Over the next three weeks, I’ll be writing about something that has just clicked for me and enabled me to understand where I am in my Christian walk. Paul holds up Jesus as our example and urges us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling [Philippians 2:12]. The qualifications at the end of that verse strongly suggest we must be actively involved in our Christian walk. Advancing from where we are to where we need to be will only happen if we are intentional about it. Often the challenge is identifying where we are and understanding what’s required to advance to the next phase.
I have found that the New Testament epistles in various passages refer broadly to three kinds of men (men in this context refer to both male and female). There is the natural man, the sensual man and the spiritual man. These men represent stages of growth in the Christian walk. In various passages, there are instructions for anyone wishing to transition from a natural man to a sensual man and from a sensual man to a spiritual man. I appreciate that not everyone thinks like me, so deconstructing the Christian walk into phases may not be helpful to everyone. Nevertheless, I hope that this series of blogs will be beneficial to those trying to understand where they are in their walk of faith.
This week, I’d like to focus on the natural man. Paul explains that this man doesn’t accept the things of God because they seem foolish to him. The natural man doesn’t understand these things because they are spiritually discerned [1 Corinthians 2:14]. He doesn’t perceive life beyond his five senses, and he’s consequently vulnerable to the spiritual forces of evil [Ephesians 6:12]. One reason for this lack of spiritual perception is that he’s most likely devoid of the Holy Spirit. It could also be that having received the Holy Spirit, he has hardened his heart to the Spirit’s promptings, which implies his conscience is seared [1 Timothy 4:1-2]. The Holy Spirit never coerces our submission or obedience. If we insist on ignoring Him, He’ll leave us alone. It occurred to me recently that God doesn’t even compel the angels to serve Him – they do so willingly.
Scripture teaches that we were all born in iniquity and conceived in sin [Psalm 51:5]. Therefore, our hearts are naturally deceitful and desperately wicked [Jeremiah 17:9]. This condition is a by-product of the fall of man [Romans 3:23], and the remedy for it is to be born again [John 3:1-22]. According to Jesus, anyone who isn’t born again will not see the kingdom of God [John 3:3]. Thus, the most desperate need of a natural man, who is devoid of the Spirit, is salvation. That was the conclusion reached by those who heard the first Christian sermon on the day of Pentecost. Having heard Peter preach, they responded by asking: “what shall we do to be saved?” [Acts 2:37-40]. The jailer who witnessed Paul and Silas’s miraculous jailbreak reached a similar conclusion [Acts 16:25-40].
In these passages, we find the instructions for the natural man who desires salvation. Such a man must repent (that is, change his ideology and subscribe to God’s ideology) and believe in Jesus. Paul explained in his epistle to the Romans that when a man believes (that is, he’s fully persuaded) that God raised Jesus from the dead and confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord (that is, sovereign ruler and owner of all creation), he will be saved [Romans 10:9-10]. Arriving at such a conviction isn’t easy for anyone. It requires significant introspection because there are life-altering implications to it. As such, the decision can’t be compelled since the individual must willingly surrender to the lordship of Jesus (that is, do what He says) and the governing influence of His kingdom. It’s non-negotiable. Essentially, any man who hasn’t submitted to the lordship of Jesus isn’t a Christian, even if he’s a lifelong member of a church.
It’s noteworthy that Scripture says that when a man is saved, God literally ransoms him from the kingdom of darkness and transfers him into His Son’s kingdom [Colossians 1:13-14]. That’s important because that ransom paid for on Calvary breaks any legal authority the devil has over such a man and frees him to live a new life in Christ [Galatians 5:1]. The guarantee that this transaction has happened is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in that man’s life [Ephesians 1:3-14]. His name is also recorded in the book of life [Luke 10:20, Revelation 20:12]. Something else implied in Scripture is that we must all belong to one of two kingdoms. The kingdom we belong to ultimately determines our ideologies and dictate our choices and actions.
While we have no choice over belonging to a kingdom, we get to choose which kingdom we’ll belong to and which king will have our allegiance. I believe that’s one of the reasons Jesus said the gospel of the kingdom must be preached throughout the earth before the world ends [Matthew 24:14]. It also explains the necessity of the Great Commission [Matthew 28:18-20]. Every man must have an opportunity to accept or reject the lordship of Jesus before the day of judgement [Acts 17:31, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 20:11-15]. Otherwise, God would be unjust. It’s the most important decision we’ll all make because it has eternal consequences: Accepting Jesus means eternity with Him in His kingdom starting today, and rejecting Him means an eternity, in darkness, without Him [Matthew 10:32-33, Revelation 20:15].
As I wrap up the first part of this discourse, there’s only one question worth considering: “Does the natural man describe me?” If he does, what are you going to do about it [1 Timothy 2:3-4]?