The spiritually-minded man understands that Christ Crucified is God’s true power and wisdom – 1 Corinthians 2:14.
Overused today, the English term ‘spiritual’ is virtually meaningless. To some, it is synonymous with religion. To be religious is to be spiritual. To others, it refers to things that are not of this physical universe, to things and beings that are supernatural, otherworldly, immaterial, invisible, and timeless.
In popular preaching, one who is “spiritual” has the ability to peer into the “spirit realm” where, supposedly, physicality, visibility, and time do not exist. It is not just an alternate reality, but a higher realm of which our physical existence is but a pale imitation. According to this perspective, to be “spiritual” is to perceive the true realities that lie behind the things that we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. But is this understanding of “spirituality” biblical?
The Greek term commonly rendered “spiritual” is used sparingly in the New Testament (pneumatikos), occurring only 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 found in 1 Corinthians, and not coincidentally. One group at Corinth pointed to their exercise of the gift of tongues as evidence of their superior “spirituality.” Paul responded by presenting what true spirituality is, namely, 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 must be determined from context. In the case of 1 Corinthians, Paul was referring to the Spirit of God, not to our human “spirits” or “spiritual natures”:
- (1 Corinthians 2:10-14) – “But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man save the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, the things of God no one knows save the Spirit of God. But we received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God, which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches, combining spiritual things with spiritual words. Now, the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot know them because they are spiritually judged… But he that is spiritual judges all things, and he himself is judged of no man.”
Thus, the man who is “spiritual” has “received the Spirit of God.” Our problem stems from how we have come to use the term. If we could remove all mystical aspects from its application, we would come to a clearer understanding of Paul’s point.
When he complains to the Corinthians – “I could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal” – the adjective is in the plural number and masculine gender. That is, he is referring to “spiritual men.” If we rendered it “Spirit people” we would better perceive the intended sense. Believers are identified by their possession of the Spirit, which is why Paul was so surprised that the Corinthians were behaving as though they had not received it. To be a “natural man” is to be without the Spirit of God. A man or woman who has received the Spirit is, by definition, a man or woman 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 who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
To a devout and patriotic Jew of the first century, a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. The very idea that Yahweh would allow His anointed king to be crucified by Rome was scandalous. And by scriptural definition, any man who was left “hanging on a tree” was under the curse of God – (Deuteronomy 27:26, Galatians 3:10).
To the Gentile, the very suggestion that the answer to humanity’s plight 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, death, and Satan. Therefore, the proclamation of a “crucified Messiah” is the “wisdom and power of God,” and an event that was all too physical, and occurred on the earth, within history and time, and was certainly visible.
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 crucified”).
And here, Paul defined the “wisdom and power of God,” Christ crucified. And 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 very 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 or spirituality, for 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 means the nonhuman entities he elsewhere labels “principalities, the powers, the world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies.” Presumably, at least according to popular interpretations, otherworldly creatures are not subject to the restraints of time, visibility, or physicality. Nonetheless, they proved incapable of comprehending what God was about to do through the execution of His Son.
In this epistle, Paul dealt with another erroneous conclusion by the same group that boasted of their spirituality, the denial of the future bodily resurrection.
The very first thing he preached to them was that “Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead on the third day,” and his death was only the first part of the story, for God raised him bodily. And that is the basis for the Christian hope of resurrection life. And note Paul’s inclusion of the time element, “on the third day.”
The resurrection is foundational to the biblical faith, and Paul warned the super-spiritual “wise” men of Corinth that:
- “If there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain…And if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now has Christ been raised from the dead, the first fruits of them who sleep” – (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).
When Jesus returns, the righteous dead will be raised, and death will cease. Yes, the resurrection body will be a body of a different sort, a “spiritual body,” nevertheless, a body it will be. And though characterized by immortality and dominated by the Spirit, we will, all the same, live an embodied existence.
At the end of his discussion on the resurrection, Paul broke into praise, not because the saints will escape from our bodies, time, or the physical universe, but because:
- “The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”
The problem is NOT life under the restraints of time and physicality, but sin, the disobedience to God that resulted in humanity and the creation being subjected to disease, decay, and death. The biblical answer is NOT to escape from the creation, but redemption – the bodily resurrection – (Romans 8:20-23).
Power, spirituality, and wisdom are all found in “Christ crucified.” And nowhere does the Bible teach that the Spirit of God is incompatible with HIS creation. It is sin that separates men from His presence, not their physical natures. We each have a spirit, but it does follow logically or biblically that our spirits are incompatible with our bodies.
A faith that denies or denigrates the good creation of God is NOT biblical, NOT Christian, and certainly NOT “spiritual.” He created the entire universe, including the realm of time and our bodies, and He called ALL OF IT “good!” Adam’s problem was not his embodied state, but his disobedience to God. Death and bondage entered the Cosmos because of sin.
Christians who strive to peer into the “spirit realm” to gain insight into the nature and purposes of God are looking in all the wrong places. Look to Jesus, the Savior who died a genuine human death on a Roman cross, who was buried and raised bodily from the dead on the third day.