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

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Carnal Christians... A Contradiction in Terms?

The Carnal Christian doctrine is primarily based on an erroneous interpretation of a single passage of Scripture

Carol Brooks

003white The Atonement
Virtually all Christians trust that Christ's death on the cross completely and finally atoned for our sins. However, the New Testament sometimes says that salvation is an accomplished reality, sometimes that it is an ongoing process (1 Corinthians 1:18) but, at at other times says it is still in the future (Matthew 10:22, Romans 13:11). This seeming contradiction is not limited to salvation alone, but also occurs with confusing regularity in statements about justification, redemption, glorification, and adoption.

Since it is inconceivable that Jesus' hand-picked messengers didn't realize or understand what tenses they were using, there is only one possible answer - all three tenses are correct. This is not at all difficult to follow if we would just let go of preconceived ideas and allow the Bible to be our sole guide. In this case a more complete understanding of the exact ritual that took place on the Old Testament Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is required. On that day, the shedding of the blood outside the Tabernacle was not an end in itself - the high priest had to bring it to God in the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the Mercy Seat as an atonement for sin. In exactly the same way, Christ's sacrifice on Calvary (outside Jerusalem’s city walls) was the first half of the ritual. Complete deliverance will not be realized until, by the sacrifice of Himself, Christ puts away sin at the end of the ages, when He will appear "in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9: 24-26).
See See https://biblehub.com/interlinear/1_corinthians/1-18.htm)



What is a Carnal Christian?
The word carnal was translated from the Greek sarkikos, which means pertaining to the flesh, which is why the NASB renders it as 'fleshly'.

This Carnal Christian doctrine is primarily based on an erroneous interpretation of a single passage of Scripture

But the history of heresy shows that virtually all 'other gospels' have been based on Bible verses that have been twisted, manipulated and so wrenched from their context, that they can be made to prove almost anything. (See Context is Crucial)  And if you can get the text to sound like it says exactly what you want, why worry that it is flatly contradicted by other passages - most people are so brainwashed that they wont read them or, even if they do, will find a way to try and explain them away. 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.

In this case, 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 is often used as a proof text for the belief that there are three categories of Christians - the Spiritual man who is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit and the Carnal man who supposedly is saved and has Christ in his or her life, but shows no external evidence of it.

Because holiness is not considered essential to salvation they believe they will go to heaven, just perhaps not first-class. Although they will possibly lose some blessing in their present lives and certainly rewards in the kingdom to come, they will at least scrape through the Pearly Gates by the skin of their teeth. They are as secure as the Spiritual Christian.

A favorite passage they fall back on is 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.

However, the confessing of sins can be a ritual that has very little meaning and lead to no change in the person concerned.

 [See Repentance.. the Missing Message   and  Why NOT To Ask Jesus Into Your Heart].

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


Back To Basics

Death And The Afterlife
Anyone who believes that they can be a carnal Christian (or to put it another way - have their cake and eat it too) hasn't understood the first thing about the Gospel and salvation or the kingdom Jesus came to proclaim. In fact they missed the message of the Bible altogether.

What Various Religions Tell Us About The Afterlife
Death is the one subject that most people have trouble discussing or even thinking about, especially since we are not in control of when or how our final curtain call will take place.

The fancy urns and expensive coffins only serve to soothe the feelings of those left behind. The oft repeated platitude .... "He (or she) has gone to a better place" is nothing more than a sop to the minds and emotions of those who cannot handle seeing someone put in a box, lowered into the ground, and covered up by dirt. However, even they will eventually move on with their lives the dead person often relegated to a few photographs in an album that will gradually gather more and more dust.

Perhaps our religious convictions give us some solace and hope that either death is simply part of a recurring cycle, or that an unspecified "better life" awaits us on the other side.

Or perhaps not.

    Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism all believe in one or another version of karma, the law of cause and effect. In other words, our past lives have determined our present one, and our actions in this life will decide our future ones. Each religion also teaches people how they can be liberated from this endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and be united with God... in which regard they have a great many abstract, and often highly convoluted things to say.

    The Baha'i Faith regards the conventional description of heaven (and hell) not as specific places, but as symbolic.

    While Islam comes closest to anything resembling practicality, it also puts forward some very weird, even bizarre, ideas.

In summary, the various religions not only endorse paths very different from one another, but they do not even lead to the same destination. On the other hand, far from being outdated, out of touch, and largely irrelevant to modern society, Christianity promises exactly the perfect world most men and women can only dream of right here on earth. A place of peace and safety, where there is no crime, hunger and disease, war and above all... no death.

See The Message of The Bible ...The Kingdom Is at Hand - Chapter 13 of Choose Life That You Might Live

 And this is coming kingdom is exactly the message Jesus came to earth to proclaim.

Jesus' Message
The Gospel of Mark summarizes Jesus' ministry,

    Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:14-15 NASB)

And this wasn't the only time the Savior spoke about the kingdom of God. In fact, the Greek phrase "kingdom of God" (Basileia tou Theou) appears over 50 times in the New Testament gospels, almost always on the lips of Jesus. Although he did use "the kingdom of God" on four occasions (12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43), Matthew favored the synonymous phrase kingdom of heaven (Basileia ton Ourano) that appears over 30 times in his Gospel.

Additionally, many of the Savior's parables were designed to tell us something about this kingdom: Jesus likened it to a mustard seed, a treasure hidden in a field, an extremely valuable pearl, a dragnet cast into the sea, and a king who gave a banquet (Matthew 13:31-50; 22). Jesus even defined His purpose in light of the kingdom.

    "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose." (Luke 4:43 NASB)

See What Was the Core of Jesus' Message?

However, it should be noted that when Jesus spoke about the kingdom He was not referring to a geographical location (although it is) but speaking in terms of the authority of the king. And when He proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand (close), he didn't mean that a gigantic physical kingdom is approaching and will soon have the air force scrambling its fighters, but that God's reign is at hand.

He was simply announcing the fulfillment of the kingdom of God that most of the ancient Hebrew prophets never stopped speaking about. 

See What And Where is Heaven?

The Catch
God is offering us a pearl beyond price - eternal life in His kingdom. However, it doesn't come all that easily. There is one stumbling block that will keep you, me, and everyone else out of the kingdom - and that something is sin - simply defined as a transgression of God's law.

Quite simply God doesn't want unrepentant sinners in His kingdom. Think about it for just a moment - If He allowed just everyone in how long would it be before His perfect kingdom became a violent, sinful and almost completely corrupt place like the world we live in now.

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".

In other words, our sins that have separated us from God merit the death penalty. However, in Matthew 1:20-21 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."

In other words, Christ came to earth and died on the cross to save His people from from the penalty and the power of sin (See Romans 6:6). If we had never sinned there would be no danger of being permanently condemned to death and we would not have needed a redeemer.

The Wrath of God
When we speak of being saved, we need to think about the fact that being saved means being saved from something. According the Bible, that something is the Father Himself.

Today's bumper sticker theology that says, "Smile, God Loves You!" is a gargantuan lie. People, both in the church and without, delude themselves that they are "not that bad" and because that benevolent grandfather in the sky loves them, He will overlook their 'small' mistakes. Because He is exceedingly patient, we fondly imagine He is okay with the way we live our lives. Nothing, but nothing, could be further from the truth.

    John the Baptist, whom Jesus called the greatest man who ever lived (Matt. 11:11), never mentioned Gods' love when he preached the gospel (see Matt. 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-18). He sounded much like Jonathan Edwards, warning his audiences of God's coming wrath. There is not a single case in the book of Acts where anyone preaching the gospel told an unsaved audience that God loved them. Rather, the Biblical preachers warned their audiences that God did not approve of them, that they were in danger, and that they needed to make dramatic changes in their lives" [01].

In both Old and New Testaments, the Bible labors the point that God is good to those who trust, follow, and obey Him and is terrible to those who do not. Both Testaments emphasize the reality and terror of God's wrath. Yet, in line with the modern philosophy of not offending anyone, today's largely sickly sweet, sentimental, and completely ineffective Christianity babbles on and on about the goodness and love of God, but almost totally ignores His wrath and judgment.

Unfortunately the English words "anger" or "wrath" can imply a very negative emotion.  So we have to ask whether God is an endlessly angry Being that constantly flies off the handle, entertains vindictive personal feeling and unreasonable whims thus is constantly having to be appeased and mollified. See The Wrath of God

In Matthew 1:20-21 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."

In other words, Christ came to earth and died on the cross to save His people from from the penalty and the power of sin (See Romans 6:6). His blood was shed i pace of ours. If we had never sinned we would not have needed a redeemer because there would be no danger of being permanently condemned to death

However, 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.

