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Entries in Discernment (2)


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


Discerning The Times

Today we will be looking at Luke 12:54-59.

In the 1960's Bob Dylan came out with his single "The Times They Are A Changin'."  In it he warns people, politicians, and parents that things are changing and if you stand in the road you will get ran over.  It is interesting that at the end of the song he warns that those who are leading the change today will be the ones standing in the way in the future.  In fact he refers to this constant changing as a curse.  Whether he is tying back to the biblical account of the Fall of Man or he simply describes it as it is, the curse is that things do not stay the same and you either get on board or get left behind. 

Up to this point in Luke 12, Jesus has been mainly addressing his disciples.  But, here He addresses the multitudes.  The disciples needed to be ready for the work he gives them, the persecution they would endure and the return of Jesus.  However, the multitudes needed to make a choice whether to become disciples or not.  In a word Jesus challenges them to get off the fence because the times they were a changin'.

Good At Recognizing The Weather

In verses 54-56 Jesus points out their ability to recognize what the weather will be based upon the signs they see in the sky.  Of course, he doesn't care about their forecasting ability.  Rather he is pointing out how studious and quick to recognize things that had to do with weather.  This will be in contrast to their laziness at recognizing the times.

Israel's weather was impacted by a large body of water, the Mediterranean Sea, to the West and a desert to the South.  Thus when they saw clouds over the water it was a sign that rain was on the way.  Similarly when the prevailing winds came from the South, there would be hot weather.  These were a "rule of thumb" in regard to weather.  Now it would be good for us to stop and ask ourselves this question.  What things do I pay particular attention to and recognize, and what do I not?  What subtle changes in the world around me do I pay steadfast attention to and quickly move in activity because of them?  Is it the weather, financial matters, politics, economics, popular culture, the latest movies?  We need to recognize that the amount of time we spend paying attention to these things will be "exhibit A" when we stand before God and give account regarding this issue of understanding what God is doing.  If you have the attitude that it is too hard to discern what God is doing, or you could care less, then know that you will be left without excuse when you stand before Him.

Bad At Recognizing The Times

Jesus is talking about something greater than what Bob Dylan sang about.  You see Dylan's song has a spiritual side to it, but the wave of change he is talking about are those that are man generated and purposed.  Although we would recognize the Devil has a part to play in them, they are the hopes and dreams of the people at the time and manipulated by the inter-dimensional spirit being we call Satan.  But Jesus is referring to the times of God's dealing with the nation of Israel, in this case.  Over the top of all the turbulent sea of man's projects and changes is the more powerful and unstoppable purposes and seasons of God's purpose.  It is this that the multitudes were missing.

The term "times" comes from a word that has the sense of "seasons."  Thus it is not about sequence as much as it is about the designed time for an activity, whether it be the season of planting and harvesting, or the season of war and peace.  Again, man pursues his seasons, but God's dealings with men have "seasons" as well.  He appoints a certain amount of time to accomplish certain things.  Thus the "seasons" of men and the "Seasons" of God are often at odds with one another.  In these situations it does not matter if all the world are united to do what they want, God's purpose will overrule theirs.  Of course men are free to operate as they will.  However, it is always within the parameters of what God is doing.  The prophets of the Old Testament had warned the people of Israel that a Season of Change was coming.  The Anointed One of God would come and judge the nations and restore righteousness to Israel and the Earth.  Even John the Baptist warned people, "repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."  People needed to prepare their lives and ready themselves for the One who would put down the wicked and exalt the righteous.

Yet, the multitudes of Israel had become hypocrites in general.  The word means to be a stage player or actor (i.e. a pretender).  What were they pretending and why?  First they were pretending to want God's Messiah to come.  They were pretending to want the righteousness of God to be established on the Earth.  How can I say that? I'm not saying it.  Rather, this is the judgment of Jesus over them.  They drew near God with their lips and gave "lip service" to His prophecies and teachings.  However, in their hearts they did not repent of their own wickedness.  They never thought through the reality of what a righteous king would mean in a wicked land.  Their hearts were far from God.

