The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

From Natural to Spiritual – What Does it Mean to be Spiritual? (Part 4)

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It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life (John 6:63).

Throughout the previous three weeks’ articles, we have hopefully come to a better and more biblical understanding of what being “spiritual” means. We have taken issue with what is commonly understood when one speaks of spirituality. “The concept of spirituality has come to mean an experience devoid of doctrinal content and detached from any testable historical claims—something that belongs strictly in the upper story.”[1] While we have clarified and expanded the realm of the spiritual world to include our thoughts, ideas, beliefs, etc. we have not really put this into any practical application. True spirituality is not meant to reside permanently between our ears and behind our eyes, it should show itself every once in a while in material and tangible ways. If this is, in fact, what the Bible teaches, we should be able to find examples of this within its pages. And that’s just what we will do this week.

Since He is the central figure of Christianity, no study of spiritual things would be complete without examining the spoken words of Christ during His earthly three-year ministry. Matthew 13:34–35 tells us that Jesus fulfilled Psalm 78:2 by teaching in parables. “All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and he did not speak to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.’” Earlier in the chapter the disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables. His response to them is rather difficult to explain outside of an understanding of God’s sovereign election. “The disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ Jesus answered them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to Him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but to whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand’” (Matt. 13:10–13). Jesus tells his disciples here that parables were a way to conceal truth from those without the proper “spiritual” eyes and ears.

Jesus made it plain that He used parables in order to instruct the righteous and to confuse the wicked (Mt. 13:10–17). This conception of truth and teaching is utterly opposed to the Greek rationalistic tradition in Western thought, which assumes that unaided “reason” is able to apprehend truth. Jesus says the opposite, maintaining that the truth is only finally reasonable to the elect, while the wicked can ultimately never regard it as reasonable. This applies not only to the parables, but also to the whole of truth. It is a fundamental aspect of Christian epistemology.[2]

Without His grace, God’s words would sound to us much like what Aslan tells us that his words sounded like to Uncle Andrew: “But I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings.”[3] The Bible assures us that we have the ability to discern, understand and act on the words of God, not because of anything that we possess, but because we have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Because of this gift—this “spiritual renewal”— we are able to think God’s thoughts after Him and discern as He discerns. “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. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one” (1 Cor 2:14-15). Because God is a spirit (John 4:24), spiritual things are the “really real” things, and physical things are merely a teacher. Just as the Law was a tutor to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), the physical world exists to teach us about the spiritual.



Which brings us back to Jesus and His parable teaching. He often used His parables to illustrate a deeper, spiritual meaning. The Greek word “carries the idea of placing one thing by the side of another for the purpose of comparison.”[4] Jesus used the physical things and scenarios in His parables to exemplify the spiritual truth that is ultimately much more important than the temporal, physical object lesson. “Now He was telling a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). We learn in 1 Corinthians 15 that the natural came first, the spiritual second; this is the progression in God’s economy.

So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly (1 Cor 15:45–49).

Spiritual birth works backward in a sense. Sanctification is a lifelong process that conforms the body of the redeemed sinner to the mind of Christ. James has much to say to this, but 2:17–18 sums up his point quite nicely, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Spiritual renewal will always produce physical works and manifestations. A changed mind produces a changed heart and a changed life.

Since the Spirit’s work in regeneration involves the transformation of the whole man, including his cognitive and affective powers, the accompanying of the internal illumination of the Spirit by the external revelation of the word (and vice versa) is altogether appropriate. Since faith involves knowledge, it ordinarily emerges in relationship to the teaching of the gospel found in Scripture.[5]

This is how we learn “the mind of Christ,” by reading His word and fellowshipping with Him through the Spirit that lives in us. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1–2). May God be pleased to bless each of us in our spirituality.

Endnotes:

[1] Nancy Pearcy, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 118.
[2] James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1988), 263.
[3] C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1955), 185. (Special thanks to James Wood.)
[4] Milton Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999 [1890]), 188.
[5] Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 125–126.

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