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Carnal Christianity

  • Dr. Tony Evans
  • 2005 5 May
  • COMMENTS
Carnal Christianity

Today we are experiencing a crisis of carnality in Christianity. Carnality is that spiritual state where a born-again Christian knowingly and persistently lives to please and serve self rather than to please and serve Christ. I believe much of what is wrong in our lives is attributable to our carnality. I'm not saying every time Christians have a problem it is because they are living in a carnal way, but I am suggesting that too many of us are experiencing failure because we are carnal, only halfway living out the Gospel.

A Genuine Christian

First, it is important to recognize that a carnal Christian is a genuine Christian. It is entirely possible to be on your way to heaven but to be no good to God on earth. Carnal Christians have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, but they refuse to submit to Christ as their Lord. When I speak of carnality, I'm not talking about non-Christians. Also, we sometimes see people who say they have been born again but are not living the Christian life. We may be tempted to say that person was never a Christian to begin with. But it's entirely possible that person is a Christian who has become lukewarm and failed in their faith. Paul says: "I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1). Notice that Paul addresses the Corinthians as "brethren," which means they are part of the family of God. If we look back at 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul says he is writing "to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus." These are saints and members of the church; they are set apart for God's purposes. Yet Paul proceeds to teach these Christians about their wrongs and to tell them they are, carnal.

There are many biblical illustrations of individuals who committed themselves to God, yet experienced abysmal failures. For example, King Solomon was a wise and committed king. But 1 Kings 11 says Solomon loved many women. He entered into a life of carnality reflected in the book of Ecclesiastes, which he wrote to convey the meaninglessness of life outside of a relationship with God.

My point is that getting saved 10 years ago doesn't fix you spiritually today. God gave you new life but you must live the new life He gave you for that life to be meaningful. Unless we live this Christian life day by day in a dynamic walk with God, it is possible for us to be spiritual failures.

A Stagnant Christian

The carnal Christian is a stagnant Christian. First Corinthians 3:2-3 says: "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, for you are still fleshly." One notable feature of carnal Christians is that even though they have been saved for a period of time, they've had little to no spiritual development during that time. They still commit the same old sins; they still refuse to think biblically; they still refuse to relate to God as God demands, but they are in the same old seat every Sunday morning. Paul says these carnal Christians subsist on milk; they haven't graduated to solid food yet. Carnal Christians are spiritual babies because they don't have the capacity to feed themselves spiritual food; they have to be spoon-fed by someone else. Hebrews 5:11 says they "have become dull of hearing," with the word "dull" translated as hard-headed, like a mule. They are stubborn, refusing to learn and apply the truth of God.

When we visited Lagos, Nigeria, we were traveling by cab through the countryside on the first night of our visit. Suddenly the car stalled. It wouldn't budge. So we got out and pushed it. We soon found out the cause of the problem-the gas tank was completely empty. We got some gas, poured it in the tank, and the motor began to rev up because the engine had been fed. You see, there had to be fuel to keep going. Many of us want to give God everything-except what He really wants from us. We offer a little of this and a little of that; then we wonder why our spiritual engines don't roar. A committed life puts time and effort into spiritual development and maturity. While that car was stalled, we were not able to progress at all. So it is with a carnal Christian-he's stuck in a rut, not making any progress toward the goal.

Paul compares carnal Christians to infants. Have you ever seen a young child playing outside in the dirt, making mud pies? Sure, all children do that. Little ones get filthy playing in the dirt; they even try to eat it! Dirt is a toy to a young child. But if you saw a 21-year-old man playing in the dirt you would think he was crazy. What's the difference between the two… time. That's the only difference. By 21, he ought to know that dirt is not a toy. Well, too many Christians have been saved a long time but are still playing in the dirt. They are enjoying the pleasures of the world, not able to see that in comparison to the riches of God's Word, the world just offers dirt. In fact, some Christians are simply more at home in the mud. They're only happy in the muck and mire. If you want to become a spiritual Christian, you have to grow. You have to step out of the dirt and get washed clean in mind and action. You can't remain where you are.

A Fleshly-Minded Christian

The carnal Christian is also a fleshly-minded Christian. Verse 3 says: "You are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?" This gets at the heart of the matter. A carnal Christian has developed a mindset of disobedience, willfully living in sin and controlled by the old self rather than the new self in Christ. We need to understand be carnal, is a decision of the will. Carnality doesn't refer to occasional lapses in sin-everyone sins; no one is perfect. A carnal Christian has a mindset that seeks to gratify him rather than please Christ. Being fleshly minded simply means pleasing yourself, feeling good, gratifying your desires. When God saves us, He saves us to serve Christ. We can never rise above carnality until we change our focus from being fleshly minded to being spiritually minded.

To fully understand this point, we must look at the four types of people Paul mentions in this passage. The first is described in 2:14: "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." A natural man is simply a non-Christian. A Christian is a supernatural man; he doesn't do things naturally. A natural man does not welcome spiritual things, and spiritual things are foolishness to him so he doesn't pursue them. Christians have access to God's viewpoint, but non-Christians don't have a divine frame of reference.

The second type of man is the spiritual man. "But He who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ" (vv. 15-16). A spiritual man is a mature Christian who has learned to think like Christ. The mind is the key here because it is the channel through which everything operates. Just as the brain controls all our physical functions, the mind controls all our spiritual functions. A Christian mind thinks God's thoughts and examines life from God's perspective. A spiritual man is able to connect present actions with future or eternal consequences, which is a sign of spiritual maturity. He has clear discernment.

The third type of man is an infant Christian. "I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ" (3:1). Baby Christians are brand new to the faith and haven't been saved long enough to be spiritually mature. Maturity takes time to develop, so infant Christians do not yet have high spiritual perception simply because they are young.

The fourth type of man is a fleshly man. "Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly" (vv. 2-3). "Still" is the key word here. This type of Christian has not allowed himself to grow and he is stuck in a rut, still living the way he used to live. Carnal Christians give the impression they are holy, but the pattern of behavior shows no development. Paul had been with these Christians for five years, and he's writing them to say that he sees no changes in them. They talk like Christians, but they live another way entirely.

A Rebellious Christian

Finally, the carnal Christian is a rebellious Christian. "Are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not mere men?" (vv. 3-4). This is powerful-they are "mere" men. Have you ever said, "I'm only human"? That's non-Christian talk, mere men talk. It says, "I just act like everyone else, not like the new man or woman I was created to be." Paul is accusing these believers of walking just like the world. Galatians 5 describes these works of the flesh, including immoral living, impure activity, envy, strife, and idolatry. Paul says the Corinthians have adopted these patterns of behavior because they are rebellious. They refuse to submit to the authority of God. They have gotten so accustomed to their lifestyle they are used to slipping and sliding in the slime of life. Carnal Christians have exchanged God's provisions for the world's provisions and are walking like mere men.

The benefit of learning about carnal Christianity is that it challenges us to evaluate our lives to determine our own spiritual maturity. If you are a natural man, you need to get saved. If you are a spiritual man, keep doing what you're doing. If you are a baby Christian, you need to grow. And if you are a carnal Christian, you need to repent. Which kind of Christian are you? Let's ask God to reveal the state of our spiritual walk, and to change our hearts to be more like His.