Straw Men and Salvation, Part 2 (Understanding God’s Great Salvation #7)

The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Today’s quote is from Horatius Bonar. He said: “The gospel is the proclamation of free love; the revelation of the boundless charity of God. Nothing less than this will suit our world; nothing else is so likely to touch the heart, to go down to the lowest depths of depraved humanity, as the assurance that the sinner has been loved — loved by God, loved with a righteous love, loved with a free love that makes no bargain as to merit, or fitness, or goodness.”

Our topic today is titled “Straw Men and Salvation (Part 2)” from the book, “So Great Salvation: What it Means to Believe in Jesus Christ” by Dr. Charles Ryrie.

The second straw man deals with carnality in a believer’s life. It goes like this: A carnal Christian is someone who is saved but who shows nothing of the outworking of his salvation. Or, a true believer can be carnal all of his Christian life and never produce fruit.

What makes this a straw man are phrases like “shows nothing” or “all of his Christian life.” That a Christian can be characterized as carnal cannot be denied, simply because the text of 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 says there were carnal believers at Corinth. Paul addresses these people as “brethren” and “babes in Christ” in verse 1, then he describes them as “men of flesh” and “fleshly” in verses 1 and 3. So there were carnal or fleshly Christians in Paul’s day.

What characterizes such Christians? Paul says they walk as mere men, that is, like unsaved people. That does not mean that they were in fact not believers; Paul addresses them as believers. But it does indicate that believers may live like unsaved people. To be sure, Christians are not supposed to live like unsaved people, but the reality is that some do. For how long? More than a moment or a day or a month or a year? When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, those believers were four or five years old in the faith, and obviously some of them were still carnal or fleshly. Yet Paul expected that by that time they should have matured to the point where he could address them as spiritual.

At this point, one of those “what if’ questions will inevitably be asked. What if a true believer seems to live like an unsaved person all of his life? Is he really a believer? Can a believer be carnal all of his life? Or, to phrase it another way, can a believer remain a babe in Christ all his Christian life? If the answer is no, then two options follow. Either such a person was not in fact a believer, or he was and lost that salvation because he did not grow out of spiritual babyhood.

But as long as we are asking “what if’ questions, let’s ask another. What if one or more of those babes in Christ in Corinth died between the time of conversion and the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians? In other words, what if a babe in Christ at Corinth died before growing out of that baby state? Did he or she go to heaven? Assuming that such an individual did live all his (or her) Christian life in a baby state, if he is “in Christ,” whether baby or mature, he will certainly be in heaven.

But let’s be clear. Even if a believer could be characterized as carnal all of his life, that does not mean that he is carnal in all areas of life. Nor does that mean he will not bear some spiritual fruit during his life. Every believer will bear some fruit. But that is the subject of another chapter. This straw man eliminates the work, if not the presence, of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. As long as the Spirit lives within, no believer can show nothing of the work of salvation and thus be totally carnal all of his life.

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