|For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. This will be my third visit to you. "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you - unless, of course, you fail the test? [2 Cor 12:20-3:5, NIV]|
These were in the visible church, tis true, but not considered saved. In fact, Paul states real Christians should not fellowship these "carnal Christians" (1 Cor 5:11-13).Some seem to think the only one in the Corinthian church who was unsaved was the one who was living immoral with his mother or maybe step-mother, but from the verses quoted above it seems there were many in an unconverted state. Yet there were no doubt saved, regenerate, upright Christians in that church as well, but Paul feared many who had sinned would not have repented when he arrived. There is a difference between being carnal and being influenced by the carnal mind just as there is a difference between being evil and being influenced by evil. I am reminded of what I remember someone saying, "Carnal Christian? It depends upon whether you spell "carnal" with a little "c" or a capitol "C." And as Dan Corner wrote, "This carnal Christian question is a watershed issue, since it really affects the definition of a Christian and, therefore, who will ultimately be saved." The classic passage in defense of the "carnal Christian" position is found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. First, I see no necessity of saying all in a particular local church are in the same spiritual condition. John describes antichrists as going out from [the church]. "They were not [really] of us; for if they had been of us, they would not doubt have continued with us" (1 John 2:19). Obviously all professing Christians are not in the same state or degree of grace. To refer to a church collectively as Christians does not mean all in that church are saved. Second, the key words brethren, babes in Christ, and carnal must be properly understood. Brethren does not necessarily mean Christian in the true sense. Sometimes it is used of mankind in general or of those in a community relationship which are united by common interests or members of the same congregation, but does not mean all such are regenerated.
"Babes in Christ" does not necessarily mean all in the church were actually babes in Christ in a true sense , but babes in the sense of just beginning to understand the teachings of Christianity, or as Adam Clarke states, "Just beginning to acquire some notion of the Christian religion." These babes in Christ were not the same as the newborn babes of 1 Peter 1:2.Even the true Christians were being led or influenced; to be part of the division by leaders who could have been not true Christians at all. In much the same way Barnabas was influenced by Peter to withdraw from the gentiles when James came around. You can almost explain this whole passage of "carnal Christians," if you think of them as innocent infirmities. These infirmities consisted of the misguided zeal of new converts, along with some who were awakened to their condition and were convinced at least in their head that Jesus was the Christ, but this had not reached their hearts yet. So they naturally had favorite preachers and put one against the other since their hearts were not purified by faith. I said you could "almost" explain it as being infirmities, except that Paul uses strong language in v 3, "For you are yet carnal. Always were and still are, which in a strict sense means they are still unregenerate. Then Paul cites the inconsistencies of their lives. Religious, yes, but sinful in their actions. Can you be religious and lost? Yes! Paul points to the inconsistencies of every strife and division. Since you have all this among you, are you not yet carnal (unregenerate) and live like or act the same as unregenerate man? In 2 Corinthians Paul reveals their sexual sin and debauchery, anger, slander, gossip, envying, strife. Paul, in Galatians 5:19-21 tell us they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. In the balance of chapter 3, Paul compares our life's work or ministry to building a house. Jesus Christ, the foundation. The building is to be built of materials that won't burn up: gold, silver, stone. but sometimes through ignorance and infirmities some use inferior materials: wood, hay, stubble. Remember the three pigs! At the judgment our religious works, what we did in Christ's name will be tested - not our sins: adultery, fornication, lies, theft, etc. Our "good" works will be tested. Our sins will have been forgiven through the atonement. Our works will be tested by fire. False teaching (over emphasis on grace or even works), unwise actions, and over-zealous actions, misguided zeal, etc, will be burned, but we ourselves saved. The works that stand the fire (done only for Jesus), will be the basis for our degree of reward. Every believer is a stone in the temple or building of God. But if any man defile the temple of God (the Church), by false teaching, known to be false, him will God destroy! Let's look more carefully at the word carnal. The word is a noun, but it is always used as an adjective to refer to persons, behavior, or dispositions. Sarx, which is used 17 times in Romans 7-8, basically means flesh or fleshly. Although some speak of "carnality" as if it were an entity all of its own, "carnality" is never used in the Scripture.
