The Oxymoron of the “Carnal Christian”

I am sure you have heard the of the doctrine of the “Carnal Christian”.  It is the idea that many people come to Christ and are saved, but afterward have no evidence of repentance in their life.  Instead they continue to indulge in their favorite sins whether they be sins of raunch debauchery or more “civilized” sins such as pride and greed.  It is such a common doctrine these days, that many folks reading this post will raise their eyebrows at the mere suggestion that this doctrine is a false doctrine.   Unfortunately, it is a false doctrine, and a popular one.  The fact that it is false is blatantly obvious to any who would pull the rebellion from their eyes to admit the truth that is made evident in Scripture, as well as in the lives of ourselves and everyone around us.

The truth of the matter is this; Actions are always motivated by beliefs! Or, more accurately, actions are always determined  by the will and the will is always determined by beliefs.  I would be interested in anyone finding an action of any person in any instance in all of history that wasn’t motivated by will.  Even when people are forced to do things they would rather not do, they are still motivated by a will to carry them out rather than suffer the consequence.  When faced with a “Do this.. or else!” situation, a person still uses his/her will to determine which is the better course of action to carry out.  Actions are always determined by will.

Likewise, a person’s will is always determined by their beliefs.  If you truly believed a police officer was monitoring traffic ahead, you would slow to the legal limit.  If you truly believed your boss was watching, you wouldn’t goof off at work.  Merely stating an intellectual acceptance of facts is no indication of what a person truly believes.  It is through observing the actions of a person that true beliefs can be discovered.  This is precisely the point James makes when discussing the works of a Christian:

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?”   James 2:14 (NLT)

James is stating what we should all know just from observing ourselves and others.  There is a professed “faith” or an intellectual quasi-acceptance of facts that does not involve true belief.  In the “Carnal Christian” the professed faith is not a saving faith, for it does not truly believe  in a Holy and Just God, the wickedness of sin, or in the atonement accomplished on the Cross.  If a “Carnal Christian” was holding a true faith, a true belief, it would influence their will and subsequently their actions.  Of course, this would mean they would no longer be a “Carnal Christian”!  John further teaches us this truth throughout the book of 1st John, as illustrated by the following passage:

“If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.5 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him.” 1 John 2:4-5 (NLT)

The word “Christian” means Christ-like, and was first used in reference to His followers who carried themselves and behaved like Him.  So I ask… In the light of Scripture (as well as grammar) doesn’t this make the expression “Carnal Christian” an oxymoron as well as a false doctrine?  I contend that it does!

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14 Comments on “The Oxymoron of the “Carnal Christian””

  1. Lynne Says:

    To truly believe is evidenced in some way (internally where only God see or outwardly, where only God know the true motivations). I was just thinking: If I say I believe I can fly…but never jump, one can assume I am a liar (whether I know it or not). If I say I believe I can fly and actually take that leap…obviously, I truly did believe. Genuine faith in Jesus I believe results in resting it all on Him (no added works or merit) total trust in what He says including what Christ says He did for us. If someone works for approval in hopes of earning salvation, then it is not genuine faith in Christ alone for salvation. However , if one works out of love and respect for the Lord a result of that genuine belief bearing the fruit of being the recipient of Gods grace and commitment as His disciple, this depicts being born again. God may be the only one who knows. Our hearts can so easily even deceive us but every saint possess the Holy Spirit, Whom convicts and since we all know that the Holy Spirit resides in all born again Believers; when it comes to sin in a saints life, it should be some war, at least some wrestling within in regards to the sin issue. If there is no such inner turmoil and one can continue in sins without being troubled with no fruit of repentance, then it’s highly suspect if you’re in the family of God and at the very minimum an indicator something is amiss.

    Romans 6:17-18

    “Though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

    1 John 2:1-6 :

    My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

    Reply

    • ChurchSalt Says:

      The term “born again” is a radical concept, when you stop to think about it. As is the teaching that we become a “new creature”. And yet many contend that a creature can be born again into a new creature without any changes! It is too bad these terms and ideas have become so common & trivialized in modern christian circles.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      – Joe

      Reply

  2. Delwyn X. Campbell Says:

    I agree with a comment that I read in our discussions; a person who clings to a sin is walking in rebellion. A person who willingly, devotedly practices a sin is walking in rebellion. I think that it is fair to characterize that person as being an outsider, not a Christian, and an unbeliever. Most of the people whom I fellowship are not of that ilk, however. They want to live so as to please the Lord, they do not seek sin out, and they do not defend any areas of unholiness in their lives. Nevertheless, they (we) still struggle against the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life, because the devil does not leave us alone just because we got saved.

