The Carnal Christian
By Winkie Pratney
One hundred years ago revival swept America. Thousands of souls entered the Kingdom of God under the searching sermons of a humble servant of Christ, Charles G. Finney. It has been estimated that over half a million were converted to God as a direct result of his ministry. and that by a conservative estimate over 80% remained true to Christ to the day of their death without backsliding or falling by the wayside.
The years have passed, and century 21 is almost born. Yet no voice has been raised strong enough to stir the church and shake the world. A wave of watery Churchianity, militant proselytism and unintelligent "evangelicalism" threatens to be the only apparent forms of "conversion" confronting a reality-hungry generation. The church world is fast drifting into an "easy-believism" salvation that Christ would not recognize. Men who profess salvation must meet anew God's own conditions of true conversion.
"Christian" is almost a meaningless word to the mass of people today. The reason for this sermon is that so many people believe that they are Christians when in fact they are not. This message has been simplified, condensed and supplemented somewhat from other sections of Finney's lectures and sermons, and thoroughly documented with Scripture. A certain amount of paraphrase was utilized to adapt them to todays' vocabulary.
May the Spirit of truth challenge your heart as you read! You may appreciate the solemn injunction of the apostle Paul' - "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith... prove your own selves." (2 Cor. 13:5) Each section is set forth in love, so you can examine your own spiritual standing in the light of God' s Word. Many examine themselves by comparing their beliefs with others, or by trying to live up to what is set forth by some man or group. If we profess to truly follow the Lord Jesus, we will heed His words about Scripture; - "To the law and the testimony; if they speak not according to this word. it is because there is no light in them" (Is.8:20). "Search the Scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me". (John 5:39) - for there is a way that seems right to a man but the end of it is the way of death." (Prov. 14: 12)
This message may shock you and shake you. It was made to! But do not be angry or afraid to read on. It is YOUR LIFE and eternal destiny that is being settled by acceptance or rejection of the word of God. Only the dishonest fear the truth. If your faith is real, it will stand this searching examination; if it is false. God knows it and you shall know it to do something about it before you go out into eternity. May you feel the same yearning love and compassion that moved these messages some hundred years ago, and may you have the courage and faith to do whatever you must before the God Who searches every heart.
Much is said today about the "carnal Christian". Such a one, we are told, has made Jesus "Savior" but not Lord. It appears by this that a man can be saved, but not surrendered to Christ; following Him, but still serving self. And it is easy to see why this idea has arisen. Preachers and personal workers are at loss to otherwise explain the strange contradiction of a self-pleasing, self-centered person who still claims the name "Christian" without bearing any resemblance to this Savior they profess to love. Yet ask them - "Do you believe in Christ? Have you accepted Him as your personal Savior?" "Oh, yes" is the invariable answer. If these are all the basics, they are apparently in order, so another source of counsel must be sought other than conversion.
Out of a morass of uncertain Christianity, men have looked for a way to distinguish between an "effective" Christian who lives like his Lord, and the "believer" who seems no different from his pagan neighbor. The distinction has been made between making Christ Savior and believing Him for salvation and making Him Lord that He might use this person for service. This "carnal Christian" becomes a middle stage of person; he may partly serve God and at the same time partly serve himself. His ticket to heaven is guaranteed; his discipleship is optional. All this, we trust, can be substantiated by Holy Scripture. Or can it?
Just what does GOD have to say about the "carnal man" ? Before examining this question, you should understand that God looks at the heart of man. Whatever you are on the outside God looks at your heart. He knows the real reason why you live the way you do. Because of the simple fact that almost every Christian duty and feeling can be imitated or duplicated by the unsaved man, we will concentrate on GOD's analysis of conversion and GOD's verdict on this issue. It will do no good to ask "What are men doing today that call themselves Christians?" and make these findings the criterion of true faith. Our guide must be the Bible, for on the evidence of this Holy Book rests the final truth of each matter of faith.
