It would have been more in line with Paul’s teachings if brother Sparks had put the same message in different terms, like “not walking after the flesh, but after the Spirit” according to Romans 8. The “crises” brother Sparks is talking about may be equivalent to the suffering that Paul mentions in Rom. 8 from verse 18 onwards, so that everything would be neatly within the context of the chapter and, indeed, of the whole letter to the Romans. In Rom. 8:13 Paul says it is the responsibility of the believer to “put to death the deeds of the body” by the Spirit, and likewise “to put off the old self”, in Eph. 4:22, which is a different matter than God orchestrating or allowing the Christian to go through a crisis.
The context of 1 Corinthians is not believers trying to serve God with mere human means. It is believers behaving shamefully. If we do not take this into account we miss what Paul wants to point out in this letter. The practical outcome of the more contextual reading of 1 Corinthians 2 and 3 and the interpretation of T. Austin-Sparks may probably be exactly the same, namely a life according to the Spirit and effective ministry, if applied faithfully by the believer. So we should not worry. Please click here to read more about the context of “the natural man”. By “natural” Paul does not mean a natural side of a Christian over against a spiritual side, but he means “not having the Holy Spirit”. His charge against the Corinthian believers is that although they are spiritual (see 1:30, 2:10-12) they behave like natural people (3:4) and are therefore carnal (3:1-3). The verdict “carnal” is not a technical term that should determine yet another category of Christians, but is used by Paul to tell the Corinthians they do not behave as they should. That the “natural man” is, contrary to Sparks’ teaching, an unregenerate person is clear from the fact that the “natural man” cannot perceive that which is of the Holy Spirit (2:14). The Corinthian Christians were able to do so (1:5-7). The point is that they did not live accordingly. If they had been natural people, Paul might not have taken the trouble to write the letter. Because they had the Spirit, but behaved as if they had not received the Spirit (3:1-2), Paul used their own language against them in an ironic way, to make them aware of their carnality. They thought themselves to be spiritually mature (because of their so-called wisdom) and judged that Paul’s teachings were below their standard and therefore called it “milk”. Now Paul turns it around and says that he was deliberately giving them “milk” (the foolishness of the cross) because their behaviour showed they were in fact babes in Christ! So it was time for him to intervene. The key to understand this passage lies in the difference between what the Corinthians thought to be “spiritual” and what it really means to be spiritual (to have the Spirit and to live accordingly). So Paul does three things: 1) he makes them aware of their bad behaviour, 2) he tells them that they have a wrong concept of spirituality 3) he teaches them that what they call milk is in fact the real stuff they need. It was not that Paul was not able to teach them “deeper truths”, truths that he had yet to keep hidden from them, because they were immature. They were mature, that is to say, they had the Spirit; yet they behaved like babes in Christ. That which they called “milk” (Paul is using their own language), is in fact “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (2:10), which is the message of Christ crucified.