Have you heard the term “carnal Christians” before? Is there such a thing as a carnal Christian? Is this in the Bible?
Saved for Works not by Works
Most Christians are not aware of how serious it is to add works to what Jesus Christ has finished on the cross. It could be the difference between whether or not a person is saved. I am not saying that works are not important because they are evidence that a person has become a new creation in Christ. We are not saved by works but for works and if someone claims to be a Christian and yet has no works then you might question that person’s salvation. They may be lost while still thinking that they are saved! James addressed this question in James 2:14 “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” It is just too easy to say, “Well, I can’t help you but I will pray for you” instead of actually helping someone out. If a person says they have faith and have no works that are produced by this faith, then as James wrote “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
I have heard some tell me that they are a “carnal Christian.” One man I have known for years indicated that he was saved but he watches X and R-rated movies, swears, tells dirty jokes, and never attends church. What worries me is that on the day when he and others like him meet Jesus Christ they might here, “Depart from Me, I never knew you!” I am not perfect. I still sin. But listen to this serious warning from Jesus Christ to those who profess the name of Christ yet have no fruit in Matthew 7:16-23:
“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”
It’s not that Jesus didn’t know them well enough or He didn’t know them very well but He says that He never knew them at all! Jesus said that “by their fruit you will recognize them.” Many people misinterpret what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 where he wrote “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” Some translations have the word “flesh” as being “carnal” and this is because the word used for flesh or carnal is from the Greek word “sarkikos” which means fleshly. The context of chapter 3 is not that the Corinthian church was living a carnal lifestyle but they were divided over who to follow; Paul or Apollos. This had nothing to do with living a sinful life or living as the world did so using this chapter to say its okay to be a carnal Christian is to take the text out of context and make it a false pretext. Paul was addressing sectarianism in the church, not living a sinful life like the world.
Believers should be Bearing Fruit
John chapter 15 should be a wake up call for many who say that they know Christ yet do not bear any fruit. To be able to produce fruit, one has to abide in the vine so if a person never attends church, never reads their Bible, never prays, watches worldly movies, listens to music of the world, uses language like those in the world, and live no differently from those who are not saved, they most certainly are not abiding in the vine and they cannot be saved. A branch cannot produce fruit if it’s not attached to the vine and since Jesus is the vine, the only possible way they can produce fruit is if they’re attached to the vine. This is clear in John 15:1-8:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
As Jesus said, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.” Branches that are not attached to the vine are cut off destined for the burn pile. Branches that remain in the vine, the Vinedresser (God the Father) will prune but only to produce more fruit. There are no lone ranger Christians to be found in the New Testament church. I am not saying that works save anyone but if there are no fruits, no abiding in Christ and no evidence of a changed life then a person may not really be saved at all. I know this may offend some but it is worth offending someone because a person’s eternal destiny is at stake here.
Saved by Grace, Not by Works
The Salvation that God has provided through Jesus Christ is by grace. “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). We can know that we are be saved by faith if we simply believe in Him (Acts 15:11) because eternal life is not received by, or attained by, or kept by a person’s conduct or behavior (works). Jesus didn’t condemn people for their sins. He went to the sinners, not the self-righteous because they believe that they have justified themselves by their works, however God will not accept this. Our religious works profit us absolutely nothing and actually rob God of glory for salvation is fully a work of God because His atonement is sufficient once and for all. Once a person trusts in Christ as Lord and Savior, there isn’t anything else they can do to improve on it. How can you improve on Christ’s perfect and supreme sacrifice? It is all sufficient in His propitiation or satisfaction of the wrath of God. Our works will naturally become better by the new nature in us, but we are not saved by those works because at best, our works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We are not saved by works but we are saved for works.
The Bible knows nothing about carnal Christians. A believer, for a time, can fall away and live in sin but God will always bring them to repentance and they will not stay in a sinful lifestyle. A Christian will fall into sin but they won’t be diving into it continually. If some is saved, they will be living a lifestyle consistent with what Jesus taught and they will naturally produce good works. They are not saved by good works but a person that is saved will produce good works because they are saved. I thank God that holiness is not the way to Jesus…Jesus is the way to holiness.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon