Monday, June 9, 2008

Is There Any Such Thing As A Carnal Christian?

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

These verses, quoted here from the New King James Version, have led to quite a misconception of the Christian faith over the past few decades - that is the idea of what is commonly referred to as the Carnal Christian. A Carnal Christian is one who, although they say that they have had a "saving" encounter with Jesus Christ still continue in a lifestyle of sin. The proponents of this teaching claim that a person can "accept Jesus into their heart" and continue to live any way that the want and that their salvation will remain intact (i.e. they will still go to heaven when they die), and those who teach this use the above verses for their justification in this teaching. They say that Paul addressing the Corinthian church as being carnal proves that you can be a Christian and still live in a lifestyle of sin. But is that what is being taught here?

Paul is writing to this church to correct some problems that they were experiencing within their congregation, and he is merely telling them here that they are not growing like they should be because they are not submitting to the direction of the Holy Spirit and are therefore still babes in Christ. Does this mean that they we not saved? No, but is doesn't necessarily mean they were either. Paul is just telling them that because of the profession of faith that they made, and the amount of time that had passed, that they should be more mature in their walk than they currently are, and he calls them out for their lack of maturity. The question that we must first answer here is this, were the people that Paul was writing to in this letter really saved? I don't think that we can answer that question with any certainty, but I will point out that in his second letter to this same church he said:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
Paul did not assume that these people were Christians; he urged them to test themselves to see if they were truly in the faith. And what did he say? Jesus Christ is in you - unless you fail the test! This means that there are those who believe that they are a follower of Jesus Christ who are deluded and who, if tested, will not pass and so prove that their salvation is not real. Jesus Himself warned us of this very thing in the Sermon on the Mount, where He said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’"
Jesus said that the person who will not get into heaven is the person who, even though they claim to know Him, continues in a lifestyle of sin. I believe that what Jesus is saying here is that no person who is truly saved will not continue to live in unrepentant sin. But neither does the Bible teach that a truly Born-Again person will ever achieve sinless perfection on this side of Heaven; however, there are those today who teach that to repent of your sins means that you will never fall again, and this is just not true (see 1 John 1:1-10).

So what then do we make of this doctrine of the Carnal Christian that is so popular today, can a person be a Christian and still continue to live in sin? The answer is no! In Ezekiel 36 God gives us a picture of what happens when a person is truly Born Again, He says:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

There are a couple of very important things that we must see in this passage if we are ever to understand our salvation. First of all notice how many times God says that He will do something, He says:
  1. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness
  2. I will cleanse you from all your idols
  3. I will give you a new heart
  4. I will put a new spirit within you
  5. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh
  6. I will put My Spirit within you
  7. I will cause you to walk in my statutes and to carefully obey my rules
  8. I will be your God
Then in verse 32 He reminds us that He is not doing this for our sake, we are told to be ashamed and confounded for our ways. So why then does God do this? If you look back to verses 22 & 23 He tells us that it is for the sake of His holy name and to vindicate His holiness.

So my question to you then is this, how can you continue to live in a lifestyle of sin if God has given you a new heart, written His law on it, and placed his Holy Spirit within you? I would contend that you cannot. But again, let me make it clear that this does not mean that a Christian is perfect and that they never sin (again, see 1 John 1:1-10). It does, however, mean that when the Holy Spirit makes you aware of a sin in your life that you stop right there and you repent of it immediately.

A Christian then is one who lives not in a lifestyle of continuing sin but in a lifestyle of continuing repentance, and if this is not true in your life you need to do as Paul suggested in 2 Corinthians 13 and examine yourself, because the evidence is not in your favor.
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