Does the Bible Teach the Class of Christian known as “Carnal Christian”?
Updated: Jan 5
I used to think the “carnal Christian” teaching to be true, that there was such a thing as a “carnal Christian,” a third category of man, but I didn’t learn it from the Bible but from the teachings of man. Over a decade ago I purposed to read through the Bible six times over the year, and my oh my were my eyes ever opened to some serious heresies being taught under my nose within IFB churches (“evangelical” and Protestant churches are thoroughly apostate, so they are MUCH worse, for you detractors out there). I would encourage everyone that reads here to read and reread the Bible as often and much as possible (a King James Bible) to understand Scripture and bring God glory. My views were quickly changed on a number of issues including this one. I found the view that I had been taught didn’t harmonize with the rest of Scripture or even with the very context from where it’s taught. We know that the Bible has one interpretation, one primary meaning, and it must all perfectly harmonize or we will run into contradictions and confusion. That is what happens when “carnal Christianity” is taught. That class of people just doesn’t show up in Scripture besides in the lost category, and then we have words that oppose it.
There are two categories of man, saved and unsaved. Period. Hundreds of diverse teachings in the Bible fit into two categories, not three. Read here as an introduction to this: There are Only Two Classes or Categories in God’s Word, Not Three
Additionally, here are two other articles that touch on this subject:
Misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 to Produce the Erroneous Teaching of "Carnal Christianity"
Labels Misused Towards Professing Believers that Only Apply to False Professing “Believers"
Please consider now the following reasons of refutation of the “carnal Christian” theory.
1. The Bible rightly divided refutes the "carnal Christian" theory.
God demands we rightly divide His Word (2 Tim 2:15), and upon doing that we see that where carnal is referenced to a condition or characteristic of a person or way of life (versus how the word is used as describing our existence in this world — all are in the flesh until death, which is how it is used sometimes in Scripture), it always refers to a lost person. Now that doesn’t mean a saved person couldn’t have some behaviour similar to a carnal person for a brief period of time, like some of the Corinthians evidently were; they can — what it means is when we read of the carnal person in Scripture we are reading about a lost person. That is how the word is used and the label or category is not applied to saved people in Scripture. The nature of the carnal is flesh. That is their only nature, while the nature of saved people is the Spirit. When Paul is asking the Corinthians (those guilty of the sins mentioned there), whether they are “yet carnal,” he is asking them whether they are yet lost. It’s an obvious sharp reproof and exhortation to self-examination and repentance, whether unto fellowship or unto salvation (e.g. 2 Cor 7:9:10-11). As to whether they are yet the “natural man” (1 Cor 2:14—the same context), for he is having to speak unto them as if they are. Many other things establish this truth in Scripture. Take Rom 8 for example, the parallel passage to 1 Cor 3:
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 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. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (vv 5-9)
Is the carnal in this text a Christian? Of course not. It does harmonize with 1 Cor 3:1-4. The carnally minded/natural person in contrast here (vv. 1-9) is the lost who walk/live after the flesh (vv. 1-2, 4-5), are at enmity against God (v. 7), are under the law of sin and death (v. 2), cannot please God (v. 8) and are without the indwelling Holy Spirit (v. 9). The spiritually minded (vv. 4-6) here are the saved who walk after the Spirit (vv. 1, 4-5, 9), and do mind the things of the Spirit (v. 5), are freed from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (v. 2), they fulfill the righteousness of the law (v. 8 — starts at salvation), and are in the way of life and peace (v. 6— both received at salvation), and have the indwelling Spirit (v. 9). If there is any doubt as to who Paul is contrasting here, v. 9 should abolish that doubt: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” All saved people have the indwelling holy Spirit (v. 9) Who witnesses with their spirit that they are the children of God (v. 16) and thus always led by the Spirit of God (v. 14) and are not in the flesh, while those in the flesh have not the Spirit of Christ and thus do not belong to God. They are none of His. Thus we know without any room for debate that the contrast being made in this chapter is that of a truly saved person and a lost person.
