Clearly, the Holy Spirit residing in each believer is seeking to make him/her spiritual. But what does a spiritual person look like? As I consider the NT’s usage of the term spiritual, I discern three different themes that together present a composite of what characterizes a spiritual person. These themes are more pronounced when you contrast the term spiritual with its opposites. The opposite of spiritual may be physical, natural or carnal (fleshly) depending on the context.
A physically bound person is constrained by the material. All he can see is time and space. The accumulation of wealth and better health are the motivators of life. The gaining of the world to the detriment of the soul (Mark 8:36) is given up by the spiritual person. The spiritual takes up his cross daily, knowing that the real world is beyond the physical, it is not of this world (John 18:36). So, Paul can write that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). The spiritual person lives in this physical world, but it is not his goal. The spiritual walks by faith and not by sight. The world of time and space is the stepping-stone to the eternal and unseen - the spiritual realm.
At other times, the spiritual is compared to that which is natural, or according to nature. Literally, this means “soulish” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Animals were created as living souls (Genesis 1) and the idea behind being natural is life on this level. Animals live instinctually, responding moment by moment to their environment. This is in the realm of survival; the laws of the jungle are at play. This is the purposeless life of the world we live in (Matthew 6:32). The spiritual person, however, is led by the Spirit as he daily yields to His promptings and looks to Him for help in life’s daily decisions and activities. There is a higher calling as the believer is living in fellowship with God. His spirit is actively interacting with God’s Spirit, and it is in its proper place of authority over the soul and body.
Finally, the spiritual person is not carnal or fleshly. The flesh is the propensity to sin we received as descendants of Adam. It is the element within us that makes us self- absorbed and it is ugly (see Galatians 5:19-21 for a list of its outcomes). The spiritual person has learned that this evil within can only be diminished with the Spirit’s help. The daily yielding of self to the Spirit is a gradual process which results in our behaviour being governed by His promptings as opposed to our evil desires. The outcome is seen in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) being evidenced in the life of a spiritual person. A spiritual person does not have his behaviour governed by rules and laws; rather, he does what is right and good as prompted by the Holy Spirit within.
Am I spiritual? This is a question worth pondering. Am I too earthbound? Do I need a change in thinking beyond the material and temporal? Are my life decisions soulish? Does my flesh hold sway in life? Or am I filled with the Spirit? The spiritual person will be full of the Spirit’s fruit: ‘Loveful’, Joyful, Peaceful, etc. (Galatians 5:22). As believers, we all have the Spirit within, seeking to make us spiritual. We must yield to Him and allow Him to do His wonderful work in our lives. As is often said, the issue is not that we need more of Him, but that we need to let Him have more of us!