There are many varieties of spirituality in our culture yet often these metaphysical paths are dead end streets. True spirituality needs to be properly related to God–the ultimate Spiritual Being. Jesus instructed us,
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23,24).
Holy, spiritual living was a major concern for the apostle Paul when he was inspired to write 1 Corinthians. Living in a corrupt society, the church there had fallen into many ethical problems and some heretical teachings. In the second and third chapters, the apostle identifies three categories of people: spiritual, carnal, and natural.
The Spiritual Person
The spiritual man is not only regenerated but lives in harmony with the indwelling Holy Spirit:
“But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ. And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (1 Cor 2:15-3:1).
The spiritual man’s thoughts are under the domain of God’s revelation. Paul illustrated the necessity of divine revelation with a comparison to man’s makeup. The role of the human spirit is specified:
“For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:11-12).
If you are a “spiritual person,” you have learned to be controlled by the Spirit of God. Usually, your mind, will, and affections are in harmony with the Lord. Those who have been reconciled to God through Christ, have matured in their faith, and can wisely interpret and apply the Holy Bible are rightly termed “spiritual.” This is an important quality if you want to give spiritual guidance and help to those trapped in sin and error. The apostle Paul counseled,
“If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1,2; see 2 Tim. 2:15).
The context of 1 Corinthians goes on to rebuke the church for their neglect of spiritual growth. A second class of people is identified:
“I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:2-3).
The word “carnal” is sarchikoi, literally “fleshly.” The concept of flesh, when used ethically, denotes the fallen part of man which is conditioned to function independently of God. “Flesh” is closely associated with the “body of sin” (Rom. 6:6) and involves the thoughts, attitudes, behavior patterns that are in opposition to God’s Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:17). As the believer walks in the control and power of the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:16), he will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-24). This discernment is essential for progress toward spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:12).
If you have received God’s gracious salvation, being born from above, you are spiritually alive toward God (Titus 3:5,6). But then ask yourself, “Am I walking according to the old fleshly patterns in my natural strength?” If so, I am in a carnal condition. If your character and conduct is not much different from unbelievers, verify that your faith is real, saving faith (James 2:14; 2 Cor. 13:5). Carnality is not considered to be a permanent, comfortable category for the child of God! Rather, Scripture describes this as a temporary, regrettable condition. The Spirit of God draws believers to discover the wisdom and wealth of our relationship with Christ (Phil. 1:6; 2:13). God lovingly disciplines His children to confirm their identity and encourage their obedience (Heb. 12:5-11).
The Natural Person
The third category of people in 1 Corinthians is that of the natural person:
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned “(1 Cor. 2:14).
The word “natural” sounds OK until it is considered in the context of being born into a fallen world (Gen. 3:1-24; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3). If you have never received Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you are still separated from God … a natural person who is spiritually lost (John 3:3-18). If so, hear the Savior’s invitation today: “Come and drink of the water of life freely”! (Rev. 22:17).
As you read and pray over the message of 1 Corinthians 1-3, which of these three categories would identify you? –spiritual, carnal or natural?
If you know that you belong to the Lord, but have been fleshly (carnal), not living in harmony with your essential identity in Christ, repent and fully yield to the indwelling the Holy Spirit of God. Trust Him to live the Christ Life through you.
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20).
This is true spirituality.
 This article is adapted from the author’s book, Man as Spirit, Soul, and Body: a Study of Biblical Psychology, (chapter 4) . It is print and available through Grace Fellowship International , Amazon Kindle, or your local Christian book store (via Ingram or Spring Arbor distributors).
 The English language does not convey the precision of the Greek here. “Natural” is the rendering of psuchikon, (soulical). The lack of a the English adjective “soulical” to correspond to spiritual (pneumatikon), and physical (somatikon), has contributed to the bias against trichotomy (man as spirit, soul, and body) among English writers. Latin (and related languages) retains the original clarity with adjectives corresponding to spirit (spiritus) and soul (anima).
Richard Trench recognized the implications of the adjectives of “soulish” and “carnal” on man’s makeup:
“The psuchikos [unsaved, “natural man”] of Scripture is one for whom the psuche (soul) is the highest motive power of life and action; in whom the pneuma (spirit), as the organ of the divine Pneuma, is suppressed, dormant, … whom the operations of this divine Spirit have never lifted into the regions of spiritual things. (Rom 7:14; 8:1; Jude 19).”
– Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 269.
2nd edition, 2015. Copyright 2001, 2015 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Sent 10/6/2019