Carnal Christianity

I Corinthians 3

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
September 2023

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? (I Corinthians 3:1-4 NKJV)

Today, we come to a huge topic.  It is a controversial topic.  What does it mean to be a spiritual Christian?  Do you have to speak in tongues to be spiritual?

What does it mean to be a carnal Christian?  It raises this important question.  Are we spiritual Christians or carnal Christians?

Carnality is a big problem today.  It is a big problem in the church.  It is a big problem in the American Church.

Much of the American Church today is carnal.  Most churches do not even have a prayer meeting.

Many people who do not come to church regularly.  They are not committed. When they come, they are not involved.  They are just spectators.  They don’t use their spiritual gifts.

They are not too excited about spiritual things.  They are lukewarm. They are not living according to Scripture.  Some live in open sin and are unrepentant.

They don’t know the Word but are not too interested in learning it either.  They have no appetite for Bible study.  They would consider that boring.

They have no desire to be in a Sunday School class.  They are happy with being shallow.  They are happy with not going too deep in their faith.

Some claim that the carnal Christian does not exist.  It is a contradiction of terms.  It is even heresy. Albert Martin holds that view.[1]

If you read I Corinthians 3, it is clear that there is such a thing as a carnal Christian.  It is undeniable from this chapter.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. (I Corinthians 3:1 NKJV)

Paul called them carnal (I Corinthians 3:1, 3).  He also called them “saints” (I Corinthians 1:2).  He called them “brothers and sisters” (I Corinthians 3:1 NIV).  He said that they were “in Christ” (I Corinthians 3:1).

Should Christians sin?  No.  Can you be a Christian and sin?  Yes.  Can you be a Christian and fall into little sins?  Yes.  Can you be a Christian and fall into deep sin?  Yes.

We have examples in the OT of people who did this.  We have examples in the NT as well.  King David was Israel’s greatest king.  He was a man after God’s own heart.  He committed sexual sin.  He committed adultery.  Some believe that he also committed rape.

He also killed a man.  The man he killed was a godly man, and the murder was premeditated.  Was what he did bad?  Yes.  It was terrible.  Did he lose his salvation?  No.

The Apostle Peter was one of the greatest apostles.  The church was built on him.  Three thousand people were converted from just one of his sermons and yet he was not perfect.

After Jesus was arrested, a servant girl said to him, “You were with Jesus” but he denied it.  He said, “I don’t know the man.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

When more people confronted him, he did it again and again.  He said that he did not know Jesus.  Peter was an apostle.  He was one of Jesus’ closest followers and he did not want to be identified with Him.

Peter denied Jesus publicly.  He did it three times.  He even denied him under oath.  Later, he felt bad, repented, and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:69-75).  Did he lose his salvation?  No.

Our kids can do something stupid or something bad.  They can even bring disgrace to our family name, but they do not cease to be our kids.

The Corinthians were carnal Christians.  They were a whole church of carnal Christians.  The whole book was written to carnal Christians.

Is it okay to be a carnal Christian?  No.  Paul rebuked them for being carnal.  He gave them a scathing rebuke.

It is not a good thing to be a carnal Christian.  It is a bad thing.  It is when a Christian lives like the world.

It is not normal.  It is not natural.  It is like having a baby who stays a baby and never grows up.  It is not normal for a Christian to be living in sin.

Paul said that the carnal man cannot please God (Romans 8:8) and he said that “to be carnally minded is death” (Romans 8:6 NKJV).

Jesus said, “If you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16)

Many people  go to church, but they live like the world.  They do not live holy lives but they think that they will go to heaven.  They think they are carnal Christians but they might not be saved at all.

On the other hand, there are genuine believers who fall into sin and do not always live lives that please God.  Let’s review what we learned last week.

The Natural Man

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (I Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)

Paul talked about “the natural man.”  The NIV says, “The person without the Spirit” but that is a paraphrase.  It means “natural man” (ψυχικoς)

Now, we use the term “natural” in a good sense.  We talk about natural foods or natural supplements which are not artificial or synthetic.  We talk about a natural athlete or natural leader.

There was a good movie about a baseball player with incredible talent called “the Natural.”  Paul used the term natural man to refer to something bad, not good.

It refers to someone who is natural, not supernatural.  This individual does not have God living inside him.  He has his spirit inside of him but not the Holy Spirit.

These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (Jude 19 NIV)

This is Paul’s term for the unsaved.  It is his term for the unregenerate, those who have never been born again.

The majority of people on the planet are in this category.  You know a lot of them.  They may be family members.

They may be coworkers.  The natural man is the unsaved man.  The natural man focuses on this world.

The natural man is not necessarily a rapist or murderer.  He is not necessarily a demon-possessed madman.  He is not necessarily immoral.

He may even be religious.  The natural man may attend church.  Many of them do but he is still unsaved.