    Reply

    • ChurchSalt Says:

      Saved we are, but struggle we must! At my church we are getting ready to go through the book “The Enemy Within” by Kris Lundgaard. It is a modern adaptation of Owen’s “Mortification of Sin”. I am greatly looking forward to it!

      Reply

  3. Bob Schoenle Says:

    My comment has been accused of being of a ‘vitriol’ nature. I would like to give the definition of ‘vitriol’ from Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: 1 a: a sulfate of any of various metals (as copper, iron, or zinc): esp. a glassy hydrate of such a sulfate b. OIL OF VITRIOL 2. something felt to resemble vitriol esp. in caustic quality: esp: in caustic quality: esp: virulence of feeling or of speech – vitriolic

    I prefer to think of my previous comment as being born of a passion to expose false teachings. Other than his use of the word ‘vitriol’ I agree with all that Mr. Campbell had to say.

    Reply

    • Delwyn X. Campbell Says:

      I understand your reaction. It is for that reason that Ravi Zacharias used to say, “Never ask a fish to describe “wet.” Your choice of adjectives detracted from your argument, and were unnecessary to its advancement.

      Having said that, and after reading the original post, perhaps both of you were a little spicy in your descriptives. In fact, we have denominations, in large measure, because “we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” We each see things within the Scriptures that we see to be of grave importance. We then teach regarding those things, and others follow our teaching. Those who oppose our teaching then defend the status quo, and the battle lines are drawn.

      Both sides are convinced of the correctness of their position, and, both may be right about aspects of it. If not for the unwillingness/ inability of Rome to acknowledge Luther’s valid arguments, there might not have been a Reformation. I’m not saying that that other issues might not have sprung up, but the character of the Reformation would have been different.

      All of us have a certain degree of rebelliousness within us, which we must resist and subdue. As Paul wrote, I must “bring my body under subjection” daily; I cannot assume that I have it under control because I had a good day today. The only time that I can put away the whole armor of God is when the Lord returns for the Church. I am learning from this discussion that I should watch what I write and say, ensuring that, while I may defend truth vigorously, I should do so without attacking the personal character of my opponent.

      One last note: regarding how Jesus dealt with His opponents, He knew their hearts, while I don’t. I think that I should, therefore, be cautious in how I treat them. It would be better to err on the side of mercy than on the side of righteous indignation. After all, it is easier to dial things up than to dial them back.

      Reply

  4. Delwyn X. Campbell Says:

    Without the vitriol of the previous comment. I agree with the substance. Carnality in the life of a Christian is not a modern American concept, but one from the quill of Paul himself, and, thus, written by inspiration of God. It is not a commended trait, nor is it a condition that is supposed to be permanent. I believe that, just as the tares and wheat may be difficult to distinguish, so with carnal believers and false brethren. It is for this reason that we can only separate ourselves from those who are disobedient for the purpose fo shocking them into repentance, not with the expectaion that they are lost.

    At the end of the day, I say, with Paul, “Nevertheless, the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Tim 2:19 NKJV)

    Reply

    • ChurchSalt Says:

      Hey Delwyn,
      I agree, tares and wheat can be very hard to distinguish. We also need to keep in mind we should never be on a “tare hunt”. That is, always looking with a critical eye as to the salvation and obedience of others. In my reply to Bob, I addressed some issues of carnality further, and you are welcome to read/comment if you wish. I have one question for you though. Look at the following passage:
      “For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” 1 Cor 5:3-5 (ESV)
      How do you read the last line? It sounds to me as though the unrepentant man was not saved, but Paul hoped that through Church discipline his eyes might be opened and later become a genuine Christian. I looked up the “may be saved” in the original language and one of the notes was that this term is the “opposite of an absolute”.
      What think ye?

      Reply

      • Delwyn X. Campbell Says:

        As I implied in my earlier post, I am not able to determine who actually is or is not saved. I can determine where your mind is focused. Regarding this person, whether or not he is saved, I agree with the purpose of the penalty: to chassten the offender into repentance and a life sown to the spirit rather than to the flesh.

