He That Is Spiritual by Lewis Sperry Chafer

He That Is Spiritual is a classic book on spirituality that has shaped the Christian community’s thinking for almost 100 years. Much solid teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and how it applies to the believer is found on its pages. Chafer devotes a chapter each to the filling of the Spirit, not grieving the Spirit, not quenching the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit. He concludes with a chapter detailing issues surrounding salvation and practical steps to take in applying all that has been taught.

However, Chafer’s teachings are not without controversy. The three principle ones are:

  • The existence of a carnal Christian. Drawing principally from I Corinthians 3, Chafer sees three clear classes of humanity: The natural, the spiritual and the carnal. The natural man is the unbeliever, the spiritual person is the one who is filled and walking in the Spirit. The carnal Christian is saved but living much like an unbeliever, lacking dedication to Christ and not walking in the Spirit. While all Bible students understand that Christians at times live carnally (or, better, “fleshly”), many reject a settled position Chafer calls “carnality” lived perpetually by some believers. Rather they see two classes – the natural and the spiritual (those regenerated by the Holy Spirit). Spiritual Christians will have times in which they live fleshly but it is not their settled or official state (see pp 15, 20-22, 56, 40, 67-68).
  • Based on Romans 12:1 Chafer teaches that moving from carnal to spiritual is a once for all act – referred to by some Christians as “dedication.” (pp 86-92). He writes:

    Does the act of dedication have to be repeated? Enough has already been said to indicate that this author believes not. The use of the aorist tense in these dedication verses [Romans 12:1-2] alone would argue for such a conclusion…The scriptural picture is an initial act of dedication which includes all of oneself for all of one’s life… therefore when a dedicated person comes to a crossroad in life or faces a decision, he is not faced with deciding again whether or not he will do the will of God…He must only find what the will of God is in this situation; then…gladly do it…But, of course when Christians come to such crossroads and decisions, they sometimes choose not to do what they know to be the will of God. In such instances, sin enters [their life] and their dedication has been violated…They may be out of the will of God in a major or minor area of life, but in either case they have gone back on their dedication vow.

    What is needed…to remedy the situation? Is it a rededication? In a sense one might call it that, but [in doing so, that] is a use of the basic word dedication with a different connotation. The rededication (if one calls it that) is not a doing again of the same thing that was done at the time of dedication; therefore the rededication connotes something different from dedication. In such a usage, rededication means getting back on the track on which you started at the time of dedication. It would probably be better to call the remedy restoration, and this comes through confession of sin. Choosing to do your own will even though dedicated is a very real possibility since God does not remove from us the freedom of choice when we dedicate ourselves to Him.

    When we wish to recognize and admit that we have thus sinned, the remedy is not rededication but confession of the sin and restoration to the place of fellowship. Then we can go on living a dedicated life. It is not necessary to start over; and even though sin leaves its mark, [just like a nail that is removed from what it was driven into] it does not always mean that everything is lost. Confession and restoration may, therefore, be frequent in the dedicated Christian’s life. Indeed they will occur in every Christian’s life as long as we live in these bodies. But a dedication (meaning doing again the same thing that was done in dedication) is really not an accurate way to express the remedy…it is far better to be clear concerning the completeness of dedication, to be pointed in asking people on which side of the dedication they stand, and to clarify the difference between dedication and a violating of dedication which requires confession and restoration to remedy.
    (p. 86)
    Most today see the command to present our bodies to Christ in Romans 12 as a present and repeatable action.
  • That Christians have two natures – an old nature, called the old man in the New Testament (pp 112-114) and a new nature. Others, especially of the Reformed tradition, believe the Christian has one new nature but we do battle with the flesh. Practically there is little difference between the two positions, but theologically the identity of the child of God is affected.

Hanna has written a revised, expanded volume which updates the original, as well as interacts with some of the modern discussions among theologians. It is faithful to Chafer’s work and is a welcomed study. Hopefully the book will be published soon.

 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1918,1969) and He That Is Spiritual – Revisited by Daniel Hanna unpublished 2015

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel