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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 4)

The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 1)
The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)
The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 3)
The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 4)



Discerning Things Spiritually

Construct No. 9: Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.

In modern times, the phrase "spiritual things are spiritually discerned" has in some circles been taken as synonymous for the idea that doctrine and morals are learned through inner feelings or leadings from the Hold Spirit as opposed to learning spiritual truths through diligent study of the scriptures. This phrase "spiritual things are spiritually discerned" is lifted from 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3, which we will examine below.

1 Corinthians 2: 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 3: 1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

The key to using this passage to support the modern doctrine of being led by inner feelings or impressions from the Holy Spirit comes by way of equating the phrases "man's wisdom" and "natural man" or "carnal man" with human reason and a verse by verse logical analysis of scripture. But, if these phrases do not refer to reason and logical analysis, then there is no reason to suppose that this passage favors the idea of the Holy Spirit leading us in ways that circumvent reason and diligent study.

One essential point is that in this passage Paul is most certainly contrasting the "natural man" or "carnal man" who speaks and learns using "man's wisdom" to the "spiritual man" who "discerns spiritually." So, this entire investigation is summed up by deciphering what Paul means by a "spiritual man?"

Fortunately, our examination of previous passages earlier in this study will help us greatly as we examine this passage. First, we will take note of some key words and concepts used by Paul in this passage.

In chapter 2:13, Paul speaks of things that are taught by the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2-3, Paul contrasts the natural or carnal man with the spiritual man. Likewise, Paul contrasts man's wisdom with the idea of "spiritually discerning." Additionally, in chapter 3:1, Paul contrasts being "spiritual" with being "carnal." And finally, in verses 1-2 of chapter 3, Paul associates being carnal with being babes who walk as men and are unable to be fed with meat. In contrast, Paul also associates being "spiritual" with being mature, able to eat meat, and walking not as men but walking after the Spirit of God.

We find all of these concepts in John 14-16 and 1 John 2:14-27, which we examined during Constructs Nos. 7 and 8, in Romans 8:1-4, which we examined during Construct No. 5, and in Hebrews 5:11-6:3, which we examined during Constructs Nos. 7 and 8.

During Constructs Nos. 7 and 8, we discussed exactly how the Holy Spirit teaches us by speaking only what he hears, not things of himself but reminding us of the teachings of Jesus Christ. From our examination of those passages during Constructs Nos. 7 and 8, we know that Paul's use of the phrase "things taught by the Spirit" here in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 does not refer to the Holy Spirit showing us which doctrines or truths are correct through inner feelings or impressions. Instead, the phrase "things taught by the Holy Spirit" is simply Paul's reference back to Jesus' own instructions regarding how the Holy Spirit would teach Christians, which originates back in John 14-16. As such, Paul's reference to things taught by the Holy Spirit in NO way alters the manner in which Jesus described the Holy Spirit would teach us - namely, by reminding us of what Jesus' has already taught on these subjects and helping us to understand that teaching.

Consequently, nothing about the phrase "things taught by the Spirit" in 1 Corinthians 2:13 adds any support to the doctrine of being led in a manner apart from the application of reason and logical analysis of scriptures and instead by means of inner feelings or impressions from the Holy Spirit.

And as we have pointed out above, in 1 Corinthians 2-3, Paul contrasts the natural or carnal man with the spiritual man. Likewise, Paul contrasts man's wisdom with the idea of "spiritually discerning." Additionally, in chapter 3:1, Paul contrasts being "spiritual" with being "carnal." We found these same things addressed by Paul in Romans 8, which we examined during Construct No. 5.

Romans 8: 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

Paul's comments here in Romans 8 are very similar to his comments in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3. In Romans 8:7-8, Paul says that the carnal mind cannot do the things of God and cannot please God because it is at enmity with God. In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul likewise states that the "natural man" or "carnal man" cannot receive the things of the Spirit for they are foolishness to him. And, in Romans 8:6, Paul contrasts being "carnally minded" with being "spiritually minded." Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, Paul contrasts the "natural man" with "he that is spiritual" who "spiritually discerns." Paul even uses the terms "carnal" and "spiritual" in this same contrasting manner during 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3. It is clear that Paul has the same ideas in mind here in both passages.

