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.”

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