The Spiritual and the Natural Man

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - God's Pattern

One of the difficulties of meetings of this kind which are consecutive, is that the company changes all the way through. In some cases fresh friends come in from meeting to meeting and it's just difficult to follow straight on. I say that because we have started on a course which is consecutive and we cannot go back over what has been every time. But for those who are with us anew, I will try to help them in and perhaps the best thing to do is just to pick out one or two of the fragments of the Word by which we are being led and then come to the special part which is for this morning.

In the first letter to the Corinthians, first letter to the Corinthians in chapter two (it is the whole chapter that needs to be in mind, but we cannot read that now) you will notice what it is about, the line that the apostle is following, and I just pick out these two fragments. Verse 14, "Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness unto him, he cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual discerneth or examineth all things." Those two designations: "the natural man" and "he that is spiritual".

In the second letter to the Corinthians in chapter 3 at verse 18: "But we all with unveiled face, reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image". We are transformed into the same image.

I add a fragment in the letter to the Romans chapter 8, well known, but helpful in this connection, at verse 29: "For he whom He foreknew He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son". Foreordained to be conformed, made with the form of His Son, we are being transformed into the same image, from the natural man, to "He that is spiritual".

Now you are going to have some surprise when, on this day when we are thinking so much about the resurrection, I am going to take you right away from the end of the life of the Lord Jesus here on this earth, to its beginning. In the gospel by Luke, if you will please turn to chapter 1 and verse 26 and onward, chapter 1 of Luke's gospel at verse 26:
"Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found grace with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also that which is to be born shall be called the Son of God."

This falls right into line with our present consideration. We are seeing that Christ is Christianity. If we really do need, as we do, to understand and know what Christianity really is, amidst all the confusion that has risen within the compass of that word "Christianity", to understand the real nature of this into which we have come requires that we shall have a true, a genuine spiritual understanding of Christ. And that is not as simple as it sounds when it is stated like that. For the oldest believer, one who has gone longest and farthest with the Lord, still realises how much he or she needs to know and understand the Lord Jesus. And if we want proof of a statement like that, let us remember that so great a servant of Jesus Christ, with so great a revelation of Jesus Christ, who could say that he had at a certain time been caught up into the third heaven and shown unspeakable things which is not lawful for a man to utter, who could say "I will come to visions and revelations of God", a man with all his spiritual history and spiritual knowledge, in the closing days of his life in his prison, is still crying, "That I may know Him". "That I may know Him..." still the predominating ambition and quest of a man with all that. Everything, therefore, is a matter of knowing in a spiritual way the Lord Jesus, so that Christ is really Christianity. It is not a system of truth, doctrine, teaching, practice, creed and so on, it is a Person. And yet a Person beyond all comprehending.

Well, now we come to this next phase of our present consideration. Paul said here to the Corinthians, "I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ. Amongst you, all I intend to know is Jesus Christ", and then he says, "And Him crucified". And Him crucified. Jesus Christ; to know Jesus Christ among you. That was excluding one whole realm of things and focusing and concentrating everything upon this Person: Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Why? And here again is the key to our New Testament, as well as to these letters: Jesus Christ has come into this world as the first and representative of a different type of humanity. A different type of man has broken into history in the Person of Jesus Christ. And it is this that gives the meaning and explanation to the incarnation, the miraculous birth of the Lord Jesus, the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus. And you know that the two things about which there has been more controversy than anything else where Jesus Christ is concerned, where all the schools of theological interpretation have been in conflict, the two things are the birth and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus - many other things of course, in His life and so on, but the two main points of controversy have been the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection. It's very significant that it is so.

