(Spiritual, Carnal, Unregenerate)

Three spiritual conditions are described in the New Testament. A question was received concerning the three types of human beings the Bible describes: "There are three types of human beings. Could you explain the three: the natural man (non-believer); the worldly man (worldly, but saved); the spiritual man (walking in the Spirit)?"

The questioner has rightly identified the three types.

1) The Natural Man
Each of us experienced a natural (or physical) birth, but we inherited thereby more than simply genetics. The spiritual corruption that came upon Adam and Eve when they sinned has been passed on to us too (Ps. 51:5; 58:3). The Lord Jesus was able to avoid this, through the miracle of the virgin birth. The rest of us were born physically alive, but spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1, 5). As one who is spiritually dead, the natural man (or woman) is not able to understand spiritual things (I Cor. 2:14), nor does he have the power to respond to God as he should (Rom. 3:11; 5:6).

What is needed to correct the problem is a second birth, a new birth. When the Lord Jesus talked to a man named Nicodemus about this, he mistakenly thought the Lord was saying we need another physical birth (Jn. 3:4), but that is not what was meant. Christ was speaking of a spiritual birth, a work of God accomplished in the individual by the Holy Spirit.

"As many as received Him [Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:12-13). Born of God. That is what is required if we are to have new spiritual life. And it is the only way we can be fitted for the heavenly kingdom (Jn. 3:3).

Christ died on the cross to take the punishment for sin that we deserve (I Cor. 15:3; I Pet. 2:24; 3:18). When a person puts his faith in Christ as his only Saviour from sin, he is born again into the family of God (Jn. 1:12-13), he receives everlasting life (Jn. 3:16), and the Spirit of God comes to live within him forever (I Cor. 6:19-20; cf. Rom. 8:9). We call such a person a "Christian" (a Christ-one).

Becoming a Christian gives us eternal right standing with God. But we then have the responsibility to live out our Christianity in daily life, to live like the Christians we became through faith in Christ. (Compare the difference between being a citizen of Canada--our legal standing--and acting like a citizen of Canada--our state in daily experience.)

The latter, in a spiritual sense, is accomplished as we walk in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit involves day by day faith and obedience toward God. Just as walking physically requires one step at a time–left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, and so on–so walking in the Spirit calls for consistent steps of trust and obey, trust and obey. "If we live in the Spirit [through the new birth], let us also walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25).

But it is just at this point that the distinction between the other two kinds of people comes in. Some are Christians who behave like they are. Others have backslidden, been disobedient to the Lord, and perhaps have grown spiritually cold.

2) The Spiritual Man
In contrast to the natural man (I Cor. 2:14), the Bible next mentions "he who is spiritual" (vs. 15). The spiritual person is a born again believer. But more than that, he is a born again believer who is living like he is! It may be helpful to think of the distinction this way: A Christian is one who is rightly related to Christ (through faith for salvation); a spiritual Christian is one who is rightly related to the Holy Spirit (through a consistent walk in the Spirit).

The spiritual Christian has wisdom and spiritual discernment (I Cor. 2:9-13). The Spirit of God is also developing within him the fruit of Christlike character (Gal. 5:22-23). Stated another way, the spiritual believer, who consistently walks in the Spirit, will not behave himself like one who is an unsaved sinner (Gal. 5:16). Notice too that it is spiritual Christians who are equipped to help a sinning saint to get back on track (Gal. 6:1).

3) The Carnal Man
The questioner calls him a "worldly" person. That is true of him too. He is living according to the values of this sinful world. But we get a specific contrast between spiritual and carnal in First Corinthians 3:1-4, so I will use that word. "Carnal" means fleshly, and it represents those who are yielding to the desires of the old sin nature, rather than walking in the Spirit. They are Christians, but are not living like it.

The Apostle Paul says they are like babes in Christ" (I Cor. 3:1). (Notice he does not say they have lost their salvation, become un-born again, and need to be re-born again again!) It is a matter of practical conduct, not of their standing before God. The Corinthian congregation had regressed to spiritually childish behaviour, squabbling among themselves. And Paul says, (in the New King James Version) that such people are "behaving like mere men" (I Cor. 3:3). That is, judging from their behaviour, you might come to the conclusion that they are natural men, rather than born again Christians.

In each Christian, "the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are contrary to one another" (Gal. 5:17). But God gives us the grace to say no to the promptings of our sin nature, and to trust and obey Him (Rom. 6:11-13; I Cor. 10:13). When we fail, as we sometimes do, we are to confess our sins to the Lord, and claim His cleansing and forgiveness (I Jn. 1:9).

We are warned to "make no provision for the flesh" (Rom. 13:14). That is, we should not feed our sinful natures or put ourselves unnecessarily in the way of temptation. (Think of Joseph running from the house when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him, Gen. 39:7-12.) Instead of putting things into our minds that will stir up the flesh, we are to feed upon things that will edify and strengthen us (Phil. 4:8–and of course the Word of God should be Number One on such a list).

These are the three spiritual conditions the Bible describes. As Christians, we need to walk in the Spirit and avoid anything that would cause our spiritual life to wither. The old poem is helpful: "Two dogs fight within my breast– / The one is cursed, the other blessed; / The one I love, the one I hate; / The one I feed will dominate." We are to feed our souls on the Word of God.