person? He calls that person “the natural man” (ψυχικoς) in I Corinthians 2:14. Mr. Natural is a man dominated by his soul (ψυχη). He is under the influence of the lower part of man’s being. He lives like an animal. He just has his five senses and all he wants to do is to gratify those senses. He is materialistic.
Characteristics of Mr. Natural
1. Mr. Natural does not have the Spirit (2:14; Jude 19)
The natural man is “without the Spirit” (John 3:5). He has not received “the Spirit which is of God.” He has received only “the spirit of man which is in him He doesn’t live in a spiritual level. He only has one nature. It is the sin nature.
2. Mr. Natural is Unsaved
The natural man or woman is unsaved or unregenerate. How do we know this? Paul said that if you do not have the Holy Spirit, you are not saved (Romans 8:9). If you are saved, you have the Holy Spirit indwelling in you.
The natural man may moral or religious but is still lost. They are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:3). They are headed to Hell and are on spiritual death row. The death sentence has been passed. They are just waiting to die.
3. Mr. Natural rejects the things of the Spirit of God
Paul says that the man without the Spirit does not accept the things of the Spirit. That is another way of saying that he rejects it. He doesn’t believe the Bible. He does not accept the gospel when it is preached to him.
4. Mr. Natural thinks the things of the Spirit of God are foolish
The natural man or woman does not merely reject the things of the Spirit, he or she thinks they are ridiculous. They may mock the Bible or ridicule the Bible. A natural man or woman will laugh at what you believe.
That is evidence that we are dealing with a natural person who does not have the Holy Spirit. Because they do not have the Holy Spirit, they have no capacity to evaluate the Bible or appreciate it. Paul says that it is spiritually discerned (2:14), not intellectually or academically.
5. Mr. Natural cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God
Paul does not merely say that the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit or will not understand the things of the Spirit. He says that the natural man CANNOT understand the things of the Spirit. He is unable to know them. It is not just difficult, it is impossible, no matter how intelligent or educated the individual is.
A natural man or woman may be a brilliant scientist and may know and understand and even be an authority on many other subjects but he can’t really know the things of the Spirit. Why can’t he understand? The Bible says that he or she is spiritually blinded. They have a natural blindness by the Fall (Ephesians 4:17-18), as well as a Satanic blindness (II Corinthians 4:4).
When I finished my undergraduate degree over twenty years ago, I was real impressed with human wisdom, biblical scholarship and people who went to schools like Harvard Divinity School. I even went and visited Princeton Theological Seminary and considered going there.
The older I have gotten, the more I realize that it is far more valuable to study the Bible under godly people who have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is more valuable than a degree from Harvard. The Holy Spirit is the greatest teacher in the world. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit, you really do not understand the Bible and cannot properly teach it to others.
What does it mean that the natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God? Is Paul saying that unsaved people cannot understand the Bible at all? No. He is not saying that. The very fact that the think it is ridiculous is an indication that they know what it says. They think it is ridiculous, not gibberish.
Why then does Paul say that the natural man “cannot understand” the things of the Spirit of God? The word “know” in Greek is γινώσκω. It can mean to understand experientially, not just intellectually. Paul is not talking about knowledge that is primarily cognitive but volitional.
Let me give you two examples of what I mean. In Matthew 2:1-6, the wise men come to King Herod and ask where the Messiah is to be born. That is a biblical question, so he turns to the biblical scholars of his day, the Jewish scribes.
They say, “That is an easy question. Micah 5:2 clearly says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem” but it was all academic for the scribes. They weren’t going to Bethlehem looking for the Messiah. The wise men were.
Later on in his ministry, Jesus began to predict that he would suffer and die on the cross and in three days be raised from the dead. He told this to them more than once (Matthew 16:21; 20:17-20). The Bible says that the Apostles simply did not understand (Luke 18:31-34).
They didn’t get it. They didn’t know what Jesus was talking about but the Jewish leaders understood it perfectly (Matthew 27:63). Did they believe it? No. That is why they had the tomb guarded by Roman soldiers.
The next three categories are categories of Christians. Every Christian falls into one of these three categories. The question is, Which category are you?
GROUP TWO – THE IMMATURE CHRISTIAN
What are immature Christians (3:1-2)? Immature Christians (called σαρκίνοις) are people who just accepted Christ. They are new Christians or baby Christians . They are spiritual newbies. Paul said that this described the Corinthians right after they got saved (3:1-2). They were spiritual babies. Paul uses a baby metaphor to describe their spiritual state and it is not wrong. It is perfectly natural. It is a normal state of development.