Neither Rom 8 or 1 Cor 3 are contrasting two types of Christians, but contrasting the saved and lost, the contrast made in fact throughout Scripture. Very clearly the carnal of Rom 8 are lost and that should be the basis for what we read in 1 Cor 3, which then perfectly harmonizes with the rest of Scripture as well (e.g. Rom 6:1-23; 7:4-25; Eph 2:1-5; 4:17-32; Ti 2:11-14; 3:3-7; 1 Jn 2:3-5, 29; 3:1-10; 5:1-5; etc), which is rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). Paul is the penman of both Romans and 1 Corinthians and he doesn’t contradict himself. He is not writing in one place that the carnal are lost (which they clearly are in Rom 8) while in another place (1 Cor 3) that they are saved. That would be confusion and God’s Word doesn’t contradict itself. Rom 8 is the clear passage, by which we interpret the less clear (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Rom. 7:4-6, “For when we WERE IN THE FLESH, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death," supports that further, as does Rom. 6:1-23 and other passages (such as Ti. 2:11-14 and 3:3-7). Notice in Rom 7:4 that Paul refers to our nature as being flesh prior to our salvation. Saved people are in the Spirit (Gal 5:24). But 1 Cor 3:1-4 is actually also clear, as the next few points will establish. So much in Rom 7 and 8 (and 6, which I will cover further below) plainly says a carnal Christian doesn’t exist. The truly saved isn't after the flesh. He doesn't live after the things of the flesh. He isn't carnally minded or in the flesh any longer, as pre-conversion. Everything that happens at salvation contradicts that. To get this wrong is to give credibility to lost people, to people who attend church, put on a facade of Christianity, but have never been regenerated.
2. The meaning of the word carnal refutes the "carnal Christian" theory.
The word “carnal” in 1 Cor 3 means to that which pertains to the flesh, and unregenerate. Practically all dictionaries and lexicons give it that definition, based upon its use in the Bible. The word means to be of the nature of flesh, to be governed by mere human nature and not by the Spirit of God, having its seat in the animal nature or aroused by the animal nature, with the idea of depravity. None of these things describe or represent the born again believer in Christ Jesus. Though a saved person can heed the lusts of the flesh temporarily, hence the warning to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet 2:11), he is not controlled by the flesh or lives after the flesh because the flesh is never again his nature. It is crucified and he is dead to sin. His nature is the Spiritual new birth (Jn 3), he lives in the Spirit (Gal 5:25) and is “in Christ,” “a new creature” and “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor 5:17). Saved people “live in the Spirit,” therefore they ought to “also walk in the Spirit,” (Gal 5:25), since, after all, “they that are Christ's have [perfect tense verb referring to a past completed, or "perfected" action or condition] crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (Gal 5:24). The definition corresponds to what Scripture teaches on the flesh of the unconverted.
3. Context and grammar is the first and foremost important rule of literal interpretation, as I have no doubt you would agree, and that refutes the "carnal Christian" belief.
1 Cor 3:1-4 pulled out of the rest of the context (and Bible for that matter) could potentially indicate the carnal Christian theory, with the exception of the “as” and the question marks, which would still cause confusion. However, the context does tell us a different story. Like the rest of Scripture, Paul divides everyone into two categories in this context, not three: natural (1 Cor 2:12a, 14; 3:1-4, 18-20) and then spiritual (1 Cor 2:9-11, 12b, 15-16; 3:9-17, 21-23). 1 Cor 2 builds up to where Paul is going in 1 Cor 3. The natural man of 1 Cor 2 and the carnal man of 1 Cor 3 are the same person. The natural man in 1 Cor 2:14 is “psuxikos,” a person controlled by himself, by his own flesh and soul (the “ikos” ending says "controlled by" or "pertaining to" or "characterized by"). The natural man is in control of his own life and destiny, further elaborated in 2 Pet 2:12 and Ju 1:10. The spiritual man, 1 Cor 2:15, is “pneumatikos,” so the Spirit controls him, what Rom 8:14 speaks of, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” 1 Cor 2:14 and 15 are the unsaved person and the saved person, respectively. In 1 Cor 3:1, Paul says he could not speak to them "as" unto spiritual, actually referring back to the spiritual man of chapter 2, but plural, spiritual men here. He's saying he couldn't talk to them like they were saved people, that is, people who could understand spiritual things. "But" (alla, strong contrast, on the contrary) "as" carnal (“sarkikos,” which are people controlled by the flesh which is their nature—the unregenerate). Paul couldn't talk to them like they were saved (“spiritual”), but like they were unsaved (“carnal”). The Corinthians were acting like unsaved people, carnal people, natural people, and though many were not themselves carnal, some actually were. Paul never treated people that were behaving like lost people as if they were saved.
