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5 ways to deal with “Carnal Christians”

5 Ways to Deal with “Carnal Christians”

by Brian Croft

Scripture addresses those who belong to Christ, and those who do not. There are those who possess the Spirit of God, and those who do not. But is there a 3rd category? Many, especially in certain circles in American Evangelicalism, would claim there is a 3rd category commonly labeled a “Carnal Christian” or a “Nominal Christian.” This 3rd category is described as those who profess to know and follow Christ, but whose life does not reflect it. They would claim to follow Christ just enough to escape hell, but not enough for Christ to affect any aspect of their life. Some feel God is obligated to present a “get out of hell free card” as a result of a one time decision long ago that involved praying a prayer, or walking an aisle. The most common proof text for this position is found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and the way Paul addresses the Christians there in the Corinthian Church.

The reason so many think Paul is addressing Carnal Christians in this passage is because of how he refers to them (3:1). He just explained that it is only the spiritual man who knows Christ and possesses the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), not the natural man. Now, he addresses them as “brethren” (3:1) and writes but he, “Could not speak to them as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as babes in Christ (3:1).” Paul is not writing to the Corinthian church affirming there is this middle category of a Christian, but writes in this way to confront the clear sin in their midst that forces Paul to address them as immature in their faith.

Look back and read the first things Paul wrote to them in 1 Corinthians 1:4-6 was that, “The grace of God was given to them in Christ (1:4), they were enriched in Him (1:5), and that the testimony of Christ was confirmed in them (1:6).” Paul is in no way condoning a category of a Carnal Christian, but simply addressing Christians in Corinth who are not maturing in their faith as they ought. Paul implies their lack of pursuit to maturity is one reason there is division among them (1:10). They are remaining “Babes in Christ” (3:1).

Pastors, how do we deal with this type of person in our churches? Those who profess Christ, but whose lives do not reflect it?

1) Recognize there is no biblical category for a Carnal Christian. Just because there are those who meet the characteristics of a “Carnal Christian” in our churches does not affirm this as a legitimate biblical category of a Christian. This person is simply deceived and needs Christ. There is no salvation without the cost that comes with it (full submission to Christ).

2) Try to discern whether someone is simply unconverted, or just immature in their faith. We are not God, so we must tread cautiously here. But we can watch someone’s life and determine if there are evidences of grace in their life as they battle and struggle with an immature faith. Or, if there are no evidences of grace in them apart from simply their profession.

3) Involve solid believers in your church to evaluate those people with you. Because of #2, we must involve other mature, gracious leaders in our church in our evaluation of these people. This will also guard a pastor from concluding too quickly someone’s unregenerate state because of some personal hurt that person could have brought to the pastor.

4) Change the way you take in members into your church. The best, long-term solution to dealing with “Carnal Christians” is to make sure you guard the front door more closely for the future. Have an intentional process to take in members and do all you can to learn about their life, faith, conversion, and reasons they desire to join your church. This is not a quick solution, but the patient, wise decision for the long-term rarely is.

5) Preach the gospel. One of the greatest joys I have experienced is to watch church members converted. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but do not assume when you take a church all the members are converted. Preach the gospel for all those present. It will encourage the faithful saints, awaken the lost, and hopefully jolt some who may have been living a lie for years and would truly take hold of Christ. One of the greatest teaching moments in almost 10 years for me at our church was to baptize a few members as true believers in Christ who thought they belonged to Christ, but did not.

The power of the gospel is powerful. It is powerful enough to convert the lost, lift up the discouraged saint, and even powerful enough to awaken a “Carnal Christian” to swallow his/her pride and finally and sincerely admit the lie they had been living and turn to Christ.

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Can You Miss God’s Will for Your Life?

Can You Miss God’s Will for Your Life?

by Stephen Altrogge

Decision making can be a paralyzing experience.

Say, for example, that you have been offered a new job in a different state? Should you take it? Well, it depends. What are the schools like in the area? What is the traffic like? Are there any nuclear power plants nearby? Is the increased salary worth the emotional cost of moving your family? Will you be forced to root for the Dallas Cowboys? All these different factors can make it difficult to decide.

Now, throw the whole issue of God’s will into the mix? Is it really God’s will for you to move? It seems like it’s God’s will, but maybe it’s not. What if you make a terrible mistake and somehow miss the will of God? Are you going to end up in some purgatorial situation because you accidentally missed God’s will?

The fear of missing God’s will is enough to paralyze any Christian. But here’s the question: can a Christian miss the will of God for their life? Could you somehow go your entire life being outside of God’s good plan for you?

It seems that the Bible teaches that, yes, you can miss God’s will. It also teaches that no, you can’t miss God’s will.

The way to miss God’s will is really simple: ignore the Bible. In the Bible God has told us exactly what we should do when it comes to making decisions. First, we should determine if our decision goes against anything clearly spelled out in the Bible. The Bible is clear that fellowship with other believers is necessary for our Christian growth. If taking a job will cut you off from fellowship with others, it’s not God’s will for you to take the job.

Second, we should ask God to give us wisdom. James 1:5–6 says:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…

Getting wisdom from God isn’t a mystical, super-spiritual experience. It means asking God to help us think clearly and biblically about the decision in front of us. When we ask for wisdom we should believe God is going to give it to us. God isn’t trying to hide his good will from us. He wants to help us understand the right way to walk.

Third, we should ask the opinion of others. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” This is so gloriously simple. Finding God’s will for your life is as simple as asking the opinion of other, godly Christians. Lay the situation out before them, and then let God speak to you through their counsel.

If we heed the counsel of scripture, we won’t miss God’s will. God isn’t hiding his will, or trying to trick us into making a bad decision. If we evaluate our decision by scripture, ask for wisdom, and then ask the opinion of others, we are doing what God requires of us. He promises to guide us through that process.

We don’t need to seek a subjective, mystical, spiritual feeling when it comes to decision making. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes God gives us peace about a decision, and that’s a blessing. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes we might not feel one way or another about a decision. In general, feelings are a very bad barometer of the truth. A feeling of peace can come from God, but it can also come from a lot of other things, like a glass of wine or a good nap. Plus, what exactly constitutes the “right” feeling when it comes to a decision? Is it peace? Or maybe joy? Or a sense of rightness?

The Bible doesn’t tell us what we’re supposed to feel about our decisions. Instead, it tells us how to make biblical, God-honoring decisions. So, if you have a big decision to make, don’t freak out. Instead, go to the Word, ask for wisdom, and get others involved.

Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church.
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