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Three Chairs

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3—The Holy Spirit, Part 4   |   Shaun LePage   |   March 26, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   I want to show you three pictures—a little boy, a teenager and an adult. Could you tell these are all the same person? Some may, some may not. What we can all agree on is that each snapshot is very different from the other two. Agree? These are three points on a timeline. They represent a 42-year journey. A lot of time passed between each snapshot. A lot has happened—it’s almost like three different people.

B.    First Corinthians 2:14-3:3 describes three different people who are really three points on a timeline.

1.     As I read, look for the three people. Read in NASB then in NLT.

2.     Paul describes three men (three people) in this passage. He’s not referring to specific individuals, but three people at different stages in the spiritual journey.

3.     What’s even more important is that by evaluating which description best fits you, you can begin to develop a plan for how you can move forward—mature—in your spiritual life.

C.   Review: Over the past few weeks, we’ve been reintroducing ourselves to the Holy Spirit because we understand that we simply can’t live the kind of life described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and other places without the Helper—the Holy Spirit. We’ve looked at who the Holy Spirit is and what He does. Now, let’s look at how we are supposed to respond to Him.

D.   Don’t write in your charts yet, but notice the three men:

1.     The first man mentioned is the “natural” (2:14)

2.     The second man mentioned is the “spiritual” (2:15)

3.     The third man mentioned is the “man of flesh” or “carnal” (The KJV translated this word “flesh” as “carnal”. The Greek word for “flesh” here is sarkinos and the Latin translation is “carnalis.”) (3:1)

E.    Now before we take a closer look at these three guys, I want to set up an illustration. Three Chairs (not an original illustration—Bruce Wilkinson). On your outlines, write down the “names” of these three “Men” (top row of your chart) in this order—we’ll get to the traits and fates in a little bit:

1.     Chair Three is Natural. This is someone who has never responded to Jesus Christ in faith. In other words, he has never trusted Christ and Christ alone for salvation. He has not been—as Jesus said in John 3—“born again”. He has not been “regenerated” by the Holy Spirit. He does not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within him.

2.     Chair Two is who Paul was warning in 1 Corinthians 2-3: Carnal. This is a Christian. He has been “born again.” He will go to heaven when he dies, but he is not walking in the Spirit. He is walking in the “flesh”. He is in the middle between a life devoted to God and a life devoted to himself.

3.     Chair One is where you want to be: Spiritual. This guy is walking in the Spirit. He is God-focused and Spirit-led. He is not perfect, but he is growing and bearing fruit.

4.     Now, these are general descriptions, but I think you’ll find them to be very helpful. One of these chairs is you—a picture of how you are responding to God at this time in your life. You may be way over on one side or the other of one of these chairs, but generally, one fits you today. We probably won’t be able to tell by looking at you which chair you’re in, but you’ll know. The Holy Spirit will reveal to you—in your heart—which chair you’re in.

F.    What I want to do is look at the traits of each man and the fates of each man. As we do, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts and show you which chair you’re in right now at this time in your life. This is honest evaluation. Not judgment! I’m not pointing any fingers this morning. I didn’t prepare this message for anyone in particular. This evaluation is between you and God. Evaluation of where we are is necessary in order for us to develop a plan for where we need to go.

G.   Pray.

II.   Body—The Three Men. Now, since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to a bunch of “carnal” Christians, I decided to scan this letter—all 16 chapters—to get a full description of these people. What I found was that he also contrasted those carnal Christians with himself—a spiritual man. At times he also refers to the natural man, but the book is mostly a contrast between the carnal and the spiritual people.

