Carnal Christianity

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (v. 14).

- Romans 7:13–25

We end our study on eternal security by looking at an issue that goes hand in hand with discussions about eternal security. That issue is carnal Christianity, or the Lordship controversy. This debate deals with this question: Can a person who professes faith in Christ call Him Savior but not Lord? Can he be a slave to sin but still be a Christian? Can he be under the dominion of self and still be a true believer?

Those who say there is such a Christian cite 1 Corinthians 3:1 as the text to support their assertion: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.” They also turn to Romans 7, where Paul calls himself carnal.

Those who oppose the idea of a carnal Christian—a person who is still under the dominion of his sin—cite passages that speak of a Christian as being freed from the dominion of sin and under the lordship of Christ: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:5–9a).

When Paul described the Corinthians as carnal, babes in Christ, he was not saying that they were under the dominion of sin. He was certainly not establishing a doctrine that Christ can be Savior but not Lord over your life. To put faith in Him as your Savior is to submit to Him as your Lord, to be made a subject in His kingdom, and to be adopted as a son into His family. He now has dominion over your life. The carnality that Paul speaks of is not the kind described by those who believe in carnal Christianity. He is speaking of the struggle with sin that is ongoing in the believer’s life and the immaturity that exists when the believer has not grown in the faith as he should have. A baby believer shows more of the influence of the flesh in his life than a mature person who is walking in the Spirit. This is quite different from the person who is still dominated by and ruled over by his sin. Such a person is, as Romans 8 clearly reveals, an unbeliever.

Coram Deo

Is your mind usually set on what the Spirit desires? Read the passages below. Do these passages characterize your life? Remember that Christians still struggle with sin, but this doesn’t mean that it rules over them. If you are powerless before your sin, then pray to God to help you repent and find freedom in Him.

Passages for Further Study

Romans 6
Colossians 3:1–17
1 John 3:4–9

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.