Our article series on Christian Liberty as well as portions of our article series on the Redemption establish what Paul means by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus here in Romans 8. For the sake of time and efficiency, we will not restate those arguments here. Instead, we will only state the conclusions along with the recommendation that readers first visit those articles if they have questions about these conclusions.

In summary, by comparing the relevant New Testament passages we can see that the Law of Christ was known by various synonyms in the New Testament. It is called "the law of liberty" by James in James 1:25 and James 2:12. It is also called "the royal law" by James in James 2:8. It is called "the Law of Christ" by Paul in Galatians 6:2. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, Paul states that where the Spirit of God is there is liberty. And so, here in Romans 8:2, it is called the "Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which has see us FREE." Furthermore, we know from the words of both Jesus and Paul (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31, Romans 13:8-10) that the Law of Christ involved 2 commandments and that these 2 commandments contained within themselves all of the 10 commandments except for the command to keep the seventh day of the week (the Sabbath.)

Rather than indicating that the Holy Spirit leads us through some inner feeling or impression, Romans 8 is plainly stating that when we follow after obedience to the Law of life in Christ Jesus (the Law of Christ, Law of Liberty), that we are following after the Spirit rather than after the flesh. Conversely, if we follow after the Spirit by obeying the Law of Christ, then those who are obeying the Law of Christ are being led by the Spirit since it is the Spirit they follow after by obeying Christ.

By contrast, in Romans 8:5-8, those who are not following after obedience to the Law of Christ Jesus are carnally minded. This is Paul's definition for the "natural man," which is also know as the "carnal mind." And this is Paul's definition for the "spiritual man" who is "spiritually minded" and, thus, discerns things spiritually. As we can see, neither in Romans 8 nor in 1 Corinthians 2:9-33 do these terms refer to learning what is true and false from inner feelings given by the Holy Spirit. Nor do these terms in any way oppose the need to employ reason and logical analysis to understand scripture and doctrine.

Paul is not stating that a person must rely on inner feelings from the Holy Spirit to understand spiritual truths. Instead, Paul is stating that a person who follows after the desires of their flesh is carnally minded and will not be able to understand the things of the Spirit because his sinful desires will obstruct his view. Conversely, a person who pursues obedience to the teachings of Christ Jesus will be able to understand the things of the Spirit because, as Romans 8:13 teaches, they are mortifying the desires of their sinful flesh, and therefore their view is not obstructed.

And finally, we also noted that in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, Paul associates being carnal with being babes who walk as men and are unable to be fed with meat. In contrast, Paul also associates being "spiritual" with being mature, able to eat meat, and walking not as men but walking after the Spirit of God. We found these same things addressed by Paul in Hebrews 5:11-6:3, which we examined during Constructs Nos. 7 and 8.

Hebrews 5: 11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.

Here in Hebrews 5-6, Paul states that he has "many things to say" but he cannot do so because his audience is still in "need of milk, and not of strong meat," which indicates that they are "babes" and not of "full age." Very similarly, in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul states that he "could not speak" to his audience "as unto spiritual" but instead he must speak to them are "carnal, even as babes in Christ," who are still in need of "milk, and not meat." Paul's language is identical in these passages.

1 Corinthians 3: 1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

By comparing both passages we can see that Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 is NOT that "discerning spiritually" means that Christians should learn moral and doctrinal truths by inner feelings or impressions from the Holy Spirit without relying upon reason and logical analysis of scripture. Instead, just as in Hebrews 5-6, in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 Paul's definition of not being "spiritual" is being a babe, unskilled in the Word of God.

