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Weekly Word

Entries in The Word (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

Tuesday
Dec152015

Lessons of Christmas- The Miracle of it All

John 1:1-3, 14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 13, 2015.

The modern, scientific world basically rejects the idea of miracles.  Unless one is a strong Christian and a scientist, miracles sound like the antithesis of sound reasoning.  However, much of this is a matter of semantics.  The common argument against miracles will go something like this. Miracles are against the laws of science and cannot be duplicated upon demand.  Therefore they are mythical, whether through insincerity or not.

So what do Christians mean by the word miracle?  Well, we do not mean the “miracles” of nature, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly.  As amazing as many of the processes of nature are, they are not technical miracles.  Scientists can observe and test to determine the underlying fundamental principles that enable metamorphosis.  In fact all over the world metamorphosis is happening all the time.  There are two main concepts behind the words that are often translated as miracle.  The first has to do with the observation of something amazing.  It is a memorable thing that sticks out among the stuff that naturally occurs.  Another word has the concept of being a sign.  This memorable thing points to something about God and the world. 

This leads us to three main parts to defining a miracle.  First, it is something for which God is immediately responsible.  Everything of nature follows certain laws and operations (physics) that God hardwired into the creation.  Thus he is technically responsible for all actions of nature, but this is a secondary responsibility.  In a miracle, something happens that would not have happened if God had let nature run its normal course.  The red sea parting or Jesus walking on water were not things that would have happened naturally.  There is a supernatural source to the happening of this event.  Second, though the event has a supernatural cause, this does not mean that it breaks scientific laws.  Miracles are not magic.  Rather, God Himself introduces power and laws that are generally above our understanding of physics.  Even if we could completely understand the physics of our world, we can’t completely understand God and how He interacts with it.  Thus miracles would always be beyond mankind’s ability to comprehend.  Plus God does not intend to give miracles in order to extend our knowledge of physics.  He doesn’t owe us an explanation.  Third, miracles always occur in a religious context.  They are given to God’s people, or to substantiate God’s Word.  Thus the struggle between Moses and Pharaoh is accompanied with miraculous signs in order to help Pharaoh see the truth about God and His people.

Now at Christmas we have several miracles among which some are: the virgin birth and the angelic visitations.  However the greatest miracle of all time is the incarnation.  Just when it looked like mankind was doomed to failure and destruction under the wrath of God, God becomes a man.  This was a cosmic game-changer.

The Word Became Flesh

In chapter one of the gospel of John Old Testament wording and imagery is used throughout in order to connect it with Jesus.  He starts out by referencing something called “The Word.”  This is an allusion back to Genesis 1, where God is seen speaking things into existence.  “And God said, let there be…”  The Word is the purpose, logic and reasoning of God coming from within Him and going out from Him.  John begins to define this Word in a way that makes clear it is not just words and it is not just a force.  As we walk through the first two verses, John establishes the preexistence of Jesus in a sequential manner.

First, he establishes that The Word existed at the beginning of creation.  “In the beginning” is the title of the Book of Genesis in Hebrew.  In Genesis 1:1, The Word existed already.  Second, The Word was in relationship with God the Father, “with God.”  It didn’t just exist.  It existed in relationship with God.  Third, we are told that The Word was divine.  It may appear that he is just equating them.  But he is clearly distinguishing two that are both God (and divine).  In verse two this is restated.  Lastly, John states that The Word was the agent or means of creation.  The Father speaks and the Word goes forth to accomplish it (in verse 14 & 18 it is clear the word is a personality).  What is not made clear in Genesis 1 is being revealed here in John 1.  Thus John describes two distinct persons existing together and yet God.  Later in verse 14 and 18 he defines this further as God the Father, and the Only Begotten Son.  All created things were made through Jesus in his divine capacity.  The Son is not a created person, but a reality that had been kept secret until the incarnation.

