The Carnal Christian an Oxymoron

The Apostle Paul focuses the spotlight on just two categories of people: the natural and the spiritual; every other distinction whether they be men or women, bond or free, circumcised or uncircumcised fades into insignificance.

1Co 2:14 & 15 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.  Firstly, the spiritual man, his essence is spiritual.

Man has a spirit, a soul, and a body (1 TH 5:23 – And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.); he is one, yet three:  the spirit (pneuma), the  soul (psyche) and the body (soma). The spiritual man is only one dimension of the whole man, the rest of him is the soul.  The tripartite man/woman  is the prototype  of the Jewish temple.

John 2:19 – Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

1 Cor 3:16 -Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

The outer court of the Jewish temple resembles the body (soma), the holy place the soul (psyche) and the most holy place the  spirit (pneuma). When a person believes in God, the Spirit of God, preposterous as it may sound, makes the inner sanctum of man (man’s heart) His dwelling place (Ezk 36:26 – A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them).

The spiritual man is forever taking counsel from God, for God and he is woven into one. The spiritual man empowered by the indwelling presence of God is a conqueror in every sense of the word.

2. Secondly, the natural man: his essence is carnal.

The natural man is also a lot like the spiritual man, tripartite, expect that he is a loner in his most holy place. His spirit is alone, it has no companionship with the Spirit of God. For the Spirit of God separated from man when the first Adam sinned, and man was giver over to carnality, his flesh, his senses.

Romans 8: 7 – Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

The spirit zone of a man devoid of the Spirit of God is dormant, unregenerate.

1 Co 2:11- For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

3. Thirdly, the Spiritual man, though his essence be Spiritual, can behave carnally.

CARNALITY

Carnality comes to us from the Greek “sarkikos” meaning “fleshly” which in turn comes from the word “sarx” translated “flesh” in English. All sin is carnal, related to the senses, but not everything carnal is sin; eating is carnal and so is physical intimacy, and they are both not sins when expressed in the right way. All men before they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior are carnal and therefore natural.The natural man is carnal or fleshly as he is influenced by the information he receives through his sense organs, he is affected by what he sees, feels, smells, tastes and hears. Instead of being ruled by God, he is given into self rule triggered by his senses, no wonder the opposite of “flesh” is “self”, of course, with a silent “h”.  The natural man is controlled by what he gets to sense, when he confronts crisis he loses control, and when he faces adversity, he faints.

Either you are Christ’s or not Christ’s, Spiritual or Natural; you can not be both, for to be both is a paradox

The Apostle Paul does talk about the problem of carnality in both believers (spiritual men), Rom 7:14, and unbelievers (natural men), 1 Cor 3:3. In Romans 7 he calls himself “carnal”, and in First Corinthians 3, verse 3, he ends the verse with a question to believers: “Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” Here, the analogy Paul uses for carnality is the natural man, that the natural man is carnal. Further, he says, to believers this time,  in the letter to the Galatians that the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would.

The above verses are scriptural proof to the fact that carnality or carnal/fleshly/self-centered behaviour is common to mankind, to  both the natural and the spiritual man. However, at the core to the natural man is his own self, his flesh, he is ruled by himself. Conversely, at the core of the spiritual man is God’s Spirit, he is ruled by God.

Where does this term “carnal Christian” get credence from?

From a wrong interpretation of 1 Cor 3:3 – For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

That said, I must admit that it can be a tad confusing when one hastily reads Paul in his letter to the different churches; however, to bungle here is to make a serious error, it is to give scriptural credence to a new category of believer, “the carnal Christian.”

The Spiritual Christian at different  stages of  Maturity: The Babes & The Adults

Make no mistake of labelling the christian at different stage of maturity another brand of Christian, for the Christian is one, the Bible emphatically proclaims: there is one body; it is not divided. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says that a believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit, therefore a person is either sealed or not sealed, there is no category in the middle. The Church is an organic whole of believers known as Christians, not otherwise as carnal Christians and Christians. Every Christian must progress from Christian infancy to Christian adulthood, it is just that some take time and some grow rather quickly. The ones who’ve taken considerable time are the ones Paul is addressing in Corinthians chapter 3, he says to these belong milk and not meat. An example of milk is a believers position on matters such as “eschatology”, “soteriology” etc. However meat is for a believer to come to a place of not just understanding but literally living out biblical “meekness”, “forgiveness”, “love” etc. by the help of the Holy Spirit. Read what Paul says about Christian kids in  Hebrews 5:12, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Also, labelling Christians as carnal based on their degree of fleshliness is scripturally incorrect, for the question then would be, “Who decides the percentage of fleshliness in a believer to be branded a “carnal Christian,” considering that even Paul had called himself carnal.

Theologically Speaking

For the Spiritual man as long as he lives, though not directly under the dominion of the flesh, has to deal with the effects of the flesh; see what Paul says in Romans 7: 21&22- I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

The “evil present with me” here is a reference to the flesh. However, the inward man spoken over here is the new man born of God, for when a person is born again, the old man is crucified with Christ, for the subsequent destruction of the body of sin.Rom 6:6: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

It helps to understand that when man fell, it led to the decline of all the three facets in him, the spirit, the soul and the body. However, in redeeming man, God doesn’t redeem the whole of him all at once, barring one, albeit the most important one: the spirit. The body continues to be in a state of corruption, and the soul in a steady state of renewal. Romans 8:23 says that though a person in Christ has the first fruits of the Spirit he is waiting for the adoption, the redemption  of his body. Ephesians 1:13 says we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise which is the pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.

