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Weekly Word

Entries in Maturity (2)

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

Friday
Mar032017

Growing Spiritually

Ephesians 4:11-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 19, 2017.

We have been talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His Church.  It begins with connecting to Him and to His people.  The next purpose comes from the fact that this connection is not intended to be static.  In John 15, when Jesus used the analogy of a vine, he emphasizes that the Father wants each branch to be fruitful.  Thus this second purpose is for God’s people to grow spiritually.  Now this is not just an individual self-help exercise.  Rather, God is working in us in order to help us to grow spiritually as an individual and as a group. 

In our society we see the problem of immaturity everywhere.  It causes problems in our jobs, relationships, homes, politics at every level, and yes, even in our churches.  God’s answer to the reality of immaturity is not that we quit and go down the street, or go home.  Instead, God’s answer is for His people to turn to Him and receive from Him what we need in order to mature.

Now God has some very specific things that He has done in order to help this purpose along.  The first is that He connects us to a group of believers.  The dynamic of learning to love each other fuels this purpose of God.  In Ephesians 4:11-16, the relationship we have with the body of Christ is explained in regards to this purpose of spiritual growth.

Jesus Wants His Followers to Grow

We see the metaphor of growth throughout the Bible.  It points to the changes that happen within us in order to make us more like God Himself.  In Psalm 1 we are told, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  This is God’s vision for each of us.  He wants to make us into a fruitful tree of life to everyone around us.  Sadly we often fall into a minimal intellectual assent to the Faith.  We only accept so much of what God’s Word says and try to ignore the rest.  We can also settle for a minimal association with God’s people.  When God’s word has a minimal impact on our lives it will not result in spiritual growth.  Ask yourself, “Have I settled for having just a little bit of Jesus?  Am I trying to fit a little bit of Jesus into my life?”  The reality is that Jesus is too big to fit into your life.  You must surrender your life to the purposes of Christ, then you will begin to grow spiritually to become like him.

In verse 11 Paul points out that God has raised up certain individuals to serve in differing capacities within the Church, so that we can all grow spiritually.  The top of this list is the apostles and prophets.  It was important for the teachings of Christ and His purposes to be authoritatively recorded.  The truth is that Jesus did not right any books.  He called and authorized certain individuals with the task of passing on His teaching.  More than that, Jesus even told his disciples that he had far more to teach them, but there wasn’t enough time.  Thus He promises that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.  The reality is that Jesus Himself places a stamp of approval, or guarantee, on the authority and teaching of His apostles.    In this sense there are no more apostles and prophets that are establishing Scripture and the foundation of the Faith.  However, apostles were also used mightily to bring the gospel into new areas along with signs and wonders to confirm it.  This aspect still occurs from time to time as God wills.  As for prophets today, they can be used to speak into our lives by God, but not add new teaching to the Faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints in the first century.  Paul also mentions evangelists, who typically travel from city to city preaching the gospel.  Lastly he lists pastors and teachers.  It appears that he is putting these together, perhaps as two sides of the same coin.  The term “pastor” is a shepherd term that points to the caring and nurturing they do.  “Teacher” points to the transfer of information that they perform.  Teachers teach the Word of God to His people, not because they can’t read it for themselves, but because it helps us to grow.  The purpose of all of these individuals is not to rule over God’s people, or to control His Church.  They are not given by Jesus to dominate the other believers, but rather to help us.  Some people have been hurt by the domineering tactics of some who call themselves apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Yet, we must also recognize the danger of casting off any help in this area.  Without the guarantee of the foundational teaching of the Apostles in the first century, we are intellectually standing on quicksand.

Now in verse 12, Paul explains further why Christ gave these to the Church.  So far I have summed it up under the need for spiritual growth.  Let’s explore further.  The first purpose is for the equipping of the saints.  The King James Version says for the perfecting of the saints.  Equipping is a better translation today, because “perfecting” gives the sense of being done.    To be fully equipped is always done in order to accomplish something.  When you are done gathering all your camping equipment, you haven’t actually camped yet.  You still have to drive to your destination and set up all your equipment.  Equipping is always for a purpose.  Another example is how an Emergency Room is equipped with all manner of tools and medicines.  This is for the purpose of saving a life that is brought into the room.  Similarly God uses these verse 11 roles to equip us.  This leads to the question, “What am I being equipped for?”