Thus the birth of Jesus is more than a man that God chooses to use.  Rather, it is the eternal Word and divine Son stepping into the world and taking on the additional nature of humanity.  This all happens when Satan had all but captivated all the nations of the world, Israel included.  The knowledge of God was all but extinguished either by outright rejection, or by perversion.  Thus in verse 14, John says that The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.  The word “dwelled” is the same word used for the tabernacle in the wilderness with Moses.  God has always tried to teach us that He longs to dwell with us.  It is as if God waits until the last seconds to bring out His secret weapon.  He is going to suit up on our side.  It is a miracle because mankind couldn’t have done it.  No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to produce God, much less make ourselves Gods.  The more we try the less like God we will become.  It is a miracle because it can’t be explained by mere natural means.  Yes, Jesus could have been just a baby, but then what about the miracles he did as a man?  If you reject those, what do you do with his prophecies about Jerusalem and the rest of the world?  If you reject that what do you do with the resurrection?  And, if you refuse to believe that then you are open to what God is trying to show you.  This is all history and yet it can’t be explained with the natural.  Also, it is a miracle because it fulfilled all that God prophesied and underscored all He had been trying to teach.  What if God was one of us?  Well in Jesus He has become one of us.  He has become our champion.  He has stepped in between us and our enemy the devil.

He Humbled Himself

In some ways it goes without saying.  But the point is too important to skip over. The humility of this miracle is mind-boggling.  The divine becomes human and the immortal becomes mortal.  This miracle of God taking on the nature of a man is unexplainable.  These are things that only the designer of creation and mankind could fully comprehend.  However, that is not what is important.  The “how” is incredible, but it is the “why” that truly blows your mind.  While we are busy trying to become gods, God a long time ago became one of us.  This humility is explained in Philippians 2:5-8.  Jesus was not just moving to a lower station.  He is choosing to embrace those who had lost and deserved to die.  He is identifying with that which was crushed and captivated by the devil.  He would rather hang out with the losers than with the winners.  Why?

In Philippians 2 we are told that Jesus did not consider his prior state, being God, as something to be gripped tightly.  His nature is such that He is not clambering to be on top, but is the one to choose lowly things.  He voluntarily cooperates with the limitations of being a man, who is also under the law of Moses.  The phrase sometimes translated as “made himself of no reputation,” would be better translated “he emptied himself.”  It is not clear what exactly he emptied himself of.  He doesn’t cease to be God, but he does cease to operate as only God.  He takes on limitations and chooses to suffer pain, hunger, rejection, and death.  He submits not just to death, but to death on a cross, which was a social shame and excruciating.  He obeyed the will of the Father to the point of death on a cross.  Part of the miracle of the incarnation is the depths to which God is willing to lower himself in order to lift us up.  Jesus reveals to us that it is those who lose according to this world who are desired by God.  We are always looking at what is possible and how to get ahead and move up.  But Jesus is God’s word to mankind, “Let me defeat your enemy for you.”

He Came Full Of Grace And Truth

In verse 14, John describes what they saw when the incarnation came into the world to dwell among men.  “We beheld his glory.”  Of course John had seen the transfiguration of Jesus when he had been transformed into a glowing being.  But he is speaking of more than that.  Here he is referencing the whole experience of dwelling with Jesus.  His glory was constantly being revealed for those who had eyes to see it.

It was especially displayed in that he was full of grace and truth.  God shows compassion to those who are captivated by sin and whose lives have been devoured by the devil.  He comes like a gift from heaven to heal, set people free from demons, and speak words of truth that cut through all the confused and deceived wisdom of mankind.  Even more amazing, He does so regardless of the fact that we do not deserve it.

Rather, we deserved him to come into the world full of wrath and judgment.  The miracle of Christmas is that instead of flaming judgment raining down from heaven, we are given aid against our enemy and victory over him.  This is not the story of underdogs overcoming at the end and winning.  This is the story of mankind losing the battle to the devil and his angels.  And, yet, God chooses to have a celebration with the losers and despises the “winners.”

Have you lost in life?  God is calling you to stop trying to win the game of this life and come into relationship with Him.  Are you winning in this life?  Beware that you are not caught up in the judgment that God is going to pour out on the devil, his angels, and all those who have joined his rebellion against God’s Son.  Choose this day, whom you will serve.

Christmas: Miracle audio