Reactions to Wisdom
Tim Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 14:

I Corinthians 2

14But 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.

What is the natural man? It is very important for us to know that the word “natural” is a translation of the Greek word psuchikos , from which we get our English word “psychology”. That helps us understand something about what the word psuchikos means. It has to do with the soul; it has to do with those things that are beyond the physical and material. It has to do with the perception and the understanding of extra-sensory things, psychological kinds of things. It refers to the psychological part of man, our thought processes, our mind, emotions and will, those kinds of things.

Turn, please, to the book of Jude, verse 19. Here Jude is warning about the last days, the conditions of the last days, the false teachers that will be rampant in the last days before the Lord comes back. In referring to those false teachers, he says:

Jude

19These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.

That one little verse in the book of Jude helps us understand what the natural man is from a couple of standpoints. Notice the word “sensual”. In our generation, in our society, this word has come to have a sexual connotation. We talk about someone being a sensual person, and most of the time we mean that they have a sexual orientation; but at the time this was translated, the word “sensual” referred to someone who was dominated by his senses. He just did whatever felt good. It included the sexual area of life, but it really was much broader than that. In its best sense, even in our day that is the context, the meaning of the word “sensual”–a person dominated by his senses; his whole life revolves around getting the most comfort he can, having the most pleasure that he can whether it is in the sexual area or any other area.

Verse 19 of Jude also explains why this is true, which is another reason I wanted to look at this verse. Notice the phrase, “having not the Spirit”. These sensual people do not have the Holy Spirit. Romans, chapter 8, verse 9, says that if a person does not have the Holy Spirit, he is not one of God's children; he is not saved. So the natural man of I Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 14, is an unbeliever. Let's go back there and notice some more things.

Characteristics of the Natural Man

The first thing that we establish in I Corinthians, chapter 2, is that this natural man is a person who lives on the level of the soul; he is a person who is only able to understand what he sees and tastes and feels and hears and the physchological ramifications of those things. He can think things through beyond the material level, but only on a psychological level, and he does not have the Holy Spirit. He is an unbeliever, therefore he can understand the concept of God, of Jesus Christ, but he cannot understand the spiritual ramifications of that. We will talk more about that in just a minute.

In verse 14, two things are specified about the natural man. First, he does not receive the things of the Spirit of God. In fact, it says they are foolishness to him; they just don't make any sense. This natural man or woman may attend church, depending upon how honest he is with himself, but it is really wasted time when it comes right down to it, not because he doesn't hear what is said and not because he doesn't have some idea about what is being said, but because he doesn't receive those things into his heart. He doesn't understand those things.

The second thing that is true of this natural man is, “neither can he know spiritual things”. Now there is an overlap there; there is a parallel; but really these are two separate characteristics. Why can't he know those things? Look at the verse:

I Corinthians 2

14…because they are spiritually discerned.

He can't really relate to spiritual things, he can't come to know spiritual things because they are spiritually discerned. Another way of thinking about what Paul is saying is that this natural man doesn't have the equipment to pick up on spiritual truths. An illustration of this might be the fact that throughout this room, in the atmosphere of this room, there are radio waves. We can't see them; we can't feel them, but we know that they are here. There is electricity present in this room, but we, as human beings, can't pick that up. We can't hear what is coming through those radio waves, for example. Why can't we? Because we don't have the equipment; we don't have a built in radio receiver. The unbeliever cannot understand spiritual things because he doesn't have the equipment to do that, so the natural man is the unsaved man. The things of God are present; they have been revealed in God's Word; they are available; but no matter how sincere he may be, he cannot pick up on those spiritual things.

Characteristics of the Spiritual Man

Now keep that in mind because it is very important to remember that in the way that we relate to unsaved people, and it is very important to keep that in mind as we look at the second kind of man that is revealed in these verses. First is the natural man, but then there is also what I am calling, for purposes of outline, the “new” man who is described in verses 15 and 16. Notice in verse 15:

I Corinthians 2

15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
16For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

I am referring to the spiritual man as the “new” man because in other places in the Scripture we are told that if a person is saved, he is a new man in Christ Jesus. The real characterstics of a spiritually mature Christian, I think, are very widely misunderstood. We often think of the spiritual person, the godly person, as maybe the newly-saved high school or college student who is witnessing to everybody he can find and going to every Bible study he can find or maybe a business man or woman or a housewife–someone on fire for the Lord, as we sometimes refer to it. We think, “That person is really spiritual; that person is really godly.” There is nothing wrong with any of those things, and all of those things may characterize a spiritual person, but that is not all that is involved in being a spiritual person because this passage goes on to say something very important about that.