A.   First, let’s look at Chair Three—the “Natural man”. Two overarching traits of the “natural man” are brought out in 1 Corinthians:

1.     Spiritually foolish.

a)    “The Cross is foolish”: 1:18, 23, 21; 2:14; 3:19, 20. He thinks he’s wise, but God says he’s foolish. The things of God—especially the Cross of Christ—seems like foolishness to him. He may understand that Christians believe Jesus Christ died for him but either blatantly or secretly he considers it all foolishness. He rejects the idea that he is so sinful that he is going to hell. He rejects the idea that he is so sinful he can do nothing but trust himself to the mercy of God. He rejects the idea that he cannot earn his way.

b)    “I’ll make my own god”: 5:10; 6:9-10; 10:20; 12:2. He was designed to relate to God—this is why there are thousands of false religions in the world. Man is inherently religious because he was created to be in relationship with his Creator. When he rejects his Creator, he finds something else to worship. The Bible tells us all those other religions—nice as they may seem—are inspired by demons. Fallen angels leading rebellious people astray to idolatry.

2.     Selfishly motivated.

a)    “Today is all that matters”: 15:32. If there is no tomorrow and we will not be raised to new life in heaven, then it only makes sense to live for the moment. But the fact is, there is a resurrection! Tomorrow matters! Today should be lived for God because tomorrow we’ll stand before God.

b)     “I’ll make my life meaningful”: 5:10; 6:9-10. He’s looking for the intimacy that will fill his soul, but he’s looking in all the wrong places: sexual pleasure, the power of false religions and possessions that promise fulfillment but provide emptiness.

c)    Please note: Natural people grow up in churches all the time and learn to look and sound and even live a little bit like the spiritual man for a while. There’s a wide range of possibilities here.

(i)   On one end of the spectrum, you have natural people who boldly declare their rebellion against God—claiming they don’t even believe He exists and living as though He doesn’t exist.

(ii) On the other end of the spectrum, you have natural people who secretly rebel against God—pretending to know Him but in reality they have enthroned themselves as their god.

3.     The natural man may look good and spiritual on the outside, but inside he is at odds with God. Look at the “fate” of the natural man: 15:22 (dead); 11:32 (condemned); 16:22 (accursed; see also Galatians 1:8-9).

4.     The good news is this: All that can change in an instant for the natural person. If you’re sitting here today and you believe the Holy Spirit is telling you you’re “natural,” you can stop trusting in yourself (a.k.a. repent) and start trusting in Jesus Christ alone. Ephesians 2 tells us that though you’re dead He’ll make you alive. Though you are condemned, John 3 tells us that He will save you from that condemnation. Though you are accursed at this moment, Galatians 3 tells us that Jesus Christ became a curse for us and will redeem you from the curse the moment you believe.

B.    Next, let’s look at Chair Two the “Man of flesh” or “Carnal man”. Again, two general traits:

1.     Born again, but a big baby.

a)    Born again—spiritually alive: 3:11-13, 23; 6:11, 19, 20

b)    But big “babes”: 3:1-2; 14:20. The list is too long to look at all the references. Paul said there were divisions and quarrels among (childish!), suing each other instead of trying to work out their differences so they were a bad witness to the unbelievers in their community (childish!), they were defrauding their brothers in Christ—cheating each other (childish!), trying the Lord’s patience (parents? Childish!), no knowledge of God—meaning they just got saved but aren’t growing in their understanding of God—they’re choosing ignorance (childish!), and many times Paul just calls them selfish—the truest description of a baby. They were using their spiritual gifts for selfish reasons rather than for the common good—the good of others. They were more concerned with their own appetites than the good of others. They were more concerned with looking impressive to other people than they were concerned with loving other people. Selfish  and childish!

c)    The saddest thing in the world is a 40-year-old baby. It’s understandable for three-year-olds to be childish, but sad if they never grow out of it.

d)    Often, churches put all their effort and emphasis on getting people saved and neglect the task of helping people mature in Christ. In other words, we do a good job of inviting people to trust Christ, but we fail to invite them to grow up in Christ. Remember the third phase of the Great Commission? Teaching disciples to obey all the commands of Christ—that’s growing up. Paul said in Ephesians 4 that the leaders of the church are supposed to equip everyone to do the work of ministry so that we can all do the work of ministry so that we can “grow up.”

