The Spiritual and the Natural Man

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Battle Over the Spiritual Man

If you are not acquainted with the fact, may I remind you that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness unto him and he cannot know them because they are spiritually judged, but he that is spiritual judgeth all things, he himself is judged of no man". And Paul, when he opened this letter addressing the Corinthians, told them that he had definitely resolved that his presence amongst them would be with one object only, and that he would know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

We have been seeking to understand, I trust a little more clearly and fully, the difference that Jesus Christ and the knowledge of Jesus Christ makes as to the kind of person that we are and to which category we belong of these two mentioned: the natural man and this: "he that is spiritual". We have been looking at this Jesus Christ with a view to seeing what it is about Him that is of this category, and nature, or type called "he that is spiritual" - what that means, remembering that the Word has a lot to say about being conformed to His image. So I think we shall see further as we proceed this evening.

Now, we left the Lord Jesus this afternoon on the other side of the Jordan, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit lighting upon Him, and the voice of the Father attesting Him as His beloved Son. And we saw that this image to which we are to be conformed, is one that stands on altogether new ground. Altogether new ground - ground where the Cross has been made effective in the life and the ground where God Himself can commit Himself; can freely say, as is the effect of this announcement from heaven, "This is My ground; to this ground I can commit Myself. This is what I desire and must have for the fulfilment of My purpose". For, as we saw, it was from that moment the Lord Jesus entered upon His great mighty ministry. And it was as though the Father said, "Now I have got the ground upon which I can proceed with My great purpose and My ground is a Man of this kind, after this order, a spiritual man, or a man of the Spirit".

But it is very significant, much more than interesting, it's impressive, that no sooner had God got His ground in His kind of Man, His spiritual Man, His Man of the Spirit, no sooner had God obtained that ground and declared Himself as committed to that ground, "This is My beloved Son", no sooner than there is a reaction - tremendous reaction from hell. And the very next thing in the course is that temptation of the Lord Jesus in the wilderness with which we shall be occupied for this little while this evening.

If you want it, of course, it's in the gospel by Matthew chapter 4: "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil..." and you know the rest of the temptations and what happened, and how the Lord Jesus, this Man of the Spirit emerged triumphant. And I repeat: how impressive and significant and instructive it is in this whole setting with which we are occupied, the whole setting of this different, altogether different, kind of Man as God's opportunity, God's occasion, God's ground, that the enemy reacts to that like this, in this determined, persistent, and very subtle way. I say, in the whole setting, it's most impressive.

It is as though the enemy Satan, who appears on the scene so quickly after these happenings, it is as though he said, "We must spoil this Man! We must undo this Man. We must do with this Last Adam what we did with the first: we must change Him. We must change Him or our whole cause is lost - all our work is undone. All our hope perishes if we cannot change this Man and conform Him, conform Him to the man that we have made, the man Adam that we have made racially. Conform this One to that, or all is lost! Our cause is a lost cause if we can't change this Man. If we cannot get Him off this ground onto our ground, if we cannot bring Him from the spiritual man ground to the natural man ground, then we are lost! We're undone." That's the issue. And I say again, how impressive, how significant, for undoubtedly that was the matter in hand in the wilderness.

The Battle Over the Spiritual Man

And if you know anything about spiritual pressures and spiritual conflict, if you know anything about the antagonisms and oppositions of the powers of evil, you know quite well that the object is always to try and provoke the natural man. It's the truth! To provoke you on that side of your being, to assert the old man and take natural ground. You understand that? How true it is.

And I remind you again, that with the Lord Jesus this was right at the commencement of His great mission in this world, His great mission of redemption, redemption of man, to redeem man from Adam's race and Satan's dominion; right there at the very commencement of that mission, this happened. As though, as though the enemy was saying, "We must frustrate and thwart the success of that mission of getting man off of our ground, out of our kingdom and dominion, onto this other one." A subtle, deep, terrible battle for the spiritual Man.

