What is Carnality? Part 4 (Understanding God’s Great Salvation #23)

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The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Allow me to share with you some commentary on this passage from the Bible Knowledge Commentary by Dr. John F. Walvoord and Dr. Roy B. Zuck:

No one was more able to reflect on that transformation than Paul who switched from a persecutor of Christ to a proclaimer of Christ. He was in Christ (a phrase Paul used repeatedly in his epistles to speak of a believer’s spiritual relationship to Christ) because he believed the message of the gospel and was identified by faith with Christ. To be in Christ is to be a new creation. This new creation is brought about by the Holy Spirit, the Agent of regeneration and the Giver of divine birth. God’s new creative work, begun in each one who believes in Christ, will one day be consummated on a universal scale. The old life of slavery to self and sin has gone. The new life of devotion to Christ means that one has new attitudes and actions.

Today’s quote is from Thomas Aquinas. He said: “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.”

Our topic today is titled “What is Carnality? (Part 4)” from the book, “So Great Salvation: What it Means to Believe in Jesus Christ” by Dr. Charles Ryrie.

How serious can the evidences of carnality be in a believer? Is carnality merely a momentary defection? Or a surface, not a serious, thing? To help answer those questions, let’s look at some of the sins Peter says believers may commit.

First Peter is addressed to the “elect” to testify about the “true grace of God.” When discussing persecution, Peter distinguishes between that which Christians might bring upon themselves by their own wrongdoing and persecution which would result from standing for Christ. If believers are reviled for the name of Christ or if believers suffer because they are Christians, then this glorifies God.

But between these two verses Peter strongly admonishes his readers never to suffer “as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler.” Does he mean that a believer could be a troublesome meddler? To answer yes seems not too difficult. Does he mean a believer could be an evildoer? Again we can be comfortable with a yes answer. Does he mean a believer could be a thief? Perhaps it becomes a little more difficult to say yes, except we remember that Paul also said believers steal. But does Peter mean a believer could commit murder? If so, this surely seems to be the depths of carnality. If not, then two choices emerge: (1) either the murderer was a true believer and lost his salvation when he committed the murder, or (2) he was never saved in the first place.

Commentators do not hesitate to acknowledge that believers can be guilty of any of these crimes listed in verse 15. “Peter [encourages] anyone [who bears] any reproach in the name of Christ as a Christian, only not as a murderer, a thief, an evil-doer, or as a busy-body or meddler in other people’s affairs.” “Here St. Peter must mean ‘Take care that no such charge can be brought with truth against you.’” “The Christian must not incur penalties for such deeds, but to suffer for the Name itself is not shameful.”

James reminds us that “we all stumble in many ways.” No one, no matter how earnest or how committed, is exempt. When we sin, that is clearly and plainly wrong. When we struggle, it is not necessarily a sign that we are unsaved, uncommitted, or unspiritual.

J. C. Ryle called this struggle for holiness “a good sign,” one we should thank God for. He said::

We may take comfort about our souls if we know anything of an inward fight and conflict. It is the invariable companion of genuine Christian holiness…. Do we find in our heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Do we feel anything of the flesh lusting against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, so that we cannot do the things that we would? Are we conscious of two principles within us, contending for the mastery? Do we feel anything of war in our inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification…. Anything is better than apathy, stagnation, deadness and indifference.


What is Carnality? Part 3 (Understanding God’s Great Salvation #22)

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The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:15-16: “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.”

Allow me to share with you some commentary on this passage from the Bible Knowledge Commentary by Dr. John F. Walvoord and Dr. Roy B. Zuck:

As a result of his conversion Paul no longer evaluated people on the basis of externals. He implied that his opponents, and to a certain extent those influenced by them, did. At one time this had been true of Paul also. He had opposed Christ and His followers because he had regarded Christ from a worldly point of view. He had information about Jesus, but this was not the same as believing in Him. Mere information about Jesus cannot transform a person from self- centeredness to selflessness. Only conversion could effect that, as it had done for Paul.

Today’s quote is from John Owen. He said: “Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read of or hear of to be gone to heaven, went thither because they were so good and so holy. Yet not one of them, not any man that is now in heaven (Jesus Christ alone excepted), did ever come thither any other way but by forgiveness of sins through Christ.”

Our topic today is titled “What is Carnality? (Part 3)” from the book, “So Great Salvation: What it Means to Believe in Jesus Christ” by Dr. Charles Ryrie.


What were the evidences of the Corinthians’ carnality? In general terms Paul characterizes them as walking or living “like mere men.” Certainly other Christian people are not meant, but unsaved people of the world. Paul can only mean that these carnal Corinthians lived like unsaved men. That clarifies why the word carnal can label both unbelievers and believers, simply because the lifestyles of both are the same. The cure for the unbeliever’s carnality is salvation; the cure for the believer’s is to grow in the Lord.

Specifically how does the apostle Paul describe carnality among Christians?

First, he likens carnality to being a babe in Christ. Notice that such people are “in Christ,” a designation that makes it clear again that Paul is describing believers, not unsaved people. In other words, carnality can indicate the state of the new believer who is still a weak, immature baby. As I have indicated, the word for carnal in verse 1 apparently includes the thought of weakness, which the baby analogy confirms. This person only understands the milk of the Word and cannot take solid teaching, or spiritual meat. Indeed, there would be many areas of biblical truth he does not understand and respond to, and that means he is living in immaturity in some or many aspects of his life.

What would be examples of “milk” and “meat” truth?

