Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Myth of the Carnal Christian

1 Cor. 3:1-9

Many teach that Paul in this passage is talking about 3 classes of people: The natural man or lost man [2:14], Spiritual Christian [3:1a], and the Carnal Christian [1b]. They present a diagram with 3 circles representing the 3 classes of people. At the center of each is a throne. The natural man has self on the throne with Christ outside the circle. The carnal Christian has invited Christ into the circle but keeps self on the throne. The spiritual Christian puts Christ into the circle and Christ on the throne.

A man named Lewis Sperry Chafer popularized the carnal Christian idea in his book, He that is spiritual. C. I. Scofield states the same in his notes in The Scofield Reference Bible.

In recent years this idea of a permanent state of a carnal Christian has been included in tracts by Campus Crusade for Christ, Dallas Seminary, and later revised by Bill Bright before his death.

According to Ernest Reisinger, "This "Carnal Christian" teaching was invented to accommodate all the supposed converts of modern evangelism. The non-lordship teachers had to have some explanation for the thousands and thousands of those who are products of an evangelism that leaves out Bible repentance from their evangelistic message. I am referring to those who make "decisions," walk aisles and make professions of being Christians, but their lives have never been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they do not love what Christians love and hate what Christians hate. They act, think and live like non-Christians, but their teachers must have some explanation for their unchanged lives. Thus the unbiblical category "Carnal Christian" was invented by the non-lordship teachers."

Stage one is conversion and then stage two is to make Jesus Lord. In between the two stages the believer may live like an unbeliever.

This tract is based on our text today. Trouble is, Paul is not teaching 3 classes of people, but only 2 classes of people- The natural man [lost] and the Spiritual man [saved]. Here we see the saints and the aint's.

Note 2:14-15 He is not teaching that a Christian can’t remain in a permanent state of carnality for his whole life and be in a special class.

TT: Why? Let me defend this view with seven reasons!

1. Paul was rebuking the Corinthians for their fleshly behavior, for their state not their standing.

The church had divided into factions over the popularity of different teacher [vs. 3-9]. Paul states that they were fleshly and behaving like mere men or the natural man. Paul was accusing them of acting like non-Christians.

Paul was not defining 2 classes of Christians or 3 classes of people. He simply talks about the natural man and the spiritual man who was acting carnal in behavior.

Can true Christians be carnal? The word carnal means fleshly. Paul addresses them both as “brethren” [v. 1] and “carnal” [v. 2]. Every time we sin we act carnal.

There is no such thing as a believer who is carnal all the time.  And, there is no such thing as a believer who is not carnal some of the time.

A true Christian will not remain carnal for a lifetime. Many believe a person can come to faith in Christ and then turn to live their life in a carnal state with no signs of spiritual life, and be a Christian.

Once we set up a category for a “carnal Christian” everybody who confesses Christ is saved, but James 2:14; Matt. 7:21; 1 John 3:9; and 1 John 5:14 tell us different.

2. Spiritual Refers to all Christians.

They were spiritual because they had received the Holy Spirit,  they were spiritual by position but not practice. Their standing was as spiritual but their state was as fleshly.

Their behavior was so inconsistent with the truth that Paul had to address them as babes in Christ, carnal, acting like the natural man [2:14-15].

Romans 8:5-9, The lost have a mind set on the flesh while Christians have a mind set on the Spirit.

According to Paul then, all Christians are spiritual but do act in the flesh from time to time, and that is what he is rebuking them for in our text.

3. Paul does not urge these carnal Christians to “make Jesus Lord.”

Many think that a believer can live in a carnal state having not made Jesus Lord. They are converted, Jesus is in the circle, but Jesus is not on the throne of their life.

Phil. 2:11; Rom. 10:9-10; John 20:28; 1 Cor. 12:3

A.W. Tozer said it best, "You can't receive a divided Christ."

4. The carnal Christian teaching perverts Justification and Sanctification.

5. The carnal Christian teaching makes no room for false converts.

6. The carnal Christian teaching negates the importance of repentance.

7. The carnal Christian teaching eliminates the doctrine of assurance of salvation.


1. A true Christian can be carnal [3:1].

2. A true Christian will not remain carnal for a lifetime without the conviction and correction of God and ultimately physical death [Heb. 11:5-9; James 5:20; 1 John 5:16-17].

Believers can’t sin without punishment. One can’t be a carnal Christian and not experience discipline from the Lord.

3. A Christian who is acting carnal loses reward not relationship [3:15].

4. We are wrong in labeling carnal Christians as permanent carnal Christians, when in reality they that have their mind set on the flesh, and are probably lost [Romans 8:5-9; Gal. 5:17-24].

5. What about Lot? Lot is used as a example of a lifelong carnal Christian. Turn to 2 Peter 2:7-9

* He lived in Sodom but never became a sodomite.

* He was grieved, tormented and oppressed over the sin around him.

* The Lord rescued Lot with severe chastisement.

   He lost his testimony

   He lost his home

   His wife was killed by divine judgment

   His daughters disgraced and shamed him.