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Tuesday
Jan152019

The Carnal Christian

1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Hebrews 5:12-14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 13, 2019.

Today we are going to talk about what it means to be a carnal Christian.  Suffice it to say that this is not something that the believer should aspire to be.  However, it cannot only be an appearance that we avoid.  Much like “trying to look humble,” trying to look spiritual is itself the fruit of carnality.

The word “carnal” can also be translated as fleshly, and it refers to something that is characterized by the flesh and its desires.  The believer in Jesus who is walking with Him will find that Jesus always leads us away from the desires of our flesh and towards the desires of our Father in heaven.

As we look at our passage today, let’s not drum up images of people that we think this describes, but rather let us ask the Lord to search our hearts and help us to grow in becoming like the Lord Jesus this year.

What is a carnal Christian?

There are some who teach that the phrase “carnal Christian” is an oxymoron, and that such a person is not really saved.  Yet, I do not believe that this idea completely squares with Scripture, especially the passage before us today.  In our passage Paul refers to the Corinthians as carnal and yet back in chapter one he made it clear that he saw them as true Christians.  1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “To the Church of God, which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”  So it seems that it is possible to be saved and yet characterized by the desires of one’s flesh.  We will explore more later.

First we should note that in this passage carnality is used in opposition to being spiritual (vs. 1).  Spiritual here does not mean having a spirit, as all humans have one.  Neither does it mean having the Holy Spirit because Paul never denies that these Christians have the Holy Spirit, but rather uses the fact that they do have the Holy Spirit in his arguments throughout the book.  Thus it is a characterization of their predominant life-choices.  They are not listening to the Wisdom of the Spirit of God in some very obvious areas, but rather listening to their flesh.  It might be good to note that it is not enough to be open to spiritual things.  There are many who avoid any sense of religion and pride themselves in being spiritual.  However the Word of God warns us that there are many deceptive spirits in this world.  We should be careful of opening ourselves up to deceiving spirits.  Believers are to be open to the Holy Spirit, but closed off to any other spirits that would work in opposition to the Father.  So we want to be spiritual, but in a biblical way.

Verse 1 also brings up another aspect of carnality.  Paul uses it to refer to those who are babes in Christ, i.e. immaturity.  This is a clear picture of a person who is newly saved.  We are not told how long a person should take to be mature.  However, it is clear from verse 2 that the Word of God is intended to help a person grow.

The milk of the word is that part of Scripture that is more easily digested.  It represents the love of God and his offer of grace towards us.  However, the solid food, or meat of the word, is such things as the call to pick up your cross and follow Jesus; it is the message of becoming like Jesus in holiness; and it is the truth about what is coming upon the world.

Thus a baby in Christ has the Holy Spirit resident in their life.  They have the Lord Jesus Christ, in a sense, sitting on the throne of their heart, yet, their work has just begun.  They have many giants that they must battle, against whom the Lord will systematically lead them and help them.  Immaturity in this sense is normal and expected.  It is not a bad thing when babies are immature.  However, a 24 year old baby, or a 60 year old baby, is a bad thing and is not healthy.  Even the baby Christian, though immature, should not be comfortable with carnality in their life.  However, they should be patient and trust the work and leading of the Holy Spirit.  If the Holy Spirit dwells in you, then Christ will help you to overcome sin and grow spiritually.

So we end up with 3 proper categories within this designation of a carnal Christian.  A carnal Christian is a believer who has just begun to follow the Spirit of Christ, or who has not developed properly in their ability to fight their fleshly lusts since salvation, or who has had proper development yet has regressed.  The first of these is normal, but the second and third are considered abnormalities in the sense that they are not God’s work.  They are also spiritually dangerous.

We should also note the things that Paul points out as proof of their carnality.  He lists envy, strife, and divisions.  They are anti-virtues, or rather vices, that are the fruit of listening to our flesh and not the Holy Spirit.  Galatians 5 gives a good list of the virtues of the Holy Spirit and the vices of the flesh.

Now let’s go to a similar passage in Hebrews 5 starting at verse 12.

What characterizes a carnal Christian?

Though our definition gives the character of carnality, this passage explores it further.  We are told that carnal Christians cannot handle the solid food of God’s Word.  In both cases, the Corinthians and the Hebrews, it is expected that they should be more mature than they are because they have the Word of God and the example of the apostles.  However, they are not.  They are in need of someone to come alongside them and assist them in “digesting” the milk of the word.  If they were properly digesting the milk, they would grow to the point that they could eat the solid food.  So how are they not able to handle the word of God?  First it can mean that they cannot “stomach” the more difficult parts of God’s Word.  They are unable to break it down and draw life from it.  It is too complex for their current level of maturity.  There is a resistance to it in their mind and heart.

