Spiritual/Natural – discerning the difference
The natural world is measurable, observable and generally relates to our five senses. To see, to hear, to taste, to touch, to smell. By these we respond with speaking, moving, eating, working etc.
The natural is generally governed by the laws of nature. Most of our feelings are related to these stimuli. Much of our behaviour is directed by our DNA.
Spiritual by contrast is outside of nature, feelings and the five senses. The spiritual may at times channel through the natural, but is essentially distinct. Let me illustrate – Angels are Spirit beings. They are intelligent and interact with God and others yet being unseen and unheard. On occasions they may operate in the visible world (Genesis 18:2). They of course like us are finite, yet they operate outside of the laws of Nature.
Our spirit is more than feelings, more than imagination. Our spirit is that intelligent part of our being able to interact with God by His Spirit. I desire to distinguish between ‘gut feeling’ and spiritual enlightenment. God gives enlightenment and it is our choice as to how we respond to it. We can overcome the natural, by obeying the spiritual.
The human brain is capable to pulling together much information to give a direction, impulse, feelings. The influence of the Spirit of God with our spirit goes beyond that. Several illustrations from the Bible may be the best way to explain.
Acts 27 – Paul is facing the likelihood of shipwreck, execution by the soldiers or drowning at sea. Natural instinct is panic or despair. But a spirit being (the angel of the Lord) stood by him and gave him intelligence from God – a promise of life, a promise of converts. Paul overcame the natural, by the spiritual and God fulfilled His promise.
A little closer to home. In Romans 7, a man finds himself struggling under the diversions of a fallen nature – inclined to do wrong things. It seems to be made worse, because the communication from God, a spiritual message, seems to make the despair worse. The law is spiritual!
Paul explains the distinction between ‘knowing’ what is the right thing to do (Spiritual) and following through when one is naturally inclined to wrong. The victory is in chapter 8 when we understand the truth (not the feeling), the truth of what God has done by Christ Jesus. We understand that through Christ’s death, we are not condemned (even though we have sinned). This will affect our feelings, may even bring tears of hope, relief and joy to our eyes. But my point is that the spiritual part is God’s communicating to our spirits the intelligence of God’s attitude, God’s actions toward us.
The chapter goes on to explain how God has done this and then by the communication of the Spirit, joins us to God, so that we connect with the invisible God as “ Abba Father”. To the natural man this is all non sense!
Life then has a different motive, different meaning, different point of reference -- a Spiritual connection with a Spiritual being.
The Lord Jesus taught the priority of the spiritual in another way. He said ‘blessed are the poor’, meaning the natural inclination to attain status, to be richer, is not the spiritual way. He said “blessed are the meek”, meaning the idea of prominence, powers, prestige, are not God’s thinking. He said blessed are they that mourn. This morose direction is not popular, but God connects with those who see beyond the visible and are concerned for the eternal.
He seems to go too far and say “blessed are you when you are mocked and persecuted”. Are we not to make this a better world where everyone is happy forever after? Well, what does He mean? His very presence on earth was the greatest of all “Spiritual” revelations. God the invisible (Spirit) was revealed in flesh (unspoiled humanity). The reaction to Him (faith or unbelief) was the fundamental choice of receiving the Spirit’s revelation or not. To reject Him, is to sin (the unpardonable sin) against the Holy Spirit. To receive Him, the ongoing enlightenment of the Holy Spirit establishes a connection of relationship that abides for eternity. So to be mocked for HIS sake is connecting with the spiritual one.
Real life, eternal life, is to know God in Christ (John 17). To understand this is important before trying to sort out spiritual gifts, spiritual communications etc.
Thus far we see the Invisible God (a spirit being) making contact with visible mankind. The teachings of the Lord Jesus and the apostles are full of encouragement for us to see the spiritual, eternal realities. The Lord Jesus said so much about heaven.
Peter and Paul preached about our spiritual condition before God and the real possibility of being forgiven by an unseen God. Peter wrote about us being ‘partakers of the Divine nature’ – This is spiritual reality stuff. John exhorted us to live in Love - not natural love, but God’s ‘agape’ love.
Then an observant reader of the New Testament will notice the exhortation to let these spiritual truths influence our natural life. Not two compartments, natural and spiritual, but rather bringing the whole life into the obedience of Christ – Sowing to the Spirit - Galatians 6.
Much could be said about how this applies today. First I suggest be wary of strange voices, with fleshly directions. A true prophet, a teacher, a healer, a word of wisdom etc, must operate to glory Christ, to be true to the Holy Spirit.
A Spiritual person (one in touch with God) will evidence the fruit of the Spirit. A spiritual work or mission will focus on making Christ known in a verbal or practical way. A spiritual outlook will be like Moses who lived life in the light of the invisible, in the values of the Eternal and Hebrews 11 records the effect on his choices.
Praying in the Spirit is addressing the unseen Father through the exalted Lord Jesus Christ, praying in accord with God’s will, that He the living One might act in the spirit world and the natural world over which He has ultimate control. Let us then, worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4).
In conclusion to this brief consideration, let me point to the evidence of a spiritual person.
Love (God’s kind of love),
Joy (happiness in God)
Peace (Faith in one Greater than the natural circumstances)
Kindness (going beyond instinct in care)
Goodness (Acting by God’s values)
Faithfulness (Being true to right and responsibilities)
Gentleness (Not driven by impulse or self interest, but considerate of others)
Self Control (the natural, fallen inclination brought under obedience to Christ)
The scriptures say, these are the outcomes of those walking in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit (Galations 5)
May it be so in every life.
John McKee comments to firstname.lastname@example.org