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Chapter 4 - The Natural Man

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. - 1 Corinthians 2:14

While people who are not Christian cannot receive the Spirit of God, there is a condition for Christians called 'walking according to the flesh' that mimics this condition.

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. - 1 Corinthians 3:1

Here Paul calls those in Corinth first 'brothers' (implying they are Christian). Then he calls them 'carnal' (meaning according to the flesh). There is the implication that some Christians are carnal and others spiritual.

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. - Galatians 6:1

When Paul cautions the Galatians, he shows us something interesting. It would seem that a path that leads to a loss of spirituality can be found in failing to remain 'meek' (gentle, humble). This is a major element in the growth of the leaven of hypocrisy.

The natural man is what we inherit from Adam. It is only when we receive Christ and are born again do we receive the Holy Spirit.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. - 1 Corinthians 15:22

Even then, we have the ability to frustrate the work the Holy Spirit would desire to accomplish in us.

Quench not the Spirit. - 1 Thessalonians 5:19

The entire letter to the Galatians was written because they had allowed themselves to be influenced by Jews that had convinced them that to be really complete, they needed to follow the law that was given to Israel. They represent the starting point of a path that ends up with the Pharisees. For this reason it can be beneficial to examine what they were doing and what instruction Paul gave them regarding the danger of their actions.

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? - Galatians 3:1-3

Paul contrasts the life Christians are called to live (that of the Spirit) with that which we all too often follow (that of the flesh). This dual nature of Christians can cause some confusion. On the one hand, we often think that we have nothing to do with our old nature;

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. - Romans 6:6

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; - Colossians 3:9

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. - 2 Corinthians 5:17

In the letter to the Romans Paul contrasts his struggle with the flesh in chapter seven with the victorious Christian life in chapter eight. It is interesting that his struggle with the flesh is summed up in the transition to chapter eight;

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? - Romans 7:24

Here the solution to the problem of the flesh is given not as a 'what' or a 'how' but as 'who'.

A big problem for Christians is thinking that since the old nature was 'put to death' that it no longer can exert an influence. This can lead the Christian to act as if he has nothing about which to be concerned. He may even come to think the he is almost sinless. This is fertile ground for pride which can erode 'meekness' and make one vulnerable to the leaven of hypocrisy.

Chapter eight of Romans is more a description of what is possible for the person who trusts in Jesus. It is not a guarantee that the difficulty of dealing with the flesh has been dealt with.

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. - Romans 8:13

Here the verb tense information in the Greek is often missing in translation. The word 'mortify' (put to death literally or figuratively) would better have the word 'habitually' added to convey the fuller meaning from the Greek. We get the idea not so much that the problems with the flesh have been done away with, but rather that we now have the possibility that they need not overwhelm us as the by power of the Holy Spirit they can be choked out. The idea is that the more freedom and cooperation we give the Holy Spirit, the less power the flesh will have over us.

This contrast is also stressed particularly in Galatians chapter five. Remember the Galatians were starting to slip into the type of hypocrisy that had consumed the Pharisees. Paul details the need for the ascendancy of the Spirit to resist the attraction of the flesh.

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. - Galatians 5:16-17


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