And what is it that is right at the heart of this? Well, note again: this is the beginning of the mission; in the wilderness with the devil himself and the temptation. The three temptations which you know, and we're not going to deal with them particularly, you know them. Right at the beginning this is the point and the nature of those temptations. You pass right from the beginning, right to the end, right to the end when this spiritual Man is about to complete the mission on the cross, and as He does so, He is in a prayer battle - a tremendous prayer battle about, not Himself this time, but about the others: "The men whom Thou hast given Me...".

And what is the word constantly recurring through John 17, that great, final outpouring of His heart concerning these who are to be the spiritual men - whom He wants to be spiritual men? And the prayer is all that they shall be spiritual men, but what is the word constantly recurring? You notice it? The world! The world... the world: "I am NOT of the world," He says, "They are not of the world. The men whom Thou hast given Me out of the world...." and so on.

In the wilderness it was the battle with the prince of this world and the spirit of this world. Look at the temptations - it would take us too much of my time to dwell upon each one, but look at those three temptations and it is as clear as the bright daylight that this is an attack along the line of the spirit of the world. And what is the spirit of the world? Can it be summed up in one word, one term? It can. It can, whether you fully grasp the meaning of the word I use, I'll define it afterward, but the one word which sums up the spirit of this world is: ego. Self. Self-hood. Self-interest. Self-realisation, self... oh, what a comprehensive thing that word ego is! Fill it out: egotism. That's the spirit of this world. That is the very spirit of Satan who said at the very beginning, "I will exalt my throne above the clouds, I will be equal with the Most High." I! Ego. Self. "Save Thyself," says he to the Lord, "Realise Thyself! Draw to Thyself! Assert Thyself! Consider Thyself, and if You don't, You'll lose everything. You'll lose everything: You'll lose Your life, You'll lose Your kingdom, You'll lose a following!"

Those are the three temptations, mark, "Your own life, Your own Kingdom! Worship me and all the kingdoms of the world shall be Yours - Your own Kingdom, Your own following! Cast Yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple and all men will say, 'This is the Messiah, come down from heaven', and You'll get Your following. They'll come after You!" Centred in self, so is the world: "And if only we can get this Man on to that ground, we've captured everything and defeated all His mission."

And so the Lord prays that great final prayer as He moves to the cross, "Father, those whom Thou hast given Me out of the world, I pray keep them from the world. I am not of this world, and they are not of this world." Do you follow that? It is very clear, this is the battle: the spiritual man, the natural man.

You come back to your first letter to the Corinthians and read again. And what are you in the presence of at Corinth? The inroads that the spirit of the world has made into the church at Corinth. You read all the things there the apostle has to mention, and every one of them in some way is an expression of the spirit of this world. The church is undone because the world has been given this place. "The wisdom of this world," says the apostle to them, the wisdom of this world. And all the other things there are just marks of this world where these, these Corinthians are seeking their own interests, their own ends, drawing to themselves, making themselves, self the criterion in its gratification. It's all there isn't it? It's all there. The world in Corinth has broken into the church, and so the apostle has to draw this distinction between the natural man who is actuated by self-interest, and the spiritual man like Jesus Christ where there's no personal interest.

A great, great fragment of Philippians 2: "He emptied Himself... took upon Him the form of a servant, being found in fashion as a man..." we're coming back on that perhaps in a minute. He emptied Himself, let go. The selfless spiritual Man. And he said to those in Philippi, "Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus..." the selfless mind... "Keep them from the world". It's the heart-cry of the Lord Jesus because He is fully acquainted with the immensity of the issue. He has fought this battle to such a point of exhaustion that God had to send an angel to strengthen Him after this battle.

So deep is the meaning of this issue - the spirit of the world, and the Spirit of Christ; the natural man, and the spiritual. As soon as the Lord gets anything that really is spiritual... shall I put that in another way? It's the same thing: as soon as the Lord gets anything that is really genuinely of Christ, there will be a terrific battle to spoil it. Isn't that true? Oh, look at Christendom! Look at Christianity! Look at the church and the churches over this world. In so, in so many instances, there was a beginning of something pure, something so good, genuine, and true, and in that beginning there was so much value, so much spiritual strength, beauty and virtue; something of Christ. But look now... look now! Nothing escapes, friends, don't you say "Never!", whether you're in the ideal or anywhere else, don't you ever say, "It can't happen to us".

