The Carnal Christian
1 Cor. 3:1-4
We live in a world where everything created by God is classified or categorized into groups. Plants,
animals, fishes, insects, especially human beings are divided into groups. For man we have our own
country, nationalities, color, etc. Economically, some are rich, others are poor, some are educated,
some are not. In the Bible its either you are a Jew or a Gentile. In the church, it’s either you are
saved or not. Paul wrote about the natural man or the unsaved, and the spiritual man who are of
course saved. Within Christianity, there is division also. There is what we call matured Christians and
there is what we call as carnal Christians. The church in Corinth is a new church and the problem is
about the carnality of its members. Paul calls them brethren, meaning they are saved people only
they are not living or behaving the way they should. The words of Paul in this letter are harsh and
painful to accept but it is the reality and the Corinthians must know and face the truth even if it
I. What Carnal means:
A. Carnal comes from the Greek word “sarkikos” which means fleshly,. pertaining to
flesh, i.e. bodily, temporal, unregenerate. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary)
B. Carnal means pertaining to the sinful nature of man (Rom. 8:7). The Christians at
Corinth were called carnal because they were living in many ways like unsaved men,
they were living under the power of the carnal nature (1 Cor. 3:1-4). “To be ‘carnal’
or fleshly denotes an unhealthy Christian state.
C. The carnality of the Corinthians is shown in their daily living.
1. They cannot receive solid food (1 Cor. 3:1-2).
a. The Word of God tells us that there is both milk and meat. Milk refers to the
simple things of Scripture and also to Bible studies that have been
simplified. Meat are Bible Doctrines, something that will challenge them to
think, to examine their lives, to make choices, and to grow in their
knowledge about Christ the Lord.
b. Paul had to feed them with the milk of the Word. They are babes spiritually.
c. They were like the Hebrew Christians. (Heb. 5:11-14).
2. Their envy, strife, and divisions – 1 Cor. 3:3-4
a. Within the church there is division as we have seen earlier – 1 Cor. 1:10-13
b. Today there so much division in Christianity as a whole. So much strife
among leaders and members. Problems that were never resolved even until
3. The carnal believer acts more like an unsaved man in the sense that:
a. He will do things such as tolerate sin in the church (1 Cor. 5:1-2).
b. He will take his fellow Christian to court rather than endure wrong (1 Cor.
c. He will boast in his “liberty” to such an extent that he will commit sin (1 Cor.
d. He has no concern for how his actions affect his fellow man (1 Cor. 8:9-12).
4. The works of the flesh dominates their lives. Galatians 5:19-21 lists:
a. Adultery – This is sexual intercourse, usually of a man, married or
unmarried, always with the wife of another. Forbidden by the law (Ex, 20:14;
Deut. 5:18), Jesus broadens its application to include the lustful look that
betrays an adulterous heart (Matt. 5:27-30). Jesus teaches that such evils as
adultery come from the heart (Matt. 15:19).
b. Fornication – sexual relationship between unmarried people. The Bible uses
this term as a general description for immorality (Mt. 5:32; 15:19; 19:9; Acts
15:20,29; 21:15; Rom. 1:29).
c. Lasciviousness – A term referring to immorality (Mk. 7:22; 2Cor. 12:21; Gal.
5:19; Eph. 4:19; 1Pet. 4:3; Jude 1:4). It especially refers to excess and lack of
restraint, shameless conduct (Vine). It could be defined as “the stirring up of
lustful desires which cannot be satisfied within God’s boundaries” (Bunnell).
The Greek word (aselgeia) is also translated “filthy” (2Pet. 2:7) and
“wantonness” (Rom. 13:13; 2Pet. 2:18). In 2 Pet. 2:7 this word refers to the
moral perversion of Sodom.
d. Idolatry – The worship of false gods (Lev. 19:4; 26:1,30).
e. Witchcraft – Magic; sorcery; demonism; occultism (Ex. 22:18; Lev. 19:26,31;
20:6; Deut. 18:9-14; 1 Sam. 15:23; 2 Kings 9:22; 2 Chr. 33:6; Isa. 47:13-15;
Jer. 27:9-10; Dan. 2:10; Mic. 5:12; Nah. 3:4; Acts 19:19; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 5:11;
6:10-18; Rev. 21:8). The Bible makes no distinction between “white magic”
and “black magic.” Every form of involvement in spiritism is strictly
f. Emulations – Jealousy; ardor in an unfavorable, self-serving sense;
resentment toward others that have or are what we want (Gal. 5:20). “This
springs from a desire for self-attention above interest in others” (Bunnell).