This failure was not for lack of instruction.  They had plenty of instruction and plenty of warning.  Yet, they had spent more energy on understanding the things of temporary impact than on the things of eternal impact.  Even today, here in America, we are swimming in a sea of instruction concerning the times and seasons of God.  We have been warned over and over again that the Righteous Jesus is coming back.  Am I giving lip service to such things without giving proper attention to such a serious matter?  Am I spending all my time on understanding the technology, politics, and culture of my day so that I can succeed, but ignoring God's seasons?  What will it profit a man to succeed in this temporary Age and yet fail in keeping his soul for eternity?

Do you recognize the times that we live in?  This is the Age or Season of God's grace.  Instead of judging the nations, God called a remnant out of Israel (the Church) and commissioned them to make known His terms of peace with the nations of the world.  This season of opportunity has been going for the last two millennia.  Our judgment is sealed but the offer of peace is still on the table.  This season has been compared to a crop.  There is a time of planting, a time of letting it grow, and eventually there is a harvest.  The Church Age is coming to a close.  I do not offer dates only warnings.  The Harvest of the earth is nearly complete and then the judgment will come.  Are you ready?  If you do not take time to understand these thing then you will not be ready and will perish in the judgment that is coming.

Bad At Recognizing Our Personal "Times"

In verses 57-59, Jesus focuses not so much on the greater "seasons" of God's dealing with Israel, but on God's dealing with each individual.  His dealing with you as an individual has seasons as well.  "Why even of yourselves do you not judge what is right?"  God is faithful to make sure that his Truth is being revealed to us.  He works to bring us to a knowledge of the truth, to bring us to faith, and then to transform us.  Those who continue to resist this work until it is too late will be judged.  Thus the multitudes were interested in hearing Jesus, but they needed to pay better attention to the spiritual implications of their life.

The people of Israel were about to face judgment as a nation.  This means that all the individuals of that nation were facing judgment as well.  The handwriting was on the wall and the Romans had only increased their stranglehold upon the nation of Israel.  The political and religious leaders had only grown more and more ungodly.  Many rebel groups kept forming, being stomped out, and forming again.  Such dangerous times teach a person to make sure that they have right standing with God.  When the world around you is going to hell in a hand basket, you had better know that you belong to God.

This instruction, about being taken before the magistrate and seeking terms before the judgment, seems to be a metaphor for the coming judgment by God.  They were about to be judged nationally and personally. Yet, notice that Jesus is advising them to do everything they can to settle out of court.  The practicality of settling out of court is seen in different ways.  Some settle out of court because it will be cheaper in the long run.  Others settle out of court because the offended party has the choice to have mercy on us.  But the magistrates must carry out the law and give us the penalty due.  

It is here that we see the offer of salvation in Jesus being compared to "settling out of court."  Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden.  In this sense we are not just burdened with the sins of others.  We are also burdened with the overhanging judgment of our own sins.  But the words, "Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!"  A simple changing of your minds and putting of your trust upon Jesus can change everything.

When Israel was in the desert, they lived as nomads in tents.  They had no permanent home.  When the cloud of the presence of God lifted off of the Tabernacle, it was time to pack up camp and leave.  When it stopped it was time to unpack and set up residence.  This is a picture of what the Christian life is supposed to be like.  This is not our home.  Our home is when we dwell with Jesus.  Until then, we follow Him throughout this wilderness.  When he packs up to move we do to.  In some ways the "church" has become too enamored with building permanent institutions in a time in which we are to be quick to move with God.  Those very things we build become an entanglement to our heart when God asks us to leave them be and come follow Him.  We have to be careful that we are not hanging on to things that God is leaving behind, nor chasing things that have nothing to do with where He is headed.  Such things cloud our judgment and steal our time away from the more pressing eternal matters of God's purposes.


Discerning the Times audio