Remember in verse 14 we talked about the fact that the natural man–more technically we could translate this “the soulish man”–is the person who is dominated by the soul. The word psuche is translated “soul” in other places. This is the person who is dominated by the soul. That is the highest level to which he can arise.

Dominated By the Spirit of God

The spiritual man is the person who is dominated by the Spirit. The book of Romans tells us that it is the human spirit with which the Holy Spirit of God communicates spiritual truth, so the spiritual person is a person who is dominated by the Spirit of God. That domination by the Spirit of God may result in all the things that I mentioned a minute ago. It may result in enthusiastic witnessing and regular Bible study attendance and regular church attendance, but it may result in some other things in the lives of other people. Some of that has to do with personality; some of it has to do with background; some of it has to do with opportunity. A person who is dominated by the Spirit of God, who is a spiritual person, may respond in some other ways than those things that we humanly just normally think of as deeply spiritual. He may, because of his personality and because of his background and because of the circumstances of his life, never attend a lot of Bible studies. He may attend church regularly. He may be a deeply spiritual person, dominated by the Spirit of God, who has a job that keeps him from attending church regularly. That doesn't mean that he is not a spiritual person because the Bible's description of a spiritual person is this: He is dominated by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will lead him, and many times he will lead him in that description that we have talked about already, but He may lead him in some other ways, too. The key thing is not the actions that he takes, but the fact that he is dominated by the Spirit of God.

Understanding the Things of God

These verses tell us some other characteristics of a spiritual person, and some of these things are a little unclear to us. In verse 15, it says:

I Corinthians 2

15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things,…

What does that mean? The word “judge” is a translation of a Greek word which literally means “to discern”, “to distingish”–in its broadest sense, “to understand”. Someone says, “Now, wait just a minute. I am walking in fellowship with the Lord, and I think that I am a spiritual person, but there are a lot of things that I don't understand.” What things is he talking about? In this same passage we can look at some verses just before that and discern what things he is talking about. Look at verse 9:

I Corinthians 2

9But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

But verse 12 says that the spiritual man does understand those things. We have the Spirit of God that we can freely know the things that are given to us of God. Verses 11 and 14 speak of the things of the Spirit of God, so in the context of these verses, when it tells us that the spiritual man can judge or discern or understand all things, it is talking about the things of God. This does not mean that if you will start walking in consistent fellowship with the Holy Spirit, you will suddenly understand mathematics without studying it or that you will suddenly have an understanding of World History or something like that. It is talking about the things of God. But the person who allows himself to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, the person who can be characterized as a spiritual person in the sense that he is dominated by the Spirit of God, will have an understanding of the things of God.

In our last lesson, we talked about why that is true. It is because God has given us His Spirit. Remember, we talked about the fact that no one can understand the things of another person in verse 11. You don't really know what is on my mind; I don't really know what is on your mind; I can guess, but I don't really know. There is no way that you can enable me to know everything that is on your mind. The wonderful truth is that God has given us His Spirit, and we can know the things of God. You see, it is possible, in that sense, for us to know God even better than we know our spouse. So the things of God are revealed to those who are willing to have them, and that person who is dominated by the Spirit of God is a spiritual person.

Milk and Meat Aspect of Doctrines

But there is something else we need to understand, another distinction about the spiritual man. Glance at chapter 3, verse 1, Paul makes a distinction between the spiritual person and babes in Christ. Look at that verse:

I Corinthians 3

1And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

We will come to that verse in our next lesson, and we will look at it in more detail. Let me just point out at this time that a babe in Christ is just what the term implies–a baby Christian, a Christian who is just like a physical baby. He has just become a Christian. Paul is going to go on to elaborate that it is possible to stay in that position longer than we should. What I want to point out at this point is that there is such a thing as a baby Christian. But even a baby Christian, even a new Christian, can understand the things of God because even a new Christian has the mind of Christ. He has the Spirit of God, and He has the ability to understand the things of God, but does that make him a spiritually mature person?