Furthermore, during our examination of Constructs Nos. 7 and 8, we discussed the doctrine of "perfection" that Paul wishes he could go on to teach about in Hebrews 5:11-6:3. In that section, we discussed how "perfection" in the New Testament is a reference to "maturity," or "full age" as Paul states in Hebrews 5:14. In Hebrews 5:7-9, Paul was talking about the character of Jesus Christ, how he endured even suffering with faith and patience. But Paul has to stop talking about developing the character of Christ Jesus because those in his audience are still babes. Thus, foundational doctrine ranging from repentance to eschatology is defined as milk for babes and meat is defined as doctrines regarding character development.

Consequently, by saying in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 that his Corinthians audience are still carnal babes who are not spiritual, Paul is saying that they have not developed mature understanding of doctrine nor have they been able to develop godly character and so they are still carnal. The result is that in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3, Paul is NOT saying that relying on reason or logical analysis of scripture is the "natural man" or being "carnally minded." Thus, Paul is not suggesting that reliance upon inner feelings from the Holy Spirit is the God-given substitute to reliance upon reason and logical analysis.

Instead, Paul is stating that when a person does not obey the Law of Christ, they are still carnal. And as such, they are not spiritual and so they cannot understand the things of the Spirit because they follow after the desires of their flesh. Thus, Paul's prerequisite for understanding spiritual truths in 1 Corinthains 2:9-3:3 is not that one must listen to inner feelings of some kind from the Holy Spirit instead of using reason and analysis. Instead, Paul's prerequisite for understanding spiritual truths in 1 Corinthains 2:9-3:3 is that one must not be pursuing the desires of the flesh, which is what makes one carnal. As we have seen, 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 is very similar to his statements in Romans 8 in this regard.

Additionally, such persons are not spiritual because they are still babes who don't yet understand the fundamental teachings of Christ as spoken of by Paul in Hebrews 6:1-3. Being babes they are still carnal, because as Paul states in Hebrews 5:11-6:3, understanding those basic doctrines provides the necessary foundation that allows us to go on to perfection and maturity, or "full age" in Christ so that we cease to be carnal.

Thus, as opposed to being "carnal," being "spiritual" in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 refers to pursuing obedience to the Law of Christ rather than the desires of the flesh. And furthermore, "spiritually discerning" in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 refers to those who learn the teachings of Christ as they pursue obedience to the Law of Christ rather than those who fail to learn the teachings of Christ because they do so while seeking to create an ideology that will allow them to gratify the desires of their flesh. The result is that in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3, Paul is NOT saying that relying on reason or logical analysis of scripture is the "natural man" or being "carnally minded." And, Paul is not suggesting reliance upon inner feelings from the Holy Spirit as the God-given substitute to reliance upon reason and logical analysis of the scriptures.

Nothing in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 in any way defines relying upon reason as "unspiritual." And nothing in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 alters what we established in depth from John 14-16, that the role of the Holy Spirit with regard to learning doctrine is to remind us of what Jesus' has already taught on these subjects and help us to understand that teaching. Effectively, there is nothing in Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 2:9-33 that differs from what we've already established in our examinations of Romans 8, John 14-16, and Hebrews 5-6 concerning the role of the Holy Spirit. Nothing in 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 even remotely suggests that "discerning spiritual" refers to learning by means of inner feelings from the Holy Spirit as opposed to applying reason and logical analysis to the scripture.

As we said in the beginning of this section, the key to using this passage to support the modern doctrine of being led by inner feelings or impressions from the Holy Spirit comes by way of equating the phrases "man's wisdom" and "natural man" or "carnal man" with human reason and a verse by verse logical analysis of scripture. But, as we have shown, these phrases refer to pursuing the sinful desires of the flesh. They do not refer to reason or logical analysis. And since these phrases do not refer to reason and logical analysis, then there is no reason to suppose that this passage favors the idea of the Holy Spirit leading us in ways that circumvent reason and diligent study. 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:3 simply states that a person will not be able to understand spiritual truths so long as they are led by their sinful desires.

