Section 8A .. A Question Of Salvation/Eternal Security


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Carnal Christians... A Contradiction in Terms?

Carol Brooks

003white  IPS NOTE: ‘Carnal Christians’, like far too many other Christians, are trusting that Christ’s death on the cross was the atonement for our sins. However, according to Scripture, this is not quite true. Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary was but the first half of the process, with the second phase still in the future.  The sacrifice has been made, the blood has been shed, but the final atonement has NOT YET BEEN MADE.  It is little wonder that the New Testament sometimes says that salvation is an accomplished reality, and at other times says it is still in the future, a seeming contradiction that is not limited to salvation alone. But to properly understand the concept requires a more complete understanding of the atonement, for which we have to turn to the Old Testament. Just as the shedding of the blood outside the tabernacle on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) was not an end in itself (the blood had to be brought to God and ‘offered’ as an atonement for sin) complete deliverance will not be realized until Christ puts away sin at the end of the ages, when He (Jesus) will appear “before the face of God for us”. [Hebrews 9: 26]. See The Two Phase Atonement




What is a Carnal Christian?

The word carnal is translated from the Greek word sarkikos, which literally means “fleshly.”

This Carnal Christian doctrine is primarily based on an erroneous interpretation of a single passage of Scripture. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 often used as a proof text for the belief that there are three categories of men.. the Natural man who has not received Christ, the Spiritual man who is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and the Carnal man who supposedly is saved, but shows no evidence of change.

The Scofield Reference Bible, which gave the teaching both creditability and it’s initial impetus, says..

    'Paul divides men into three classes: "Natural" i.e. the Adamic Man, un-renewed through the new birth; "Spiritual" i.e. the renewed man as Spirit-filled and walking in the Spirit in full communion with God; "Carnal", "fleshly", i.e. the renewed man who, walking "after the flesh", remains a babe in Christ." [1]

Since, in this letter, Paul describes the Corinthians as carnal, many have come to the totally flawed conclusion that it is possible for people to come to faith in Christ, but then to proceed to live the rest of their lives with no evidence that they have experienced anything of the power of the gospel in their lives and that they are a new creation. In other words a person, believing that Christ died on the cross for him, has received Him as savior, but lives just like the unsaved, displaying in his (or her) life absolutely no evidence of holiness or any other fruit of the Spirit. They are not new creatures and, for them, old things have not passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17). They act, think and live like non-Christians, which fact alone should give the thinking person pause for thought. However this is not the case… Carnal Christians consider themselves saved, supposedly having Christ in their lives, although not on the throne of their lives… which is the essence of the Carnal Christian Theory."

Sadly enough there seem to be plenty of those who name the name of Christ in fundamental churches around the world who, in the words of Albert N. Martin,

    “…are convinced in their own thinking that they are the children of God but they are people who seem to be at home in the realm of sin. They will confess that there is sin and failure in their lives, but they do this without any grief. They glibly claim 1 John 1:9 (If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness) in the promise of forgiveness to those who confess. But all of this is a cut and dried heartless sort of ritual that has very little meaning…  [2]

Amazingly, Carnal Christians believe that holiness which, although it might be both admirable and commendable, is not essential to salvation, and depends not on the commands of the Lord, but on the spiritual inclinations of the individual. They believe that they can have their cake and eat it too... living as they want in this world, then scrape through the Pearly Gates by the skin of their teeth. Although they will possibly lose some blessing in their present lives and certainly rewards in the kingdom to come, they will at least be there for all eternity. They are as secure as the Spiritual Christian.

[Also See The Bema or Judgment Seat of Christ  and  Rewards in Heaven]

So the question has to be asked… Is there such a thing as a Carnal Christian or is this merely a ghastly contradiction in terms.

Back To Basics
It is absolutely amazing to me that this topic has to be dealt with at all, so clear are the Scriptures regarding the absolute ties between holiness and salvation. But the history of heresy shows that virtually all ‘other gospels’ have been based on Bible verses... twisted, manipulated and so wrenched from their context, that they can be made to prove almost anything the reader’s heart desires. And why worry about little details like the fact that all too often they flatly contradict other Biblical verses that are crystal clear. Somehow I doubt I would be very surprised if someone, some day, tried to use verses from Holy Writ to try and prove that there is no God. [See Context is Crucial]

The topic of the Carnal Christian is no different, ignoring as it does both Scripture and common sense, both of which happen to go hand in hand which, I admit, is probably a radical concept for many. Lets start with the very heart of the Gospel.. Salvation, or the fact of being saved, which is where the common sense bit really kicks in.

When we speak of being saved, we need to apply a little logic and recognize that being saved means being saved from something, and, according the Bible, it is not only hell that we are saved from. In Matthew 1:20-21 we are informed that the angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, for the child conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit, and that she would bear a Son; whom she was instructed to name Jesus…

    "… for He will save His people from their sins."

