Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Is Carnality?

What does it mean to be carnal? Is it the person engaged in blatant sin? This idea causes most Christians to see it as applying to somebody else. There is, I think, some place for preaching against blatant sin in the hopes that there may be someone who hears it and repents. But a steady diet of nothing but that can end up only reinforcing the majority of the congregation in their complacency, while telling those it applies to things they probably already know. Or we can paint with broad strokes as carnal all those who are not part of our group or do not follow our formula for holiness. This can leave us again with a spirit of complacency. The carnal people are the people who are out there in those other groups.

The word carnal simply means fleshly. The word flesh in Scripture can have many uses and implications. It can be used simply to refer to the physical (John 1:14; Matthew 19:5; Luke 3:6) or things that are of a physical character (Romans 15:27; 9:3; 2 Corinthians 3:3). But it is commonly used to describe that part of our nature that is in rebellion against God (Romans 7:14; 13:14; Galatians 6:7,8).

Now there are cases where the contrast between flesh and spirit is between believers and unbelievers (John 3:6; Ephesians 2:3; Romans 7:5). I am convinced this is the contrast in Romans 8:2-11. In the end of the passage we are told that those who are in the spirit are those in whom the Spirit dwells, who belong to God and will be resurrected. The passage states that believers are those who, as a general practice, set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

But there are clear passages which admonish believers to avoid the carnal aspect of our nature. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 speaks of a growth process, of ceasing to be an infant and growing up in the things of God. (Hebrews 5:11-14 is a parallel passage.) It also gives, as an indication of their carnality, not their blatant sins (though they had some), but their division into factions. In Galatians 5:13-26 we are commanded to walk by the spirit, which again suggests a process, in the midst of a constant struggle between the spirit and the flesh. There is a long list of works of the flesh given, which includes both blatant and subtle sins. I would therefore conclude that we all have a carnal nature that is constantly trying to assert itself. And God is in the process of transforming us, that we may follow Him rather than the carnal aspect of ourselves (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2). So the point of the Scriptural teaching on carnality is not to point fingers at others but to see our own need for being on guard against the sinfulness in our own heart and to trust in God and His power to overcome it.  

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