“The spiritual is that which is of or by the Spirit. It is not the same thing as spirit, which is invisible and non-physical (i.e. like “breath”). Spiritual is that which is empowered by or shaped by the Spirit. The original creation was spiritual in this way in that Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep and formed and filled the formless and empty world. The creation which comes under the effects of the curse of sin is re-created by the Spirit so that it might fulfill God’s original intentions for it as creation. So, for instance, when God promises to Abraham that in him all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen 12.3), I believe that he is promising that families as families will be brought into a state of blessedness. They will have to go through death and resurrection through the waters of baptism (cf. e.g., Rom 6.1ff.), being transformed as a families. But they will be transformed as families, fulfilling God’s intention for the family in creation. Spiritual, in my understanding, is not, then, the opposite of or to be sharply distinguished from physical or material creation. It is not that which parallels but stands outside of the physical. Rather, spiritual has to do with the Spirit empowering and shaping and transforming a very material creation.”
INFANT BAPTISM, THE NEW MAN, AND THE NEW CREATION: A Response to Stephen J. Wellum’s “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ
Given Smith’s observation above we can seee that “Spiritual” in the NT does not mean ephemeral, invisible, or incorporeal. A spiritual reality is not a non-corporeal reality. Conversely, when we are told that “our weapons are not carnal” we are not being told there that our weapons are not corporeal. We are being told that our very real corporeal weapons are to be handled in a way that is in keeping with the Spirit empowering and shaping and transforming a very material instrument — whether that instrument is a protest sign or a evening gown.
“Spiritual” thus has more to do with that which animates the behavior or actions of the actor. Spiritual is the afflatus that animates the Christian in whatever they do in this corporeal world. The Christian, when animated by the Holy Spirit, so as to be walking according to God’s precepts, while full of faith in Christ, is at that moment the “Spiritual Man” — and that status of Spiritual applies whether the Christian is on their knees in prayer or in a foxhole fighting God’s enemies.
That “Spiritual” has to do more with the divine afflatus that animates us then it has to do with some kind of gnostic connection to matters non-corporeal or invisible is articulated by Sinclair Ferguson in his book on the Holy Spirit,
“Energy rather than immateriality is what is in view… While in the natural order ruach may occasionally denote a gentle breeze (as in some translations of Gn. 3:8), the dominant idea in the Old Testament is that of power. The parallelism in Micah 3:8 well illustrates this: ‘But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord.’ When used of God (around one third of the Old Testament uses), therefore, ruach does not connote the idea of divine immateriality (spirit, not matter), although doubtless that is implied in the general biblical perspective. The emphasis is, rather, on his overwhelming energy; indeed one might almost speak about the violence of God.” (Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996).
The attempt to make “Spiritual” mean something pietistic so that we are passive or so as to support a quietistic disposition in the Christian life, or something disconnected from our daily living in the public square has been one of the most successful tools at castrating the modern Christian. It’s time we started re-thinking this idea of “Spiritual” so as to be better equipped for the times God has given us.