In the former chapters, we mentioned that God created everything through Christ, His Son, visible and invisible. And when Adam sinned, Man was “cast out” of the invisible, spiritual world into the visible, physical world. We will call this life as the life of our Natural Man. However, if we are born again through our faith in Christ Jesus and the reception of the Spirit of Sonship, we begin to have access to God’s presence and His spiritual reality. We will call this life as the life of our Spiritual Man.
God is good at using things of the natural to teach us things of the spiritual. For a child of God, most of our understanding and wisdom are learned firstly in the natural, then the spiritual. In this light, it would be very helpful for us to visit the way how we grow in our natural stature and wisdom to gain insight into the spiritual life we are to grow into.
Life of A Natural Man
When we are in our mother’s womb, we are firstly but a seed (male and female coming together). Normally, it would take a set period of time for our organs to be formed in the womb as a healthy babe. After we come out of the womb, instantly, we begin to face a new world. All our organs and others faculties of life will be quickened and utilized to get acquainted with it. This is something more than just embarking into a new reality. It is quite a transforming experience, miraculous in many ways.
Envision for a moment of the life of a plant, like a tree. It takes long time for the life within the seed to be released. It has to break out the shell and take root. Gentle and fragile as it is in the beginning, it starts to take off onto a journey of a new life, no longer as a seed, but as a plant. It still takes a long time for it to grow strong enough to come out the ground and embrace the world of sunlight and breeze. So perfectly God orders the seasons and weathers that this amazing process almost slips out of the scrutiny of our naked eyes, without our notice and cheer. Yet each step in coming into a new world and being strengthened as a new life is truly a miracle and a triumph for a life with such a humble beginning.
In a sense, a new-born babe is such a miracle and a triumph. The transformation and release is a wonder that combines more than the breaking of the shell like a tiny seed, but also the coming out of the ground like a gentle shoot. And the promise is life of an oak of age, firmly planted by the river, giving shade to sun-beaten passers-by on a long pilgrimage, offering perch and food to wearisome birds on the way of a distant migration. Let’s make some very brief observations of this:
- It inaugurates a process of opening up our natural senses, which will be fully utilized in a world full of wonders and new possibilities.
- It begins to develop into a life of intelligence with knowledge, understanding and wisdom.
- Method of physical provision is totally changed: The babe does not depend on the mother for nourishment anymore. It begins to be fed or feed itself by the mouth, first with milk. And as it grows, then, solid food.
- It no long is being isolated. Now it will enjoy diverse relationships with others with its emotional and mental capacity being gradually developed. First into a family, then into a community and society, or culture.
Now, as the babe grows in physical stature, he will eventually grow into being a mature man, with full capacity to cope with the natural world and find himself quite at home in it. He will learn and create, using his knowledge, skills, and talents to fulfill tasks and responsibilities of all kinds. Most importantly, he now knows how to receive love and express love in a way that he had not much a clue when he was his mother’s womb.
Life of A Spiritual Man
Now, with this parallel, we can almost grasp most of the elements of the life of the Spiritual man. The seed is the Life of Christ, offered as the Gift from God the Father. It is sown in our natural life, nurtured and educated by the Holy Spirit. But we are not fully released into the spiritual world because our physical body has not yet been done away with. In this sense, in our earthly life, we will have a life of duality: we live as a natural man as well as a spiritual man. But our faith in Christ gives us hope that one day this duality will come to a closure. And we will be fully transformed into the Likeness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and enjoy the fullness of His Life and Glory.
Let’s turn to some scriptures to briefly illustrate some elements of the life of a spiritual man.
John 3:3-8 [NIV]
3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Here, Jesus makes it clear. We are to first have natural life then spiritual life if we are to see and enter the Kingdom of God, or His spiritual reality. We are born into it as a spiritual babe. And no amount of Bible knowledge or religious education and practice can replace or facsimile this life.
It is solely to be done by the Spirit of God. We have to come to God the Father in spirit and truth.
John 4:23-24 [NIV]
23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Here, the word “truth” in Greek is “aletheia”. Strong’s Lexicon explains it as:
“the truth as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man, opposing alike to the superstitions of the Gentiles and the inventions of the Jews, and the corrupt opinions and precepts of false teachers even among Christians”.
— Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible
In essence, it is the living reality of the Kingdom of God that our spiritual life presently engages with, not a distant and lofty system of thoughts or glamorous and rigid rituals that is “dead” or “unfruitful” to our present spiritual life. On the contrary, they are often simple and plain things of life, not quite appealing to man’s appetites for grandeur and glory.
Jesus uses “see” and “enter” to describe the steps we are to take to be released into His Kingdom. Flesh and blood can’t accomplish this. It is only to be done by the Holy Spirit. Now, just like a nurturing and loving mother or a patient and wise teacher, the Holy Spirit will take his time to nourish, comfort, teach and empower us into the maturity of this life. Then we can truly enjoy our freedom and fulfill our roles in the Kingdom of God, as a spiritual man.
