But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
To a Calvinist, this means that man is too depraved to accept God, and hence needs Irresistible Grace. However, not even every Christian has received the full revelation of God, as some are less mature, needing spiritual growth. This is why Paul prayed that God would give the Ephesian believers (noted even for their faith and love) “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17).
Ben Henshaw: “Paul is not speaking of understanding the gospel and accepting it (since they are infants in Christ), but the deeper revelations of the Spirit that can be received only by the mature (vss. 6, 7; cf. ‘solid food’ of 3:2). Paul is addressing the Corinthians as immature Christians who cannot receive the deep things of God because they are still infants in Christ. They are not without the Spirit in that they do not have the Spirit dwelling in them. Rather, they are not yielding to the Spirit. They are letting their carnal passions get the best of them so that they cannot move forward to spiritual maturity. He is comparing the world’s lack of understanding with their own lack of spiritual discernment (vs. 14) since they are acting ‘worldly’. Basically, he is telling them that they are acting like those who do not have the Spirit since they refuse to yield to the Spirit in moving on to maturity and a stronger knowledge of God, though they do in fact have the Spirit, being infants in Christ. It is a ‘message of wisdom among the mature’ that they cannot receive due to their spiritual immaturity. Paul is not saying that those without the indwelling Spirit cannot receive the truth of the gospel... If the truth of the gospel were the subject then Paul would be saying that only mature Christians could receive the truth of the gospel (vs. 6), which is plainly absurd. Their jealousy and quarreling proves that they are not mature enough to receive ‘the message of wisdom among the mature’ (2:6, cf. 3:3, 4). It proves that they are not ready for solid food (‘the message of wisdom’ that Paul wants to share with them) since they are still ‘worldly’. But Paul still acknowledges that they are babes in Christ, though worldly, which makes Dominic’s interpretation impossible. It is the difference between spiritual (mature) Christians and unspiritual (immature) Christians (2:14, 15). It is the difference between those with spiritual discernment (mature) and those without it (immature). The spiritual man (in this context) is the believer who does not allow his fleshly passions to prevent him from maturing in Christ and gaining wisdom that is ‘spiritually discerned’. The unspiritual man is the believer who has received the gospel but has allowed his fleshy passions (e.g. jealousy and quarreling) to prevent him from gaining wisdom that is ‘spiritually discerned’. While he has the Spirit, he is not allowing the Spirit to control his mind that he ‘might understand the things freely given us by God.’ Compare what Paul says in 1 Cor. 2 with Eph. 1: 15-17, ‘For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.’ (emphasis mine) So Paul envisions believers who can be without the ‘Spirit of wisdom and revelation.’ Does this mean that they do not have the Spirit dwelling within them? Of course not. Paul is speaking of a deeper level of spiritual wisdom. This deeper level is what the Corinthians could not attain due to their yielding to worldly passions (see also Phil. 1:9-10; Col. 1:9). Rather, they had allowed their favoritism, jealousy, and quarreling to render them ‘ineffective’ and ‘unproductive’ in the ‘knowledge of …Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:8)” (Addressing Dominic’s Response to the Purpose of Regeneration in Calvinism)
Question: What is a “natural man”?
Answer: In this context, it appears to refer to immature Christians.
Question: What are the “things of the Spirit of God”?
Answer: The deep things of God, which not only the “natural man” is unable to digest, but also what the regenerated new Christian struggles with as well. Paul explained: “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able.” (1st Corinthians 3:2) Hebrews 5:12-13 states: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.” Peter also states: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” (1st Peter 2:2)
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “A few years ago, I read a posting on a forum which had very eloquently explained the Gospel message, so much so, that I wished I had saved it because I felt that it would have resulted in a stronger faith. Lo and behold, at the end of the message, I remember pretty much verbatim what the poster said, ‘Of course, I don’t believe in it. I’m Jewish.’ I was shocked! This unbeliever explained the Gospel so much better than what I’ve heard from believers. It seems that he knew God, but didn’t want to acknowledge Him. It seems that his foolishness consisted in, (a) his refusal to value the wisdom of the Gospel above all else, and (b) to embrace the God who shows Himself as God. The unspiritual ‘do not understand’ the things of God. I don’t think that means that they can’t comprehend what the message is, or what it requires of them. Instead, it seems to me that although they can comprehend the message quite clearly, they don’t value what the message says, and consequently, do not follow up with the appropriate action.”
