The Defeated Carnal Christian 1
This week, we are beginning what should be a week-long study of the defeated, carnal Christian. I have been reading through Dr. John R. Rice’s Book, “Seven Secrets of a Happy, Prosperous Christian Life” and came across a topic for this week’s blog articles. Over the course of this week, I will give some excerpts from the book and will blend in my own study as well. Here is a short excerpt from Chapter 1:
“The Word of God recognizes that there are these two kinds of Christians–the victorious and the defeated, the happy and the sad, the prosperous and the unprosperous, the soul winners and the unfruitful. In writing to the church at Corinth the Apostle Paul was inspired to say:
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
(1 Corinthians 3:1-4)
You see, it was a sad fact that many of these new converts at Corinth were still only babes in Christ, though they had been saved some time before. There were still weak and were not able to eat the strong meat of the Word of God but had to be fed upon milk. They were ‘carnal’ and not ‘spiritual’. ”
That’s exactly right: the Christians at Corinth were not spiritual, they were carnal. Let’s take a look at verse one again:
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
(1 Corinthians 3:1)
The Apostle Paul starts off with “and I, brethren…” So, right off the bat we know he is talking to Christians. Then he says: “could not speak unto you as unto spiritual…”
What does he mean? Let’s take a look at the definition of spiritual really quickly:
1. Consisting of spirit; not material; incorporeal; as a spiritual substance or being. The soul of man is spiritual.
2. Mental; intellectual; as spiritual armor.
3. Not gross; refined from external things; not sensual; relative to mind only; as a spiritual and refined religion.
4. Not lay or temporal; relating to sacred things; ecclesiastical; as the spiritual functions of the clergy; the lords spiritual and temporal; a spiritual corporation.
5. Pertaining to spirit or to the affections; pure; holy.
Gods law is spiritual; it is a transcript of the divine nature, and extends its authority to the acts of the soul of man.
6. Pertaining to the renewed nature of man; as spiritual life.
7. Not fleshly; not material; as spiritual sacrifices. 1 Pet 2.
8. Pertaining to divine things; as spiritual songs. Eph 5.
Now let’s take a look at the Strong’s really quickly to see which definition is most appropriate here.
4152. πνευματικός pneumatikos; from 4151; non-carnal, i.e. (humanly) ethereal (as opposed to gross), or (daemoniacally) a spirit (concretely), or (divinely) supernatural, regenerate, religious: — spiritual. Compare 5591.
Based on the Greek word used here, we can see that the third and fourth definitions fit best in this context. So, basically Paul is saying that he could not speak to the Christians at Corinth as to those who were separated from gross and sensual things; he had to talk to them almost as if they were lost or had just gotten saved. Wow! Those are some powerful words. Without even reading the remainder of the verse, it is extremely clear why the Christians at Corinth were defeated: they were not living separated lives! We cannot expect to live victoriously if we are not pure and if we are not “refined from external (worldly) things”. We must live separated lives. “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” –Romans 8:8
As a result of the Christians at Corinth not living separated lives, Dr. Rice says in his book that “they were only baby Christians They could not have the regular strong food that Christians ought to be able to enjoy.” This is evidenced in the second half of 1 Corinthians 3:1
“…but as unto carnal,” What does it mean to be carnal?
1. Pertaining to flesh; fleshly; sensual; opposed to spiritual; as carnal pleasure.
2. Being in the natural state; unregenerate.
The carnal mind is enmity against God. Rom 8.
3. Pertaining to the ceremonial law; as carnal ordinances. Heb 9:10.
4. Lecherous; lustful; libidinous; given to sensual indulgence.
Carnal-knowledge, sexual intercourse.
Once again, let’s take a look at the Strong’s to see which definition fits the context.
4559. σαρκικός sarkikos; from 4561; pertaining to flesh, i.e. (by extension) bodily, temporal, or (by implication) animal, unregenerate: — carnal, fleshly.
Definition 1 and to some extent definition 2 fit most in this context and based on the Greek word used here for carnal. Basically, Paul is saying that he is talking to people who are living (pertaining) to the flesh, to those who are concerned with worldly and temporal things. Obviously, based on context, unregenerate (unsaved) does not apply because he is talking to Christians. Once again, Paul is essentially saying that the Christians at Corinth are living like new converts, like babes in Christ, those who are minding worldly things, acting like the world, and are living subject to the filthy desires of the flesh. The Christians at Corinth were still living in obedience to the natural man. Let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 2:14:
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
(1 Corinthians 2:14)
Based on this verse, because the Christians at Corinth were living in obedience to their natural man, they could not understand the meatier truths of God’s Word because they did not have the proper spiritual discernment that comes from daily Bible reading, prayer, and daily sanctification. Because of their lack of spiritual discernment, as Dr. Rice says in his book, “They had divisions and strifes. They were envious. They had a tendency to follow human leaders without having the spiritual wisdom to follow Christ, through Christ’s men. And elsewhere in this epistle we find that many of these Christians lived defeated lives.”
That is exactly correct. Lack of spiritual discernment is a direct road to relying solely upon man’s word instead of God’s Word. Without spiritual discernment, a Christian can be easily deceived into heretical teachings, which explains why the Corinthian church was confused about tongues and the Lord’s Supper as evidenced later in the epistle.
We also see that the carnal Christians at Corinth were still babes in Christ because they savored not the things of God. Let’s take a look at Matthew 16:23:
But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
It is absolutely impossible for a Christian to have spiritual discernment and live a separated/victorious life if they do not savour the things of God (i.e. his Holy Word). This is why the Berean Christians loved God so much more than the Thessalonians: it is becaused they searched the Scriptures, because they were eager to savour the truths of God and His Word.
Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
May you be encouraged, Christian, to live like the Berean Christians and savour the things of God that you may have the spiritual discernment and live the separated and victorious life that God wants you to have through Christ.
Next Time: 1 Cor. 3:2