Leaving the resurrection for the moment, if we get there in these days remains to be seen, we've a long way to go. Let's start here, with this birth of which we have just read, what is called, and scripturally called, the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus. I have said that this is the point of controversy and point of difficulty in its real spiritual understanding. And the battle began, the spiritual battle of these ages began at that point when there emerged into this world and into history this One after this kind, this particular kind of humanity. So soon after His birth all hell rose up to quench that flame, to blot out that life and its testimony. Herod, that devil-dominated and driven man, went so far as to massacre all infant boys with the object of getting this One; just this One. And that was not Herod only, the Lord Jesus later Himself said of other men than Herod, "You are of your father the devil, he was a murderer from the beginning and the works of your father you do." The murderer behind Herod and all of his kind rose up immediately this type of humanity broke into this world. Well, that's patent isn't it? And the explanation? The explanation: you see, you have two alternative humanities, or mankind. You have the one that satan made. When he got hold of Adam he changed the humanity, the kind of being that man was, he changed that man by an evil spiritual fornication, he produced a race after his own mind; after his mind. Comprehensively the Word declares, "the whole world lies in the wicked one." A race after satan's mind of which he is, confessedly by the Lord Jesus, "the prince and the god of this world". A kind of humanity.

On the other side there is this kind, this type brought into history, into this world by God: another, an alternative humanity to that other, in Whom all that other is going to be judged and, if unrepentant and if not transformed and passed over from the one to the other, doomed to be blotted out of God's universe. Therefore all the painstaking work, labour and effort of the evil one and all the evil powers in the whole Adam race is going to be upset by this new kind of humanity. It's going to be; all his work is going to be undone in this. All that ever satan set himself to do in spoiling God's kind of man is just going to be undercut and blotted out in this One who has now broken into this world.

You can understand why satan said "We must, as soon as possible, in His earliest days, blot Him out, dismiss Him, get rid of Him". That lies behind this kind of humanity that is God-produced and not man-produced and not satan-produced; this kind of Man that is in His very conception God's act; a miracle. Well, you can understand why the rationalists who don't know anything about new birth take offense and objection to the virgin birth. What is, after all, the best testimony to and confirmation of the miraculous, supernatural birth of the Lord Jesus? It's our new birth. We don't have to argue it as theology, or mere Christian doctrine and creed, we know that Jesus Christ is a miracle because He's a miracle in us. But the rationalists don't know about new birth, therefore they can be caught in this controversy over the birth of the Lord Jesus.

Well, the explanation you see, of this antagonism, and this animosity, and all this confusion, the enemy is the author of confusion, all this confusion about the Lord Jesus in His very conception and inception and nature and being, is because of this one thing which runs right through the New Testament: another kind of manhood, or mankind has been introduced into history and introduced not as an afterthought, not as an afterthought, but foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son. Out from the eternal thought and intention of God, the image is introduced to which the believers, the church has to be conformed, into whose likeness we are being transformed. Now, you see, this is all worked out in your New Testament.

You want to understand your New Testament? Anywhere, anywhere read it in this light: what is this all about? What does it mean? What is it after? What is the portent of this? Every bit of it is to bring Christ into view and to show this transforming work of believers. Isn't it all through the New Testament, that? First you have the magnificent presentation of Him in person in four portraits of four gospels. In the great wisdom and sovereignty of God it all begins with a four-fold portrait of the Man. And then from then onward by the Holy Spirit the work begins and proceeds to transform and conform a people to that Man. So different, so different. There's a mystery and a miracle that lies right at the very heart and root of this thing.

The Christian life begins in truth, begins with a miracle, a supernatural act; you and I know that if we're born again. And it proceeds on the basis of that miracle and that mystery. It's something other and something different that God is doing, He's not just allowing us to go on our natural course. There's a lot compassed by a statement like that, isn't there? That under the Holy Spirit's government we are not allowed to go on our natural course, we are continuously brought up against the demand for something supernatural, something above the natural, more than the natural, we are continually brought up against the fact that naturally we cannot rise to this standard. We cannot meet this demand. We cannot go through this experience and challenge, we need something more than we have in ourselves. We need something supernatural. That's the whole history of the Christian life. It begins on that supernatural basis, for no man can beget this type, "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit". And, "which were born not of the flesh, not of the will of man," it cannot be done. It cannot be done, you cannot produce this order by any natural means whatsoever, it's only produced by God.

I am saying things that you all know and agree with, I'm quite sure, but I have just said that the whole New Testament opens out along this very line. We were in 1 Corinthians 15 for a few moments this morning, you see? In Adam - all die. In Christ - all made alive. The first man, Adam; the Last Adam. And the contrasts are simply the contrast of two orders of creation altogether between the two: first and last. The second man and the Last Adam. Always be careful how you quote scripture. The second man, yes, but the Last Adam; no more races after Christ. There's not going to be another race after Christ, finality in humanity is in Him, the end. "If any man be in Christ", says the apostle, there is a new creation. In Christ: a new creation.