However, it can also mean that they do not properly use the Word of God.  They are unskilled in its proper use.  They may have skill with the milk, but they are unskilled in the heavier things.  They may ignore clear meanings of some passages and over emphasize other passages in order to obtain what their flesh wants.  This is understandable in a new Christian.  Thus God puts us in a family of believers where there are those who are more mature and can help us to mature ourselves.

Both of these situations are not good, especially in the life of a person who has been a Christian for years.  So what is the solution, or is there one?  The solution to not being able to stomach the heavier parts of God’s Word is to go back to the milk and learn to properly draw life from it.  Then move on to more solid food.  The solution to the inability to properly use the Word of God in our life is to repent, turn away from our fleshly desires, and obey God’s Word.  We must learn to listen to the experience of those who have gone on before us from each generation.

Another danger in being a carnal Christian is that we are unable to properly discern what is good or bad (Heb. 5:14).  One’s fleshly mind and heart can manipulate reason and emotion in order to declare things of the flesh as good, thus the problem of self-justification.  We can focus on whether or not we are permitted to do something rather than if it is something that is actually good for me spiritually, or bad.  Such a state leaves us in a position to be easily manipulated by the devil.

Final Thoughts

All Christians have parts of their flesh that they must battle.  In other words, to become mature does not mean you no longer have things to fight against and places to grow.  God is always working on all of us.  However, as we mature the battle should become more of an internal battle and less and less of one that is on the outside.  This is not stated as an excuse for sin.  Rather it is recognition that every day all of us need to turn to the Holy Spirit and say, “Search me, O God!”  “What are we working on today, Lord?”

Let me close by reminding us of the passage in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

May God help us to choose spiritual transformation by the Holy Spirit over the top of fleshly conformation to the things of this world that are at odds with the Lord of Heaven.

Carnal Christian audio

Tuesday
Oct182016

Society under Siege: Drug Abuse

Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:12-13; Galatians 6:6-7.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 16, 2016.

Although drugs have been around in one form or another throughout the history of our nation and even all of mankind, it has really been since the 1950’s that our society has become inundated with them.  Of course through the years we have made a distinction between medicinal drugs and illicit drugs.  Our purpose is not to go into that today other than to recognize that there can be a legitimate use of drugs.  Churches today are challenged by the difficulty of helping people who are stuck in drug addiction and whose lives are spiraling out of control.

Those who desire help to get out of the grip of drugs have many problems.  Some of them are the physical addictions that can occur.  Others are the mental, coping mechanisms that are unhealthy and continually turn back to the false peace of a drug.  The shame and guilt that such a person feels can push them further and further away from the very people they need around them. I believe that this onslaught of drugs in our nation is orchestrated and promoted by the evil, spiritual powers that seek to destroy the Gospel of Christ.  War is not easy.  But, if we are to help people, we cannot surrender to the temptation to either push people away because they keep turning back to drugs, or redefine what is good.  Some segments within the Church are being swayed by reasoning that overlooks the dangers of drug abuse and how people end up stuck in it.

How We Live Matters

In Romans Paul has written to the Corinthians about many ways that they are living and the morality or theology behind them.  Their theology and lives were being affected by the culture around them.  This is true of the Church in the United States of America.  Increasingly modern Christians have been surrendering certain areas by saying that they are no longer moral issues.  We determine that abortion is no longer immoral and thus encourage women in a destructive path.  We are beginning to do the same with drugs.  Many ideas are coming together to promote a theology of drugs that basically says it is not a moral issue.  This is a tactical mistake.

In chapter 12 of the letter to the Romans Paul reminds believers that their lives should be lived as a sacrifice to God.  Paul calls it a “living sacrifice” because the imagery is going from the very literal sacrifices they were used to seeing to the spiritual sacrifice of putting to death our fleshly desires for the glory of the purposes of God.  In fact, both Christians and those who do not believe live a life of dying.  The important question is, “To what am I dying?”  The Lost live a life surrendering to the desires of their flesh and their spirit/soul dies in its ability to connect with God.  Whereas the Christian surrenders to the desires of the Holy Spirit and their fleshly desires are put to death.  Of course, this is a daily thing.  So Christians are called to live life in a way that is following the Spirit of God and not the desires of our flesh.  Paul calls it our holy and acceptable sacrifice.

