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The Natural Man Versus The Spiritual Man

By Femi Aribisala

Before I met the Lord Jesus, I was righteous in my own eyes.  I learnt my righteousness at the feet of my old man, T.S.B. Aribisala.  According to T.S.B.’s protocols, you do not cheat, you do not steal; you do not tell lies.  You are faithful in love and kind and generous to others.

As Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the old Western Region of Nigeria, T.S.B. Aribisala was one of the few public servants declared to be free of corruption in the probe conducted by the military after the coup of January 1966.  As a result, I grew up upholding with pride the righteousness of T.S.B. Aribisala.  It was righteousness that far exceeded what I observed among Christians.

But then, one day, I read about the righteousness of Jesus.  This is threw me clean off my high horse.  Jesus’ righteousness could not be compared with that of T.S.B. Aribisala.  It also far exceeded my vaunted righteousness.  Worse still, it was righteousness I knew I could not possibly attain.

For example, I was not prepared to turn the other cheek if slapped.  Neither could I do so even if I wanted to.  While I could keep myself from adultery, I could not adhere to a code that prohibits “a manly man” from occasionally looking at a woman lustfully.  Therefore, as far as I was concerned, the righteousness of Christ is practically unattainable.

Hearing ears

But when I finally met Jesus, the first thing he did was to open my ears so I could hear him.  He became my personal saviour by rescuing me from the armed robbers who attacked and shot me.  Then, he told me to read one of his words in the bible; one of those words I was sworn to avoid.  Paradoxically, this now became his personal message to me:

“Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not; nor do they understand.  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which said, ‘By hearing you shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive; for this people’s heart has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:13-16).

From that day, I started to understand scriptures that had defeated me in the past. I also developed a new appreciation for the righteousness of Jesus.  I discovered that Jesus’ righteousness cannot be fulfilled by a natural man.  To fulfill the scriptures, God has to give us a new heart and he has to put a new Spirit in us.  As Jesus says to Nicodemus: “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3).

Spiritual words

Jesus says his words are: “spirit and life,” (John 6:63).  Therefore, they cannot be understood by someone who is not born of the Holy Spirit.  Paul explains this: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  The natural man is born with a hard and un-regenerated heart that is not amenable to God and to things of God.

What then needs to happen?  The natural man must be born again.  He must be born of water and of the Spirit.  He must receive a new heart.

That is what happened to me; and it is the promise of the New Covenant: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

In order to understand the scriptures, God has to open our heart.  Jesus had to do this with his disciples.  On his resurrection: “(Jesus) opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45).  Luke says the same of Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” (Acts 16:14).

This explains Jesus’ statement that: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” (John 6:44-45).

Heart identity

It is the heart that defines a man: “As he thinks in his heart, so is he. (Proverbs 23:7).  “As in water face reflects face, so a man’s heart reveals the man.” (Proverbs 27:19).  Therefore, the Lord referred me to the prophecy of Isaiah, which requires that the heart of the natural man be closed to the word of God:

“Tell my people this: ‘Though you hear my words repeatedly, you won’t understand them. Though you watch and watch as I perform my miracles, still you won’t know what they mean.’ Dull their understanding, close their ears, and shut their eyes. I don’t want them to see or to hear or to understand, or to turn to me to heal them.” (Isaiah 6:9-10).

Thus, Paul makes a distinct differentiation between those in Christ and those without Christ: “To this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Corinthians 3:14-15).

Redemption of David

David was a man who loved God.  He is described in the scriptures as a man after God’s heart.  Nevertheless, David took another man’s wife, got her pregnant, and killed him in order to hide his sin.

Jesus says: “This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:13).  Therefore, when God sent Nathan to David to convict him of his sin, Nathan spoke to David in parables.  He told him the story of a rich man who took maliciously the ewe lamb of a poor man.

David heard the prophet but did not hear him.  He saw the point that the prophet was making but did not see.  He heard him but he did not understand.  Sin had waxed his heart and made it gross.  His ears were dull of hearing and his eyes were closed, until the prophet told him he was the subject of the parable.

When David understood his predicament, he prayed in contrition: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10).  Elsewhere, David acknowledges God answered his prayer: “My ears you have opened.” (Psalm 40:6).

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