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What Is a Carnal Christian?

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Have you ever heard of a “carnal Christian”? Do you know what that is?

Generally speaking, to be carnal means to be dominated by the flesh.

All unbelievers are carnal because they do not have the Holy Spirit within them. You need the Spirit to be spiritual.

But having the Holy Spirit within does not guarantee that the flesh will not dominate you. As Evan H. Hopkins (1837–1918), an early Keswick theologian explained:

“A carnal man maybe be one who has been born of the Spirit but is not sufficiently actuated by His enlightening and sanctifying power to overcome the hostile power of the flesh; he still thinks, feels, judges, acts, ‘according to the flesh’” (Hopkins, The Law of Liberty, p. 47).

Being born again and indwelled by the Spirit creates a conflict between flesh and Spirit, and it remains possible to make fleshly concerns your priority and choose to ignore the things of the Spirit. But as Evans goes on to explain, there are two very different reasons why a Christian may live that way:

“The condition described by ‘carnal’ may be either the immature stage of the young convert or a state of relapse into which the more advanced believer has fallen” (Hopkins, The Law of Liberty, p. 47).

In other words, carnality may be due to immaturity or backsliding, which have different levels of culpability:

“To the first no blame can be attached, for all must pass through this stage in their progress from the natural to the spiritual. But to the second condemnation belongs, as we see from the way in which the apostle writes to the Corinthian believers: ‘I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 3:1)” (Hopkins, The Law of Liberty, p. 47).

If you are carnal due to immaturity, it takes time to grow. Meditate on God’s Word, listen to faith-building preaching, occupy your mind with Christ, and walk by faith moment by moment; then, you will mature from carnal to spiritual.

But if your carnality is due to conscious rebellion, you are culpable for your state and must repent and live according to the Spirit again.

Babies are cute for a time, but not forever.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


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