See  Sin Repentance.. the Missing Message   and Salvation

Perseverance To The End
Over and over again, the Scripture warn that salvation is not a done deal and that perseverance in righteous living is necessary. We are doing people a grave disservice if we promise or give them the impression that the ride to eternity will be safe and uneventful. It will not not. Fortitude, strength, and endurance will all be necessary. Jesus Himself said...

    "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. (Matthew 10:22 NASB)

    "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. (Matthew 24:12-13 NASB)

    'He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations (Revelation 2:26 NASB)

This was echoed by the early apostles

    yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Colossians 1:22-23 NASB)

    but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 NASB)

And, as Jesus made very clear, falling away is worse than never having been a Christian at all. Immediately after the parables of the man building the tower and the king going to war Jesus went on to tell us that a believer who loses his or her saltiness cannot be made salty again, and is fit only to be thrown out.

    Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? "It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 14:34-35 NASB)

The book of Hebrews was nothing if not more blunt.

    For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6 NASB)

    For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27 NASB)

    For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. (Hebrews 10:36 NASB)

The Two Groups of People
It is ludicrous to believe that an individual is saved from God's judgment of his sins, when that individual has no desire to turn from sin.

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.

    "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. (Matthew 25:31-33 NASB)

    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. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:6-10 NASB)

 Paul spoke of two divisions of people - the 'natural' and the 'spiritual'...

    But a natural (Gk. psuchikos) 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. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. (1 Corinthians 2:14-15 NASB)

Note: psuchikos refers to a sensual person ruled by the physical (or the five senses), rather than by the spiritual, which is usually unseen and experienced only by faith. In other words, if your sinful nature has not been changed by the grace of Christ you are not a carnal Christian - you are no Christian and need to become one. (See Salvation)

However, none of this implies that Christians do not ever sin. As long as we are in our present bodies, we will continuously have to do daily battle with temptation. As Galatians 5:17 describes it..

    For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

The 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 does not deliberately and habitually sin.

See Holiness
There is little or no emphasis on holiness in the modern church buried as it is below flamboyant mega star preachers, worship teams that could find work in many Broadway productions, large "crusades", exciting "revivals" - Glitz and glamour that Hollywood could be proud of. Yet the Bible clearly states that "without holiness, no man shall see God!" (Hebrews 12:14) which means it behooves us to know exactly how the Scriptures define holiness. 

The Misuse of I Corinthians 3
To return to the misapplied passages in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. 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.

    And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 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 (carnal). For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly (carnal), and 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? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NASB)

However it has to be remembered that 1 Corinthians was not primarily a doctrinal epistle but was written to deal with practical problems the young church was experiencing. For example, Paul talked about them defrauding one another, the disorder at the Lord's Table, the eating of things sacrificed to idols etc.  They also tended to divide themselves into camps depending on which of the apostles they first heard the Gospel from. In other words, they were being rebuked for acting like children. It is no wonder that Paul called them "infants in Christ" - they had a lot of growing up or maturing to do.

Certainly these Christians at Corinth were imperfectly sanctified, as indeed are all Christians to a greater or lesser degree. But, on the other hand, we also have to remember is that although they were far from perfect, the Corinthian church 'sanctified in Christ Jesus' and recipients of 'the grace of God', enriched by Christ 'in all utterance, and in all knowledge' (1:2-5). They also had some very strong points. Not only were they being rich in all speech and knowledge and not lacking in any gift but they also eagerly awaited Jesus' coming (How much of the modern church does that?)

This is very different from saying that the Apostle recognized the existence of a distinct group of Christians who can be called 'carnal'.All Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 is that in some areas of their lives Christians can and do sometimes act like the unconverted.

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

Warning The Corinthians
In the sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul wrote (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 NASB)

Pay attention to two very significant points about the above verses.

    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 that sadly many today still "don't get" 

    2) Paul used the past tense when he said "such were some of you". Obviously 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

     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." [02]

However they were being warned so that they didn't eventually become the unrighteous. Backsliding is a process that starts with temptation that if not resisted is actually given in to. This eventually results in the ultimate penalty. It is a very slippery slope:

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:14-15 NASB)

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

    For the mind set on the flesh (KJV - to be carnally minded) is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6 NASB)

End Notes
[01] God's Love/Hate Relationship with the World. © Shepherd Serve 2013 – The Teaching Ministry of David Servant.

[02] The Plight of the Carnal Christian. www.truthablaze.com. Site no longer exists


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