I expect the church at Ephesus at one time would have said that, "It can't happen to us!" No, no, nothing escapes this onslaught, this determined purpose and intention of the powers of evil to spoil what is truly of Christ. They don't care about the formal thing, the thing that is just formal and institutional, traditional, but you get some genuine expression of Christ and there's a battle, and there will be a battle. And the battle? Oh, isn't it true, you do agree I'm sure, you've seen it; isn't it true the battle always arises on some personal interest, a personality complex, some personal element? The ego. Isn't it always just there that the trouble arises? The natural man... to be assertive over the spiritual. This is history and up-to-date history indeed.

Now, having said that, and anyone with any spiritual discernment can see how true it is and I'm only interpreting what you know by both experience and observation: the conflict over spirituality, it really is tremendous. But having said that, do you notice that this whole thing falls into two realms - what we may call the two conformities. The two conformities. To the Romans, the Roman Christians in his letter, the apostle said, "I beseech you by the mercies of God, present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is" (and this is the literal) "which is your spiritual service, your spiritual worship, and be not conformed to this world". That's one conformity, "But be transformed by the making over again of your mind," the renewing, making anew of your mentality, transformed, "Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus". The transformed mind, you see, not the conformed to this world. The same word in another way was used by the apostle in what I have quoted from the Philippians, "He was found in fashion as a man and took the form of a bondservant". Here we are: taking a form, a fashion, "Be not fashioned" is one translation or version of Romans 12:2, "Be not fashioned according to this world", don't take on the fashion of this world, don't fall into line with the fashion of this world, don't be influenced by the fashion of this world, be transformed, changed over by another mind, the mind that was in Christ Jesus.

To the Galatians the apostle wrote, "My little children, for whom I am again in travail till Christ be fully formed in you", back with our word transformed, formed, fully formed in you. Now, of course, I can add a lot and spoil everything by putting on too much, but I'm going to close with one thing.

The Final Criterion

Listen: the final criterion, that is, the standard or judgment, verdict, conclusion, is after all, the measure of Jesus Christ.

I sometimes think that the Lord from above must look down with a pathetic look on His face; pathetic, sometimes perhaps humorous, for I remember my first flight by air. My first flight by air, I have had a good many since, but I remember the first, when I, when we climbed up a few thousand feet and I looked down on this earth and I saw people. And I looked; are they people or are they maggots? They looked like little crawling things on the earth. Minute crawling things, and yet look at them! They're dressing themselves up! Some of them are putting on a certain kind of garment, and their collars around the wrong way, and their mitres and their robes, and all this. These little, little tiny maggots on the earth doing all this, making such a show and display of pomp and ceremony... oh, isn't it pathetic?

If you see things from heaven, you know what I mean! You see things from heaven, from heaven's standpoint, the Lord looks down with pity and says, "They make everything of that sort of thing. To them, it's all, and to Me? It's nothing. The only thing that counts with Me is just how much of My Son there is there! The only thing! I shut My eyes to all this, all this nonsense, this paraphernalia, this playing at things, this pretending, this make-believe. No, that doesn't exist for Me. They make everything of it. To Me it is nothing. The only thing down there which counts is how much of My Son is there! If there is some of My Son, of My Son, behind that sort of thing? All right, I fasten upon that and try to forget all the other". The criterion with God is just how much of this Other Man, this spiritual Man, this Son of His... and Paul was so much in line with the mind of God when he said, "Nothing! I know nothing! You're making everything of your philosophy, you're making so much of your worldly wisdom. You're making so much of this, and for me? Nothing of that. That doesn't, doesn't exist for me. I am determined to know nothing of all that; it's so much to you, but only Jesus Christ".

Only Jesus Christ. That's the criterion, after all, dear friends. It's not anything external, elaborate or otherwise, just the measure of this Other One, this different One, the spiritual Man Jesus Christ.

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