Paul is talking to professing Christians, so he says, "as.” If he was actually talking to so-called carnal Christians, he would’ve said, 'speaking to carnal Christians,' not "as." Furthermore, he would’ve also said the things he did in vv. 3 and 4 as statements, not as questions (“are ye not carnal, and walk as men? . . . are ye not carnal?”) which infers an enquiry, not a definitive statement. If he was actually talking to so-called carnal Christians, he would’ve said, ‘ye are carnal and walk as men,’ ‘ye are carnal,’ and not "are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” “are ye not carnal?” He was not saying they were carnal; he was questioning whether they were carnal (the difference is critical). Obviously if there was such a thing as a carnal Christian, this wouldn’t be stated in the form of a question, which is the opposite of certainty. We know they were behaving sinfully, disobedient, and that prompts the questions from Paul whether they were lost, since that is how they were behaving, as carnal and walking as men (lost people), which perfectly corresponds and harmonizes with everything else he taught in this epistle and all his other epistles. Had Paul intended to call them carnal, he would’ve done just that, he would’ve stated it definitively and conclusively and authoritatively (like he does with anything else in Scripture, he doesn’t beat around the bush), without any doubt, without any vague implication. The reason for this of course is simple. To call them outright as “carnal,” he would be calling them unregenerate since that is how they would’ve understood it, for that word refers to the nature of a man, which is of the flesh, which is a lost person (made very clear in these passages for example: Jn 3:6; Rom 8:1-9; 7:5-6; 2 Pet 2:10, 18; Gal 6:8; 4:23-29; Col 2:11-13; Eph 2:11-13). The carnal or natural man is circumcised from the heart at salvation, noted in Col 2, “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: … And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;” (vv 11, 13).
Again, there are only two categories of people in this world, only two presented throughout the bible, not three and salvation is a very dramatic transformation and regeneration of life as noted everywhere in the Bible. I mentioned some of the contrasts in the Bible between the two classes, in my last email. What the saint was before salvation and after salvation, is contrasted throughout Scripture and that contrast is great.
4. Though many of the Corinthians were true believers, they were not all.
Though Paul treated them as such to a certain degree (i.e. “brethren”) he would frequently challenge their profession of faith, as he does intermittently in all his epistles. There is a warning to the worldly wise (who are always lost: 1 Cor 1:19-31) of their deceptive lost condition in 1 Cor 3:18-20. The wicked man in 1 Cor 5 was not a true believer for a number of reasons presented in that chapter. The ones at Corinth not free from the dominion of sins mentioned in 1 Cor 6:9-10 were unsaved, but those that had been truly saved are distinguished as, “And such were some of you…” (1 Cor 6:11). The warning of this text (vv. 9-10) had a specific purpose which is found in the context (1 Cor 6:1-8), noted in how v. 8 goes into v. 9, to them who defraud their brother, and take a brother before the unsaved for judicial purposes (vv. 1-8). The Corinthians are warned here (“Know ye not” v. 9) referring back to those guilty of the sins mentioned in vv. 1-8, which would fall under the sins mentioned in vv. 9-10, such as “covetous,” extortioner,” and other sins possibly, those those practicing these sins are “unrighteous” and “shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” (v. 9). The wording and warning is very clear and its directed to certain of the Corinthians. As Paul closes off the final epistle, he reiterates those continuing in the sins mentioned in 2 Cor 12:20-21 are commanded to examine themselves whether they are actually genuinely saved or they be reprobate concerning the faith (2 Cor 13:5; cf. 2 Tim 3:8). Those that were truly born again but in disobedience (guilty of the sins mentioned in the first epistle) though hadn’t died as of yet due to unrepentant non-judging of self (1 Cor 11:28-32), these did repent of their sins as we read in 2 Cor. 7:9-11. 2 Cor 7:10 also implies that some were unsaved and had repented unto salvation.
Due to the limitations of human perception and discernment, to know whether someone is truly saved to the best of our ability and discernment (i.e. since we cannot see the heart), we must judge by fruit and evidence, and the fruit of an unsaved professor of Christ is false doctrine and living and walking in the flesh (e.g. Matt 7:15-20; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gl 5:19-21; Eph 5:3-11; Ti 3:3-7; Rev 2 & 3; etc) thus loving the world (1 Jn 2:15-17) which is an enemy of God (Jam 4:4), the strongest language in the Bible on being lost (the very word used to describe the devil). The contrast made between the saved and lost is found in thousands of places throughout scripture. It’s literally everywhere, including 1 & 2 Corinthians, and its always found where justification is taught. In fact, it might well take up more of the Bible than any other subject. If someone professes to be a Christian, we treat them as such but to the degree of fruit and evidence align with God’s Word, hence why passages such as Matt 18:15-17; 1 Jn 2:3-5, 19, 29; 3:1-15; 2 Jn 1:5-11; 3 Jn 1:9-11; etc, exist. Those who remain unrepentant after Matt 18:15-17 has been exhausted, is to be considered heathen and a publican, language referring to a lost person. God irrevocably implants a characteristic rejection of sin and the world and a love for Christ and holiness, and love for His Word and love for saints to those He saves. He also gives them a new and holy nature (2 Cor. 5:17; Heb. 8:10). That never changes. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t go back to the mire and vomit like a pig and dog, as noted with false believers and teaches in 2 Pet 2:16-22. Those
The Bible is filled with examples of people that professed to be believers but in fact were not: Gen 4; 25:29-34; Num. 23 & 24; 2 Ki. 12; Mt. 7:15-20, 21-23; 8:21-22; 13:4-7, 10-15, 18-22; 23:3-33; 27:3-6; Mk. 4:10-19; Lk 9:57-62; 11:37–12:1; 17:32 [Gen. 19:26]; Jn. 2:23-25; 6:60-66; 8:31-37; 13:8-11; Ac. 8:13-24; 15:1-2; 19:1-4; 21:20; 1 Cor. 5:1-8; 15:34; 2 Cor. 11:12-15; 13:5; 2 Tim 2:17-26; 4:10; Ti. 1:16; 3:10-11; Heb. Heb. 3:6–4:11; 12:15; 2 Pet. 2:1-3, 17-22; 1 Jn. 2:19; 3:1, 14-18; 2 Jn 1:9-11; 3 Jn 1:9-11; Ju 1:4-16; Rev 3:1, 14-19; etc.