The purchased possession is the whole of a man: spirit, soul and body, but in the present, the Christian only has the new spirit and  has to wait for the future redemption of the soul and of the body. That said, it is comforting to know that the real essence of a person is His spirit, and this  spirIt is new, born again of  incorruptible seed , the word of God. The spirit is the real you, the spirit alone is capable of knowing, and at the heart of existence is knowledge, when a man doesn’t know God he turns senile. 1 Corinthians 2:10 & 11: But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Also, John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. The spirit of man sealed with the Holy Spirit is the spiritual man.

In 1 Cor 3, verses 1 to 3, the emphasis is on the “Christian Infant”, one get to see the same “Christian Infant” in Heb 5:12. In Corinthians 3 Paul addresses believers as “Babes in Christ”, they are babes, but “in christ” nevertheless. Remember Romans 8:9: Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 

Spiritual infancy is not to be misunderstood as Christianity of a different kind, carnal Christianity, for one is either in Christ or not in Christ, but not both.

In Romans 6, Paul says, “knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin,” a little later in Romans 7 when Paul admits that He is carnal, he is talking about the outward man, for he is quick to identify another reality about himself: “the inward man” or “The Spiritual man” which delights after the law of God. Further, in verse 21  of chapter 7 he says, “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

In both the above verses if one doesn’t deviate from the essence of the narrative, we see carnality as something that can bother a Christian externally, the outward man, but not as something that affects the substance/essence of a Christian, the inward man. The Christian’s substance is Spiritual.

If one were to carefully look at the progression from Rom 1 to Rom 8, one would see Paul identify the Christian, especially in chapter 7, as both Spiritual and carnal. This would make some think that a Christian is schizophrenic (divided) person, that He is both a new creation and an old creation. However, the Bible says that if in any man be in in Christ, he is a new creation, and that alone is the truth of the matter. The Christian is a new man/woman as far as his core identity is concerned, which is Spiritual, he is a spirit being, but he has fleshy facets too, the mind which needs to be renewed, Rom 12, and the body which is in the process of corruption, and these will be redeemed one day in the future; Rom 8:23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

The body of sin is not destroyed when a man is born of God, but will be destroyed eventually, otherwise Paul wouldn’t vividly describe the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. This is what he says in Galatians 5:17:For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

2 Cor 4:16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

The spiritual man, unlike the natural man who is given over to carnality, takes information about his self and his circumstances from the Word of God. When the Word calls him a conqueror, he believes it, completely and passionately. Even when he has all the reasons to feel defeated in the flesh, that is in his self, he does not, for he goes by the declaration of the Spirit over his life: which is  a declaration of victory, a promise which he holds on by faith and waits for it to manifest from the spiritual into the physical. When his situation is one of “lack”, the Spirit in him proclaims “provision”, when faced with  adversity, the spiritual man sees “opportunities to conquer”, the spiritual man is constantly deleting and replacing the information he is getting from his carnal self with that information that he gets from the Spirit.

ROMANS 7, ONE LAST TIME

Though candid in his confession of the conflict between the spirit and the flesh similar to one that of Galatians 5:17, Paul ends the text on a victorious pitch which is further amplified in chapter 8, verse 2: For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that gives us freedom from the law is what was promised by God through the Prophet Ezekiel, that when the Spirit of God makes the innermost part of a man/woman -his/her spirt- His abode, then He causes man to do good, God is the causative force for all the goodess in man;Eze 36:26 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

FROM THE SPIRIT OF GOD SPRINGS THE RIVER OF LIFE

The born-again experience is all about releasing the river of life that flows forth from the Spirit of God, resident in us, into our souls so that it could be renewed, made new.

This renewal–making new– of our soulish realm, the mind (the will and the emotions) is completely based on our willingness to allow this river to flow into our soul. The intensity of the flow is completely dependent on us, it can either be a trickle, or a mighty deluge which will not just drench us, but everybody else, including cities and nations that come in contact with us.

The christian who behaves carnally is someone who either obstructs or narrows-down this life giving flow from the Spirit. That is why Paul says I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

He ends the verse with the question: Are ye not carnal, and walk as men? The analogy Paul uses for carnality is the natural man:

Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

Vinod Joy

The House, May 28, 2018

 

Footnotes:

When a man accepts Jesus as his savior he doesn’t do that for the sake of religion, for if he does he has missed the point entirely. When a man accepts Jesus he does so because,  for the very first time, he has walked into somebody who calls  himself: the way, the truth and the life. And that is all the stuff life is all about. Truth is life. Take for instance the reality of spiritual warfare, if you do not know the truth as to what causes the things that you encounter on a daily basis, you are in for pain and defeat. The knowledge of the truth that you are in a battle with the unseen is vital for you to see victory in areas of your life that you constantly face defeat. If you’ve found Jesus, you have found the way to the truth, infact you’ve not just found life, but eternal life.

Glossary:

1. Redemption: releasing effected by payment of ransom. The blood of Christ is the payment for the release of imprisoned human beings.

2. First fruits:  the initial result of an activity, here the Spirit.

3. Corruptible: perishable, perishability

4. oxymoronˌɒksɪˈmɔːrɒn/ noun – a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true ).

 

 

 

 

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