        I do believe that there are those who are false brethren, who, for their own reasons, affiliate with the church, but are not actually of the church. there are also those who, due to immaturity, poor discipleship on the part of their leaders, or spiritual bondage, are practicing things which are harmful to their walk, and stumbling blocks both to themselves and to others. proper discipline brings the erring saint to repentance, andexposes the true, rebellious nature of the false brother or sister.

        That is why we need to be biblical in our practices. Granted that we are human, and will sometimes make mistakes, still following the direction of Scripture ensures that the Lord will be involved in our efforts, while walking acording to our own thoughts will leave us to our own resources. We cannot properly shepherd the flock of God without the empowerment and gifts of the Spirit, nor can we grow as Christians while rebelling against the Head of the Church.

      • ChurchSalt Says:

        I would contend that this passage is stating the person is not a Christian at the time judgment was issued. However, that doesn’t mean true Christians do not fall into sin. Obviously they (and I) do on an all-too-regular basis. I think where the dividing line becomes a little more clear is when the have NO sign of holiness in their life and are happy to continually indulge in sins (that was actually the 3rd sentence of my post, and the subject I was addressing… not works-righteousness). My general rule is this: I treat a professing Brother as a Brother until they defend their right to sin. At that time I then call their attention to the Law of God and encourage them to repent of their sins and cling to Christ for the atonement He has won on the Cross. My reasoning is that if they are a struggling Christian, they are at a point where they need to hear Law and Gospel, and if they are not truly saved, they need to hear Law and Gospel so that perhaps they will come to Christ. I cannot tell who is truly saved, but I do know we all need to hear the good news on a regular basis, so I think I am on safe ground.

  5. Bob Schoenle Says:

    Evidently, whoever wrote this silly article has never read the two letters the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. Then again, to do so would destroy their preconceived position that there is no such thing as a ‘carnal’ Chrisitian. They also are ignorant of the fact that ‘repentance’ is not a part of the cause of anyone’s salvation. Belief in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ is the sole ’cause’ of salvation and ‘repentance’ is the ‘effect.’ If this were not true than the apostle John would have been remiss in giving the reason for writing his gospel (Jn. 20:30-31). I suppose the writer of this article is also ignorant of the fact that John never used the word ‘repent’ in his gosple. If ‘repentance’ was a necessary part of the cause of salvation, then John would have written so, I am sure. I often wonder how those who are trusting in their repentance for salvation, can be sure they have repented enough?

    Reply

    • ChurchSalt Says:

      Hi Bob,
      I have a few remarks to the points made in your comment:

      1) If you want your comment to be taken seriously, lay off the insults and insulting tones. If correction needs to be made, then make it. Is throwing out derogatory terms (“silly” and “ignorant”) how you are talk to a Christian Brother? Is it how you are to express the gospel of Christ to the lost? I think not. I am either one or the other (as is everybody) so unless it is simply your intent to insult all who dare disagree with you …lay off.

      2) We have been over this before in other posts. Somehow you think anybody who dares say that becoming a completely new creature inhabited by the spirit of God will have outward and visible changes in their life is preaching works-righteousness. This simply isn’t the case. Nowhere does this post does it state that those living in blatant carnality must start doing good works in order to become saved. Nor does it suggest that those truly saved do not sin. From your comment (and previous comments) I am under the impression that you think as soon as someone mentions “repentance” it means they are teaching merit based salvation. It doesn’t. Repentance is a biblical concept, and is preached as part of the Gospel message in many, many places. If you think the preaching of repentance is wrong, take it up with our Lord. While the Great Commission is given on multiple passages, in only one place (Luke 24) did our Lord specifically detail the message we are to spread, and “repentance” was the first word He spoke. If you abhor the idea of repentance, your problem is with Him, not with me (or John MacArthur).

      3) John does talk about repentance, and he does it (interestingly enough) in chapter 3:
      “And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.” John 3:36 (NLT)
      This verse (in English) equates belief with obedience. The reason for this is done (in most accurate translations) because in the original language the use of the word “belief” is the same as our word “belief”. But where the word “obey” is located in the verse above, the original language uses yet another word for “belief” but this time with the meaning “believe to the point of obedience”. This is exactly what I was trying to convey in my post (I should have included this passage in the post). True belief always directs one’s actions.