So the angel said that Jesus would save His people from sin, but the Carnal Christian think he will be saved in sin. When push comes to shove, I think I will take the word of the angel any day. Besides which Isaiah 59:2 expressly states sin is the root cause of our separation from God..

     "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that he will not hear".

While Romans 6:23 very succinctly lays out the penalty of sin

    "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord".

Bottom line? Our sins, which have separated us from God, merit the death penalty. However Christ died on the cross to save us from these very sins. If we had never sinned we would not have any fear of being sent to hell and certainly would not have needed a redeemer.

Besides which, salvation involves more than simply affirming in one’s mind that Jesus is Lord and Savior. The modern day perversion of every aspect of the Gospel would lead us to believe a person is saved based solely on the fact that he has made a ‘decision’, walked an aisle, made a profession of faith, or asked Jesus to come into his heart.  However Biblical salvation takes genuine repentance, which the Bible presents as being connected to salvation. While repentance is not something we do to earn salvation, without repentance there is no salvation, according to virtually everyone in the New Testament … John the Baptist, Jesus Himself and all the disciples… that is of course if their testimony counts for anything. [See Repentance.. the Missing Message and Why NOT To Ask Jesus Into Your Heart].

It is ludicrous to believe that an individual is saved from God’s judgment on his sins,
when that individual has no desire to turn from sin


No Contradictions in The New Testament
This concept of a Carnal Christian is completely unbiblical. The entire New Testament testifies against this theory, as shown in countless clear passages, a few examples of which have been given below, and which, apparently, are not being taken seriously. (All Emphasis Added)

    However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him….for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. [Romans 5:9, 13-14]

    "For sin shall not have dominion over you. Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves as servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey: whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? . . . Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:14, 16, 18).

    Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. [1 Corinthians 6: 9-11]

    "Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." [Galatians. 5:24]

    No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.  Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. [1 John 3: 6-9]

Over and over again, the Bible divides men into two groups... the saved and the lost, the believer and the unbeliever, the sheep and the goats, the children of darkness and the children of light, etc. It is black and white, without even a suggestion of people having all the characteristics of people in the first group, yet all the benefits and blessings of those in the second.

In other words… If your sinful nature has not been crucified by the grace of Christ, you are not a carnal Christian. You are no Christian and need to become one. [See Salvation]

Note however, that none of this implies that Christians do not ever sin. As long as we are in our present bodies, sin will continue to be something we do daily battle with. As Galatians 5:17 describes it..  "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit". Every Christian is carnal in some area of his life and his growth in Holiness is far from a smooth and easy ride. There are hills and plateaus, obstacles to be overcome and mountains to be scaled. However, through it all, the one thing that Christians do not do is deliberately and habitually sin. The Spirit has become the governing force in the born again Christian. On the other hand the term Carnal Christian implies a habitual state of carnality.

So then what about the passage in Corinthians that so specifically talks about Carnal Christians.

The Misuse of I Corinthians 3
The church of Corinth is commonly cited as proof that even Carnal Christians are saved and on their way to heaven. The primary passages in question are..

    And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? [1 Corinthians 3:1-4]

The confusion arises because Paul calls the Corinthians carnal, yet still addresses them as saints and speaks to them of the resurrection and spiritual gifts, etc. However it has to be remembered that 1 Corinthians is not primarily a doctrinal epistle. Like all Scripture it contains doctrine, but it was not written, as was the book of Romans, to lay doctrinal foundations. In the words of Ernest C Reisinger…[Emphasis Added]

     “A passage of Scripture must never be used as a foundation for a doctrine unless that passage is specifically dealing with that doctrine. Most certainly a non-doctrinal passage cannot be used to contradict a passage where that specific doctrine is the subject of discussion. 1 Corinthians 3 is not a doctrinal passage and by no stretch of the imagination can it be thought of as providing the foundation of the doctrine of sanctification. Yet this is exactly what the Carnal Christian advocates do with these verses. Examine Romans 8, where security and sanctification are the subjects being dealt with, and see what happens to every person who is dominated by carnality…

    Paul's immediate concern in writing this Epistle was to deal with practical problems in a young church. In the third chapter, and earlier, he is dealing with the danger of division arising out of a wrong esteem for those from whom they heard the gospel. They were looking at second causes and forgetting the God to whom alone all glory belongs. Instead of saying, 'We are Christ's disciples' and recognizing their union in him, they were forming parties and saying, 'We are Paul's for he founded the church in our city'; or 'Apollos is more eloquent than Paul and he edifies us more'; or, 'We are of Peter'. Thus opposing parties were set up.” [3]

He also says [Emphasis Added]

    It is important to see that the whole context is dealing principally with this one problem of unwholesome division. However, it has a common root with all the other problems in 1 Corinthians -- the defrauding of one by another, the disorder at the Lord's Table, and so on. …

    In endeavoring to understand how Paul thinks of those he addresses in 1 Corinthians 3 we must bear in mind the designation he gives to them in chapter 1. He says they are 'sanctified in Christ Jesus', they are recipients of 'the grace of God', enriched by Christ 'in all utterance, and in all knowledge' (1:2-5). They are rebuked in chapter 3, not for failing to attain to privileges which some Christians attain to, but for acting, despite their privileges, like babes and like the unregenerate in one area of their lives.

