Is there such a thing as a carnal Christian?
The phrase "carnal Christian" comes from the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 3:1-3: "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?" The Christians in Corinth were living an immature lifestyle. The so-called carnal Christians of today live similar lifestyles, characterized by envy, strife, and division.
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But can a Christian truly be "carnal"? The word "carnal" is from a Greek word that means "worldly" or "fleshly." In other words, carnality involves worldliness and a giving in to fleshly appetites. Is a carnal person really a Christian?
The answer is more difficult than it may seem. First Corinthians is written to believers, "sanctified" and "called to be his holy people" (1 Corinthians 1:2 NIV). Paul's description of them as "carnal" obviously means that, yes, there are times when Christians act in selfish, worldly ways. Instead of rising to the goal of God's holiness, the Corinthians were sliding back into old habits.
A person who claims to follow Christ and consistently acts in ways incompatible to his or her faith may have never been truly saved. "No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him" (1 John 3:6). Those whose lives that continually contradict Christian teachings may not be true followers of Christ. As James said, "I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18).
The goal of every Christian is to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). This includes obeying the Lord, because those who love Him will obey His commands (John 14:15). Salvation is by God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), yet believers have been set apart to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Carnality in a Christian opposes all of this.
A carnal Christian should feel conviction to conform to Christ's calling for his or her life (Romans 12:1-2). Knowing that he or she is displeasing the Lord, the carnal Christian should repent of his or her selfishness and recommit his or her life to following Christ.
The antidote for carnality is to live moment by moment in communion with and reliance on the Holy Spirit of God. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16).
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