Question: Who or what is a carnal Christian?
We find the term ‘carnal’ applied to Christians in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul calls the Christians carnal because of their immoral way of life.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3 King James Version (KJV)
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 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.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
Here the Greek word translated as carnal is sarkikos which means fleshly. This is the carnal nature which is in enmity towards God (Romans 8:7).
So a carnal Christian is somebody who has believed and placed their faith in Jesus Christ, has received forgiveness for their sins, and is saved but may still be committing certain sins out of habit. He has received the Holy Spirit and is therefore truly a Christian. A carnal Christian is not an unbeliever as some teach. If we call someone a Christian, it should be because they really are Christian, because they confess to be a follower of Christ, not because they are born to Christian parents or was baptized in a church as a baby.
When we become Christians we do not become perfect beings. When we believe and get saved from sin, our sinful nature is crucified with Christ and we receive a new spiritual nature. Our dead spirit is awakened by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. But we still have to deal with the flesh, the physical bodies that we continue to inhabit is affected by sin and are susceptible to the attraction of sin. So while we are no longer under the power of sin, we can still be attracted to it if we do not live daily by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Romans chapter 6, Paul explains this constant battle that Christians face.
Romans 6:1-14 King James Version (KJV)
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
As you can see, Paul was writing to Christians (not unsaved people) and trying to explain this conflict between our carnal and spiritual nature.
Paul referred to his own carnal or fleshly nature also.
Romans 7:14 King James Version (KJV)
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Even Paul, a great missionary and apostle of God was not immune from the carnal nature. This is the point we want to make: every Christian will struggle with the carnal nature till we are glorified (Philippians 3:21). During this life on earth, God’s will is that believers are continuously sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and made closer and closer to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). Also read Am I really saved if I continue to sin?
Consequences of being a carnal Christian
- A carnal Christian is a child of God and therefore should expect chastisement from God.
Hebrews 12:6 King James Version (KJV)
6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
- While he cannot lose his salvation, he will lose at least some of his heavenly rewards.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 King James Version (KJV)
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
How do we distinguish between a carnal Christian and a false ‘Christian’? A born-again believer in Jesus Christ will show the evidence of salvation. If this evidence is lacking, then we must consider the possibility that this person has never really known the Lord Jesus as His Saviour. If you do not see the evidence of salvation in your own life, do not delay – read the Gospel and be saved today.