Characteristics of the Immature Christian
1. The Immature Christian has not mastered any spiritual disciplines
They don’t know how to pray. They do not know anything in the Bible. They have never read it. Everything is brand new to them. They just accepted Christ recently.
2. The Immature Christian has a very simple diet
They are limited to spiritual milk. They cannot digest meat or take anything too deep. They like spiritual baby food. Devotional books are good. Biographies are wonderful but they can’t read anything with too much theology in it or doctrine.
3. The Immature Christian has no spiritual discernment
They do not know which writers, preachers and pastors are sound and which are not. They couldn’t tell you which preachers preach the Word and which do not. Everyone sounds good to them.
4. The Immature Christian is easily deceived
It is very easy to trick children (Ephesians 4:14). Baby Christians are also very easy to deceive. If someone gives them that is doctrinally way off base, they will take it, read it and believe every word.
GROUP THREE – THE MATURE CHRISTIAN
Paul uses two terms to describe the mature Christian (2:6) . He is called “the spiritual man” (πνευματικὸς). He is someone who is dominated by the spirit (higher part of man’s being), rather than by their soul. The spirit has become predominate over the soul. He is also called the mature man (2:6).
Characteristics of the Mature Christian
What does Mr. or Mrs. Spiritual look like? What are qualifications for spiritual maturity?
1. A mature Christian has the Holy Spirit.
Unlike the natural man, who is unsaved, the mature believer is saved. He knows God. The mature believer has had a genuine, life altering experience which has totally transformed his or her life.
2. A mature Christian believes the Bible
Unlike the natural man, the mature Christian receives the things of the Spirit (2:14). The mature Christian does not reject, deny or ridicule Scripture but accepts it. He or she believes every word and tries to live by it every day.
3. A mature Christian knows the Word of God
Many believe the Bible but don’t even know what’s in it. In contrast to the immature who do not know what the Bible teaches, the mature know the Bible. They read it. They study it. They know what it teaches and because they know it, they have spiritual discernment.
Why do they understand it? They understand it because they have the Holy Spirit. This is called the doctrine of illumination. One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to teach believers and to enlighten their minds so that they can understand what God has revealed to us in Scripture.
This doctrine was revived in the 16th century with the Reformers. Before this the average person could not read or interpret the Bible. The Bible had to be interpreted by the Catholic Church. If you wanted to know what the Bible said, you had to go to a priest.
They did not even give it to people to read, because they would probably get the wrong interpretation anyway. Luther and Calvin and others tried to get the Bible into everyone’s hands. We don’t have to rely on the church to interpret the Bible for us. We can read it ourselves, because we have the Holy Spirit (cf. 2:9-10, 12).
4. A mature Christian has spiritual discernment
Mature Christians can discern good from evil (I Corinthians 2:16; Hebrews 5:14b).They can discern truth from error. If someone says something that it off doctrinally, they will know it right away. They can spot a false teacher a mile a way. Paul says that “the spiritual man makes judgments about ALL things (2:15). What does that mean?
In the context, this does NOT mean all things but all spiritual things. The “all things” in 2:15 are “the things of the Spirit” in 2:14. Just because you are a spiritual man does not mean that you know a lot about calculus or are an expert in American foreign policy. The mature Christian can therefore discern, appreciate, and understand spiritual truth.
Paul also says that the spiritual man is “not subject to any man’s judgment” (2:15). What does that mean? Does that mean that we can do anything we want and people have no right to criticize us?
No one can judge us for what we do? It doesn’t mean that. Christians are under the same laws that non-Christians are under. We have to keep the same laws or we go to jail. In fact, Paul said in I Corinthians that some people needed to be kicked out of the church.
Both the world and the church can pass some form of judgment on us. I think what Paul is saying is that non-Christians who do not have the Spirit do not really understand Christians. It is like saying, “If you are not a artist, you cannot understand an artist.
If you are not a philosopher, you cannot understand a philosopher”. Non-Christians do not understand why we do the things we do and cannot properly judge us. It is not saying that we are not accountable for our actions.
5. A mature Christian eats a healthy spiritual diet
He does not eat a lot of spiritual fast food or a lot of religious junk food. He can eat both the milk and the meat of the Word (Hebrews 5:13-14). What’s the difference between the two?
