The Spiritual Man

Overused by both the Church and the surrounding society, the English term ‘spiritual’ has become meaningless. To some people, it is synonymous with the word religion. To be religious is to be spiritual. To others, it refers to things that are not of this physical universe, things and beings that are supernatural, otherworldly, noncorporeal, invisible, and timeless.

In Popular preaching, the “spiritual” man is divinely enabled to peer into the “spirit realm,” supposedly, where physicality, visibility, and time do not exist. It is not simply an altered state of consciousness, but a higher realm of which our physical existence is but a pale imitation.

Crucifix - Photo by Dejan Livančić on Unsplash
[Photo by Dejan Livančić on Unsplash]

According to this perspective, the truly “spiritual” man perceives the true realities that are behind the things we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. But is this understanding of “spirituality” biblical?

The Greek term commonly translated as “spiritual” is used sparingly in the New Testament (pneumatikos). It occurs 26 times in the Greek text, and in only one instance is it found outside of Paul’s letters. Of the remaining cases, 16 are in 1 Corinthians. This is not coincidental.

One group at Corinth pointed to their extensive use of the Gift of Tongues as evidence of their “spirituality,” but Paul responded by presenting what spirituality truly is, the recognition of the significance of CHRIST CRUCIFIED.

The Greek term pneumatikos is an adjective that refers to things that pertain to or belong to the spirit. Whether “spirit” refers to the Spirit of God or something else is determined by the literary context in which it is used. In the case of 1 Corinthians, Paul is referring to the Spirit of God, not our human “spirits” or “spiritual natures” - (1 Corinthians 2:10-14).

The “spiritual” man has “received the Spirit of God.” Our problem stems from how we use and understand the term. If we could remove all mystical aspects and metaphysical speculation from our application of the word, we would come much closer to the biblical understanding.

When Paul complained, “I could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal,” the adjective is in the plural number and masculine gender. He was referring to “SPIRITUAL MEN” or persons. If we rendered the Greek adjective as “Spirit people” we would grasp Paul’s intended sense.

Believers are identified by their possession of the Spirit, and that is why Paul is so surprised that the Corinthians behaved as though they did not have it.


The “natural man” does not have the Spirit of God. A man who has received the Spirit is, by definition, a man of the Spirit and OUGHT TO ACT ACCORDINGLY. So, what does the Spirit of God teach His people?

  • Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews, scandal, to Gentiles, folly. But to those called, whether Jews or Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

For a devout Jew, the idea of a Crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. The idea that Yahweh would allow His anointed King to be crucified by Rome, Israel’s greatest enemy, was scandalous. By scriptural definition, any man who is left “hanging on a tree” is under the curse of God. How could a “cursed man” be “God’s power and wisdom”? – (Deuteronomy 27:26, Galatians 3:10).

For Gentiles living in the Greco-Roman world, the very suggestion that the answer to sin, Death, and Satan was the shameful execution of a powerless man for sedition against the world’s mightiest empire was sheer nonsense.

Yet it was by the public crucifixion of His son that God achieved victory over sin and death for all men, therefore, the proclamation of a “Crucified Messiah” was and remains forever the “wisdom and power of God.” The crucifixion of Jesus was physical, occurred on the Earth within history and time, and was certainly visible to the naked eye of anyone in the vicinity of Calvary.

Thus, when Paul first arrived in Corinth, he did not use eloquent speech or the philosophical wisdom of this age. Instead, in his human weaknesses, he proclaimed Christ crucified - (“For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him as crucified”).

Paul defined the “wisdom and power of God.” It is the preaching of CHRIST CRUCIFIED. By the “power of God,” he did not mean great miraculous displays of “signs and wonders.” He came to the Corinthians “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling,” yet his scandalous and foolish proclamation of “Christ crucified” became the power of God that brought salvation to the Corinthians.

In contrast, the “rulers of this age” did not understand genuine wisdom and power or true spirituality since, if they had, they would not have “crucified the Lord of glory” and thereby sealed their own doom.

By the “rulers of this age,” Paul meant especially the nonhuman entities he elsewhere labeled “principalities, the powers, the world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies.”

Presumably, otherworldly creatures are not subject to the restraints of time, visibility, and physicality. Nonetheless, those same entities were incapable of comprehending what God did through the execution of His Son. If they existed outside of the restrictions of time, why did they not see this coming?

The problem is NOT life under the restraints of time or bodily existence, but sin. Power, spirituality, and wisdom are found in “Christ crucified.” Nowhere does the Bible teach that the Spirit of God is incompatible with HIS creation. Sin separates men from His presence, not their physical natures or the realm of time. We each have a spirit, but it does not follow logically or biblically that our human spirits and the Spirit of God are incompatible with our physical bodies.

Cross on mountain - Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash
[Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash]

A faith that denies or denigrates the good creation of God is 
NOT biblical, NOT apostolic, and certainly NOT “spiritual.” He created the entire universe and called ALL OF IT “very good!” Adam’s problem was not his embodied state, but his disobedience. Death and bondage entered the Cosmos through his sin.

Believers who strive to peer into the “spirit realm” to gain insight into the nature and purposes of God are looking in the wrong place. They ought instead to look to Jesus, the Savior who died a genuine human death on the Roman cross, and who also was buried and raised bodily from the dead on the third day. Those two historical events are the foundation of the Apostolic faith - (1 Corinthians 15:1-12).

The spiritual man understands that Jesus, the Crucified Messiah, is the very center of God’s redemptive plan and power, an understanding that is beyond the comprehension of the “wisdom” of this age or the “powers and principalities” that are hostile to Jesus and his saints.

  • Power and Wisdom - (The power and wisdom of God are found in the proclamation of a Messiah who was crucified on a Roman cross)
  • Suffering Servant - (Paul summoned believers to adopt the same mind that Jesus had when he poured out his life unto death for others – Philippians 2:5-11)
  • Starting from the Cross - (Jesus is the Messiah whose reign began on the Cross, and who fulfilled his mission as the Servant of the LORD)



The Living Word

The Suffering Servant