What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual?

Man holding Bible

Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.

Nowadays, it’s not unusual to hear someone described as being a “spiritual person.” But if you ask people what they mean, you’ll probably hear different things.

For instance, some would say a spiritual person acknowledges the existence of a higher power in the universe, which may or may not be defined as God. Others say spiritual people are those who cultivate their inner feelings and thoughts to love themselves, other people, and the planet. Some might say someone who is spiritual rejects materialistic values and engages in humanitarian works. 

Many find it hard to define what they mean or what their view is based on. 

But as those who believe in Jesus Christ, our definition should come from what God says in His Word. If we know the biblical meaning of what it is to be spiritual, we won’t spend time pursuing something that’s not according to God.

In this post, we’ll look at verses and read some notes from the New Testament Recovery Version to help us understand what being spiritual means according to God’s Word.

What is the spirit?

The word spiritual is the adjective form of spirit. That tells us that being spiritual must be related to the spirit.

So what is the spirit? 

The Bible reveals God created human beings in a very particular way with three parts: a spirit, a soul, and a body

We contact the material realm with our body, and we perceive things of the psychological realm with our soul, which is composed of our mind, emotion, and will. And most crucially, we can contact, receive, and even contain God with the deepest part of our being, our spirit. This is why God created us in such a wonderfully complete and detailed way. He wants us to receive Him as our life so that we would express God with our whole being, fulfilling His eternal plan.

The result of the fall of mankind

But after God created the first man, who represented all humanity, God’s plan for man was interrupted by Satan, God’s enemy. Satan tempted man to disobey God, causing man to fall away from God. Instead of receiving God, man took in Satan’s evil nature of sin. 

Consequently, man’s entire being was affected: man’s spirit was deadened, man’s soul was contaminated, and man’s pure body was changed into the flesh full of lusts. God loves man, but He cannot tolerate sin because He is righteous and holy. So sinful man was condemned to die and was separated from God. 

This is why we need to be redeemed and fully saved.

What happens when we’re saved

Before we were saved, our spirit was deadened and empty. So it was impossible for us to be a spiritual person, no matter what we thought that meant or how hard we may have tried to achieve it.

But when we heard the gospel, we repented and received the Lord Jesus as our Savior. At that moment, we were not only saved from God’s judgment; we were also born again of the Spirit of God in our spirit! God came to live in our spirit to be our life and everything to us.

Now God wants us to live and do everything by His life in our spirit.

Before we were saved, we lived either by our natural, fallen soul—our own thoughts, emotions, or intentions—or by our fallen flesh, which is full of all kinds of sinful lusts and corruption. But after we’re saved, we need to live by our spirit.

God’s intention for us can’t be fulfilled when we live according to our soul or our flesh. He redeemed us and came into our spirit so we would live by our spirit. This is what it means to be spiritual.

A soulish man or a spiritual man

In 1 Corinthians chapter 2, the apostle Paul speaks of both a soulish man and a spiritual man. Verse 14 says:

“But a soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually.”

Paul wrote these words to the believers in Corinth. This shows us that even though we’re saved and born again, we may be a soulish man, not a spiritual man. And a soulish man is unable to receive the things of God because they’re discerned spiritually.

Note 6 explains what spiritually means:

Spiritually here refers to the spirit of man that is moved by the Spirit of God to fully exercise its function and thereby replace the human soul’s rule and control over man. It is only by such a spirit that man can discern the things of the Spirit of God. A man who is ruled and controlled by his spirit is a spiritual man, as mentioned in the next verse. Since God is Spirit, all the things of the Spirit of God are spiritual. Therefore, to discern, to know the things of the Spirit of God, man must use the human spirit (John 4:24).”

A soulish man is ruled and controlled by the soul. But a spiritual man allows his spirit to rule over his entire being. 

Paul goes on in verse 15:

“But the spiritual man discerns all things.”

The first part of note 1 of this verse in the New Testament Recovery Version explains what a spiritual man is:

A spiritual man is one who denies his soul and does not live by his soul but allows his spirit, that is, his regenerated spirit, which is occupied and energized by the Spirit of God, to dominate his entire being. Furthermore, he lives by such a spirit, moving and acting according to it (Rom. 8:4).”

So to be spiritual, we must allow our regenerated spirit to dominate our whole being. This means we live and act by our spirit in all aspects of our daily life. What we say and do is under the rule and control of our spirit, which is occupied and energized by the Spirit of God.

Exercising our spirit by praying short prayers

To live by our spirit, we must learn to exercise our spirit. The more we exercise any part of our being, the stronger it becomes. For instance, the more we exercise our legs, the stronger they become. We need to exercise our regenerated spirit so our spirit is strengthened and can govern our entire being. 

How can we exercise our spirit? The best way to exercise our legs is by running or walking. In the same way, the best way to exercise our spirit is by praying. When we exercise our spirit by praying, we contact the Lord and enjoy Him as our life.

Prayer isn’t a formal activity restricted to certain places and times. We can exercise our spirit by praying simple, short prayers anytime, anywhere.

We can begin the day by praying something like this: 

“Lord Jesus, thank You for being in my spirit. Thank You for being my life. Remind me today to live according to my spirit.”

Then throughout our day, we can utter short prayers to the Lord to stay in touch with Him in our spirit.

While we’re working, we can pray, “Lord, I want to do this in my spirit with You.” As we talk to someone, we can inwardly pray, “Lord Jesus, I want to talk to this person according to my spirit.”

We can exercise our spirit to stay with the Lord by simply calling on His name. Calling, “Oh, Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus,” is an easy way to exercise our spirit.

As we exercise our spirit every day, we’ll experience living and doing things according to our spirit more and more.

Why we need to be spiritual

Note 2 on 1 Corinthians 3:1 is encouraging yet sobering. It sheds more light on what kind of man we may be and why it’s important for us to be spiritual. Let’s look at the second paragraph:

“This book [1 Corinthians] reveals clearly that a believer may be one of three kinds of men: (1) a spiritual man, living in his spirit under the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:25); (2) a soulish man, living in his soul under the direction of the soul, the natural life (2:14); or (3) a fleshy and fleshly man, being of the flesh and living in the flesh under the influence of the nature of the flesh.”

Surely in our life with the Lord we all would desire to be a spiritual man, not a soulish or fleshly man. But we shouldn’t think being a spiritual man is only for some special believers. The note continues:

“The Lord desires that all His believers take His grace to be the first kind of man—a spiritual man. This was the goal of this book: to motivate the Corinthian believers who were soulish, fleshy, and fleshly to aspire to the growth in life that they might become spiritual (2:15; 3:1; 14:37).” 

The note concludes by highlighting the importance of living in our spirit:

“As we have been called by God into the fellowship of Christ (1:9), who is now the life-giving Spirit (15:45), and as we are one spirit with Him (6:17), we can experience and enjoy Him only when we live in our spirit under the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we live in the soul or in the flesh, we cannot participate in Him or enjoy Him.”

Every one of us can cooperate with the Lord by receiving His grace to be a spiritual man. Being spiritual is a necessity if we want to know and enjoy the Lord as our life and allow Him to grow in us. As He grows in us, little by little we will express Him in our daily life, and not ourselves. This is what the Lord wants, and this is what will fulfill His plan for us. 

We hope you’ll take the time to absorb this enlightening note, together with the verses it cites, and even pray about it. May we all take grace to be a spiritual man as the Lord desires. To learn more, we encourage you to read the verses mentioned in this post with their corresponding notes in the New Testament Recovery Version. If you live in Australia, you can order a free copy here.

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