In theological terms "carnal" means the natural man, sinful man, or the unregenerate nature. McClintock & Strong defined "carnal" by saying that "wicked or unconverted men are represented as under the dominion of a carnal mind, which is enmity against God." In a strict sense there is no such thing as a carnal Christian any more than an unregenerate Christian!"They that are in the flesh (sarx) cannot please God" (Rom 8:8). "The mind of the flesh (sarx) is death" (Rom 8:6; neither adjective is used here). This does not mean that a true believer does not have a sinful nature yet remaining in him, but it does mean that while the sinful nature remains it does not reign. A true Christian is not under the control of the carnal mind. He may be influenced by it from time to time, but the carnal mind is crucified; nailed on a cross. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh (sarx) with the affections and lusts" (Gal 5:24). I use the flesh nature here as having the same meaning as the body of sin in Romans 6:6. He will get weaker and weaker until he dies. Yes, you can revive him if you please. You can get a ladder and administer first aid by what you read, watch, and where you go. You can leave off the means of grace and he will revive. You can let him down after the Holy Spirit has nailed him there. In 1 Corinthians 3:1 the adjective sarkinos is used and it means "fleshly." According to W. E. Vine this word is far less grave than sarkikos, which is used twice in vv 3-4. Sarkikos has clear ethical overtones. Gordon Fee said "they are living like the devil." They are living like natural men (v 4). Sarkikos is also used once by Paul in Romans 7:14 where he speaks of being unspiritual or sold under sin and in 2 Corinthians 1:12 to refer to worldly wisdom which is based on the viewpoint of the sinful nature. Many in our churches are undoubtedly unregenerate and not truly born of the Spirit as was also true at Corinth. However, in his sermon "On Sin in Believers," John Wesley makes a distinction between being controlled by the carnal mind and having the carnal mind remaining. He is making the point that there are degrees of faith prior to conversion as well as degrees of faith after justification, but is he right in his assessment that those who are described as "carnal" in 1 Corinthians 3 are actually "babes in Christ" in the true sense? Elsewhere, in his comments about the "carnal" Christians at Corinth, Wesley said they were "in a great measure carnal." I think he used this phrase "in a great measure" to distinguish them from being altogether carnal, as some teach today. In at least three other locations Wesley qualifies this description: "still in a measure carnal," "still (in part) carnal," "which is in some measure 'carnal.'" It is obvious he did not think they were altogether carnal, but those who were described in 2 Corinthians 5:11-13 were! J. Agar Beet takes the phrase "ye are yet carnal" as a rebuke, not as delineating states of grace. He wrote that Paul does not "look at them as altogether destitute of the Spirit, but as men whose spiritual life is as yet undeveloped...Paul is compelled to speak to them as though still unsaved."
The problem here is simply that you cannot be regenerate and unregenerate at the same time. Whedon commented that "were they wholly carnal they would not even be babes, but be unregenerate."
Adam Clarke interprets the same passage to mean that some who were associated with the Corinthian congregation were not actually part of the universal Church. They were "just beginning to acquire some notion of the Christian religion." He concluded that 1 Corinthians 3:3 meant, "Ye act just as the people of the world, and have no more of the spirit of religion than they."Regardless of which of these Methodist interpretations is preferred, the point is that the term "carnal" is never used in an unqualified sense to describe Christians, as it later came to be used in the holiness movement and by dispensationalists. Their use of the terms "carnal Christian" and "Spirit-filled Christian" are not biblical. They teach a "carnal Christian" is still in bondage to sin and may not live any differently from the unsaved until he receives the Spirit. This is heresy. Let us briefly review what happens when a sinner is regenerated or born again. Titus 3:5-7 speaks of "the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ." When does this happen? Verse 7, when we are justified. 1 John 1:5, "God is light and in him is no darkness." Verse 6, "If we say we have fellowship and walk in darkness we lie." 1 John 2:1 "that you sin not." Verse 3 "We know him if we keep his commandments." Verses 9-10, "He that hateth his brother is in darkness." Verse 15, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world the love of God is not in him." 1 John 3:6, "whosoever abideth in him sinneth not." Verse 8, "He that committeth sin is of the devil." The devil is your father. Verses 9-10, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commits sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." The definition of sin in this passage in given in verse 4. 3:15 "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer and ye know no murderer hath eternal life." No one who hates his brother is saved! Verse, 20 "If our heart condemns us..." (v 24) you know God does also for He sees our hearts clearer than we do. 1 John 4:20 "If a man say, I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar." How do we know we are children of God? 1 John 5:2 "when we love God, and keep his commandments." Verse, 10 "He that believeth hath the witness in himself." Galatians 5:19-21 "Now the works of the flesh (sarx) are manifest, which are these, Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Maybe finally we need to consider those "servants of God" who have not yet passed into sonship. Awakened, repenting, seeking, but who have not yet received the gift of faith or the witness John talked about, but fear God and work righteousness like Cornelius, like Lydia, like Apollos. Even these who could not be considered born again were certainly not living carnal lives, even though they were not regenerated. Cornelius prayed and gave alms. God answered his prayers before he became a Christian. Apollos preached and was eloquent in the Scriptures before he was taught or understood fully about Jesus. He was not living a carnal life even though he knew only the baptism of John. Lydia prayed by the riverside before she was a Christian, but she certainly wasn't living a carnal life!
There is no place in Scripture or in reason, tradition, or experience for the expression "carnal Christian." Such an expression is a misnomer. Here are some names the Bible uses for Christians:saints