Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

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Spiritual but not Saved. Saved but not Spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

If you are not a Christian, can you understand God’s word? Based on this text, some would say “no.”

It is a good example of why context is so important for correct biblical interpretation.

Paul was not speaking hypothetically. He was talking about his readers. They had been “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” called into the fellowship of Christ, and had the Spirit of God. They were not, however, “spiritual.” Paul said they were still “people of the flesh” – just “human.” He made his judgment on the basis of how they were acting. Jealousy, strife, arrogance, and division characterized their lives. Because they “thought” like worldly people, and not like God, they acted like worldly people and had difficulty understanding what Paul had told them and what he was writing to them. Our verse was a rebuke of his Christian readers. That is the context.

This leads us to some important observations: First, “spirituality” has to do with how one thinks and the direction of life. Second, it is possible to be spiritual, but not be saved. Cornelius in Acts 10 is a prime example. He had a mind and heart for God, expressed in the way he lived, but he was still unsaved. Because he was spiritual, when he learned what God wanted him to do to be saved, he did it. Third, it is possible to be a Christian and not be spiritual. When our thinking, our views, more mirror those of the world than God, we are unspiritual, worldly, human, carnal, and have difficulty understanding what God wants of us. The Corinthian church is a prime example.

In another letter Paul urged his readers to set their minds on things that are “above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). Context is critical, but our ability to understand Scripture also depends on the nature of our thinking.

Thursday, November 20. 1 Corinthians 1 – 3

Who is Paul talking about in chapter 2 when he mentions those “without the Spirit?” Does he mean that if you don’t have the Spirit of God, you cannot understand the will of God?

Calvinism teaches the necessity of having the Spirit to even begin the journey to a relationship with God. 1 Corinthians 2:14 is one of the proof-texts for this.

But Paul isn’t talking about this at all.

Paul is addressing people who already have the Spirit of God, but whose lives are anything but spiritual. Theirs are lives led more by the worldly values than spiritual. They are “Christian,” but immature.

Paul would like to speak to these Christians, but though they have the Spirit, they are not led by him, and so they have difficulty understanding Paul’s message. This is Paul’s point. The Corinthians will not like that point. Spirituality is a big deal with them. They think they are spiritual, but they are not. Their behavior betrays them through their jealousy and quarreling. It is worldly behavior, lived by Christian people. Perhaps that’s why Paul doesn’t really write “The man without the Spirit” in 2:14, but “the worldly man,” using a term appearing only five times in the New Testament. James uses it to refer to his readers as unspiritual in the following passage: Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:13-15).