Just how much like a Christian can a sinner be? The Bible answers - exceedingly so. It tells us that an unsaved men can be strictly moral in his outward life (Matt. 23:8) outwardly very prayerful (Mk. 12:40) very zealous in religion (Matt. 23:15) and very conscientious in doing what is expected of him (Matt. 23:23). None of these things are necessarily the sign of a true child of God. An unsaved man may be very much like a Christian in desires; to be of some use to others, to make converts and give money for the work of religion. (I Cor.13:3; Matt. 23:15; Lk.18:12) But desires are not the measure of true faith. The sinner may hate the same things a Christian hates but for a totally different reason, and that difference brings him a totally different destiny. It is the HEART, or the supreme ultimate choice each man lives for that determines in God's sight whether they are true Christians or not. If the heart is wrong, everything else is wrong, no matter what is done outwardly. Either your heart is set on serving Christ supremely or it is set on supremely serving yourself. You are loving or you are selfish. You are living intelligently or unintelligently. You belong to God or you do not. (Matt.6:22-24; 7:17-20; 12:33-35; Jn.3:19-21; Ro.6: 16-18; 2 Cor.5:17; Tit.1:15; Jas.3:10-Il)
It's Hard To Tell The PHONY (sometimes)
The sinner may want to GLORIFY GOD, and still be unsaved! The true saint does this because he LOVES Him, and wants to see Him glorified; the counterfeit, because he knows this is the way to be saved, and desires it as a MEANS to HIS great end, his own benefit. The counterfeit may want to REPENT, with the saint, because he is afraid if he does not he will be lost; the Christian repents because he hates sin in itself, because it dishonors God. They may both BELIEVE IN CHRIST; the true saint because he loves Him: the other, that he might have a hope of Heaven. They may both feel like obeying God; the Christian, that he might be more like his Lord; the counterfeit because he wants the rewards of obedience. Desires are the same; the heart is in each case totally different. One is saved; the other is not.
They may also agree in actual AFFECTIONS and RESOLUTIONS towards certain things. A counterfeit may even "love" (as far as feelings are concerned) such things as the Bible, prayer and witness, even "love" Christ and the Father - YET STILL BE UNSAVED! FEELINGS are not the true test of faith. God sees the heart, and the essential difference is this; the true saint loves God with the unselfish love of trust and obedience. because he sees His character to be supremely excellent and lovely and he loves Him for His own sake; the counterfeit "loves" God with a feeling of "buddy-buddy" affection, because ha thinks God is his particular friend that is going to make him happy forever, and why shouldn't he love Him?(Matt.5:46) The Christian loves Christ because he has responded to His love provision for us to return to God (I Jn.4:19); the phony because he thinks God is going to save him from Hell and give him eternal life among other things, and ha connects the friendship of Christ with his own selfish interests. The saint loves Him for what He IS; the counterfeit, for what He GIVES. One seeks the Giver; the other, His gifts only. One gives himself to God, to do whatever he asks; the other comes to get whatever he can for himself, his own happiness and his own selfish purpose in life. (John 6:26-29; John 2:24)
Both true and false may feel badly about the low state of religion or church; both hate infidelity, injustice and prejudice. The true saint, because it is opposed to God, to holy living and to his Kings' Kingdom; the counterfeit. because it injures an interest in which he is concerned (for himself, of course) and if allowed to spread, will injure his hopes for happiness, oppose the religion he has chosen and run contrary to his own views and opinions. (Matt.5:20) A man can even "hate" SIN and yet not forsake it, being no more a Christian than the devil. now often an addict hates drugs because they have ruined him, but not for sins' sake; he hates their bad effects, but loves the sin itself. Both may attend religious meetings,.pray in secret, be self-denying and even be willing to suffer martyrdom for their faith. Yet, even in these, the basic motive of each may be utterly opposed. One has truly changed his direction and supreme purpose of life from living for self to God. His life is moved and marked by LOVE; he unselfishly CHOOSES the highest good of God and the universe to the best of his knowledge. The other has merely changed his MEANS of serving himself, from the secular to the religious. His life is marked and motivated by SELFISHNESS - he wants his own happiness above the interests of everyone in the universe, including God.
Now. if the Bible be our guide, it is clear that a man cannot truly be called a Christian when he is supremely selfish. And if the "selfish" Christian cannot be found in the Bible, as far as God is concerned. there no such thing. Yet it is said that the Bible teaches this, and such a person may be called a "carnal Christian". Let us first examine the BIBLE signs of the carnal man, to see whether or not we may call him at least a partial Christian:
The word "carnal" comes from the Greek root "sarx" (flesh) giving, "sarkikos" meaning "fleshly". Each time the word "flesh" or "fleshly" is used in the Bible, where in context, it is describing a moral action, it can be replaced by the word "carnal". The two words are the same in Greek; they only differ in some English translations. Let us first of all list the signs of tbs carnal man as opposed to the spiritual man in Romans chapter 8 -
Condemned (Rom. 8.3)
No condemnation (Rom.8:1)
Walks after the FLESH
Walks NOT after flesh (Rom.8:4)
Under law of sin and death
Free from law of sin and death (8:2)
Minds things of FLESH
Minds things of Spirit
CARNALLY minded is DEATH
Spiritually minded is LIFE, PEACE (8:6)
Enmity (enemy) against God
Friend of God (8:7) cf. Jn.14:15-21,14.