(NOTE: For more information about the how the New Testament defines and describes the difference between being carnal and spiritual, please visit our article series on Spiritual Warfare.)



Conclusions

As we close, we would like to mention a few other thoughts, which have not into previous sections. Particularly, we would like to point out that we really lack any statements in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit is specifically described as leading someone through a feeling. What we have instead is largely 2 categories. In the first category we have passages such as Matthew 4:1 and Luke 4:1, which simply state that the Holy Spirit led someone without providing any indication of how this leading was accomplished. And in the second category we have passages such as Acts 8:29 and 13:2 where the Holy Spirit is depicted as saying specific words, even words that a whole company of people here at out loud at once.

Because this is the case, we are inclined to interpret passages, which do NOT specify how the Holy Spirit leads in light of those passages, which DO specify that the Holy Spirit led through clear statements that could be recorded for us word for word. The result is that when we read a passage that does not specify how the Holy Spirit led someone, we should assume that the Holy Spirit is leading that person through clear words, just as we have seen in the other passages. Since no alternative form of leading is presented in the New Testament, including inner feelings or impressions, the only indications provided in the New Testament for how the Holy Spirit leads are that he leads through words, which are so clear that they can be written down word for word.

Furthermore, the use of the phrase "word of knowledge" and "word of wisdom" with regard to spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 strongly indicates that those two gifts manifest in the form of words from the Holy Spirit, which could be recorded clearly word for word. Because these 2 gifts are called "words," we cannot use the existence of these gifts in the New Testament to support the idea of being led through feelings or impressions.

Additionally, the categorization of these 2 gifts as "words" given by God through the Holy Spirit indicate that these gifts were in operation in such passages as Acts 8:29, Acts 13:2 and Acts 16:6-7 where we see the Holy Spirit giving clear directions. Since there is reason to believe that the knowledge and wisdom given by the Holy Spirit in Acts 8:29, Acts 13:2 and Acts 16:6-7 ought to be considered instances of the "words of wisdom" and "words of knowledge" spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12, such passages as Acts 8:29, Acts 13:2 and Acts 16:6-7 would not provide any support for the notion that the Holy Spirit leads through inner feelings or impressions.

So, at long last we have arrived at an understand of the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual believers with regard to moral behavior, doctrine, and the situations of daily living. In our search through scripture, including our investigation of passages commonly used to support the doctrine that the Holy Spirit leads us through inward feelings and impressions of one kind or another, we have found no trace of such a doctrine. Instead of finding that the Holy Spirit directs which doctrine, which behavior, which relationships, and which situations or opportunities we should choose through inner feelings and impressions, we have found the following to be true.

As a result of our study on the Charismatic combined with the specific context of passages about the gifts, we find that passages about words of knowledge, words of wisdom, and prophecy do not in any way support the doctrine that in modern times the Holy Spirit leads Christians through inner feelings and impressions. In the absence of the charismatic gifts, we have no reason to suspect or believe or operate as though the Holy Spirit will give us wisdom for specific situations such as where to live, where to move, what job to take, or who to marry, etc. by means of inner feelings or even direct words, such as words of knowledge or words of wisdom. In fact, even if these gifts were available today, we still would not be able to expect the Holy Spirit to lead us through inner feelings since no such concept is ever depicted in the New Testament including in passages about the charismatic gifts.

Furthermore, we might add the following concerning the specific issues and decisions in our individual lives in life that the Bible does not address. Should I marry this person? Should I move to this place or stay put? What career path should I take? Should I take this job offer? Should I buy this house? The Bible doesn't tell us what to do in these situations, but it does give us all the information that we need to know in order to make good decisions. As long as we make these decisions in accord with the things that the Bible does teach, God will be pleased and we will do well.

