At first glance the phrase “carnal Christian” seems to be impossibility, a contradiction.
Carnal is translated from the Greek word sarkikos, which literally means “fleshly. The Scriptures contain many references to living in the flesh or by the lust of the flesh.
A Christian is a person who practices a monotheistic religion based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. A working definition is someone who has accepted the work of Jesus at the cross and have taken up their cross to follow Him.
Does the carnal Christian exist or are all Christians living carnally in some areas of our lives?
The Bible gives us these warnings:
“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the
Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I
gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.
Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there
is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not
acting like mere humans? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and
another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings?” – 1
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” – Colossians 2:8
To live carnally satisfies the flesh rather than pleasing and
God. A carnal Christian may have accepted the gift of salvation, but not
the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and transformation of their
The spirit of a carnal Christian has not been awakened and/or does not have the capacity to respond to the work and blessings of God and may not know God in a personal relationship. Bible knowledge can go to our heads. We can live to the letter of the law like the Pharisees; and not know God (Titus 1:16). God looks at the heart, searching for His love working in and through His children (1 Peter 1:1-8). God knows that a heart given to Him holds the power to forsake earthly pleasures and live the life that God has planned.
All Christians have some area of their lives where they live carnally. We are being perfected, but not yet perfected. Even Paul, a man no one would accuse of being a “carnal Christian,” had areas of his life that the Corinthians accused him of living carnally or according to the flesh. Paul even noted that he boasted in response to peer pressure in 2 Corinthians 12:1.
It is very important to note that Paul later apologized showing his true spirit; of spiritual discipline, faith, and submission to God’s plan.
What is a carnal Christian vs a Spirit-led Christian?
A Spirit-led Christian will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians
5:22). A Spirit-led Christian will not remain carnal; they will grow and
mature because of God’s work in their life (Hebrew 12:5-11, Romans 12:1,
Ephesians 2:8-10, James 2).
A carnal Christian is not willing to “present his/her body as a living sacrifice pleasing and acceptable to the Father” (Romans 12:2). The degree of submission to God’s work in a person’s life is indicated by the degree to which they live in the “satisfying the cravings of your sinful nature” (Ephesians 2:3, 1 John 2:16, Galatians 5:19-20, Romans 1:21-28).
The carnal Christian lives in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life that is from the world (1 John 2:15-17). As this world passes away, Scripture says some will leave the body of Christ so that it might be shown that not everyone who seems to be a Christian is actually a Christian (1 John 2:18-19). At this time, the sheep, who know the voice of Jesus (John 10:25-30), will be separated from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).
If the Carnal Christian is truly saved, they are assured that they will not perish (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, John 3:16).
Carnal Christians ...(take 2)
Can a true Christian be carnal? In answering this question, let’s first define the term “carnal.” The word “carnal” is translated from the Greek word sarkikos, which literally means “fleshly.” This descriptive word is seen in the context of Christians in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. In this passage, the apostle Paul is addressing the readers as “brethren,” a term he uses almost exclusively to refer to other Christians; he then goes on to describe them as “carnal.”
Therefore, we can conclude that Christians can be
carnal. The Bible is absolutely clear that no one is sinless (1
John 1:8). Every time we sin, we are acting carnally.
The key thing to understand is that while a Christian can be, for a time, carnal, a true Christian will not remain carnal for a lifetime. Some have abused the idea of a “carnal Christian” by saying that it is possible for people to come to faith in Christ and then proceed to live the rest of their lives in a completely carnal manner, with no evidence of being born again or a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Such a concept is completely unbiblical. James 2 makes it abundantly clear that genuine faith will always result in good works.
Ephesians 2:8-10 declares that while we are saved by grace alone through
faith alone, that salvation will result in works. Can a Christian, in a
time of failure and/or rebellion, appear to be carnal? Yes. Will a true
Christian remain carnal? No.
Since eternal security is a fact of Scripture, even the carnal Christian is still saved.
Salvation cannot be lost, because salvation is a
gift of God that He will not take away (see John 10:28; Romans 8:37-39;
1 John 5:13). Even in 1 Corinthians 3:15, the carnal Christian is
assured of salvation: “If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss;
but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” The question is
not whether a person who claims to be a Christian but lives carnally has
lost his salvation, but whether that person was truly saved in the first
place (1 John 2:19).
Christians who become carnal in their behaviour can expect God to lovingly discipline them (Hebrews 12:5-11) so they can be restored to close fellowship with Him and be trained to obey Him. God’s desire in saving us is that we would progressively grow closer to the image of Christ (Romans 12:1-2), becoming increasingly spiritual and decreasingly carnal, a process known as sanctification.
Until we are delivered from our sinful flesh, there will be outbreaks of carnality. For a genuine believer in Christ, though, these outbreaks of carnality will be the exception, not the rule.