Not subject to God's law
A subject of God's law (Rom.13:8-14)
Cannot be subject to law
God's law the rule of his life
(cf. Matt. 7:13-27; 1 Jn.2:3-7)
Cannot please God (Rom. 8:8)
Pleases God (Jn.14:21; 16:27)
In the FLESH (Rom. 8:9)
NOT in the flesh (not carnal) (Rom.8:1)
OUT OF CHRIST
IN CHRIST, if Spirit indwells (Rom.8:9)
NONE OF HIS (Rom.8:9)
A child of God (Rom.8:16)
Shall Die (spiritual death)8:13
Shall LIVE (Gal.3:2-3;5:24)
These are hardly encouraging Scriptures for the "carnal Christian" philosophy. However, Paul lists another set of signs characterizing the carnal man in Galatians 5:16-26 -
The "WORKS OF THE FLESH"
actions of the CARNAL MAN
..AND SUCH LIKE
..."of the which I told you before, as I have also told you in the past that THEY WHICH DO SUCH THINGS shall NOT INHERIT the Kingdom of God." (v.21)
" NOTE especially these starred characteristics for later reference.
Another list of the characteristics of carnal people is given in 2 Peter 2:9-22. We are told that they are UNGODLY and are reserved for judgement. (2:9) Those signaled out for the worst judgement are those who have KNOWN the Gospel and still live selfishly and carnally. They "WALK AFTER THE FLESH" in the lust of uncleanness and despise government -(rule or authority - immediately, of a society. but ultimately of God; refusing His Lordship) 2:10.
They are self-willed and self-loving (Amp.2:10) showing most of the signs of the people in Galatians 5:16-26------ fornication (2:14) uncleanness (2:10) lasciviousness (2:2); emulations (2:18) sedition (2:10) heresies (2:1) drunkenness and ravelings (2:13) These men are CURSED (2: 14) forsaken the right way, gone astray (2: 15) slaves of sin (19) - "to whom the MIST OF DARKNESS IS RESERVED FOREVER" This does not sound like heaven!
It should be reasonably evident now, that a man who claims to be a "carnal Christian" does not have a very promising future, because his life is identical with the UNSAVED MAN. He is a slave to the flesh, a servant of his own desires and as such a rebel against the good rule of God, righteousness and holiness.
But it is asked - "Didn't Paul address the Corinthian Christians as "carnal" in I Cor.):l?" Since this is the ONLY passage where the word "carnal" is used that at a superficial reading might give the impression of a "selfish Christian"- NOTWITHSTANDING the above Scriptures listed BY PAUL HIMSELF against this very idea, let us examine it in detail. If the "carnal" Christian philosophy is not taught here, it is not taught anywhere in the Bible. And if it s taught here, this passage is in direct contradiction to those already studied.
NOTE. In introduction: (a) Pauls' audience will, of course, include the unsaved (cf. his letter to the Romans 1:7-8 and 2: 1-24; also to the Galatians (cf. Gal.1:1-5 and 3:1-5); (b) He specifically states the criterion of those he addresses AS SAINTS - those SANCTIFIED IN CHRIST (set apart in Him - not following sin, living like Crist as 1 Jn.4:17)...1 Cr: 1:2.
SETTING ANALYSIS: 1 Cor. 2:9-16
(A) Paul came under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit, not his own powers. The PURPOSE of visit(and letter) is to combat faction, division and false teaching not of the Holy Spirit. This implies (a) That he has God's authority to tell them something from Him; (b) They may not like what he has to say; (c) No matter whether they do or not, they had better be prepared to act on his words!
(B) He amplifies his purpose (showing more of Christ's glories for those that LOVE Him - I Cor.2:6-10) then says that the Spirit shows men God's right and goodness. Accordingly,(a) Spiritual men are taught of God what is wrong in situations (vs 11-15) (b) They do not live in sin (v 15; cf .l Jn. 1:5-7; 3:4-8) (c) God knows and shows what is right to spiritual men, who have His mind. (v 16) HOWEVER....
