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.