Lightfoot answers this way: “Obviously the doctrine of Christ crucified belonged to the former…. The best comment on this passage (1 Cor. 3:1-3) is furnished by Heb. 5:11-6:2, where the writer, laying down the same distinction between milk and strong meat, describes the former… The doctrine of justification by faith, which, as lying at the foundation of Christian teaching, would fall under the term milk, might still in its more complex aspects be treated as meat, and so it is in the Epistle to the Romans. If it be asked again whether St. Paul is speaking of doctrinal or spiritual truths, our reply is that the two cannot be separated in Christianity.”

Second, Paul describes carnality among Christians as continued immaturity beyond what normally might be expected—”You are still fleshly”, he says. The word is slightly different than the one used earlier and contains the thought of willfulness. At Corinth, this willful carnality was characterized by jealousy and strife, including the divisions Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 1:12. What a contrast such immature behavior is to the spirituality and maturity that come from steady, healthy growth.

How long should it take before a believer might be considered spiritual? When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the believers were about five years old in the faith, and he expected to be able to address them as spiritual. But even so, once people are “spiritual” there is further growth to be achieved, more battles to be fought, more knowledge to be acquired, deeper intimacy to be enjoyed.

How long can a believer be willfully carnal or rebellious? Is there a definitive answer to that question? Certainly long enough to produce works of wood, hay, and straw for which he will receive no reward. But somewhere, sometime, he will also do some thing(s) that will merit Christ’s praise.

Is this an either/or situation—is one either carnal or spiritual at any given time? Clearly Paul used the label “carnal” of some of the Corinthians without implying they were only partly carnal. Yet we know experientially and from Scripture that flesh and the Spirit battle in the believer, which seems to indicate that there are areas of both carnality and spirituality in the person at the same time. Rather than thinking of varying degrees of carnality and spirituality, perhaps we should think of areas of carnality and spirituality as the experience of a growing believer.

What is Carnality? Part 2 (Understanding God’s Great Salvation #21)

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The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:15-16: “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.”

Allow me to share with you some commentary on this passage from the Bible Knowledge Commentary by Dr. John F. Walvoord and Dr. Roy B. Zuck:

Though possessing divine prerogatives, Jesus willingly became incarnate and followed the path of obedience to the cross, dying for all (not just the elect, as some suggest). By faith Paul was identified with Jesus in His death and resurrection. And Paul lived with the same selfless abandon the Lord had. Christ’s love, which had converted him, now compelled him.

Later in discussing “the ministry of reconciliation”, Paul developed the historical and objective implications of Christ’s atonement. His concern in those verses was the subjective application of the Savior’s objective work. All those who by faith entered into the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice (and now live spiritually) should respond by living selflessly and being involved in that ministry of reconciliation. They should no longer live for themselves but for Him. Paul was certainly doing this; therefore the Corinthians should exult in him.

Today’s quote is from Watchman Nee. He said: “What is salvation? It is none other than God saving man out of himself into Himself. Salvation has two facets: a cutting off and a uniting with. What is cut off is self; the uniting is with God.”

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

Do the Scriptures indicate that both unbelievers and believers can be called carnal? I think so.

In Romans 8:5-8 Paul contrasts two kinds of people: those whose mind-sets are according to the flesh (or carnal) and those whose are according to the Spirit. The former group only knows death (now and in the future) whereas the latter knows life and peace (now and in the future).That the former group is unbelievers is clear from Romans 8:9, since only believers have the Holy Spirit. Thus, being “carnal”—that is, living according to the flesh—properly labels unbelievers.

But “carnal” can also describe some believers. How so? Simply because such believers live and act like unsaved people (1 Corinthians 3:1–4). How do we know the people Paul describes in this passage are believers? He addresses them as “brethren” and “infants in Christ” in the first verse.

How do we know they were carnal? He says so three times. In those two verses Paul uses two different words. The word used in verse 1 is “sar-ki-nos” and the one used twice in verse 3 is “sar-ki-kos.” Some see no difference in the meaning of the two words, but others do. If there is a difference, it is this: “Sar-ki-nos” means “made of flesh,” that is, weak but without attaching any blame to that condition. In the case of the Corinthians, their weakness was due to their immaturity. On the other hand, “sar-ki-kos” does have an ethical or moral connotation. It means “to be characterized by the flesh, something that is willful and blameworthy.” The first word means “made of flesh,” while the second means “controlled by the flesh.” Notice that Paul does not merely say that Christians “can and do behave in carnal ways”; he plainly states, “You are carnal.” How then can one charge that “contemporary theologians have fabricated an entire category for this type of person—the ‘carnal Christian’”? Obviously, such a designation for some Christians is not a fabrication; it is a scriptural teaching.

This teaching is not found only among contemporary writers. J. B. Lightfoot, commenting on 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, says that “sar-ki-kos” (in verse 3) expresses the moral tendencies, the hankerings of the Corinthians after their conversion. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, in a theology book originally published in 1886, notes that “the Corinthians were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God, and were nevertheless carnal.”

John Calvin recognized the difference between the natural man, the spiritual man, and the carnal man. Of the latter he wrote:

“But he [Paul] does not mean that they were completely carnal, without even a spark of the Spirit of God, but that they were still much too full of the mind of the flesh, so that the flesh prevailed over the Spirit, and, as it were, extinguished His light. Although they were not entirely without grace, yet they had more of the flesh than of the Spirit in their lives, and that is why he calls them carnal. That is plain enough from his adding immediately, that they were “babes in Christ,” for they would not have been babes, if they had not been begotten, and this begetting is the work of the Spirit of God.”