The term “holy” means that we are not for the common use.  Our lives have been set apart for a divine purpose and not a common purpose (i.e. what everyone else is doing).  Also, the term acceptable is often used in a negative way.  In other words, “OK, I guess that is barely good enough.”  That is not what this word means in this translation.  Our lives are not to be lived so as to be barely good enough.  Rather, the word has the meaning of that which is pleasing.  So our sacrifice is to live for God’s purposes, not our own (holy), and to offer that which is pleasing to God.  It is my contention that the Holy Spirit is not leading people to take drugs, especially recreationally, and that they promote a lifestyle that is anything but pleasing to God.

Paul also brings up the issue of conforming to this world’s way of living.  Conformity focuses on the outward shape without a true change of the nature of a person.  Thus a person who has murderous intentions in their heart can conform to the pressure of society to not act on that impulse.  However, their nature has not changed.  Conformity is temporary by nature.  Thus many people live a life of continually taking on new shapes that conform to the templates that the world gives us (like Play Dough).  So whether you take on the template of a driven business person, who doesn’t do drugs, or you take on the template of the person without a job doing drugs in mom’s attic, both are templates that this world offers in opposition to what Jesus has called us to.  So you may think you have your life in order, but many times you have conformed to the world in a different way.  Also, many people who take drugs seem to think that they are somehow breaking out of the system and going their own way.  This too is self-delusion.  Yes, we do need a better template, and Jesus can be that.  However, He is more than a template.

Paul places the word “transformation” against this conformity.  In fact, many churches have lost sight of this difference.  Transformation is a change of nature, not just outward shape.  We must be careful that our discipleship does not become focused on merely changing the shape of people’s lives.  Without an inner transformation they will only be taking on a religious template that is conformity to the world in the end.   Paul says that our transformation comes by the renewal of our mind.  This is precisely the problem.  We are told by someone that our lives should look a certain way.  But in the end we are not learning to listen to the Holy Spirit and say no to our flesh.  The Pharisees had just such a religion: all conformity and no transformation.

The renewal of our mind definitely starts with a moment of believing in Jesus and God placing a new spirit within us.  However, it continues day by day as we work each day to have our thinking renewed back to the way God intended it.  How do we do this? 

First, we have to counter the continual barrage of antichrist ideas and lifestyles that wear down our mind by meditating on the Word of God.  In John 8:32, Jesus tells us that “…the truth shall set you free.”  The problem with lies is that no matter how good they make your life in the short term, they cannot lead to long term good.  Why?  They can’t because they refuse to deal with reality, to deal with Truth.  Daily prayer is the place where we converse with God about what His Word reveals and what His Spirit is leading us to do.  It is the daily maintenance of the transformation that God is doing in our life.  We also need the fellowship of other believers around us.  When we are surrounded by those with a worldly mentality, we will be like the frog in the kettle, slowly being boiled to death.  Fellow believers give us a sounding board that can help us when we are knocked down or coming under deception.

When our mind is renewed to think like Jesus rather than the world, our life will be transformed.  Paul says that then we will prove what is the good, perfect, and acceptable will of God.  God’s will always leads to good in the long term.  The word “perfect” has more the idea of complete or lacking nothing.  When we follow God’s will we are lacking nothing that we need.  This is important when you think about how the Devil tempted Eve into eating the fruit.  He got her to believe that God’s will wasn’t perfect (enough).  Of course the word acceptable like we already mentioned means that which is pleasing to God.  Our life and the results of our decisions become living proof to ourselves and to the people around us that God’s will is good and lacks nothing. 

So take time to scrutinize God’s Word and determine what is good and then live it out.  This will confirm that God knows what He is talking about.  Take time to pray about how to do that and for the strength to do it.  You will be a living example to others that the “sacrificial life” is truly life indeed.

So What is Wrong with Drugs?

So we come back to this question whether you ask it in regards to our society or in regards to being a Christian.  Why not just legalize all drugs?  In some ways legalization is a red-herring.  It sounds like an answer, but not really.  When drugs are “legalized” there will most likely be more laws on the books regarding their sale, distribution, and use (think in terms of “legal” alcohol).  It is legal to drive a car across town.  But don’t think for a second that legality solves all the problems of an issue.  Thus there will always be laws and legalizing drugs will not solve the problems that come with drugs.  The real question is, “What is good for a person,” and, especially for Christians, “What reflects the image of God that we see in Christ?”  Contrary to popular conception, Jesus would not be hanging out in some mother’s attic with his disciples smoking weed.  Why?