5. Romans 6 refutes the "carnal Christian" belief.
So much in this chapter plainly refutes it, and do also bear in mind that this chapter is the very context of Rom 7:15-24, as is Rom 7:4-6. Rom 6 declares from salvation onward that the saint is “dead to sin” and no longer lives therein (vv. 1-2), is “baptized into Jesus Christ” and thus “baptized into his death” (vv. 3-4), they “walk in newness of life” (v. 4) for their “our old man is crucified with him . . . that henceforth we should not serve sin” (v. 6), “For he that is dead is freed from sin” (v. 7), and is “dead with Christ” (v. 8), “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 11), thus “sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (v. 14), for “ye were the servants of sin [before salvation], but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you [salvation]” (v. 17); thus “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants [slaves, same word — “douloo”) of righteousness” (v. 18), and as you did before salvation “ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity;” (vv. 19-21) even so now after salvation, ye “yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (vv. 19, 22) — thus “being made free from sin, and become servants [slaves] to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (v. 22). This is just some of Rom 6 and only the tip of the iceberg concerning a plain refutation that a saved person can turn back to his old ways. None of this fits into the "carnal Christian" theory.
The God inspired words found in Rom 6 all have specific meaning and many are perfect tense verbs (aorist), which is the verb tense used to indicate the reality of a completed, or "perfected" action or condition (what happened at salvation). But the perfect tense is a primary tense because it emphasizes the present, or ongoing result of a completed (past) action. I digress momentarily, it’s one of the most important reasons we know salvation can never be lost. Modern Bible perversions change words like “have” to “let us” which changes the tense mood to conjunctive, which is only potential. That changes salvation from an absolute yea to only a potential maybe, and in so doing attack and corrupt the doctrine of salvation. But its also an important reason why we know that truly saved people continue in godliness, holiness and righteousness, besides the obvious indications of that in Scripture, such as, “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him” (1 Jn 2:29). Here are perfect tense verbs in Rom 6. The word “are” in “are dead to sin” (vv. 2, 11), is a perfect tense verb, as is “are” in “are buried”, (v. 4), and “have” in “have been planted in the likeness of his death” (v. 5), and “is” in “old man is crucified with [Christ]” (v. 6), and “is” in “is dead” (v. 7), and “is” in “is freed from sin.” (v. 7). All these words underlined have been placed there intentionally by the Divine Author of Scripture. The exact words in Scripture, including the perfect tense, are there on purpose because God chose and authored them. Thus, those who are planted together in the likeness of His death, were crucified with Christ at the moment of their salvation, and dead to sin and freed from sin so that sin has no more power or dominion over him, have this presently and guaranteed into the future because it happened and was perfected in the past at the very moment of conversion. The perfect tense has the results ongoing, since everything we will ever have in the Christian life is received at the very moment of conversion, so that the guarantee is there for resurrection in the future (all first class conditions of reality).
This is the clear teaching of Romans 6 but also the Bible as a whole. There are no have-nots in the Bible. The moment a sinner repents and receives Christ, he has every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3) and all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a power of influence. The moment someone savingly believes in Jesus he receives the Person of the Holy Spirit, all of Him. He won't receive any more of Him. He doesn't need anything more than He has in order to live the Christian life. Noted in Eph 1:19, “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,” That is absent in the life of the person who chooses to live after the flesh and thus sin. They don’t have the cleansing power dwelling in them. All this however doesn’t imply sinless perfection, for that is specifically spoken against in passages such as 1 Jn 1:8–2:1 (verified personally in my own life), but it does imply that the truly saved persons new nature will consistently and habitually and perpetually reflect his new life, now that he has life.
