“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The Bible is God’s very word and therefore carries the authority of God himself. And that word of God, Scripture tells us, is a powerful thing—“living and active and sharper than even a two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It floods the soul with its resplendent rays, laying bare God’s truth and putting all darkness to flight. Yet, as this text tells us, not all receive the truth of this light, and some esteem it as folly itself. How can this be? If Scripture is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), how could any reject its authoritative claims?
In order to experience sight two things are needed: a source of light and the capacity to see it. Both are necessary. A blind person, who lacks the capacity to see light, simply will not and cannot experience it, however bright and powerful the light might be.
And so it is with the light of God’s word. Our text tells us here that the “natural person” is blind to the things of God’s Spirit. The “natural person”—the psuchikos anthropos—is one whose affections are what we might call “soulish”—animated by the natural and sinful passions, operating in and through the powers of his or her own weak and corrupt fleshly energy, curved inward upon self and upon the things of this world.
Such a one not only fails to understand the things of the Spirit of God but is positively hostile to them, deeming them “foolish.” Furthermore, the natural person simply cannot understand these things. It is impossible for him or her to do so because, as the text tells us, these are “spiritually discerned.”
The things of God’s Spirit are understood only by one who is actuated by a new, dynamic, spiritual principle of life--in short, one who is “born anew.” This transforming work is effected immediately by God’s Spirit, who alone can implant the new dispositions and capacities and affections that make belief in the truth of God’s word, and submission to its authority, possible.
Some crucial practical applications follow. We must confess our utter dependence on God’s Spirit if we would have people accept the truthfulness and authority of God’s word. Only God can work this disposition and inclination in the heart of man; it is by the Spirit alone that men and women, “dead in their trespasses and sins,” are made alive. We must beseech the Spirit to open the heart, so that when we have presented that which is most needful for them to see, they will have the eyes to see it.
Accordingly, we must despair of our own resources, powers, and abilities to bring men and women to accept the truth of Scripture. We shall not change people’s hearts through the force of our clever arguments or apologetic prowess. We shall not reason them into the Kingdom. Nor should we think that if we just shower people with enough love or entreat them with sufficient tears that this will work in them a belief in Scripture’s authority. No, we must believe that men and women will accept Scripture’s authority only if the Spirit precedes and performs a work of supernatural grace—a work which is, as one classic Protestant confession of faith puts it, no less efficacious than the power it took to raise Jesus from the dead.
Yet, reason and love and entreat we must. When God is pleased to open the heart, then will the reasonableness of his word shine forth in its full potency to the now enlightened soul. Though only the Spirit Himself can restore the power of sight, God has given us the privilege of presenting the objects of sight through the foolishness of preaching. It is then alone that those who have lived in darkness will see a great light.
For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.