Should I marry this person? Are they a Christian? Do they have sound doctrine? Have they been divorced? The Bible gives us guidelines for making this decision and as long as we stay within those guidelines, God has required nothing more of us than to follow His Word. He does NOT require that we follow His Word PLUS something else, which He hasn't specified in His Word. Should we move to someplace else? What job should we take? Well, will the move or the job distract you from God's Word? As long as it won't distract us then we are free to take it. God promises to meet our needs if we seek His kingdom first. God does NOT require that we seek His kingdom AND take the specific job that He hasn't told us about in His Word.

The Bible may not tell us what choices to make in these types of specific situations, but the Bible does tell us what criteria to use when making the decision. And that is all God requires of us, that we make choices that are in line with the requirements of His Word. Our success in God's plan for our lives is a matter of our obeying His Word. Our success in God's plan for our lives is NOT a matter of our obeying His Word PLUS a bunch of things that He hasn't said in His Word. The bottom line is that God has already revealed to us in His Word everything that He wants and requires of us to do. And beyond that, as long as we abide by that and put God first, God has left the specific choices up to us.

We have also found throughout the New Testament, starting with Jesus' own instructions about the Holy Spirit throughout the Gospel of John, that the role of the Holy Spirit is to convince mankind about sin and to teach mankind about truth by reminding men of the teachings of Jesus' Christ and helping us to then understand those teachings. And we have shown that throughout the New Testament this role of convincing men of truth and sinfulness was first carried out by Jesus and then after his ascension it was to be carried on by his disciples, whom the Holy Spirit would help remember, help continue in, and help testify about the teachings already proclaimed by Christ Jesus.

So, rather than Christians being convicted from the Holy Spirit through inner feelings or impressions instead of studying scripture or being taught by one another, what we find is that the role of the Holy Spirit was to help men teach the Gospel to other men and that the means of teaching truth was by referring back to the teachings of Jesus Christ as they were originally taught. And rather than Christians being convicted from the Holy Spirit through inner feelings or impressions in areas where they have not studied or examined thoroughly, what we find is that the role of the Holy Spirit was to remind us, which implies that we have already been exposed to and exposed ourselves to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Today, the teachings of Jesus and how his apostles passed on those exact teachings are recorded for us in the New Testament, which makes the New Testament the primary means of our learning truth.

Even the role that the Holy Spirit currently plays in our lives is to remind us of what we've already heard and read and studied in scripture so that we can put together the correct understanding of the Word of God. That is the role of the Holy Spirit, not to speak of Himself, but to say only what He has heard and so to remind us of the teachings of Christ now recorded for us in scripture and to help us understand them as we learn them. And, if we struggle to understand or to be disciplined while we study, we can pray for the Holy Spirit to help us in this regard since that is his role. But nowhere do we find any basis for thinking that the role of the Holy Spirit is to show us which behaviors, which doctrine, or which daily situations and relationships we ought to choose through inner feelings or impressions.

Consequently, the result of our investigation is that the Bible demands that Christians abide by a standard of truth determination that is objective rather than subjective. The moral behavior, doctrine, and even daily priorities and choices that we make are determined by the standard of the Bible itself, which is an objective standards since it exists outside the mind and can be observed and evaluated by all persons. This keeps us accountable to a standard that exists outside of ourselves and beyond ourselves, the Bible. Conversely, the moral behavior, doctrine, and even daily priorities and choices that we make are not to be determined by the subjective standard of feelings, impressions, or things of like kind that we experience internally. As we have seen, the Bible gives no credence to or direction toward such things.

And in closing, we have seen that all of the popular phrases used to refer to and support doctrines about being led by the Holy Spirit through inner feelings and impressions have resulted merely from lifting specific phrases out of scripture, removing them from their context, and deriving new doctrines that have nothing to do with the author's intended meaning. As such, even though the popular phrases used to support this doctrine are derived from phrases that are found in scripture, these doctrines themselves do not find any support from the scriptures from which they are derived.