The Carnal Christian

For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Cor. 3:3b).

- 1 Corinthians 3:1–4

As we continue our discussion of topics related to perseverance, we come to a discussion about the “carnal” Christian. Proponents of carnal Christianity assert that it is possible to trust in Christ as Savior without necessarily confessing Christ as Lord. According to advocates of this position, a person is saved if they confess Christ, even if they never live, or even care about, a life of obedience to Him as Lord.

This position marks a significant innovation in the history of Christian theology. Even those of us who deny the meritorious nature of good works, affirm their necessity in the Christian life. Advocates of carnal Christianity charge that if we affirm that good works are necessary in the life of the believer, they assert that we necessarily deny that justification is by faith alone.

This claim only reveals that the proponents of carnal Christianity misunderstand the biblical position on faith alone. The Bible is crystal clear that we are justified not by works, but by faith alone (Gal. 2:16). But the Bible is equally clear that the faith that justifies us is never alone. True faith is demonstrated through the presence of good works and obedience to Christ in the life of the believer (James 2:17–18).

If we never see good works in another person, we must doubt whether they are really a Christian. Loving Christ means that we obey Him (John 14:15). Our obedience will not be perfect in this lifetime. The presence of sin guarantees that. Nevertheless, true faith will result in obedience, however imperfect it may be. Many claim to be Christians but do not possess true faith (Matt. 7:21). Proponents of carnal Christianity give some people false assurance of salvation when they claim it is possible to trust in Jesus as Savior but not as Lord.

True Christians live a life characterized by a war between the Holy Spirit and the flesh (our old sin nature) (Rom. 7:13–20; Gal. 5:16–24). According to 1 Corinthians 3:1–4, sometimes the flesh seems to be winning more battles than the Spirit, especially when we are spiritual infants. This does not mean we are not saved; the presence of a desire for obedience and some good works prove otherwise. It does mean that as we grow into maturity, the victory over sin that Christ has won for us will be increasingly manifest in our lives through more and more victories of the Spirit over our flesh.

Coram Deo

Being conformed to the image of Christ does not happen quickly. There is no secret formula for victory over the flesh or a second blessing that creates instant maturity. One of the most important means for growing to maturity is the diligent study of Scripture. We should make it our aim to spend consistent and quality time studying God’s Word.

Passages for Further Study

2 Chron. 30:6–8
Jer. 13:1–11
Eph. 2:8–10
Heb. 10:24

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