Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

   by Jeannette Haley

            In the Gospel of Matthew, we read: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” Matthew 1:23. Now, we either believe this in our heart of hearts, or we do not. It’s that simple. There is no middle ground. We either believe that Jesus Christ is who the Bible declares He is, or we mince around the edges of God’s Word only pretending to believe what is written.

            “Emmanuel…God with us.” Not, “one of us” in our self-serving, sinful, fallen disposition, but “God with us” as a human being who is also divine. No one can fully comprehend this awesome truth. God isn’t asking us to. What He does ask us to do is believe. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” 1 John 5:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” John 1:1, 2. In 1 Timothy 3:16 we read: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” [Emphasis added.]

            The dividing line between the natural man and the spiritual man (man is synonymous with mankind) is belief or unbelief. This is the fine line that will determine everything the natural man and the spiritual man thinks, pursues, and becomes. It will determine how each lives his life, and ultimately, where the individual will spend eternity. But, like it or not, it all begins at the point of one’s belief in who Jesus Christ is, because if you truly believe something, action will follow.

            The Bible makes it crystal clear what the natural man is like. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 we read: “But 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.” So we see that it is impossible for the natural man to receive the things of God’s Spirit. Spiritual things are considered by him to be foolish—something to mock and laugh at. Something to not only ignore, but to dismiss as less than nothing. In his natural state, he is spiritually deaf and blind, which renders it impossible for him to discern that which is spiritual.

            On the other hand, the natural man can display a religious side, but don’t let this confuse the issue. Religiosity is not the same thing as walking after the spirit. For example, consider these men: Cain, Esau, King Saul, and Judas Iscariot. Cain brought an offering to the Lord. Wasn’t he exhibiting a belief in God through his sacrifice? Esau, with tears, sought a place of repentance, but found it not. (See Hebrews 12:16, 17.) As for Saul, there were times that he even prophesied, yet he was a carnal man. And, Judas Iscariot was chosen by Jesus Himself to be a disciple, and even given the power to perform miracles. We all know his story.

            So, what did these men have in common that eliminates them from the ranks of the spiritual man? The answer to that is a heart of unbelief. Cain’s unbelief involved the basic premise that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. (See Hebrews 9:22.) Esau had no regard to the Abrahamic Covenant. His appetite was more important to him than his birthright, as attested to by his rash decision to sell it to Jacob, and, later, in his obsession with foreign wives which would compromise his heritage. Saul’s unbelief surfaced repeatedly through acts of disobedience, and in his insane jealousy and treatment of David whom God had chosen. Judas Iscariot is an interesting character to study because he is a prime example of the natural man wearing a self-righteous, religious banner. We see this type of natural man all around us today. Jesus foretold of such in Matthew 7:22, 23: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

            We read a lot about the natural man, or those who live after the flesh in Romans 8. Now, when we talk about the flesh, we are not referring to our skin, bones, hair, and teeth (or else Jesus could not have come in the flesh), but we are referring to the natural disposition of sinful man that we all are born with. Through the centuries and up to this present time, certain sects and groups of people believe that if they inflict themselves physically, causing great pain and suffering that this will somehow help to atone for their sins. This is gross error. There is no way that any of us could do anything to atone for our sins. Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for the sins of all mankind, and declared on the cross before He committed his soul to His Father, “It is finished” John 19:30. The spiritual man, by faith, has received God’s plan of salvation, through His Son, and will have no part in self-flagellation, crucifying Christ afresh through the Eucharist, or any other unscriptural, pagan, and sometimes downright blasphemous practices.

            Romans 8:5-8 says this about the natural man: For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 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. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” From this passage of scripture, we learn that the natural man is concerned for the things of the flesh (the fallen disposition). Because the natural man cares for the things of the world, that is the primary reason for the phenomenon of mega churches today. The success of these monstrosities is totally based on a continual serving of anything that feeds the insatiable appetite of the natural man.

             This care for the things of the world is what consumes the natural man’s thoughts, goals and conversation. Hebrews 13:5 says: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave Thee, nor forsake thee.” The words of the natural man expose the covetousness and discontent in his heart, along with his spiritual lack—lack of belief, lack of gratefulness, and lack of love for God. What is revealed through the natural man’s conversation is his love for the world which is idolatry. (See Colossians 3:5) But, even more telling are the actions, or lifestyles, of the natural man.

            Because the institutional church is well attended by those who walk after the flesh, or the natural man, those who lack discernment are often confused. After all, the more a church appeals to the senses of the natural man, the bigger it will become. However, the words and actions of the natural (carnal) man tell on them. It all boils down to “knowing them by their fruits” and “testing the spirit.” The bottom line always brings us back to the question of who a person believes Jesus Christ is. If a person believes that He is indeed God Incarnate and that His words are “spirit and life,” then that belief will be expressed in the way the person thinks, speaks and acts. In other words, the entire lifestyle, motivation, goals and emphasis will express such faith, making such a person a spiritual man. Claiming to be a Christian, with an outward show of religion, is nothing more than modern Phariseeism, and has no part in the Body of Christ which is the true Church.

            Jesus was born into a world of both natural men, living in the lusts of the flesh, and spiritual men who, such as Job, were perfect (spiritually mature), upright, fearing God and hating evil. The events surrounding the advent of Christ, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, reveal much concerning the natural man and his limitations, inclinations and destination, as well as the spiritual man

            Beginning with Mary, we see a beautiful example of submission to the Father’s will. Because she was alive to the Spirit and dead to the world, she quickly submitted and rejoiced in God her Savior. As for Joseph, who was espoused to Mary, once he knew God’s will for him, he too, quickly submitted and obeyed. What great faith these two had in this prophesied intervention by God—an intervention that forever stands alone in its uniqueness in time and eternity—Emmanuel, God with us.

            The heavenly angels visited poor shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks. Why? They could have easily gone to any number of other people with the news of the newborn King. Yet, they were sent to those humble men who, being spiritual men, received and believed all that they had seen and heard, and leaving their flocks hurried to the stable where Emmanuel lay.

            The spiritual man, because he fears God, is a wise man. Such were the wise men who journeyed from afar, bearing gifts for the Promised One. Their gifts reveal the great depth of faith and understanding resident within their hearts that indeed, Christ the Lord was born into this world as Emmanuel. With great determination, awe and reverence we see them finding the young child, and worshipping Him.

            And, so, we see that God in His sovereignty and holiness excludes the natural man from the mysteries of His workings in heaven and earth, for the natural man cannot be entrusted with His spiritual riches. Such spiritual riches are holy and pure, like the pearls that Jesus warned His disciples to not cast before swine lest they be trampled underfoot and cast out. Because the natural man cannot receive the things of God, God will not allow him to defile them. Heavenly riches are reserved for those who walk after the Spirit.

            This brings us to the final question: which one are you, the natural man in love with this present world, or the spiritual man who is walking after the Spirit?