      4) Paul does indeed address Christians who struggle with carnality and deeds of the flesh, and he does so in many places. This post and my personal position is in no way contradictory to this teaching. However, if you somehow think that someone can be saved and continue on unashamedly in sin with no sign of change you are wrong, and Paul himself teaches you are wrong. Why would he teach that we are to expel people from the church when someone is in open sin? If becoming saved was to have no visible effect, why would he single out a particular person and boot them out?

      To ignore and even take active campaign against the idea of repentance is unbiblical and disturbing. Merit based salvation should not be confused with a true salvation that has an actual affect. Have I repented enough? No, I have not. Every day my Lord shows me more rooms in my heart that need to have the dirt swept out. But, by His grace, it is not the sweeping out that saved me…He saved me. But now that I am saved I will continue to sweep knowing that to refuse would be idolatry. I encourage you and all who read this to examine yourself and see if the reason repentance is a sensitive subject isn’t because of a refusal to let go of a particular sin. Unrepentance is idolatry, and idolatry is the worship of another god. Worshiping idolatrous gods doesn’t sound like the activity of a Christian to me.

      Reply

      • Bob Schoenle Says:

        My response to your response to my remarks are as follows:

        1) I love those who are going to instruct others as to how they should respond to false teachings and false teachers. Who are you to do so with me? Have you ever read Matthew 23? Do you think the Lord Jesus was too harsh in what He said to the scribes and Pharisees? Maybe you think He should have been more meek and mild or shown more love in His address to them. Did He not show love to them with what He said? He is exposing them for what they were. How about the letter written by Jude? Do you think he came on too strong? Did he show the proper amount of love that would satisfy you while speaking out and exposing heresies in the Church? When heresies are the issue there is no time to pussyfoot about them and with those who espouse them. Souls are what are at stake and is the reason why that approach must be taken. Why do you question how I share the gospel of Christ to the lost? Have you ever heard me share the gospel with someone? Do you think of yourself as some kind of judge? I think your response in this instance is considerably off the subject.

        2) Why do you insist on putting words in my mouth? If you re-read what I have written you will see that no where do I say what you are accusing me of. I will say that the word ‘repentance’ is a buzz word for many ‘professing’ Christians. I say that because it is usually not used in its proper context between ’cause’ and ‘effect’ when it comes to ‘salvation.’ You might read the Gospel of John and ask yourself why did John omit that word while stressing the word ‘believe’ 60 times? I would hope you would truly think about that and study further.

        3) My Scofield Study Bible KJV records John 3:36 as, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Did you notice how the key word in this passage is ‘believe?’ Also, we ‘have’ it and it is not something that we have to be fearful of losing. Again we get back to cause [belief] and effect [obedience]. The cause [belief] comes before the effect [obedience]. Why is that so hard for you to grasp?

        4) I say again, you will not find anything I have said that would support what you once again accuse me of. There are sins that have led to the premature death of saints [Christians]. Ananias and Sapphira were the first examples of this happening (Acts 5:1-11). Then again, is your position that they were not saved? I hope not.

        I have no idea why you should be so confused regarding my position on the subject of repentance. I will once again try to make myself clear because it is obvious that I have failed in my previous attempts. ‘Repentance’ [having a change of mind or a change of ways] is always an ‘effect’ that is ’caused’ by believing’ in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ [salvation]. Okay?

      • ChurchSalt Says:

        1) When confronted with the fact that you treat others insultingly and in a demeaning manner, you defend the right to do so and then declare righteous indignation(or attack the one making the charge with poor grammar).

        2) Repentance is biblical despite you having labeled it as a “buzzword” for false believers.

        3) Concerning the passage I mentioned, I encourage you to look at some other translations and (if available) the original text. e-Sword is an excellent program available for free download that will allow you to do this. My explanation is representative of the actual biblical text, and translations struggle with how to handle it for obvious reasons. Research it for yourself.

        4) Further dialogue is pointless. Either you are unable or unwilling to submit to the teachings of Scripture, or I am unable to adequately convey it. Either way, there is no point continuing a time-consuming and fruitless conversation.

        I wish you well,
        – Joe

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