Later in the chapter we see more of that great transformation that occurs at conversion: “But God be thanked, that ye were [before salvation] the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you [at salvation]. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness [at salvation]. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity [feebleness of body or mind; malady] of your flesh [which is crucified with Christ, v. 6, yet we can still obey its lusts because we carry it around]: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity [before salvation]; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness [after salvation]. For when ye were [before salvation] the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed [before salvation]? for the end of those things is death [eternal hell fire]. But now [at salvation] being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (Rom 6:17-22).
6. What happens at true salvation and then keeps going refutes the "carnal Christian" belief.
The born again believer has been “quickened” (Eph 2:1-5) which means to be made alive (he can never die again, he is never dead again, so in that sense, and also more, revival applies to lost people including false professing Christians in this age we live in, an age where God the Spirit dwells in saints, revival meaning bringing someone to life from the dead, akin to resuscitation; what is needed is not emotional appeal but obedience). He is an overcomer of the world (1 Jn 5:4-5), the devil (1 Jn 2:13-14; 4:4) and the flesh (Rom 6:1-23; 7:5), and all occurred the very moment of conversion. Read those passages, they say that — overcoming is by the new birth. He also has a new heart, his heart has been completely and permanently circumcised from his flesh (De. 30:6; Col. 2:10-15), so Paul could say “we were in the flesh” (Rom 7:5-6). These things produce an immediate new nature, not another nature (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-10), but a brand new and holy nature since all these things are of God (2 Cor 5:17-18). Not new added to the old but entirely new. We don't have the old with something new added, but something that is entirely different. The old is completely gone, which is what Eph. 2:1-10 and 2 Cor. 5:17 say, "old things have passed away, all things are become new.” What is old has passed away (2 Cor. 5:17) and been crucified (Gal. 2:20; 5:24; Rom. 6:6): "Knowing this, that our old man is [aorist—perfect tense referring to something happened in the past, like Gal. 2:20 and 5:24] crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." (Rom. 6:6). Yes we still have the flesh (a dead carcass on the cross that we drag around) but we are not in the flesh (Rom 7:5-6), that is not our nature or desire any longer. Hundreds of Scriptures emphatically teach this and Eph 2:1-5 alone proves this point.
We are “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 6:11). We are not born of the flesh any longer, but of the Spirit (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:6-7; Gal. 4:23, 29-31), hence why we never die (Jn 12:24-25). We are not the "natural man" (fleshly, carnal) ever again but the "spiritual" man forever (1 Cor. 2:9-16). We don’t float between the two, which would be ridiculous confusion, as we note in our world today. The natural man is gone, there is a new nature (1 Cor 2:9-14, 15-16; 2 Cor 5:17), not a new nature added to the old. When we're saved, we receive a new nature and the old nature is gone. We still have the flesh, but we aren't natural or carnal anymore, speaking of position. And the practice will match the position in the true believer, they aren’t divorced from one another. The spiritual and natural/carnal positions are permanent; we are either of the flesh or of the Spirit, not both for its impossible to be both, as all the following references make plain, 1 Cor. 2:9-16; Eph. 2:1-10; Rom 6 and 7:4-6 and Matt 6:24; Ti 2:11-14 (the use of “should” here doesn’t mean they won’t — that would contradict the context and the grace of God which does this work). When you have someone professing position but the practice doesn’t line up, there is something wrong. Salvation is super-powerful and life changing, both immediately and perpetually. The born again believer before salvation was "dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others . . . [and] dead in sins" (Eph. 2:1-3, 5) but that is the old man, the natural man, the man that becomes dead at salvation, crucified on the cross (vv. 4-9), and from the moment of conversion we become “a new creature” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), for “you hath he quickened [made alive, forever], who were dead in trespasses and sins;” (Eph 2:1), therefore “sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:14). This sort of teaching is found everywhere in the NT and it harmonizes perfectly. And God does mean exactly what He says. Salvation frees from sin and the bondage of sin, and people that indulge and love their sin have never been freed from both its penalty or power. They are the “servant[s] of sin” Jesus said to false professing believers (Jn 8:34 [context: vv. 31-47), as Paul did, “For when ye WERE the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (Rom 6:20-22). “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. . . . Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (Jn 8:32, 34-36). Carnal “Christians” have never been freed from sin.
We know someone is truly born again because he lives righteously and thinks righteously. “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” (1 Jn 2:29). “The way of man is froward and strange: but as for the pure, his work is right.” (Pr 21:8). “The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit.” (Pr. 12:5).