And so we come back to our starting place, we are being, in the process of being, transformed into the same image. And all I'm going to say again this morning in this brief time is where I closed last night: it depends entirely upon which of these two orders in each one of us is predominating. The Corinthians were Christians, they were born again believers, they were addressed as such, but during the five years between Paul's first visit to them and sojourn amongst them, and his letter, there had become such a degeneration and decline in their spiritual life, they had opened the door so widely to this world, that as Christians predominantly the natural man was in charge. And so you have this terrible letter of all these things belonging to the natural man.

He has to say, "I could not speak to you other than as babes" as babes. Well, they were babes. They were babes. It is alright to be a babe while it is time to be a babe, but after seven years... he was there with them two years and then five years later he wrote his letter, after seven years you ought to at least begin to have emerged from babyhood oughtn't you? You'd think it strange if a child of seven years, and by the way seven years is the most original time of life, a child of seven is the most original person in creation; it's all original now, you parents know that quite well by the questions that are asked. My eldest daughter at about that age, after coming to the service and hearing the chapter read about the end of the age, the end of the world rather, as it is in the Authorised: "the end of the world", that phrase. When we got home, she said, "Daddy, if a man went up in a balloon and while he was up the end of the world came, what would he come down on?" I tell you, at seven years they can put some posers to you, it's original, but that's just by the way. By the time you get to seven years of a spiritual life you ought to begin to emerge from that infant state of irresponsibility. And here they were at that time in their spiritual life, he says, "Babes still, had to feed you with milk, not with meat, you are not able..." That's a terrible situation; terrible situation.

It's a matter of which of our two, the two sides of our make up is really in the ascendant: the natural or the spiritual. Or in other words, whether we are really in the process of being transformed and conformed. Well, the answer will depend entirely, as I said before, last night, upon our reaction to God's dealings with us as children. Over to Hebrews, Hebrews: "God dealeth with you as with sons... despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor think when thou art reproved... him whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth..." Your reaction to His dealings with you. If it is, like Israel in the wilderness, murmuring, complaining and shirking and all the time rebelling and wanting to get out of it and say, "Let's go back" forgetting, forgetting the tyranny of Egypt, to go back from under the hand of the One who was seeking to make them, in difficulties and adversities, discover things about Himself and what He could do.

Now to bring that right up to date, dear friends, you and I are really in a school, and a very practical school under the hand of God, where it is necessary for us to know Christ. "That I may know Him..." and here is the focal point of the knowledge: "and the power of His resurrection". Anyone here telling me they don't need to know that, the power of His resurrection? Well, we are here under His hand to learn that, to know that. It is a wonderful, wonderful thing to know the power of His resurrection maintaining us, enabling us, causing us to supersede those things which limit and make impossible our life and our service, we are up against this all the time; we are in this battle with forces of death to quench, to put us out.

And the Lord doesn't put us into situations and circumstances where it's all easy and straight sailing. He doesn't do that. He does just the opposite for Christians. He puts us down in places where, my word, we can't go through, we really cannot live unless the Lord Almighty sees us through this. And that's what we are there for: to discover the Lord Almighty and the power of His resurrection. If we say, "Well, I am going to resign. I am going to quit. I am going to find an easier way than this, a simpler way than this..." you take yourself right out of the hands of God, and out of the realm of making spiritual discoveries of Jesus Christ. We will leave it there.

You see, this is very true isn't it? Very practical. This spirituality is very practical, we are being transformed, passed from one order to another: the Adam order, to the Christ order; to the natural - from the natural to the spiritual. And this is the way, a practical way, but keep always in mind this: there's an image. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it this way: "Looking off... unto Jesus the author and perfecter of faith". Remember, God has got His Pattern, His Order, "in His Son" - He's there. And we behold, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, and again while we look not at the things which are seen, so near and pressing upon our consciousness and trying to obsess us with themselves, but we look through to Him Who through these things, which are very real, is seeking to produce something more of Christ. May the Lord help us so to view and interpret His ways with us.

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