Are There Carnal Christians? What Are Carnal Christians?

Does the Bible say that Christians can be carnal? If so, what does that mean?


The word “carnal” comes from the Greek word “sarkikos” which means “fleshly” or “carnal” and means “having the nature of flesh” or “being under control of the animal appetites.” You can picture a dog snarling while eating his meal. The dog only cares for himself and those who try to get in his way while he’s eating had better watch out! The ESV and NASB use the correct translation of the word “carnal” into what it actually is, “flesh.” That’s what the Greek word means and that’s the context in which the Apostle Paul wrote about it in 1st Corinthians chapter 3. He writes in the context of the way we used to live, in the flesh, and for the most part, living only for ourselves. We were more like that dog growling at mealtime than the owner who provided the meal. That’s what being carnal or fleshly is all about. It’s almost like the narcissist; it is all about the self, personal preferences, aspirations, and needs. Living in the flesh can put blinders on us, which means, we only see our own needs and not the needs of others. Apparently, that’s what the Corinthian’s were like; at least in the beginning.

Acting Carnal

The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, “I could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (NKJV) (1st Cor 3:1), so there seems to be a problem with pride and spiritual immaturity in this church. Paul sees them being in the flesh (as the ESV and NASB correctly state) or being carnal, as still being like babies who are yet feeding on milk, and just like babies, the whole world revolves around them, or at least, so they think. Since they are acting childish, he tells them that they only care about themselves. Paul chastises them by writing, “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” (1st Cor 3:2-3)? Why were they acting like “babes?” It was because they were fighting over who was the greatest teacher or preacher. They began to boast and argue over who was the best. They were saying, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” [so Paul says] “are you not being merely human” (1st Cor 3:4)? He wanted them to understand that “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1st Cor 3:7). It wasn’t Paul, or Apollos that they should have been following. It should have been Christ. Besides, it is God alone Who gives the increase, so we can’t brag about anything (1st Cor 4:7).

Anyone-who-does-not (1)

Are There Carnal Christians?

There are Christians who live in a carnal way, no doubt. I am living proof of that. I still fall infinitely short of God’s glory, just like we all do (Rom 3:23), but there is a change when a person has been born again. They are a new creation in Christ (2nd Cor 5:17), and they stop living in continual patterns of sin. Yes, we all still sin (1st John 1:8, 10), but we can all be cleansed (1st John 1:9), however this doesn’t’ mean we can live in sin and still claim to be a Christian, or as I heard from one of my friends, “I’m a carnal Christian.” I think he doesn’t really understand what Paul was writing about. In fact, that phrase doesn’t even appear in Scripture. The Scriptures that do talk about people living in sin are not about Christians but about those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1st Cor 6:9; Gal 5:21). The Apostle John warns those who think we can live in sin and still claim to be a believer; “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1st John 3:9-10), so people might claim they’re a carnal (fleshly) Christian, but “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” (1st John 1:6), regardless of what they claim to be.

Minds Set on the Flesh

The best diagnostic tool or single chapter that I know of in the Bible about someone claiming to be a Christian but not living like one is 1st John chapter 3, but elsewhere Paul says, “the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom 8:6). That’s “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:7-8). That’s not my counsel. That’s the Word of God. Astonishingly, many will think they are saved on the day of Jesus’ visitation, and “many” will even say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord” (Matt 7:21), but these same many are those that Jesus tells to depart from Him because He never even knew them (Matt 7:23). It’s irreconcilable to claim to be a believer and yet live in sin. I’m not saying Christians don’t sin. Of course they do, but they don’t stay in the Prodigal’s pigpen. They get up and out of that pigpen and repent of their sins. They don’t stay there, even though they go there on occasion, so Christians fall into sin, but the difference is, they don’t jump into sin and swim around in it.


It’s good to get this settled this side of the veil. If we are not sure about our salvation, we can look to Scripture to discern the thoughts, intents, and motives of our human heart (Heb 4:12). Everything is laid bare before God anyway (Heb 4:13). The Apostle John said we can know that we are the children of God because the children of God should act like the Son of God, but if they don’t, they can claim no assurance of their salvation, and that’s not a great feeling to have when you pillow your head at night. If you are “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal 3:26), but “The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1st John 2:4). There are believers and make-believers. It’s time to know which one you are, before it’s too late (2nd Cor 6:2; Heb 9:27).

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also Host of Spiritual Fitness and 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 Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

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  • There is no such a person called a “carnal Christian.” Someone is either a Biblical Christian or they are not.