No true born again Christian is ever like the lost, like the rest of the world. That is entirely contrary to Scripture and to salvation itself. Regeneration—based on the cross—shatters the power of sin over the newly redeemed person. If someone professes to be a Christian and they are a friend and lover of the world, they are unsaved. The Bible says that, quite clearly and emphatically. The true born again believer has “received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Cor 2:12). That is not true of the false professor, who has no power dwelling in him (Eph 1:19), he is not dead to sin but dead in his sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1). He is in bondage while the truly saved are freed forever from bondage of sin and the flesh. Though he dresses up and cleanses the outside, even attempts at reforming the inside, as noted with all hypocrites (Matt 23:3-33), like the pig and dog (2 Pet 2:17-22), he is still lost and dead in his sin and on the wide path, like many professing believers, to eternal destruction (Matt 7:13-14). He has never been quickened (made alive) and thus is yet “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1) like the saved were BEFORE salvation, what Eph 2:1-5 is teaching. His heart has never been circumcised from his flesh, they are but one (cf. Col 2:10-15; De 30:6). Thus, he still “walk[s] according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:” (Eph 2:2). Notice carefully here that the lost person — who the saved were prior to their supernatural and super-dramatic conversion (“Wherein in time past ye walked” - Eph 2:1) — walks according to who and what? According to the devil (“the prince of the power of the air”) and “according to the course of this world” which plainly means they are unsaved. Being a “friend of the world” means you are “the enemy of God.” (Jam 4:4). The Greek word translated as “enemy” in Jam 4:4 (“echthros”) is translated as “enemies” x 19, “enemy” x 11, and “foes” x 2 in the NT. This is the most negative word used in the Bible to describe the unsaved adversaries of God, notably Satan. The word means “to hate,” “hateful as passively odious or actively hostile,” a noun to describe “an adversary, especially Satan” who is the “most bitter enemy of the divine government,” and “enemy or foe.” That is what a friend of the world is to God, according to James here, because he is pretending to be something (a believer) while he is plainly lost. He is a hypocrite, a pretender, an actor, and absolutely no hypocrite is saved (Rom 2:1-5; Matt 7:1-5). That is why God will vomit such out of His mouth and straight into hell (Rev 3:16-18). Seven times it is the word used to describe the greatest enemy and enemies of God who have become His footstool (Matt 22:44; Mk 12:36; Lk 20:43; Ac 2:35; 1 Cor 15:25; Heb 1:13; 10:13). The reason why the saved do not follow after the devil and the world anymore is because they overcame the world and the devil in conversion. John declared to his audience, twice, that “ye have overcome the wicked one” (1 Jn 2:13-14). When did that happen? At salvation, as those two passages teach and further in John: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them [“spirit of antichrist” vv. 1-3]: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4). When we received the Spirit of God, who is the One “that is in you,” it was at that moment then we overcame “he that is in the world,” who obviously is the devil. The following happens at the moment of conversion: “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Ac 26:18). No truly saved person is ever under the power of Satan again. He is an overcomer. The world, in like manner, is overcome at conversion: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn 5:4-5). So when did we overcome the world? When we were “born of God.” When we truly and genuinely from a repentant heart “believed that Jesus is the Son of God.” So whosoever is born of God overcomes the world. It's a guarantee. Overcoming characterizes the Christian. Like 1 Jn 5:4-5, Rom 8:28-30 promises it. Everyone God justifies He has predestined to conform to the image of His Son. This is the message of Jesus at the end of every one of His messages to the seven churches in Rev 2 & 3. People who are saved will live in victory. I can attest to these powerful truths in my own personal salvation and life as well. I overcame both the world and the devil at the very moment when I was converted almost 16 years ago. Neither have had any power or allurement in my life. Never have I been under the bondage of sin again. The problem today is that there are many, many unconverted people in churches, because they have heard a false gospel that either did not present scriptural faith or a biblical Jesus. They can't live a victorious life because they are not born of God. The person has no victory because He does not have the love of God in his heart. This is a test of faith.
So when someone has not overcome the world and the devil, evident by a worldly and/or sinful life or falling away and not living for Christ, did they overcome the world regardless of the lip service they give to some anemic profession of faith? “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar;” (Rom 3:4a). Their testimony contains no light. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Is 8:20). To expect such people to be saved even though the Bible says the opposite, is not the true gospel. Truly saved people, those who have genuinely surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ, are expected to live for Him. They will. When they don't, don't consider them to be saved. The Bible declares this over and over and over again. To declare such as saved is the very worst thing you could possibly do for them, essentially making them two-fold children of hell.
