Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Carnal Christians? (Part 3)

(From Pastor Mike Miller's website, http://www.straightpathsbiblechurch.com, June 26, 2005)

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? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 1 Cor. 3:1-4

These are the four verses that are used most often to “prove” that there is such a thing as a “carnal” Christian. If you ignore the rest of the New Testament and take these verses out of context it does sound convincing, but if you are familiar with the Bible you will have trouble with this interpretation because it completely contradicts so many other verses. How can you believe that these four verses teach that a person can be saved, but still living according to the lust of the flesh and not subject to God when you read these verses:
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. Rom. 8:6-9
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6
As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 1 Cor. 15:48
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. Rom. 7:5

There are many other verses that could be given to show that the teaching of a “carnal” Christian is a contradiction of the Scriptures. Let’s take a look at 1 Cor. 3:1-4 and see if we can explain what Paul is saying without contradicting other Scriptures.

The first evidence given to “prove” that these are actually “carnal” Christians is the fact that Paul greets them by calling them “brethren.” This is just not correct. Paul was addressing a local church and he knew, as well as we do, that not everyone in a local church is truly saved. If we were to write a letter to a church as a whole or stand in front of a church we would greet them with a similar salutation. Just because he said “brethren” doesn’t mean that he considered them all to be saved. What other word could he have used, and how else could he have sensibly and properly addressed them? It is common in the Bible for the word “brethren” to be used referring to one’s own countrymen, or to one who belongs to the same group of people. At least three times in the first three chapters of Acts Peter called the unconverted Jews he was preaching to “brethren.” Stephen called the Jews who were about to kill him “brethren” in Acts 7:2. Paul called the Jews “brethren” in Acts
13:26, Acts 13:38, again in Acts 22:1, Acts 23:1, Acts 23:5, Acts 23:6, and Acts 28:17. There is abundant evidence in the Word of God that Paul used the word “brethren” when addressing people who were obviously not saved. Therefore, it is very foolish to base a doctrine that contradicts so many other Scriptures on one single word.

Now there is a contrast drawn between “spiritual” and “carnal.” He says he couldn’t speak to them as spiritual, but as to carnal. These words are opposites. Spiritual means NOT fleshly, while carnal means fleshly. Spiritual means regenerated – carnal means unregenerate. Any dictionary will tell you that. A spiritual person is controlled and led by the Spirit of God, while a carnal person is controlled and led by the lusts of the flesh. Paul says that if he spoke to them of spiritual things they were “not able to bear it”– because they were carnal. The natural man IS a carnal man, and he cannot understand the (spiritual) things of God. Paul told us this plainly in the verses just prior to this in 1 Cor. 2:14:
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.

Paul is saying that if these people were spiritual they would be able to understand and he could talk to them about spiritual things. However, he has found that to be impossible because they are carnal. They have missed it. They aren’t listening. They aren’t receiving. He has to back up and start over with the basic principles of sin and salvation.

“Even as unto babes in Christ.” This phrase is taken as further proof that we have saved people here who are living a continuous, carnal life. Notice that it says, “AS UNTO.” He doesn’t say he is talking to babes in Christ, but “AS UNTO” babes in Christ. He says, “I am talking to people who have little or no understanding.” Babies are carnal – BUT babies grow up. These people might have been considered babes in Christ if they had just been saved, but because they hadn’t grown and were still unable to understand he pronounced them “carnal,” which is a very strong word, when studied in light of the Scriptures. There might be a time when a person first gets saved that he appears to be carnal because he has to sort out some things and learn the difference, but this doesn’t take very long with the Spirit of God and the Word of God as your guides. Paul is saying to these people that he sees no evidence they are really saved because they aren’t acting or thinking any differently than they did before they made their profession. He isn’t condemning the whole church any more than a preacher today is when he gets up and preaches on sin. There were good people there, who loved God and were growing in grace, but there were also some folks sitting there who were continuing to live with the same attitudes and affections that they had always had. Paul was speaking to the whole church as he dealt with these people.