The first reason is that drugs affect the mind away from Christ.  The Spirit of God has always used His Word and the experiences in our life to transform our minds.  The life-giving method of God is to speak truth to people in the midst of their difficulties.  Drugs, however, debilitate a person’s ability to reason, and not just when you are high.  The mind-altering effects are both physical and logical.  Our life becomes fixated on the desires of our flesh rather than on the Spirit of God.  Now we need to also recognize that drugs can open our mind to spiritual experiences.  Throughout history many cultures have used drugs in order to make it easier to contact the spirit realm.  Here is the problem.  God does not use this method.  No holy prophet in the Bible ever used drugs in order to get a message from God.  This was a method used by the pagan religions with their fallen angel “gods.”  So even if you use drugs for a “spiritual” purpose, you will only connect with deceiving, lying spirits that seek to use you against Christ and His people.

Another aspect of this mind-altering effect is a false sense of euphoria.  Though a person may be able to “feel good” for a short time, it becomes a feeling that is harder and harder to achieve.  So you head down a path that destroys your ability to have a real life and allows you to have a temporary “feel good” moment in the midst of crushing pain and sorrow.  This is even worse than the picture in the movie “The Matrix.”  At least there they weren’t aware of their condition.  But, the person on drugs is continually trying to escape the increasing hell of their life.  On the flip side, God offers a person the ability to have peace and joy even in the face of the worst situations imaginable.  When Jesus went to the cross, he did not “feel good.”  But he did have clarity about what His actions would achieve.  He would be paving the way for relationships that He would have with millions in the future.  He faces the “bad feelings” of living for God in this wicked world, in order to receive the eternity of joy with new brothers and sisters.

Lastly drugs impair our ability to function.  We become less and less able to deal with life around us.  Even when a person joins up with a gang or group of like-minded friends, we may be able to get along for awhile.  But, in the end the drugs are sucking out your life like a vampire, and putting the poison of death into everything that you have.  If drugs only did this it would be reason enough to reject them.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 we have a passage where Paul is responding to some statements that the Corinthians themselves had written in their letter to him.  The first statement from the Corinthians is “All things are lawful for me.”  I can only assume they are referring to the fact that they are no longer under the Law of Moses.  Thus in their mind they could do whatever they wanted as long as they called themselves Christians.  Instead of arguing about the lawfulness of what they were doing, Paul goes along with them.  Basically he says, “Yes, all things are lawful for you, but not all things are helpful (beneficial). “  He then states it again but differently.  “Yes, all things are lawful for you, but I will not be brought under the power of anything.”  So notice the two points Paul makes.  Basically he is pointing out that legality is itself a red herring.  Legality is moot for the Christian.  What is important is whether or not something is good for me (i.e. helps me be more like Jesus) and that it doesn’t enslave me.   You can argue about whether or not you are “addicted,” but being enslaved to something is not about just a physical need for something.  Drugs and the desire for their effects becomes a controlling thing in people’s lives.  You will find yourself rationalizing things that you would have never done before you started taking them.  Even if you start out trying to keep focused on God’s things, this will die off as you keep pushing away the Spirit of God.  When our police officers go into the homes of people who are trapped in a life of drugs, they witness that people are complete slaves to the drugs.  It becomes their god and they sacrifice everything (family, kids, jobs, etc…) in order to please it.

Galatians 6:6-7 says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”  If we do not follow Christ we are actively destroying our life.  I end with these verses because this is really what it is all about: not being deceived.  Can we use drugs medicinally?  Of course, we can.  However, medicine should never become a controlling and addicting thing in our life.  Medicine is not given to people because they enjoy how it makes them feel.  Rather, it is taken to help restore something that is wrong in the body.  Thus we have a system of prescriptions from doctors and controls on drugs that can be beneficial if used correctly.  I do not have time to deal with the fact that not all medicines are as good as they purport due to the desire of drug companies to make money.

Quit asking yourself what is biblically legal and start asking what will make you more like Jesus.  If we are not becoming more like Jesus then we are decaying into the destruction of our life, and perhaps even our soul.  In this way drugs are just another rabbit trail that the Devil uses to side-track us from Jesus and towards destruction.

The world has gotten good at the physical side of helping people through withdrawals and detoxification.  However, it is has little to offer for the spiritual side of a person.  Even 12 step programs can be so watered down that the spiritual truth gets pushed out.  Your child or spouse cannot be your higher power.  You need Jesus in your life.  You need to be touched by God and made alive to His Holy Spirit.  The only way to truly be free in this life is to ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and then trust the way that He has told us to live.  This includes the apostles that He authorized to go out and teach the nations how to follow him.  Blessings.

Under seige: Drugs