Eph 2:3 goes on to state that before salvation we were like the lost as well because we were lost; we followed after the world and the devil and the lusts of our flesh, but after salvation never again: “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God…” (Eph 2:3-4a). Absolutely nothing about Eph 2:1-3 even hints at saved people, but rather the language is blatantly clear that Paul is reminding the Ephesians what they were before salvation and what they are now after salvation, in Christ, because of God (Eph 2:4-10). It was while we were “dead in sins” that God “quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” (Eph 2:5) out of the greatness of His mercy and “His great love wherewith he loved us,” (Eph 2:4). So it is “The wicked” that “are overthrown, and are not: but the house of the righteous shall stand.” (Pr 12:7). Why? Because their house is built upon a rock (Matt 7:24-26). How do we know what that house is built upon the rock? It is the only that is truly converted and we know who that one is because they love God demonstrated by obeying Him (Jn 14:15-24; 1 Jn 2:3-5). Thats what God the Son says in Lk 6:47-48 about the one who is built upon the rock: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? [the same thing He said in Matt 7:21-23] Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock…” The one who is actually lost, a false professor (which is always the contrast), is the only who does not obey and thus reveals his house is built upon sand: “But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.” (v. 49).
Rom 7 does fit, in its context of Rom 5, 6, 7 and 8. It’s a struggle, and it is possible to still give in to the lusts of the flesh (Rom 13:14), though we are “dead to sin” (Rom 6:2), and “free from sin” (Rom 6:18), so that “sin shall not have dominion over you” (Rom 6:14). The lust can occur, giving into the flesh, but it doesn’t remain or characterize the saint. The sin has absolutely no power over the believer. If you are going to point to anything as a "key" in sanctification it is mortification (Rom 8:13; Col 3:5). Through the new covenant, a believer already has victory through the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 25; cf. 1 Cor 15:57-58). He will experience that victory through obedience, by just doing right (1 Jn 2:29). Doing right will characterize his life, because that is the nature of the grace of God that dwells in him (Ti 2:11-14; 2 Jn 1:2). The Great Shepherd leads all His sheep “in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” (Pr 23:3). None exempt. And ALL truly saved people are fruitful. “The root [Christ] of the righteous yieldeth fruit.” (Pr 12:12b). That is one reason why only the good ground is saved in the parable of the sower (Matt 13). Those who profess to be Christian but are unfruitful, meaning they do not have true Biblical fruit, should take special heed to what Matt 3:10 says to them:
Another thing that occurs at salvation that refutes the carnal Christian belief is that of our permanent translation from darkness to light. Every person in the world is either “light” or “darkness,” either "in light" and "full of light" and “of the day” or "in darkness" and "full of darkness" and of “the night”, but never a combination of the two (read these carefully: Pr. 4:18; Matt. 5:14-16; 6:22-24; Lk. 11:33-36; Jn. 8:12; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; I Th. 5:2-8; 1 Jn. 2:8-11). Luke 11:33-36 is an excellent text to show this, and it’s no coincidence that it immediately precedes Christ’s announcement that the repentance of the Ninevites is the standard of repentance (Lk 11:32): “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.” The eye reveals either whole light or whole darkness, but not a combination of the two. “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:22-23). One is either light or darkness. The two do not intermingle. The contrast is made here between the saved ("single" eye which means clear) and the lost ("evil" eye which means of the devil, bad, grievous, malicious, lewd, wicked). In the verse that follows, Jesus further clarifies this: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt. 6:24). "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (Jn. 8:12).
7. God’s working in and chastisement of the saint refutes the "carnal Christian" belief.
The "carnal Christian" belief requires the Christian to be left to themselves but God never leaves His children to themselves — He is constantly working in them and chastening them as required (Heb. 12:5-11; Pr. 3:11-12; I Cor. 11:28-32; Job 5:17). But if the carnal Christian theory was correct, the saint would be left to himself for long periods of time, for days, weeks, months and even years. Bu this is entirely contrary to Scripture. Scripture says that every born again believer will “work out [his] own salvation with fear and trembling” while God works in him “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). God never stops working in His saints and the saint is never left to himself (Ps. 18:24-26; 48:14; Jer. 32:37-41; Jn. 10:1-5, 26-27; Rom. 8:28-39; I Cor. 1:6-9; Eph. 1:11, 13; 3:20; Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13; 1 Th. 2:13; 5:23-24; 2 Th. 2:12-17; 3:2-3; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18; 1 Pet. 1:5; Heb. 13:20-21). "Christ, who is our life" (Col. 3:4) never leaves us to live our lives for ourselves or for the flesh, "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." (Col. 3:3). Paul, speaking of the Thessalonians salvation, declared "the Word of God . . . effectively worketh also in you that believe" (I Th. 2:13b), which is the same truth that Christ taught: "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;" (Jn. 8:31). God has given the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16) "That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:17). Paul also reminded the Thessalonians that the "Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God . . . stablish you in every good word and work" (2 Th. 2:16-17), since –after all– "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10). A major evidence of true conversion is obedience to God’s Word (Jn 8:31; 14:15-24; 1 Jn 2:3-5). If we falter on it or disobey, God chastises us. "Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:" (Job 5:17). All this is diametrically opposed to the carnal Christian belief, who do not perpetually go forward but backward (Heb 10:38-39; Jer 7:23-24; etc). They will be overtaken in the day of the Lord, while the children of the light will be saved from it (1 Th. 5:5-6, 8-10). God keeps the truly saved from evil. "But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil." (2 Th. 3:3). Every born again believer can say with Paul, "And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (2 Tim. 4:18). "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." (2 Tim. 2:19).