(i)   In practical terms, a babe in Christ—someone who has recently trusted Christ and become a Christian—is not going to know the Bible very well, therefore he won’t know a lot about God and His ways, therefore he won’t know how God wants him to live, therefore he probably won’t look like and act like and think like a Christian immediately—he’s carnal. He’s learning to walk in the Spirit, but at first he’s walking in the flesh.

(ii)  But, the way it’s supposed to work is this: he’ll get started reading his Bible and praying and going to church and listening to the preaching and plugging into a small group Bible study and drinking up some more “milk” of the Word there and before long he’ll start growing. He’ll start thinking and acting and becoming like Christ.

(iii)    But way too many Christians are like the Corinthians. They were born (again) but they didn’t eat what they should’ve been eating and they didn’t grow. Their thinking didn’t change. Their actions didn’t change. They didn’t become mature. They stayed ignorant of the things of God. Born again, but childish in their faith.

2.     Not natural, but a natural look-alike.

a)    Again, Paul describes these people as Christians—born again. They’re temples of the Holy Spirit. They’ve laid the foundation of Christ.

b)    But he also describes them in a lot of the same ways he describes the natural people. Spiritually foolish. Selfishly motivated. Look at 3:2,3, 18. They have a wrong view of themselves. They’re not wise—they’re foolish in God’s eyes. Paul repeatedly calls them proud and arrogant. They think they’re wise and think they’re standing strong but really they’re self-deceived. He says they are acting like natural people—participating in idolatry, immoral sexual activity, divorcing their wives without cause. And it wasn’t just that they were sinning. Paul says they were sinning and not “mourning” over the sin in their midst. Paul didn’t expect them to be sinless. He expected them to be sin-haters. They had been saved, but their lives were no different than the pagans around them.

c)    Jesus made His feelings clear about such things. How does Jesus feel about Christians who are lukewarm in their lives? Read Revelation 3:14-19. That’s how Jesus feels about those who are just playing around and content to get their fire insurance from hell and go on living as though they were still unbelievers. That’s how Jesus expects us to feel about our sin—we should mourn over our sin. Not tolerate it.

3.     The fate of the Carnal Christian is clearly spelled out and involves both a present and a future consequence:

a)    Present discipline. First of all, God disciplines the Carnal person at the present time. See 11:28-32. Hebrews 12 tells us that those “whom the Lord loves He disciplines.” He—like any good father—spanks His children to get them headed in the right direction. I believe there are numerous ways God disciplines us when we willfully live in the flesh as Carnal people. He may try to get your attention physically just as a good father will spank his children—in a loving, Biblical way as described repeatedly in the Book of Proverbs—to get their attention for the purpose of letting them know they are headed in the wrong direction. He may bring difficult life circumstances— However He does it, it will cause you to look up. It will cause you to rethink the direction or lack of direction in your life. First Corinthians 11:30 makes it clear that in extreme cases, God will—in fact—take someone home rather than allow them to continue to dishonor His name indefinitely as lukewarm, disobedient, carnal people.

b)    Eternal poverty. Chapter 3:11-15 tells us that the fate of the Carnal person is a loss of reward in heaven. They’ll get in, but they’ll get in buck naked. Look at 3:11-15. There is an eternal consequence for living a life of disobedience.

C.   Finally, let’s look at Chair One—the “Spiritual man”. Paul is the example here. At least twice in this book he says, “Imitate me.” A lot could be said and in fact, we’ll be talking about this for a couple more weeks. But let me give you some descriptions I’ve compiled from my survey of 1 Corinthians that really give a great introduction to the traits of the Spiritual man.

1.     Mind of Christ. In other words, he thinks like Christ. He has an eternal perspective of things and relationships and people. He understands the seriousness of sin and hates it. He is completely devoted to the Scriptures as his sole authority.

2.     Servant of Christ. In other words, he acts like Christ. He serves people with joy. He gives up his own rights for the good of others and that he might win others to Christ. He is willing to be wronged if necessary in order to win people to Christ. He considers himself God’s fellow worker.