In other words, what the unregenerate “cannot understand” and do “not accept” is the value of the Gospel, because the Gospel operates at the level of the human conscience, which conscience is polluted by sin, so that issues of conscience are rendered as “foolishness” in the face of selfishness.
The lost deem Christianity as “foolishness,” which is why God must poke their conscience. Consider Acts 26:14. When Paul had Stephen stoned to death, he certainly considered Christianity to be foolish and heretical, but yet, all the while, the Holy Spirit was at work in his heart, as Jesus says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’” This shows that the Holy Spirit is at work upon the unregenerate “natural man,” and which is referred to as Prevenient Grace.
Jerry Vines: “The lost man or woman has no desire for the things of God. Unregenerate souls have no interest in finding out what God wants them to be and to do. But the new-birth experience puts into our heart a desire really and actually to do what God wants.” (Exploring 1-2-3 John, p.49, emphasis mine)
Whereas the Unregenerate, natural man does not seek the things of God, the Regenerate, Born Again, “new creature” (2nd Corinthians 5:17) does. So how, then, can the Unregenerate become saved? Calvinism answers that an Irresistible Grace is the only way. However, this inevitably presupposes that God’s hands are tied by man’s depravity. For why can’t God enable an Unregenerate person to repent, without having to use an Irresistible Grace? The Calvinist keeps pointing to man’s weakness, but while failing to realize that this simultaneously supposes that God’s hand is being forced. The reality, however, is that fear is a powerful weapon, and the Gospel not only declares the way of salvation, but it also declares the imminent threat of perishing in Hell, as per John 3:16. In fact, if fear is any kind of motivation, which it is, then the Unregenerate definitely have a reason to pause. John 16:8 indeed confirms that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of its sin, and Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes from hearing the Gospel. So although man is depraved, there are other factors which may lead an Unregenerate person to stop and take notice. Simply look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, through the constant fear of Armageddon, regularly go door-to-door in their proselytizing efforts. So, obviously, fear works, and is a real factor in whether the Unregenerate can be motivated without an Irresistible Grace.
John Calvin: “The natural man, says Paul, does not receive the things of God (I Cor. 2:14). Because he does not will so? This is indeed true: all are rebels who are not tamed by His Spirit. But Paul carries the matter to a higher level. There is such foolishness in man that he is unable to understand; no one has been God’s counsellor, nor are His secrets to be known except by His Spirit alone. Hence he concludes that those only are true disciples of God who are granted the spirit not of the world but of heaven, that they may know the things given them by God. What is intended by the comparison between the spirit of the world and the Spirit of God? Just this, that men subsisting on the earth are wise in their own way only, while the heavenly Father illumines His sons specially.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.104, emphasis mine)
By the language of “tamed by His Spirit” and “illumines His sons specially,” John Calvin conveys what Calvinism teaches as Irresistible Grace.
John Calvin: “For he teaches that it is due not only to the stubborn pride of the human will, but also to the impotence of the mind, that man by himself cannot attain to the things of the Spirit. He would have been saying no more than the truth if he had said that men do not wish to be wise, but he goes further, and says that they do not even have the power. From this we conclude that faith is not something that depends on our decision, but it is something given by God.” (Calvin’s Commentaries: The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, p.62, emphasis mine)
Here John Calvin repeats a frequent assertion that faith comes by Election, even though Romans 10:17 states that faith come from hearing the Gospel.
John Calvin: “But here we are speaking of that special revelation of heavenly wisdom, of which God thinks only His sons are worthy. Because of that there is all the less ground for tolerating the ignorance of those who think that the Gospel is offered to men universally in such a way that it is free to all without distinction to lay hold of salvation by faith.” (Calvin’s Commentaries: The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, p.62, emphasis mine)
It appears that John Calvin interpreted Scripture from the standpoint of defending his particular theology.