The same Greek word translated “emulations” in Gal.5:20 (zelos) is also
translated “envy” (Ac 13:45), “fervent mind” (2Cor. 7:7), “indignation” (Acts
5:17), “jealousy” (2Cor. 11:2), and “zeal” (2Cor. 7:11; 9:2). It is translated
“envy” six times and “zeal” six times.
g. Wrath – Violent anger; vehement exasperation; indignation.
h. Variance – (1) Difference that produces dispute or controversy; to alienate;
disagreement; dissension; (Webster) (Mt. 10:35). (2) Wrangling; contention;
strife; discord; quarrelling (Gal. 5:20).
i. Strife – Contention; quarrelling; fighting (Gen. 13:7; Pr. 15:18; 17:1; 20:3;
26:17; 30:33; Rom. 13:13;)
j. Sedition – An uprising; a factious commotion of the people; a tumult;
insurrection (Ezr. 4:15,19; L- k. 23:19,25; Acts 24:5; Gal. 5:20).
k. Heresies – 1. A fundamental error in religion, or an error of opinion
respecting some fundamental doctrine of religion
l. Envying – Feeling uneasiness at the superior condition and happiness of
m. Murders – To cause someone to die; to put to death
n. Drunkenness – The condition of being intoxicated with alcoholic beverages
o. Revelling – Feasting with noisy merriment; carousing. (Way of Life
Encyclopaedia by David Cloud).
5. Sad but true that sometimes when we see a baby Christian in the church doing
the works of the flesh, we doubt their salvation.
6. The carnal believers in Corinth thinks they are right in doing what they do with
all sincerity but in reality, they are wrong, sincerely wrong. They think they are
spiritual but they are not.
7. Carnal Christians we can conclude are fleshly Christians, believers in Jesus Christ
whose thinking and actions are rooted in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. I
would associate their carnality with worldliness.
8. How about you Christian, do you see yourself as carnal or not?
Illustration 1: What Is Carnality?
What is carnality? According to the Greek dictionary, it means to have the nature and characteristics
of the flesh (or more simply, it means “fleshly”). What, then, is the flesh? Sometimes it refers to the
whole material part of man (1 Cor. 15:39; Hebrews 5:7), and based on this meaning, carnal
sometimes relates to material things like money (Rom. 15:27) or to the opposite of our weapons of
spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:4). But the word flesh also has a metaphorical sense when it refers to our
disposition to sin and to oppose or omit God in our lives. The flesh is characterized by works that
include lusts and passions (Gal. 5:19–24; I Jn. 2:16); it can enslave (Rom. 7:25); and in it is nothing
good (Rom. 7:18). Based on this meaning of the word flesh, to be carnal means to be characterized
by things that belong to the unsaved life (Eph. 2:3).
So Great Salvation, Charles Ryrie, Victor Books, 1989, pp. 59-60.
Illustration 2: Worldliness
The Bible defines worldliness by centering morality where we intuitively know it should be.
Worldliness is the lust of the flesh (a passion for sensual satisfaction), the lust of the eyes (an
inordinate desire for the finer things of life), and the pride of life (self-satisfaction in who we are,
what we have, and what we have done).
Worldliness, then, is a preoccupation with ease and affluence. It elevates creature comfort to the
point of idolatry; large salaries and comfortable life-styles become necessities of life. Worldliness is
reading magazines about people who live hedonistic lives and spend too much money on themselves
and wanting to be like them. But more importantly, worldliness is simply pride and selfishness in
disguises. It’s being resentful when someone snubs us or patronizes us or shows off. It means
smarting under every slight, challenging every word spoken against us, cringing when another is
preferred before us. Worldliness is harboring grudges, nursing grievance, and wallowing in self-pity.
These are the ways in which we are most like the world.
Dave Roper, The Strength of a Man, quoted in Family Survival in the American Jungle, Steve Farrar,
1991, Multnomah Press, p. 68
II. How Is the Flesh Overcome?
A. The flesh is subdued by yielding to and walking with the indwelling Spirit (Gal.
B. The flesh is subdued by not minding it but by minding the things of the Spirit (Rom.
C. The flesh is subdued by not sowing to it but by sowing to the Spirit (Gal. 6:8).
D. The flesh is subdued by not making provision for it (Rom. 13:14).
Illustration 3: They Don’t Know How to Get Spiritual Food for Themselves
One spring our family was driving from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa, Florida. As far as the eye could
see, orange trees were loaded with fruit. When we stopped for breakfast, I ordered orange juice
with my eggs. “I’m sorry,” the waitress said. “I can’t bring you orange juice. Our machine is broken.”
At first I was dumbfounded. We were surrounded by millions of oranges, and I knew they had
oranges in the kitchen—orange slices garnished our plates. What was the problem? No juice?
Hardly. We were surrounded by thousands of gallons of juice. The problem was they had become
dependent on a machine to get it.
Christians are sometimes like that. They may be surrounded by Bibles in their homes, but if
something should happen to the Sunday morning preaching service, they would have no
nourishment for their souls. The problem is not a lack of spiritual food—but that many Christians
haven’t grown enough to know how to get it for themselves.
Adapted by Leroy Eims from The Lost Art Of Disciple Making
The Corinthian Church is full of carnal Christians who are saved from the preaching of
their spiritual father, Paul the Apostle. Spiritually, they are babes so they need to grow
and be matured. They need to yield and walk in the Holy Spirit who dwells in them and
avoid worldliness. How about you Christian how do you see yourself? What are you
going to do about it?