What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual?

What comes to mind when we think of what it means to be a spiritual person?

We may picture someone who’s a deep thinker, who doesn’t care for material things, or who speaks in a mystical way. Perhaps we picture someone who’s involved in humanitarian works. Maybe we picture someone who leaves society to live a holy life of prayer and service to God, or who reads the Bible often, or who exhibits certain spiritual gifts.

We have ideas about what the word “spiritual” means, but what does it mean according to the Bible?

The meaning of “spiritual”

The root of the word “spiritual” is “spirit.” Quite simply, something is spiritual if it’s related to the spirit.

What is the spirit? The human spirit is the innermost part of every person. It is different from the human soul. When a person believes in Christ, his spirit is the part that’s born again with the life of God.

Before we were saved, our spirit was dead, so we had no way to be spiritual. We could think about God and talk about God, but our dead spirit was out of function. But when we received the Lord Jesus as our Savior, something wonderful happened. The Spirit of God with His divine life came to live in our spirit, and according to 1 Corinthians 6:17, we became one spirit with the Lord! Now the Lord as the Spirit is mingled with our spirit, and our spirit is full of life.

But whether as a saved one we are a spiritual person or not all depends on how we live. Although the Spirit is in our spirit to be our life, we may not live by that life. We may continue to live by our old, natural life in our soul, or even by our flesh.

What makes us spiritual isn’t the activity we participate in, no matter how good, right, or even noble it is. What makes us spiritual is when we live and act by the life in our spirit.

If we’re not living, acting, doing things by our spirit, how do we live? Let’s look at some verses the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth about being fleshly and soulish.

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A life in the flesh

“And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshy, as to infants in Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:1)

At man’s fall in the Garden of Eden, sin corrupted the pure body created by God, changing it into the flesh. Now, as we see in Galatians 5:17, the flesh wars against the Spirit and is absolutely opposed to the Spirit.

The note on “fleshy” in the Recovery Version says,

“This is a stronger and more gross expression than fleshly in v. 3. Fleshy denotes being made of flesh; fleshly denotes being influenced by the nature of the flesh and partaking of the character of the flesh. In this verse the apostle considered the Corinthian believers to be totally of the flesh, to be made of the flesh, and to be just the flesh. What a strong word! Then in v. 3 the apostle condemned their behaving in jealousy and strife as fleshly, as being under the influence of their fleshly nature and partaking of the character of the flesh.”

A person who lives by their flesh is fleshy, or fleshly, depending on the degree. We may even try to be a good person by the energy of our flesh. Although we have the life of God in our spirit, if our walk, our living, comes out of our flesh, we are not spiritual but fleshly.

A life in the soul

“But a soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually.” (1 Cor. 2:14)

A soulish person is one who lives and is directed by his soul. The Recovery Version note on “soulish” in this verse is helpful:

“A soulish man is a natural man, one who allows his soul (including the mind, the emotion, and the will) to dominate his entire being and who lives by his soul, ignoring his spirit, not using his spirit, and even behaving as if he did not have a spirit (Jude 19). Such a man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, and he is not able to know them. Rather, he rejects them. The religious Jews, who required signs, and the philosophical Greeks, who sought wisdom (1:22), were such natural men, to whom the things of the Spirit of God were foolishness (1:23).”

We may be very intelligent and use our natural intelligence to understand the Bible and the things of God. Or we may be a loving kind of person and care for others with our natural love. Or we may be good at speaking, so we even speak for God with our natural eloquence. Intelligence, a loving nature, and eloquence are not bad things. They are, however, out of our soul and have nothing to do with being spiritual.

When our source is our natural life in the soul, regardless how good we appear outwardly, we are not spiritual because our source is not the spirit. Because we depend on our natural virtues, we are soulish, not spiritual.

A Life in the Spirit

In Galatians 6:1, Paul says “You who are spiritual.” What did he mean by “spiritual”? Just before saying this, Paul previously said to the Galatians, “Walk by the Spirit”; “If you are led by the Spirit”; and “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” If we look at the context of the entire book of Galatians, we can see that Paul puts great emphasis on the Spirit in our human spirit and our need to live by this mingled spirit. From this, we can understand that to be a spiritual person means we are a person living and walking, that is, acting and doing things, by the Spirit in our spirit.

To live and walk by our mingled spirit is to be dependent on Christ and to pay attention to the sense of His life in us. By spending private time with the Lord each day, we become sensitive to His speaking and leading in our spirit. As we follow Him, we no longer live by our flesh or our soul but by the Lord in our spirit. We allow Him to live more in us and out of us, and our living expresses Him, not ourselves. This is what it means to be spiritual.

Each day we can pray a simple prayer like this, “Lord, thank You for being the Spirit in my spirit. Thank You, I am one spirit with You! Today remind me to live and walk by my mingled spirit. I need You, Lord. Keep me turning to my spirit all day today!” By practicing to pray prayers like this and spending regular time with the Lord Jesus each day, we will begin to experience what it means to be spiritual.