He lives on the natural level.  He sleeps.  He eats.  He works.  He may be extremely gifted and talented but he does not know God.  He does not have the Holy Spirit living inside him.

He is dominated by his soul (ψυχη).  He is under the influence of the lower part of his being.  It is the same level that animals live on.

He does not have a personal relationship with God.  He lives to gratify his five senses.  He lives to get his needs met.

Paul tells us something else about the natural man.  He does not just reject spiritual things, he mocks them.  He mocks God and the Bible.  He thinks the preaching of the cross is foolish.  He thinks that people are stupid to believe the Bible.

What is the lesson here?  Everyone is either saved or lost.  Everyone is either a sheep or a goat.  The whole world can be divided up into these two groups.

We either stand before God in our sins condemned, or we stand before God completely forgiven and justified.

Everyone is either a child of God or a child of the Devil.  Everyone is either a child of light or a child of darkness.  The question is, Who’s your daddy?

In I Corinthians 3, we learn another truth.  Paul says that there are three groups of people in the world, not just two.

Why three?  Not every believer is a mature Christian.  There are two groups of Christians: carnal Christians and spiritual Christians.  Which one are you?

The Corinthians were not spiritual.  They also were not unsaved.  Paul called them “carnal.”

Carnal Christians

and I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. for where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 for when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? (I Corinthians 3:1-4 NKJV)

Much of the church falls into this category.  It looks like this.  What does a carnal Christian look like?  What are some characteristics of carnal Christianity?  Paul mentions three characteristics.

1) Carnal Christians are spiritual babies

There are many people in the church today who are still spiritual babies.  They are still in diapers.  They are spiritual infants.

Everyone loves little babies.  They are cute.  They are sweet. They are innocent, but no one likes an adult who acts like a child.  Most people mature as they get older.  They grow up.

Even Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (I Corinthians 13:11 ESV).

Paul said that when he got older, he gave up his childish ways.  Somehow, I cannot picture the Apostle Paul as an old man playing video games.

Healthy things grow.  That is normal.  Plants grow.  Animals grow.  People grow.  Unfortunately, not everyone grows up.  We call it the Peter Pan Syndrome.

The Peter Pan Syndrome refers to adults who don’t want to grow up.  All of us may know people who are very immature.  They may be forty or fifty years but still act very mature.

Paul says that the Church of Corinth was just like this spiritually.  It had people in the church who had been Christians for several years.  The church was five years, but they were still spiritual babies.  They had not matured spiritually.

Today, we have Christians like that today.  We have people who have been in church for forty years, but they know nothing about their faith.

They do not know how to pray.  They do not know how to witness.  They do not have any spiritual discernment.  That is one of the characteristics of children.  They are gullible.  It is easy to trick them.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. (Ephesians 4:14 ESV)

Baby Christians are also very easy to deceive. If someone gives them that is doctrinally way off base, they will take it, read it and believe every word.

They do not know which preachers and pastors are sound and which are not.  They do not know which books are solid and which are trash.  Everything sounds good to them.

They know very little about the Bible.  They have never read it or studied it on their own.  They know John 3:16. They know the gospel.  They know the four spiritual laws, but that is all that they know.

Sometimes that is their fault and sometimes it is the preacher’s fault.  Pastor Chuck Smith once said that some preachers actually keep their church in a state of infancy.[2]  They do not preach the Bible.

They do not preach the whole counsel of God.  There are whole churches that give people milk and not meat.  In fact, if you go to most churches, you will not learn anything too deep.  You will hear shallow sermons.  Shallow sermons lead to shallow Christians.

The Corinthians did not have that excuse.  They had good preachers.  The Apostle Paul founded their church, and they were still spiritual babies.  You can’t blame the pastor on that one.

2) Carnal Christians have a poor diet

I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready (I Corinthians 3:2 NIV)

A Spiritual Diet

This is where it gets interesting.  The Bible teaches three truths about our spiritual diet.

1. The Bible contains both milk and meat

Paul mentions two types of food people eat.  He mentions milk and solid food.  What is the difference?

Milk refers to the basic teachings, simple doctrines.  When a person gets saved, they learn very simple truths about the Bible.

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2 NIV)

When people get saved, they learn the basics.  They learn that there is an OT and a NT.  They learn that there is one God.  They learn about salvation.  They learn about heaven and hell

They eventually some learn deeper truths, like the doctrine of predestination or the prophecies of Ezekiel or Revelation.

The Book of Hebrews mentions moving from simple to more complex truths, like learning about Melchizedek.

In a sense, every doctrine has both milk and meat.  Doctrines that you teach to children and some that you teach to mature Christians on different levels.

You can teach your kids basic truths about God, and about heaven and hell. You can teach the same thing on a much deeper level, dealing with all kinds of different questions and issues.