Turn, please, to Hebrews, chapter 5. What is a spiritual person? Does that mean that every Christian, as soon as he accepts Jesus Christ as Savior, can understand everything there is to know about God? Well, Hebrews, chapter 5, puts it together for us. Look at verse 12:

Hebrews 5

12For when for the time ye ought to 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.
13For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Now think with me about this for just a minute. The parallel, the analogy, is to the human baby. With human babies, we do not start them out on T-bone steak, do we? We start them out on milk. We start them out on easy, soft foods. Something else to keep in mind is that even with babies, we introduce them to a variety of foods. We make a mistake, I think, of thinking that there are some doctrines in the Bible that are milk doctrines and other doctrines that are meat doctrines. That is not the case. What the overall Scripture seems to indicate is that there is a milk aspect of every doctrine, and there is a meat aspect of every doctrine. A person who is a new Christian may not be able to understand the depths of the doctrine, but he can be introducted to almost all the doctrines in the Scripture at a milk level. Babies need milk.

The real focus of Hebrews, chapter 5, is that the Hebrews to whom the author was writing should have by now grown beyond that. They should have been beyond the milk stage and into the meat stage. You can look at the epistle to the Hebrews, and you can see that they had been introduced to a wide range of subjects, a wide range of doctrines just as the baby is introduced even to spinach when it is still in the soft stage. We introduce our babies to a whole range of goods; we don't just feed them milk. We ought to introduce new Christian to the whole range of doctrines but stay at the milk level while they are babies and then little by little, bring them into the meat of the doctrines.

The Path to Spiritual Maturity

In the course of establishing that fact look down at verse 14, where the writer points out what the marks of spiritual maturity are. The first mark of spiritual maturity is time in verse 12:

Hebrews 5

12For when for the time ye ought to 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 writer says that by this time you have had enough time to be teachers. What is the inverse of that? To be a teacher takes time; to become a mature Christian takes time. There are some among us here today who have just come to know the Lord. You are a baby Christian. That is not any kind of a derogatory term; no one is offended when we look at a human baby and say, “Oh, what a baby!” There is nothing wrong with that. Let me tell you to begin with that you are not going to become a mature Christian overnight. The reason I mention that is that I think a lot of times new Christians think if they can just go to the right seminar, if they can just read the right book, they will be mature. In fact, people tell new Christians, “If you just learn this method, you will be all that God wants you to be, if you just go to this seminar, if you just have this spiritual experience.” That is unbiblical. It takes time to become a mature Christian. Some Christians take too much time, but you can't get around the fact that it takes time to become a mature Christian. Be patient; hang in there; stay with the program; keep studying the Word of God, and God will cause you to grow and bring you to spiritual maturity.

That is the first mark of spiritual maturity–it takes time. The second aspect of spiritual maturity is–nothing could be more important than this–knowledge of the Word of God. Look at verse 12. You need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God. Again, this is being said to the Hebrews from a negative standpoint. He was saying, “You've had time by now to be mature, but you are not mature. In fact, you are still at that point where you need to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God.”

Let's apply that to a person who is legitimately a baby in Christ. How do you grow? By being taught principles of the oracles [Word] of God. Again I say that there are no shortcuts. You who are new Christians, there are no shortcuts; you must come to know the Word of God. That is the food by which Christians grow. No seminar and no ecstatic experience and no other shortcut is going to bring you to that. God uses seminars and books and experiences, but it all needs to be focused around the Word of God. That is why we, without apology, in our services at Abilene Bible Church teach the Word of God because that is the stuff of which spiritual maturity is made. There are a lot of other things that Christians do that are important. Times of fellowship are great things for building interrelationships among Christians, but spiritual growth as such does not come from times of fellowship. Strengthening of bonds between Christians comes, and it is important to do those kinds of things, but spiritual maturity comes from the study of the Word of God. We can help each other develop, and we can fine-tune some of that and we can polish some of that, but the focal point needs to be the teaching of the Word of God.