This sets the atmosphere for a searching, but loving rebuke. Paul has heard of some very suspicious activities still going on in this Corinth church. Sin could only occur if (a) Some Corinthian Christians still thought some sins might be allowable or even justifiable through either lack of light or false teaching. (b) Some sinners in the church were still successfully posing as true Christians.
From this, Paul says - "I. brothers, could not speak to you as spiritual (men) but as CARNAL (natural, fleshly. unsaved men) as babies in Christ (or - as uninstructed people in the Word of God as to what a Christian should be like). He explains further by saying the first time ha spoke to than, they had so little light they hardly seemed like Christians, so he had to give than 'milk" (simple, basic facts of true faith for conversion). BUT - now some have still not changed:! A "baby" Christian is not partially selfish and "growing" from partial repentance and commitment to complete repentance. All true men of God have forsaken all KNOWN sin, and are not knowingly living in sin. A Christian "grows" by responding to moral light given and disciplining new areas as God reveals.
If they were babies, they should have learned last time. There was only one other explanation for such sin problems continuing under the light of truth he had given them -
"For you are yet (still must be UNSAVED) CARNAL; for
whereas there is among you
ENVYINGS - (zelos - cf. Rom. 13:13; Jas. 3:14,16; 1 Cor.13:4 but especially Gal.5:21)
STRIFE - (eris - cf. Rom. 13:13; 2 Cor.12:20 but especially Gal.5:20 as above)
DIVISIONS - (dichostasia - "a two-fold upstanding" - used only twice elsewhere in Scripture; Ran.16:17 as "faction" and Gal.5:20 as SEDITION )
..."are you not CARNAL, and walk as men?" or "Are you not worldly-minded and behave like the unconverted? (Berk.) ( I Cor.3:3)
NOTICE CAREFULLY: Paul makes no case for a selfish Christian at all. There is no OPTION here to forsake all sin; it is an absolute NECESSITY. No honest Bible scholar could at all justify the salvation of a men who still lives in sin. If he does not know what he is doing IS wrong, it is NOT sin (Ran.7:7-9; James. 4:17; Lk. 23:34; 12:47-48; 11:47-51; Jn. 9:41; 15:22,24) If he sins ignorantly, he is a baby; if he sins knowingly, he is a phony.
"Christian" implies being a "little-Christ" or "Christ-like" ( 1 Jn.2:6;4:17; 3:7,3) What kind of blasphemous combination is a "CARNAL CHRIST-LIKE" You might as well talk about Godly sinners"or "heavenly devils". God sees sinners; He sees saints. He does not see "sinful saints" or "saintly sinners:' What fellowship has light with darkness? We are either good or bad, selfish or loving. No definition of a Christian that allows fellowship with the sin that cost God His Son and Christ His life comes from the Holy Spirit of God. The "carnal Christian" philosophy is all right its place; that place is Hell. If you are living In known sin, it is time you quit it for good. If you live a carnal life, you are not a Christian and have no right to call yourself one,"carnal" or otherwise.
Neither does the following passage ( 1 Cor.3:5-15) refer to a "selfish" Christian Who has not served God on earth, makes heaven. but loses his "rewards" in the fire. Paul is not talking about SALVATION, but MINISTRIES; this passage is a terrible warning to a man who tries to build a ministry on his own basic salvation (through Christ the Foundation-Stone) but presents a sub-standard message. He preaches to others a salvation God cannot justify or endorse. Through carelessness or spiritual blindness, tradition or man-centered activism, he fails to faithfully present GOD'S conditions for new birth. He himself is saved - but all his work and ministry of sub-standard quality and presentation is Burned.. (1 Cor.3:15)
Ministers, personal- workers, teachers - will you be in that awful number? And you who claim you are a "carnal Christian" - will you be lost in that terrifying fire? May God bring you to your knees. men end women of the Gospel, that you may re-examine your life or ministry is in the strong, clear light of the Holy Scriptures. If you have justified sin - will you now finish with It FOREVER? Will you cry out to God to strip away the filthy rags of your own self-righteousness, and come naked and humbled to the foot of the cross? Will you do it?
No MAN can serve TWO MASTERS; for either he will love the one and hate the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other..." "CHOOSE YE THIS DAY whom you will serve!"