    Biblical Christianity versus cultural Christianity – Chart
    “Biblical Christianity means being joined to Jesus Christ through faith in what He did for us at the cross, then allowing Him to live His life through us, so that others might know Him and see His love. (That love may include sharing His warnings as well as His promises with those in need.) The established Church, like Old Testament Israel, has always tended to drift away from its devotion to God and become just other institutions, subject to the same human impulses and painful consequences as the rest of the world.”

    See the difference between Nicodemus in John 3 and the woman at the Well of Jacob in John 4.
    John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born 1of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
    John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
    Cross references
    1 Corinthians 15:50
    John 6:63
    Calling oneself a Christian yet they are not lead by the Holy Spirit are taking Jesus Iesous Y’shua Christos Christ’s Name in vain.
    Matthew 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

    There is no compromise. Yes, there is absolute Truth of I AM that I AM. No shades of gray. Either we are for Christ or we are against Him.
    Better to use as the First Century Bride Church term “followers of The Way.”

    • pud

      “Faith” is the most dishonest position anyone can hold.

  • pud

    OH NO!! Before it’s too late!! The celestial wife beater…better make good meatloaf or else!

    Dan Barker exposes your myth….Any proposition can be known with 100% certainty to be false if there is a contradiction. This is a rule of logic…falsification…a bedrock of rational thought….Mr. Barker gives you dozens! Your invisible “god” does not exist!

    Of special interest to you jack…Barker was a preacher who finally found reason.

    • Douglas Beachler

      If Dan’s arguments are convincing, how much more are Satans? If Darwinism is to be believed, the question should be not which came first, the chicken or the egg, but rather which came first, the 2 chickens or the 2 eggs? A true atheist would not waste their time trying to convince others of the absence of God unless there was money involved. In fairness though, I must point out to Kyle, that we still live in the age of miracles, each sunrise, each birth, the sprouting of every seed. Until the god of science can accomplish that, I’ll continue to embrace the God I know that created me.

      • pud

        Are you serious? What lunatic psychotic mind actually “believes” in satan? How do you people even function in the real world?

        There is no such thing as “darwinism”

        You KNOW absolutely nothing of the sort. You make it all up in your infantile brain and simply “believe” because you’re either too lazy or too stupid to pursue actual understanding.

        A sunrise is no more a “miracle” than the ebola virus.

        Science is a methodology not a philosophy, religion or “ism”

        Grow up

        • Jason Wall

          “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” – Charles Baudelaire and Keyser Söze.

          • pud

            Oh, how convenient! You can of course demonstrate the existence of this other invisible agent right? Waiting…

            You lunatics are truly the most easily deceived, conned and fooled primates that ever existed….you’ll swallow anything without even an effort at critical thought. Pitiful

  • pud

    More Dan Barker pointing out the obvious contradictions in your story book proving that it nothing but a story believed by credulous foolish simpletons….

  • Sad, sad, sad— more confusion for Christendom because of failure to “rightly divide” as instructed by our Apostle Paul.
    Those who agree with the article please answer: How does one know how much sin decides if they are: (1) a saved but carnal believer or (2) an unsaved carnal lost person? Paul always wrote to the churches of people he regarded as saved, as he did to those Corinthians. The epistle makes no sense whatever if he wrote to carnal unsaved as the article seems to say. As to this article: It is a non sequitur to write that believers will sin and then also write that a believer that sins is not saved. C’mon!

    • If we read Paul he goes over several names of people who thought they were saved but were apostate instead. We need to realize that there are indeed conditions on salvation. Rightly dividing The Word you are indeed correct.
      How many people do you know and can discern they are not “born again” as they claim? Their fruit is rotten. Of course the real Judge that matters is the one who can destroy souls because he created all souls. The Alpha and Omega.
      Paul wrote to the believers and told them to expel some people from their presence. There are warnings within the Epistles.

      The usual applies though. We can do NOTHING to earn salvation. Only the blood of Jesus Iesous Y’shua can cleanse us. Only the Loving Savior can grant us through His grace and mercy alone salvation.
      Jesus is clear with his IF and THEN conditions the Way He wants us to go. He warns there will be a smaller remnant than those who are not true followers. Remember the depart from me I never knew yous. Many a megachurch apostate wolf in sheep’s clothing will not entering on the right side.
      This is not me speaking. Read The Word carefully.

      • I have edited my post to try to make it more clear. I don’t think you addressed my point.

  • The message in his article is at odds with itself and this is because of the futile attempt to merge scripture from one administration [the prophetic scripture that involves Israel] with that of another administration [the mystery truth only revealed to Apostle of the Gentiles Paul.] This article really is implying that that the Corinthians were unsaved while the epistle clearly tells us they had been saved by believing Paul’s preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection in 15:1-4. The message of chapter 15 is that if any of those Corinthians hadn’t believed Christ resurrected, they hadn’t believed his gospel,and therefore were not saved.