John 16:13-15 [NIV]
13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (It is mainly about things of the spiritual in God’s Kingdom, not natural things in this world, as some would like to make it.) 14He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
To “see” is to have our spiritual senses opened to the spiritual reality in the Kingdom of God. To “enter” is to grow and walk in the understanding and wisdom of the Spirit. In order to attain unto these, we have to be nourished with spiritual food that is suitable for the season we are in, like a babe growing into a matured man, or a seed into a fruitful tree.
Jesus is the substance of our spiritual food. We won’t get into a lengthy discussion here. Let’s only briefly look at some key points.
Lesson in the Wilderness
God intended to teach Israelites a lesson in the wilderness. It is explicitly stated by Him through Moses:
Deut. 8:2-5 [NIV]
2Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.
It is God’s intention that He would restore His way of love and wisdom back to His own children. He would discipline them in His ways, as would a father to his son. Through His dealings with their food and water in the wilderness, He wanted the Israelites to learn that they are but a means He used in order to open their spiritual eyes and ears, so that they can understand His heart and learn His ways, thus receive His goodness. That is His love, wisdom and glory. But we know the heart-breaking story. They hardened their heart in disbelief and provoked Him to anger again and again in their rebellion and stubbornness. Eventually they brought about His judgment that they, as a generation, would die in the wilderness, except a few, just like He judged Adam and Eve in the beginning. Commenting on this, Paul says:
1 Cor 10:1-11 [NIV]
1For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3They all ate the same spiritual food 4and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
6Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” 8We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
11These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
Later, Jesus was also tempted in the wilderness for 40 days without bread and water. It is not merely a personal test of physical, mental and spiritual strength or discipline. It is part of the grander work of restoration on our behalf through His suffering in the flesh. However, Jesus didn’t fall. Rather He endured them all, later, even to the point of death on a cross. Thus once for all He destroyed the root of sin and the power of death for us who believe in His Name.
Heb 2:13-18 [NIV]
13And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus Is Our Spiritual Bread and Water
Jesus Christ is our manna from heaven and water from the rock. Let’s take a look at what He spoke of Himself:
John 6:26-35 [NIV]
26Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
35Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
John 4:11-14 [NIV]
11“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Now, it is obvious Jesus was not talking about physical bread and water. Rather, as Paul puts it, they are spiritual ones.
The Symbolism of Communion
This kind of food and water can only be available to us by the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus Himself testified:
John 7:37-39 [NIV]
37On the last and greatest day of the Feast (of Tabernacle), Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
This glorification is His death. As the Lamb of God, who was slain from the foundation of the world, He came into time and space, became a man of flesh and blood. John the Baptist testified of Him being the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) Jesus Himself explained:
John 6:44-58 [NIV]
44“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”
This, in essence, is the content of His testimony in the Last Super. Passover was ordained by God for the Israelites when He delivered them out of Egypt and should had been observed in their midst. Finally it was fulfilled in the person of Christ Jesus, and with it, the transition from the Old Testament to the New.
And this is the true meaning of our spiritual communion, that we partake bread and wine, which symbolize His body and His blood, or the wholeness of His life as the Lamb of God.
Now the substance is His life, which is His teaching or wisdom. But it takes some medium to convey or serve it. In this light, the written word of God, the Bible, quickened by the teachings of the Holy Spirit, often done through the ministry of the Body of Christ, is an indispensible means for the impartation of His wisdom. And this impartation or service will take a process just like a babe will take all seasons of life to be nourished into a mature man.
Spiritual Growth and Maturity
It starts with milk. It would be helpful for many of us to know that this is actually a “big” theme in the early apostle’s teachings. Let’s take a look:
1 Pet. 2:1-3 [NIV]
1Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
1 Cor 3:1-4 [NIV]
1Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
The Author of Hebrews:
Heb 5:11-14 [NIV]
11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
It is easy to detect that in the early church, it was a common practice that a set of elementary teachings were passed on to the new believers or disciples. This task was entrusted to the apostles, prophets and teachers, or those who had the capacity to expound on these things with a trust from the Lord and the help of the Holy Spirit. The purpose is not merely to impart knowledge, even knowledge will be the content, but to produce a needed context for spiritual understanding and an orderly, loving and nurturing environment for the spiritual growth of the believers, so that all could grow into “the full stature of Christ”. Paul speaks of this in
Eph. 4:11-16 [NIV]
11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Jesus used a parable to illustrate this:
Matt 24:45-51 [NIV]
45“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We can look at a tree and a babe to see the process. It takes seasons and years for a tree to grow up to bear fruit; it takes all stages of development for a babe to grow up into a strong, wise and mature man, physically and mentally. The Spiritual man takes on the same pattern. It grows into spiritual maturity.
We will discuss this more in the coming chapters.
1 Cor 15:35-49 [NIV]
35But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
2 Co 4:6-7 [NIV]
6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2 Co 4:16-5:5 [NIV]
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
1Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Spiritual Food and Growth
Matt. 16:5-12 [NIV]
5When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
7They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
8Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
1 Co 11:23-26 [NIV]
23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.