And I, brethren, could not speak to you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto little ones in Christ.
I gave you milk to drink, not meat; for you were not able as yet. But neither indeed are you now able; for you are yet carnal.
For, whereas there is among you envying and contention, are you not carnal, and walk according to man?
- 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)
“The natural man, or unbeliever, knows nothing about carnality. The desires of the flesh warring against the Spirit, and the Spirit warring against the flesh, which began at rebirth, are what produce carnality and the awareness of it. But Paul said, ‘Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh’ (Galatians 5:16). In other words, carnality will disappear.”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
In A. W. Tozer’s The Crucified Life, he identifies three types of people: the natural man, the spiritual man, and the carnal man. These same concepts can be found in tracts from Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), with one tract to use for those who have never accepted Jesus and another for those who have accepted Jesus but are not living a Spiritual life.
I used the Douay-Rheims Bible for this Scripture reference, because it is in plain, fairly modern English, and it uses the word ‘carnal.’ Many modern translations use the word ‘worldly.’ A few use the words ‘of the flesh,’ ‘merely human standards,’ or ‘like people who are not Christians.” But the New Living Translation uses ‘like baby Christians.’ That term may point us to the problems here.
The idea being that a natural man is not bothered by the spiritual struggles that Christians face. He has no understanding of the Spiritual. But once you accept Jesus as your Savior, the struggle begins. You then understand what areas of your life need cleaning up and it can be difficult making these changes. Often, a young Christian, especially one without a good support group, can throw up their hands and think that they have done enough growth. This places them in the carnal man category.
Note that in C. S. Lewis’ classic tale, The Screwtape Letters, the ‘patient’ becomes a Christian early on in the book. Most of the temptations by Wormwood, under the guidance of Screwtape, are after becoming a Christian.
Why is this important, and why does Satan work on what might be considered a hopeless cause? After all, they may not grow in the faith, but they get into heaven, right?
It is not that Satan does not work hard to keep you from hearing God knocking at the door of your heart in the first place. He does, but if Satan can stop your growth as a Christian, you become a pathetic example of Christianity. Friedrich Nietzsche, commenting on some Christian friends, wrote, “I would believe in their salvation if they looked a little more like people who had been saved.”
Satan’s only thought, once someone is saved, is to make that person ineffective. If the Christians of today became ineffective en masse, Christianity, in Satan’s view, would die on the vine. There would be no one to carry out the Great Commission. Their struggle, on a daily basis, to keep their head above water would be such a monumental task that their entire focus would be inward.
I have been talking about the individual, but churches can become carnal as well. Some churches have tremendous outreach programs and never consider the spiritual health of the people in the church. They seem surprised when some people leave and hardly notice when other people leave.
Then there are those churches that recognize the need for spiritual growth. They close in their walls and huddle around the slowly dying flame, hoping for a miracle. These churches often become so carnal that they die, and the building becomes an apartment building or a hall for catered parties or the building is simply torn down. As for the people, many never look for another church. The last one did them no good.
We may all be able to look back and see a time when our Christian growth was lacking. We may not totally slip in carnality, but we do not grow either, at times.
It may seem like a broken record, but to avoid carnality, we must confess and repent of our sins, study the Bible, pray, and find a group of strong believers that can mutually support each other in Christian growth. And listen, listen to the Voice of God. And also, do not be afraid of the direction in which God is leading.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.