Paul next lists several reasons why we are being equipped.  God wants us to be able to do “works of service.”  God has particular works of service that He has for you to do.  Some of that service is towards other believers.  You are to use your gifts out of love in order to help other believers.  However, we are also called to do works of service towards those who are not believers.  Thus I am serving God by going out and serving His people, and those who are still lost.  So what do you need in order to do these things?  First, you need to know what God has already said in His Word.  You also need encouragement and direction in learning to pray and hear from God ourselves.  Ask Jesus each day, “Lord, help me to know the works of service that you want me to do today.”

Next Paul mentions we are equipped for the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is that we are unified as a group of people.  Individual growth is never complete until it enables us to grow in relationship with others.  Today, the concept of unity is held up as essential.  But notice that God is not promoting unity just for unity’s sake.  He actually says unity of the faith.  “The faith” is the teachings that God has revealed through Jesus and His apostles.  Thus, when people talk about finding common ground so that we can unify, they generally mean, “What beliefs can we drop so that we can be one?”  God is calling believers to be unified around the teaching of His apostles.  If you sacrifice the teachings of Christ and the knowledge of who He is, then you have not accomplished the purpose of God.  In fact you have actually rejected it.  You may notice that all such groups that hold up unity and love as their overarching principle, and yet do not adhere to a particular set of teachings, fall apart in the end.  Only promoting love and unity is not enough to deal with the sinful nature of mankind.  Whether it is a leader that tries to dominate the group, or the fact that a person is hurt by another’s concept of free love, we must have a truth that we are committed to that has power against the flesh and is greater than any person today.  The Word of God is the only thing that has demonstrated the power to stop the sinful desires of our flesh.

The third purpose for being equipped is so that we will not be a spiritual child, but instead a mature body of Christ.  This is where we see how the individual weaves with the group dynamic.  If I am individually taken in by every new heresy that pretends to be truth, then I weaken the group.  We are not able to operate as the body of Christ.  Yes, I need to believe the things Jesus and his apostles taught, and I need to live out the things they taught.  But our group has to grow in living these things together.  Together, we can minister, heal, and save far more than any one of us can do alone.  We need each other, but the lost need the Church to be operating as a mature body of Christ.

In verse 14 we are given another reason why God wants us to grow.  He does not want us to be taken in and deceived by false teaching.  Children are easily taken in and deceived.  We see this with Adam and Eve, who had a child-like innocence in regards to sinful ways.  Not all that masquerades as truth is Truth, and not all that masquerades as Jesus is Jesus.  Think about scams that happen in this world.  They are successful because they play on the immature desire to get something for nothing, or at least, the desire to get an inordinate amount of return on minimal investment.  A mature person is often protected by scams simply because they have grown up in regards to working hard for what you get.  Like a person who has already eaten and therefore is not tempted to eat dessert, the mature person can say, “No, thanks.  I am full.”  We need to be so full of the Truth of Jesus that the lies and deception don’t interest us.  We are not hungry for some new, amazing truth.  We already have the amazing truth of Jesus.

Instead of falling into deceptions, Jesus wants us to speak the truth, but in love.  This has been a problem for the Church.  Typically we have not faltered with having the truth, but we have with sharing it in love.  This too is a sign of maturity.  The mature person does not feel the necessity to control how people respond to the Gospel.  They continue to reach out to people who reject them, and sometimes even persecute them. 

Let me just close with emphasizing verses 15 and 16.  Paul points out that it is our connection to Jesus, the head, is what gives us anything to do and share, both as an individual and as a group.  When we are connected to Jesus, His Truth and spiritual Life will not only mature us, but also enable us to be that fruitful branch that has something to offer others.  May God help us to grow spiritually, by keeping our eyes upon Jesus and taking advantage of those gifts that He has given to help us.

Growing Spiritually audio