1 Corinthians 2:12 “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
The “spirit of the world” Paul mentions is not a person or a being, but an attitude and outlook, especially when it comes to religion and things spiritual. In earlier verses of this chapter he had described this spirit as it showed itself among the Jews and among the Greeks of his day. The Jews who rejected Jesus would not live by faith in God. They demanded visible evidence in the form of miraculous signs. They wanted proof in power. They didn’t want a religion in which God looks like a man and even dies, in which God’s people must suffer in this world, in which the wicked would ever appear to have the upper hand, even for a while. They demanded to see God’s power and glory now.
The Greeks who rejected Jesus would not live by faith in God, either. They demanded visible evidence in the form of wisdom, a religion that fit their own ideas of what was sensible or reasonable. They didn’t want a holy God who is awesome and mysterious, who is three persons yet one God, who becomes man yet remains God, whose idea of justice is that one man would pay for the sins of everyone else, who claimed that dead bodies will be raised back to life. They demanded a more sensible god who gave them a practical religion that they could use to improve their lives right now.
This “spirit of the world” is alive and well today. People are either falsely spiritual or falsely secular. They go running after every religious charlatan who comes along claiming to perform miracles and promising that God will put them on easy street. Or they fold their arms and raise their eyebrows at every Bible teaching that goes against their own sense of what is possible or the way things work, whether it’s what the Bible promises about salvation, or what the Bible teaches about godly morals.
That spirit of the world is not one that any of us ever had to receive, because it is part of human nature. But in its place Paul, and the Corinthians, and all Christians have received “the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” The Spirit enables us to understand God’s true gifts to us. This is so much more than an understanding of right and wrong. Many people have a pretty good idea of what that is without God’s help. But God has also freely given us his Son, his own life, forgiveness, salvation, and ultimately heaven. God grants them all to us purely out of his grace and mercy. There is no charge to us. We would not be aware of these gifts if God’s Spirit had not revealed them to us.
And understanding them is more than just knowing what the Bible says about these things. Here we are talking about conversion. The Spirit has opened our hearts so that we are no longer skeptics demanding proof. We are convinced that these things are true and we believe God’s grace all because we have received the Spirit who is from God.
This, then, is also the clearest evidence that we have the Holy Spirit working in our own hearts and lives today. The Spirit can do many other things in the life of a Christian. But the most fundamental thing the Spirit does for us, the foundation on which he builds all his other work in us, is to lead us to faith in God’s grace. Those who believe God’s grace are the real “Spirit-filled” Christians.