3.     Model of Christ. In other words, he is becoming like Christ. He is characterized by selfless love. He considers himself and his own needs as nothing in the total scope of things. He is more concerned with the things of God and the wisdom of God than he is with the things of this world. He is patient. He is kind. He is gentle. He is strong. He is faithful. He is devoted to the ministry. He is steadfast and immovable. He is not sinless, but he struggles against his sin and mourns over it. He examines himself consistently in order to confess his sin to God and restore his fellowship with God. God is all-in-all to Him. His purpose in life is to bring glory to God. He can say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

D.   The fate of the Spiritual man is exciting.

1.     Present Spiritual Power. 1:24-2:5.

a)    Paul was not a great apostle in his own power. On his own he was “weak and trembling.”

b)    But because he was living a life of faith, dependent upon the Holy Spirit, trusting the Holy Spirit’s power, he was able to speak the gospel to hostile crowds. He was able to give up his rights. He was able to endure being made fun of. He was able to flee immorality. He was able to submit to imperfect and evil authorities. He was able to be steadfast and immovable in the faith. He was able to do all things to the glory of God.

c)    Paul was filled with the Spirit. In other words, he agreed with Christ that apart from Him we can do nothing of eternal significance. And, he was totally surrendered to the ways of God. If God says something is wise—even if it seemed foolish to Paul—he was trusting that God was right. The Spiritual man is empowered by the Spirit of God when He yields to the wisdom and direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit-filled life is saying, “God’s will be done, not mine.”

2.     Eternal Reward. Again, chapter 3 makes it clear that the works of believers will be tested when this life is over. Those works will either be shown to be eternally valuable or completely worthless. And 3:14 tells us that there is reward for the Spiritual man who serves well in this life. In fact, in chapter 4, Paul describes one of the greatest rewards I can imagine. Look at v. 5. God will praise His faithful servants.

III. Closing

A.   I shared with some of you this week the story of Robert Robinson.

1.     He was a young thug. A gang member who lived a “debauched” life. When he was 17 he and his friends decided to go to a church meeting to disrupt things. To make fun of the “deluded” Christians. There’s your Natural man. Thinking he is wise when he is foolish.

2.     The preacher that night was George Whitefield. One of the greatest preachers in history. The Holy Spirit opened Robinson’s heart when as he listened to Whitefield and he was saved—the Holy Spirit regenerated him. He was “born again.” He devoted his life to God. He entered the ministry full time and was known by others as someone who studied and understood the Scriptures. He was a worshipful man who wrote such beautiful hymns as “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” There’s your Spiritual man.

3.     Later, Robinson—for reasons we don’t know—became lukewarm in his faith and became disobedient and unstable in his faith and even adopted some unbiblical teachings. One day he was riding in a stagecoach with a woman who was deeply engrossed in a hymn book and actually began humming “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” When she asked him what he thought of the hymn, he burst into tears and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” There’s the Carnal man—miserable in his lukewarm, disobedient, self-focused life.

B.    If we could take a snapshot of you right now—a spiritual snapshot. Which chair would you be in?

1.     Natural? You need to trust Jesus Christ for salvation. Hell is real and it is your fate if you continue to reject Christ.

2.     Carnal? Repent—turn away from your life of self-focus and seek the glory of God. You risk the discipline of God if you do not turn back. You risk a life of uselessness. Growing up is great gain for this life as well as the next. If you’re convinced that you’re in this middle chair, don’t get depressed at the thought of how far you have to go. Go to God in prayer and ask Him to show you what you need to do today. Then what you need to do tomorrow. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

3.     Spiritual? You need simply to continue. You will always—in this life—feel as though you have not yet attained your goal. Paul felt that way. He wrote in Philippians 3:12-14: “12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Press on. Continue.

4.     Uncertain? Know this: God wants you to know your standing before Him. Spend time in prayer this week—today. Ask God to make it clear to you. God has also given you the pastors of this church—your elders—to help you grow in your faith. Talk to us—talk to me. It would be our great joy to help you.

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