Carnal Christians?

This Sunday we will hear the apostle Paul address the Corinthian Christians not as spiritual people, but as "people of the flesh" (1 Cor. 3:1).  Lamentably, Paul's words here have been wrongly used by Christian teachers to identify two types of Christians, "spiritual" and "carnal."  These teachers understand spiritual Christians to be true Christians who allow Christ to rule over their lives as Lord, and thus carnal Christians are true Christians who do not allow Christ to rule over their lives as Lord.  From this perspective a carnal Christian believes the gospel and is saved, but does not experience transformation.  For many reasons this way of thinking is terribly misguided.  The Bible simply does not allow for the idea of "carnal," untransformed Christians.

On the contrary, all new Christians receive new hearts (Ez. 11:19), new minds (1 Cor. 2:16), new reasons to live, worship and obey (Rom. 12:1-2), and on the whole they become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17).  In other words, you cannot be saved for eternal life in God's presence without a corresponding love for God and his glorious righteousness.  While no Christian is ever perfect in their love and obedience to God in this life, we must also say that no one is ever a Christian who never loves and obeys God.  To think of two categories of Christians (carnal and spiritual) does violence to the beautiful biblical truths of regeneration and sanctification.

Paul addresses the Corinthians to remind them of the true spiritual reality that they in fact own... and friends, may we be likewise reminded of the same.  We are indeed new creations.  We have God's Spirit.  We have the very mind of Christ.  Therefore, may we live and love accordingly. Below, Augustine speaks this truth profoundly well and his words are worthy of careful reflection.


And now regarding love, which the apostle says is greater than the other two--that is, faith and hope--for the more richly it dwells in a man, the better the man in whom it dwells. For when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves. Now, beyond all doubt, he who loves aright believes and hopes rightly. Likewise, he who does not love believes in vain, even if what he believes is true; he hopes in vain, even if what he hopes for is generally agreed to pertain to true happiness, unless he believes and hopes for this: that he may through prayer obtain the gift of love. For, although it is true that he cannot hope without love, it may be that there is something without which, if he does not love it, he cannot realize the object of his hopes. An example of this would be if a man hopes for life eternal--and who is there who does not love that?--and yet does not love righteousness, without which no one comes to it. (Augustine, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love)