Applying What We Learn

There is a third aspect. Look at verse 14:

Hebrews 5

14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those [notice this] who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

The key phrase is “by reason of use”. We have come to a place in the Body of Christ in this decade, I think, where Christians have begun to downplay the teaching of the Word. They have some cause, perhaps, for thinking that is the thing to do because we have just come through a decade or more where the teaching of the Word of God was emphasized on a wide-scale basis. In the seventies and the early part of the eighties, Bible churches were springing up everywhere. Bible colleges were doing well. The Word of God was being taught on a scale probably unmatched in recent US history, maybe recent world history, and yet all around us nearly every week we hear about some Christian who falls into sin. Sometimes it is more often than once a week, so people have said, “The teaching of the Word must not be the answer. We need to get back to the fellowship times; we need to get back to praise.” They come up with all kind of suggestion about what the answer is, but let me tell you something: When I say that the teaching of the Word of God is the stuff of spiritual maturity, that is not just my opinion. That is not just a guess. I read that to you right out of the Bible. That is God's explanation of where spiritual maturity comes from. The problem is that we are overlooking verse 14.

We study the Word of God, but there are many Christians who forget about verse 14:

Hebrews 5

14…even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

You may have the time to study the Word of God. All of us have time to study the Word of God. We have time to read the newspaper; we have time to watch television; we have time to go jogging or whatever else. Yet most of us say, “I just don't have time to study the Word like I used to.” Baloney! We all have time to study the Word of God. We have opportunity. There are two Christian radio stations in our city. We have all kind of Bible study fellowships, home Bible studies, all kinds of input from the Word of God. We have time; we have the Word of God. Do you know what is missing? In many cases, what is missing, what is keeping people from being spiritually mature, is that they are not using the Word of God. We get bloated with knowledge in many cases. Let me tell you something: You will never be a spiritual person if you do not use the Word of God that you are learning. That is not my opinion; that is from the Word of God. We read it right here in verse 14.

The Goal for Believers

There are three factors in spiritual maturity: time, study of the Word of God, and perhaps most important of all, from a practical standpoint, use of the Word of God. Notice what it says:

Hebrews 5

14…even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Many of us exercise our bodies, but how much do we exercise our senses? How do we exercise our senses? By obedience to the Word of God. So the mature Christian is one who can make his own decisions based on the Word of God, who can take the Word of God and feed on it for himself and because he has practiced repeatedly obeying the Word of God, that mature Christian can decide for himself what the Word of God means. There is nothing wrong with getting advice from others. There is certainly nothing wrong–in fact it is something that Scripture tells us to do–with sitting under the teaching of the Word of God; but a mature Christian is a person who has used the Word of God enough that he can make his own decisions based on the Word of God. That doesn't excuse him from church; it doesn't excuse him from continuing to study the Word, but he has reached that level where he can take the Word of God and decide for himself what the Word of God means.

If you are not to that place yet, you are still a baby Christian, and in many cases there is nothing wrong with being a baby Christian. In some cases, that is a sad statement because some, I am afraid, are like the Hebrews when by this time they ought to be mature, they ought to be able to be teachers, they are still in the milk stage. If that speaks to your heart, if that convicts you, then the simple thing for you to do is to begin to practice what you are learning, begin to study more and begin to put it into practice. Obedience to the Word of God is the key factor. If we have the knowledge of the Word of God, then it doesn't all fall into place until we obey the Word of God. This is the goal that every Christian ought to shoot for.

Conclusion

What is the secret to a godly life? It is not some great experience; it is not some crucial seminar. The secret to a godly life is to take in the Word of God, and–we can only do it with the help of the Holy Spirit–to obey the Word of God. You may be only taking in a little of the Word of God, but you can obey what you do take in. You may be only a baby Christian and only able to understand the surface level of the doctrines of the Word of God, but you can obey what you can understand. With that intake and that obedience on a repeated basis over a period of time comes spiritual maturity. That is how the wisdom of God is implemented in the hearts and lives of God's people. God help us to take the challenge of becoming that which He has given us the ability to be–spiritually mature believers in Him.


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