“Envying, strife, and divisions” are the words he used to describe their carnality. While there were moral sins in the church at Corinth, as we see from the rest of the letters to them, those sins are not what he is referring to in particular here. These people were fighting and quarrelling about things like which preacher they liked the most. They were envious of each other and doing things to hurt each other because of their envy. When a church is full of envy, strife, and divisions it is because there are carnal people involved. It is because there are LOST people in the middle of things who do not understand spiritual things. They are trying to have their say in running the church and their motives and reasoning are carnal. They see everything from the viewpoint of an unconverted person. They do not understand the things of God and cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned.

If you are a critic I can read your mind right now. You are thinking that I have no right to judge so harshly. But my friend, it isn’t me who is doing the judging – the Word of God judges, and makes it very clear that carnal people are LOST people. It is YOUR mind that is so confused by false teaching that you can’t make heads or tails of who is saved and who is lost – even when they live in such a way that the Bible marks them clearly. You are saying to yourself right now, “This can’t be true because I know some good people who have acted in a carnal way and I just can’t believe they are lost.”

First of all, you need to be made aware of the fact that you are judging the Word of God by your experience, or what you see in the experience of others. You are making void the Word of God by the “traditions” of men (things they do). You should believe the Word of God and measure yourself and others by THAT standard. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” The Bible is true even if it condemns our best friend or our loved ones. If they are to have any hope at all we must believe God and not judge God and his Word by THEIR lifestyle.

You can say, “I hear what you are saying, but I know a preacher who is just like what you are describing.” So what? Preachers aren’t exempt from the Word of God, either. The Bible tells us plainly that Satan has his “ministers of righteousness.” They are in the church and even preach righteousness, but their life tells on them and reveals what they really are, when they are full of envy, strife, and divisions. Again, you are setting up people as your standard and trying to nullify the plain Word of God because you know someone who is “saved” but acts like a carnal person.

Finally, it is a fact that a saved person may do a carnal thing from time to time. As long as we are able to be tempted we will be able to sin. A saved person is not exempt from being overcome by a fault, but a saved person cannot CONTINUE in it. God promises to deal with his children. He promises to chasten us and keep us in line. The Bible is clear that those who are not chastened are NOT God’s children. People who are truly saved are teachable and correctable. Not only God, but fellow Christians can point out to them where their life is not consistent with the Word of God and they will receive instruction and correct the problem. Carnal people reject it out of hand because they cannot understand spiritual things. They are judging themselves by others and comparing themselves among themselves, and they are not wise.

What Paul is saying here in 1 Cor. 3:1-4 is, “If the shoe fits, wear it! If you aren’t lost, quit acting like you are!” Just as in any church, there were no doubt people there who were saved, but caught up in the ruckus that was being stirred by the carnal people there. Without a doubt there were some who repented at Paul’s instructions and got right with God. Then there were others who resented his rebuke and remained just as they were – carnal. The good people of God who were right all along were glad and thankful for plain preaching that was consistent with the Word of God and dealt directly with the problem that was tearing up the church.

Paul was just doing some good preaching to these people who had problems in the church. You will search far and wide to find a church in our day that DOESN”T have these same problems. But you will have to search even harder for a preacher who will deal with the problem like Paul did. There are very few who even believe there is a real difference between the lost and the saved anymore. They make a place for everybody in the church. You can be saved and be a good Christian, or you can be saved and be a “carnal” Christian, and no one has a right to judge your “salvation.” Therefore, the churches are filled with lost (carnal) people who are making the decisions and directing the work of the church with no spiritual understanding or discernment. Thankfully for us, there was an Apostle Paul there who cared for them and was faithful to deal with them in truth and correct the problem. Because of that the Gospel was carried across the world and we are the glad recipients. But what are our descendants going to say about us one day? What is going to become of the church after a generation of carnal people have held the reins?

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