    This is very different from saying that the Apostle here recognizes the existence of a distinct group of Christians who can be called 'carnal'. When Paul comes to speak of classes, he knows only two, as is clear in chapter 2 of this same Epistle where he divides men into 'natural' and 'spiritual', and says,

      'But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man' (1 Corinthians 2:14-15).

    Under the term natural the Apostle includes all those persons who are not partakers of the Spirit of God. If the Spirit of God has not given to them a new and higher nature then they remain what they are by their natural birth, namely, natural men.

    The spiritual may be but babes in grace and babes in knowledge. Their faith may be weak. Their love may be in its early bud, their spiritual senses may be but little exercised, their faults may be many; but if 'the root of the matter' is in them and if they have passed from death unto life -- passed out of the region of nature into that which is beyond nature -- Paul puts them in another class. They are all spiritual men although in some aspects of their behavior they may temporarily fail to appear as such.

    Certainly these Christians at Corinth were imperfectly sanctified, as indeed are all Christians to a greater or lesser degree. But Paul is not saying that they were characterized by carnality in every area of their lives. He is not expounding a general doctrine of carnality but reproving a specific out-cropping of carnality in one certain respect. When Paul does state a foundational truth respecting the position of all Christians it is in such words as,

      'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature', and for all who are 'in Christ' it is also true that, 'old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new' (2 Corinthians 5:17).

    There is no place for two classes of Christians in Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, and indeed no place for it anywhere in the teaching of Scripture. To interpret 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 in such a way as to divide men into three classes is to violate a cardinal rule for the interpretation of Scripture, namely, that each single passage must be interpreted in the light of the whole. It was a wise saying of one of the church fathers, 'If you have one Scripture only on which to base an important doctrine or teaching you are most likely to find, on close examination, that you have none'. [4]

In short.. All Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 is that, in some areas of their lives, Christians can and do sometimes act like the unconverted.

Warning The Corinthians
It is worthwhile at this point to examine why Paul was chiding the church at Corinth and why he referred to them as carnal.

In the sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul says [Emphasis Added]

    Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. [1 Corinthians 6: 9-11]

There are two very significant points about the above verses, which if paid attention to, throw a great deal of light on the matter.

    1) The sins listed are not merely examples of immaturity and/or carnality, but will exclude a person from the kingdom altogether if not repented of and forsaken! Note that Paul begins this passage on the unrighteous by saying "know ye not?" In essence he was saying that they should already should have had a firm grasp on this spiritual truth, and it was a sad indictment that they didn't. Sadly, many today still "don't get” that the fate of the unrighteous is that of exclusion from the kingdom of God.

    2) However Paul did not use the present tense and say ‘such are some of you’. It is obvious that some of the Corinthians had been guilty of the sins mentioned, but had since become Christians... washed, sanctified, and justified.

So the carnality of the Corinthians had nothing to do with the above listed sins but, in the words of truthablaze.com

     “… had everything to do with their selfish attitudes and partisan spirit … reflected in much of their actions. We read that they were being very selfish in their display of spiritual gifts-not concerned about the edification of other believers. We also read that they were selfish in their appropriation of the Lord's supper. They were going to court in legal matters against each other. They needed a good lesson in love and that's why the "love chapter" (as it is affectionately known) is sandwiched in-between directions for the operation of spiritual gifts. The carnality demonstrated at Corinth mostly dealt with their lack of love for others.”

    However the warnings against their carnality are there so that the saints at Corinth don't eventually become the unrighteous. Backsliding is a process and James identifies the way that a person goes down the slippery slope:

      James 1:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 1:15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

    Notice that first it starts with temptation- then the temptation is meditated upon and gives birth to iniquity. James uses the terminology of "conception" (like getting pregnant with the sin). Then finally, the sin is "finished" or actually carried out by the body-thereby causing and bringing forth death. Paul, by the Holy Spirit, was warning the immature carnal Christians at Corinth that if they did not abandon their selfish/carnal ways, they could degenerate into that class of people called the unrighteous.

    Lest anyone should think that being carnal is a place of safety- let me remind you of this verse in Romans.

      For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. [Romans 8:6]

    May the Lord help us all to be spiritually minded and avoid the dangers of carnality! [5]


End Notes

[1] Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 1213, 1214.

[2] http://www.apuritansmind.com/ChristianWalk/MartinANCarnalChristian.htm

[3] The Carnal Christian Doctrine.  John G. Reisinger. http://solochristo.com/theology/Salvation/reisinger-carnalchristian.htm

[4] The Carnal Christian. Ernest C Reisinger. http://www.peacemakers.net/unity/carnal.htm

[5] The Plight of the Carnal Christian. www.truthablaze.com


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