No Such Thing
“You are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (v. 3).- 1 Corinthians 3:1–4
For the last several decades, the evangelical church has had to deal with an unbiblical teaching that downplays the lordship of Christ with respect to our obedience to Him and our salvation. Perhaps you have heard someone say something like, “I received Jesus as my Savior when I was fifteen, but I did not really make Him my Lord until I was forty.” Or, maybe you have known people who believe they are going to heaven because they responded to an altar call years ago, even though their present life does not show any evidence of a concern for following Christ. Both of these examples reflect what has often been called “carnal Christianity,” a teaching that suggests that people can have Jesus as their Savior without ever seeking to obey His commandments. The movement believes that one is saved by confessing Christ even if there is no change of life.
Some of the motivation for this teaching is a desire to preserve the teaching that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Yet while this desire is a good one, “carnal Christianity” is actually a perversion of the biblical teaching on salvation. The truth of the matter is that Scripture refers to good works as a necessary fruit of our redemption. We do not place hope in our obedience as a means of securing the righteousness we need to stand before the Lord unafraid. We are justified by faith alone, apart from works (Gal. 2:16). Yet the faith by which we are justified is a living faith, one that produces good deeds of service to Christ and neighbor (James 2:12–26). These works do not justify us, but they do justify our faith—they prove that we have genuine trust in Christ. If we are truly in Christ, we will seek to follow the way of Christ. If we really love Him, we will endeavor to obey Him (John 14:15). This obedience will never be perfect on this side of glory, but if we have no desire to obey, we demonstrate that we have an empty profession of faith that can save no one (Matt. 7:21). Simply put, there is no such thing as a “carnal Christian.”
Christians are engaged in a war against the remnants of sin that remain within (Rom. 7:13–20; Gal. 5:16–24), and sometimes the flesh appears to be gaining the upper hand (1 Cor. 3:1–4). But this does not mean we are not saved. Only those who have been regenerated by the Spirit and given the gift of faith will feel such a conflict, so the war within as we endeavor to put the flesh to death and obey the Lord proves that we belong to Him. It is evidence that sin does not have dominion over us, for if it did, we would not fight it (Rom. 6:1&-14).
It is hardly possible to be in Christ without having a desire to serve Him. When Christ sets a person free, he is free indeed, and he has an inner drive to resist the bondage of sin that once held him fast. Those who do not show any desire to resist sin and pursue a life of loving discipleship should have no confidence that they belong to Christ. Be encouraged that you are in Christ if you are striving against sin and endeavoring to live faithfully for Him.
Passages for Further Study
2 Chronicles 30:6–8