“But the soulish person does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone” (1 Cor. 2:14-15).
These verses contrast two types of people: soulish and spiritual. What’s the difference? Some define the soul as a person’s mind, will, and emotions. First Corinthians 15 says, “The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.” The soul is the life we have in ourselves. It could also be called the self-life. It encompasses the mind, will, and emotions inasmuch as those are components through which the self-life is expressed. “Spiritual” refers to the life of Christ, the last Adam.
Just before 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul says we have received the Spirit of God. The Spirit reveals “What eye did not see and ear did not hear, and what never entered the human mind” (1 Cor. 2:9-10). So what the soul fails to perceive, the Spirit reveals. The soulish person operates by the self-life, by the thoughts, feelings, and goals of that life. The spiritual person operates by what the Spirit reveals and by the life of Christ.
Sometimes “soulish” is translated “unbeliever” or “natural.” But Paul is not contrasting believers and unbelievers. He is contrasting soulish and spiritual people. First Corinthians 3 begins with Paul telling the Corinthians he could not address them as spiritual. They operated more by the self-life than by Christ within. Paul contrasted soulish and spiritual to show them the difference. He hoped they would learn to live spiritually instead of soulishly. As disciples, we are all learning this to one degree or another.
Paul met with an interesting mix of soulish people in Athens. Many Jews, though believers in God, resisted Paul’s message (Acts 17:17). They could not accept Jesus or that their scriptures and traditions testified of Him (John 5:39). Some of the intellectuals and philosophers in Athens called Paul a babbler (Acts 17:18). Others listened to Paul simply because they enjoyed the novelty of new ideas (Acts 17:21). They didn’t argue or belittle Paul’s message. But they didn’t accept it either. The Christ message was just the flavor of the day.
It is instructive to see the varied reactions of the soulish man. The spiritual messenger can meet everything from persecution to noncommittal interest. Soulish people can be religious–even Christian–or atheistic. Whatever the soulish person’s presentation, the result is the same—he rejects the message and the messenger.
If we are taught by the Spirit, if our mind is being renewed, we should be prepared for soulish reactions. Sometimes, we will be misunderstood, made fun of, discredited, or personally attacked. Or, someone may be politely indifferent. This rejection can come from non-Christians or Christians. The Word who became flesh, who was Message and Messenger, wasn’t received by His own people (John 1:11). The Holy Spirit is merging our experience with Christ’s. There will be times when we and the message we bring are not received.
My prayer for Christians and non-Christians is for the Spirit’s revelation. To the extent we know Jesus and have His mind, we can live spiritually instead of soulishly. Living spiritually is the only way to truly live. Living soulishly isn’t living, really. It’s just not dying (yet).
“The one who loves his soul will lose it, and the one who hates his soul in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
Adapted from my booklet, “Despising the Lamb: Contempt for Christ in First Samuel“