8. The "carnal Christian" belief with the three categories of man is a new teaching and we know anything new isn’t true.
It is definitely not what our Baptist forefathers believed and taught. This theory was in fact invented by Louis Sperry Chafer in his book, “He That is Spiritual,” written in 1918. Before that, no one directly taught this, much less believed it. There is not a single writing or confession of faith or book that taught this error. It just didn’t exist and for the important reasons documented above. But it came with all the false Christianity that sprouted up after 1881 with the wicked teaching of Darwinism and the corrupt Critical Text by the apostates Westcott and Hort with the resultant perversions of Scripture that came out of all that, including the first one in 1881. All of this worked together amongst many other things that produced the worldly and heretical Christianity that is considered normal today, so doctrine had to be changed to fit with the new and accepted cultural practice. Carnal Christianity fits right into that but I can assure you it is not truth and it is a major reason (in conjunction with the anemic gospels of no repentance and no Lordship) that has produced the scene that we find ourselves in, in the 21st century, with all the dead churches and loads of false professing believers. Today we find people who regularly occupy the pews and are intellectually acquainted with the facts of the gospel and tidbits of truth, yet appear with scant or no biblical evidence of having experienced the new birth, since they are unconverted. Conservatively I would say, at least 50% in independent baptist churches and closer to 100% in evangelical and non-independent baptist, and this is a major cause for it. Yet in spite of the evidence against them, they consider themselves to be just what their teachers teach them — carnal Christians. And as carnal Christians they believe they will go to heaven, though perhaps not first-class, and with few rewards. The chief mistake is not the carelessness of these church-goers, but their true estate and the error of their teachers who, by preaching the theory of 'the carnal Christian', have led them to believe that there are three groups of men — the unconverted/natural man, the 'carnal Christian' and the 'spiritual Christian.’ My argument is this classification is wrong and does great damage to lives and the truth of Scripture.
Often this teaching is associated with two-tiered Christianity. Justification isn't a two step process. Someone doesn't receive Christ as Saviour and sometime later as Lord. He doesn’t get deliverance from the penalty of sin at salvation and then sometime later deliverance from the power of sin. He doesn’t become a Christian at salvation and then sometime later a disciple. He doesn't allow the Lord in but not on the throne of his life. No one can remain in rebellion (i.e. carnal) against the Lord Jesus and be saved. Confessing Him as Lord is more than words. It is more than intellectual, but also volitional. It is relinquishing allegiance to sinful self. Those who won't give up their life, who won’t deny themselves (Mk 8:34-37; Lk 14:25-15:32; Jn 12:24-25), aren't carnal Christians. They're just carnal. They walk after the flesh and not after the Spirit (Rom 8:1). They won't have the power to live the Christian life. However, when they do truly repent and receive Jesus for Who He is, He will save them and immediately give them victory for their Christian life (Rom 6:1-23). It will be a struggle (Rom 7:21-25), but they will conform to the image of His Son even as He predestined them (Rom 8:29).
All true born again Christians are “spiritual” (1 Cor 2-3) while all carnal “Christians” are “natural,” (1 Cor 2-3; 2 Pet 2; Jude), that is, unsaved. There are no carnal Christians in the Bible, only spiritual ones. The entire Bible reads like that. The problem today isn't "carnal Christians" but false "Christians." The world is loaded with them, and so are the churches.
It is very important that we never conform the scriptures to what we want them to say, rather than what they actually do say. That is eisegesis and it is not how God the Spirit teaches us. God’s Word is plain, its perspicuous (Pr 8:8-9), and it must be righty divided (2 Tim 2:15). The whole of Scripture is one interpretation and it all fits perfectly in harmony. The whole of Scripture does not teach carnal Christianity. What it does teach is the vast gulf between true Christianity and false Christianity. It teaches that true born again saints have been super-dramatically and supernaturally changed, regenerated and transformed, both immediately and permanently.