This is often misunderstood. We think the milk of the Word is the simple doctrines (how to get saved or how to pray) and the meat of the word is the deep doctrines (such as predestination or the prophecies of Ezekiel or Revelation). The truth is that EVERY doctrine of the Bible has its milk and its meat.
There are not some doctrines that you teach to children and some that you teach to theologians. You can teach your kids about God and about the cross. You can teach the same thing on a much deeper level to others. God is an infinite being.
Paul said in Romans that his judgments are unsearchable and his ways are past finding out (11:33). In Ephesians, Paul says that the love of Christ “surpasses knowledge” (3:18-19).
6. A mature Christian applies what he knows
A mature Christian doesn’t just know the Word; he applies the Word to his own life. He manifests the fruit of the Spirit in his life (Galatians 5:22-23). He walks in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). He is filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
GROUP FOUR: THE CARNAL CHRISTIAN
A carnal Christian (3:4) is one who is dominated by the flesh (old nature). Paul uses a slightly different Greek word to describe them (σαρκικοί). What does that look like?
Characteristics of Carnality
1. Carnal Christians are saved people
Paul calls them saints. He indicates his letter is not only written to the saints at Corinth but to all the saints (verse 2). He assumes that his readers are true saints. He calls them brothers in 3:1.
2. Carnal Christians are spiritual infants
Even though they have been Christians for a long time (years in some cases), they are still immature Christians. Here we see the baby metaphor again but this time it is a bad thing, not a good thing. It is one thing to be a baby when you just get saved. It is another thing to act like a spiritual baby after you have been a Christian for five or ten years.
Nothing wrong with being a baby Christian but there is something wrong with remaining a baby Christian. Everyone loves little babies but there is nothing cute about a baby that is five, ten or twenty.
I have seen believers who have been saved a short time who have grown substantially in the Lord. By the same token I have seen others who have been saved for lengthy periods of time, yet who have not gotten out of the nursery spiritually. They are still crying, griping, whining and calling attention to themselves. The tragedy of this is that God did not save us to stay babies. Their growth is stunted.
3. Carnal Christians can only take milk
They don’t want to go deeper or really be challenged or do any really deep Bible studies. Their religious diet does not involve any spiritual meat. They will never be found reading any theology books.
4. Carnal Christians live worldly lives
They act like the unsaved. That is what the Corinthians were doing (jealousy, divisions, strife). Carnal Christians tends to be selfish. They care about no one but themselves. They want to be the center of attention. Babies are very selfish by nature. Paul is not saying that they were characterized by carnality in every area of their lives. We see that in I Corinthians 6:9-11. Paul said, “such were some of you,” not “such are some of you.”
In some areas of their lives, Christians can and do sometimes act like the unconverted. He says they are ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’, they are recipients of ‘the grace of God’, enriched by Christ ‘in all utterance, and in all knowledge’ (1:2-5) but in certain areas of their lives they were acting like spiritual babies.
The fact is that a saved person may do carnal things from time to time. As long as we are able to be tempted we will be able to sin. Every Christian is carnal in some area of his life at many times in his life.
The whole idea of Carnal Christians is very controversial in some circles. Some teach that it is a false doctrine and that the very idea of a Carnal Christian is a contradiction in terms. They get that idea from Romans 8:5-13. This is made a bit clearer in the KJV.
Paul writes, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (8:6-7 KJV). Is carnal Christian a contradiction in terms? It is clear from I Corinthians 3 that there is such a thing as a Carnal Christian. A Carnal Christian is not “in the flesh,” but the flesh (sin nature) is still in him.
While the Bible the Bible does teach that it is possible to be a Carnal Christian, this doctrine has been abused. There are two things to remember about Carnal Christians.
1) Just because the Bible teaches that there is such a thing as a carnal Christian does not mean that this is a good thing. It is a bad thing. It is abnormal. It is sinful.
2) Many people who think that they are carnal Christians who are not Christians at all. It is often hard to tell. A carnal Christian is someone who lives like an unbeliever. If there is no evidence or fruit in your life of salvation, you are probably not saved, even though you made a profession of faith and perhaps were even baptized.
There is no such thing as a believer who is carnal all the time. By this I mean that a person who says that he or she is saved and lives every day of their life as a sinner is not saved but is deceived and is, in fact, lost! People who will not go to church, who hate spiritual things and who live like the rest of the world are simply living a lie.