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Carnal Christianity

QUESTION: What verses speak of carnal Christianity?


The word “carnal” is translated from the Greek words sarkikos and sarkinkos, which means consisting of flesh. These words are from sarx, which literally mean “fleshly.”1 To find Scripture verses on “carnal Christianity” you must also look for the word flesh, sinful nature, worldly, and then research to determine if it is from the Greek root sarx.

Carnal Christianity – Learning from the Biblical Instances of Carnality
  • “And they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally’” (Genesis 19:5). The men of the city are asking for the two angels who came to Lot in Genesis 19:1. This request was to ask to know them in the lusts of the flesh, rather than in the blessings of sexual union as God provided for a man and woman married under God’s divine plan (1 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:31). Note that the NIV says “we can have sex with them” and the NASB says, “may have relations with them.” In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.

  • “If a man sleeps with a woman who is a slave girl promised to another man…” (Leviticus 19:20). This is also translated “lies carnally” in NKJV and NASB. “Sleeps” here means according to the lust of the flesh.

  • “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). “Worldly” is translated “men of flesh walking like mere men (without the power and counsel of God working in their lives)” in the NASB. The NKJ translates worldly as “carnal, as to babes in Christ.”

  • “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). In using the phrase “contaminates body and spirit,” Paul is asking the Corinthians to grow and not to live as carnal Christians. He asked that they purify/cleanse themselves from all defilement and things that contaminate flesh and spirit and therefore stunt our spiritual growth.

  • “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). “Sinful desires” is translated “fleshly lust” in the NASB. Sinful desires and fleshly lust deny the spiritual work of the Holy Spirit in our souls.

  • In 2 Corinthians 11:18, Paul showed his humanity and began to boast in the flesh. He later apologizes (vs. 21) and defends himself through the rest of the chapter. In 2 Corinthians 12:1, he says boasting was necessary here to get their attention but it was not profitable. The work done in the flesh (carnally) is never profitable, but God may use it (see Romans 8:28).

  • Paul explains to them, “For though we walk in the flesh we do not war in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3, NASB).” A carnal Christian would seek to fight the battle themselves. God tells us that the battle is not ours (2 Chronicles 10:15). The battle belongs to the Lord as in 2 Chronicles 20:15. The weapons of warfare are not of the world or flesh (carnal), but are divinely powerful to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

  • Galatians 5:13-16 says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

    The “sinful nature” used here is the same Greek word sarkikos and in some translations is translated carnal. We are called to freedom but we are not to use that freedom as an opportunity to act carnally—in the flesh. In verse 16, we are instructed to walk by the Spirit and we will not carry out our carnal desires.

  • Romans 8:5-9 says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”

1 Vines Complete Expository Dictionary

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