2. Mature Christians can eat solid foods

13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14 NIV)

Mature Christians can eat meat.  Milk is easier to swallow.  You don’t have to chew it but if you just drink milk, you will be malnourished.  You don’t grow properly.

Many Christians are malnourished.  They are not on a healthy spiritual diet and are not growing properly.

Mature Christians do not just know the Bible, they use it and apply it in their life.  That is what Hebrews 5 says.

3. Carnal Christians can only take milk

It was not just in Corinth that this was a problem.  The author of Hebrews wrote about the same problem with other Christians.

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Hebrews 5:11-12 NIV)

We need both milk and meat as Christians.  Far too many Christians live on a diet of milk.  Babies are only on a milk diet for about six months.  After that time, they are supposed to begin eating solid foods.

Many Christians can only take milk. They like milk and are content with milk.  They can’t take any more.   They had been Christians for five years and were still in the new believer’s class.

Paul did not explain any deep doctrines to this church because they could not take it.   We don’t see any deep doctrines in I Corinthians.  Instead, we see Paul telling them basic things, like not sinning with their body.

Some churches are just milk churches.  They just give people milk.  They do not go very deep. They don’t offer any deep Bible studies.

Many Christians like spiritual baby food. They like devotional books.  They like biographies. What they don’t like is anything with too much theology in it.

They can’t read anything that deals with doctrine.  That describes much of the church today.  It is shallow.  There are many shallow Christians in the church today.  Does this describe you?

3) Carnal Christians live like the world

That is the final sign of carnality – worldliness.  Notice what Paul said.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are ENVY, STRIFE, and DIVISIONS among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? (I Corinthians 3:1-4 NJKV)

When Christians live like the world, they live like carnal Christians.  The word “carnal” comes from the word for “flesh” (σάρξ).

The word “carnal” (σάρκινος) means fleshly.  It means worldly.  Many in the church live like the world.  It is still a problem in the church today.

It is still a problem in the American church.  It may not be characterized by jealousy and quarreling, although that still takes place today.  The church compromises with the world in many other ways today.

Hope for Carnal Christians

There is good news for bad Christians.  There is hope for a carnal Christian.  They still have time to grow up spiritually.  They can still mature in the faith.  How can they do this?

They need to turn from some sins and repent.  They need to spend time with older Christians.  They need to get in the Word.  They need to learn the whole counsel of God.  Even mature Christians have a long way to go.

The Apostle Paul said of himself, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” (Philippians 3:12 ESV)

The great scientist Isaac Newton said, “To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me”[3]

Even mature Christians have to beware of carnality.  We have to beware of thinking and living like the world.

Spiritual Christians

The third category of people Paul mentions are spiritual Christians.  They are not carnal.  They are spiritual.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to SPIRITUAL people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. (I Corinthians 3:2 NKJV)

Signs of a Spiritual Christian

Are you a spiritual Christian?  What type of people are spiritual people?  Based on our passage, what do we know about them?

Several things stand out to me, based on this passage.  There are five signs of a spiritual Christian in this passage.

1) A spiritual Christian is a growing Christian

They did not stop growing once they became a Christian.  They continue to grow in holiness.  Are you continuing to grow spiritually?  Some Christians plateaued twenty years ago and stopped growing.

2) A spiritual Christian has an appetite for the Word

They can take meat, as well as milk.  They know more than the ABCs of the faith.  They know more than the basics.  Are you a mature Christian?

3) A spiritual Christian lives a godly life

A spiritual Christian lives different for the world and thinks different from the world.  Do you live differently from the world?

4) A spiritual Christian lives a supernatural life

They do not live on the natural level.  They live on a whole different plane of existence.  Do you live a natural or a supernatural life?

5) A spiritual Christian is involved in ministry

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Hebrews 5:12 NIV)

Spiritual Christians are teachers, not just students.  They are involved in ministry.  They are not just spectators.

They use their spiritual gifts in some capacity in the church.  A spiritual Christian uses the gifts of the Spirit that God has given him or her for His glory.



[3] The last two quotes came from Stanley Toussaint’s unpublished notes on I Corinthians.

2 Responses to Carnal Christianity

  1. Diana says:

    I believe that I am a carnal Christian. Yes, I would like to change this by walking in the spirit. I do not want to experience the warning of taking communion in an unworthy manner. Should I stop taking communion for a while?

    • admin says:


      That is a great question. Paul talks about this in I Corinthians 11.

      For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

      You don’t want to take communion if you are living in open sin. You should examine yourself before taking communion (a practice that very few Christians do today or even know about). On the other hand, you should also deal with the problem and confess and repent of whatever is holding you back as soon as possible. You don’t want to just skip communion indefinitely because this is also a command. Jesus said, “This DO in remembrance of me.” It’s a command. Hope this helps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *