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.


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