The Law Wrongly Used Only Promotes Sin

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:56)

For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:5-6)

Recently we have seen even more reports of “model Christians” fallen in sin. Here you have highly publicized “perfect” Christian individuals or families or church leaders. They have it all right, supposedly. They write books and go on television while we all ooh and aah and wish our botched up lives or families could even approach the heights of holiness these people apparently have achieved.

And then they fall. Turns out the image we thought was real was flawed all along. And the non-Christian world blasphemes the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Continue reading “The Law Wrongly Used Only Promotes Sin”

The “Christian” Abuser: Couldn’t He be a “Carnal” Christian? (Part 4)

The following is a summary of the conclusions of Sam Storms, who writes at Enjoying God Ministries.  His take on 1 Cor 3:1-3 is a bit different than we have presented in parts 2 & 3 of this series of posts, but it is also excellent and he also rejects any notion that there exists a “carnal Christian” who is genuinely regenerate but who persists without repentance in a state of sin.  I think that you will benefit from this article as well.  Here is the link:

http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-carnal-christian-study-of-1-corinthians-31-3/

This is how Dr. Storms concludes his article:

“From what has been seen, we may now draw four conclusions.

First, there are two senses in which a Christian can be spoken of as “carnal”. (1) As new converts, all Christians are to varying degrees carnal. (2) Among long-time Christians, some may be. The former is expected. The latter is not. However, insofar as the word “carnal” has come to have such negative connotations, it would be wise for us to forego calling new Christians “carnal”, and do as Paul: refer to them as “babes” in Christ.

We are still left with the fact that Paul refers to the Corinthians, by way of rebuke, as carnal. The use to which Paul puts the word in v. 3 should not be rejected, for it is clearly biblical and appropriate as a descriptive term for those Christians who fall into a similar pattern of behavior. So I see no reason to be disturbed that someone would distinguish between “carnal” Christians and “spiritual” Christians, especially in view of the obvious distinction between “mature” and “immature” found elsewhere in the NT.

Second, I caution against referring to “carnal” and “spiritual” as rigid categories or classes of Christians. The idea of a distinctive class or category implies a strict line of demarcation between one group of believers and another. It suggests there are readily identifiable stages in the Christian life into which one may enter if certain things are done or out of which one may fall if other things are done. Sanctification, however, is far too fluid for such strict categorization. In other words, sanctification is a process which, because of its constantly dynamic and progressive nature, defies rigid classifications. There are “babes” in Christ, as Paul indicates, but no two Christians are ever at the same stage of spiritual infancy. There are “carnal” Christians, but again in varying degree. No two Christians manifest the same depth or degree of carnality. There are “spiritual” or “mature” believers, but all the marks or fruits of spirituality are not apparent in all Christians at the same time and to the same extent. No individual’s spiritual growth is wholly constant and undisturbed and you will rarely, if ever, find any two Christians at precisely the same stage of sanctification. There are countless hills and valleys, stumblings, falls, moments of victory and defeat in the process of our growth in grace.

Carnality, then, although ideally a condition to be found only in the newly saved, is such that may raise its ugly head at any and every stage of the Christian life. Thus, it may be more accurate to say that there are as many categories and classes of Christians as there are individual believers. The principle which bears repeating is this: carnality and spirituality, rather than being categories or classes into which one enters in the Christian life, are characteristics or moral tendencies which one manifests in varying degree throughout the course of the Christian life. The ideal as set forth in Scripture is, of course, a progression that is always upward – away from manifestations of carnality and toward manifestations of maturity.

Third, carnality in the Christian, whenever and in whatever way it manifests itself, is a temporary condition. There is no basis in Scripture for the teaching that genuinely born again and justified Christians can persist, without great discomfort, in their sin (a discomfort, I might add, due to the promptings of the Holy Spirit or the chastisement of the Father, such as lead to repentance). Samuel Bolton put it well:

“We still have the presence of sin, nay, the stirrings and workings of corruptions. These make us to have many a sad heart and wet eye. Yet Christ has thus far freed us from sin; it shall not have dominion. There may be the turbulence, but not the prevalence of sin. There may be the stirrings of corruption. It was said of Carthage that Rome was more troubled with it when half destroyed than when whole. So a godly man may be more troubled with sin when it is conquered than when it reigned. Sin will still work, but it is checked in its workings. They are rather workings for life than from life. They are not such uncontrolled workings as formerly. Sin is under command. Indeed, it may get advantage, and may have a tyranny in the soul, but it will never more be sovereign. I say, it may get into the throne of the heart and play the tyrant in this or that particular act of sin, but shall never more be as a king there. Its reign is over; you will never yield a voluntary obedience to sin. Sin is conquered, though it still has a being within you” (The True Bounds of Christian Freedom [Banner of Truth], p. 26).

Fourth, our consideration of this issue must never result in an unbiblical separation of sanctification from justification. Holiness and a progressively changed life are not optional. “By this we know that we have come to know him,” says John, “if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). Mere profession of faith, unattended by good works, does not guarantee the reality of faith. We would do well to remember the rebuke of Jesus to those who professed their loyalty and cited their miraculous deeds: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt. 7:23).

Go to Part 3 of this series

The “Christian” Abuser: Couldn’t He be a “Carnal” Christian? (Part 3)

In his article “Rethinking a Much Abused Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-15” Brian Borgman provides a great summary of the background and elements of the “carnal Christian” teaching.  I will provide you with just enough material from his article to whet your appetite, and then you can read the entire article at the following link:

http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ref-rev/11-1/11-1_borgman.pdf

Here then are some quotes from the article:

The Carnal Christian Teaching (3: 1-4).  The founder and first president of Dallas Theological Seminary (originally The Evangelical Theological College), Lewis Sperry Chafer (D.D.), published He That Is Spiritual in 1918. In tha t work, now dubbed in its reprinted subtitle, “A Classic Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Spirituality,” he gave full exposition to the “carnal Christian” teaching, which had been briefly articulated in the Scofield Reference Bible, just one year before.  In Chafer’s work, he opens up the first chapter with “Three Classes of Men.” Chafer based his teaching on 1 Corinthians. 2:9-3:4. He states:

The Apostle Paul, by the Spirit, has divided the whole human family into three groups: (1) The “natural man,” who is unregenerate, or unchanged spiritually; (2) the “carnal man,” who is a “babe in Christ,” and walks “as a man”; and (3) the “spiritual” man.”

In that opening chapter, Chafer describes the “carnal Christlan” in the following terms:

“Though saved, the carnal Christians are walking “according to the course of this world.” They are “carnal” because the flesh is dominating them (see Romans 7:14) . . . . The objectives and affections are centered in the same unspiritual sphere as that of the “natural” man.”

According to Chafer, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3: 1-4, is teaching that a saved person can be under the dominion of sin. Amazingly he uses Romans 7:14 to support this idea! Further, he asserts that a regenerate man may have his objectives and affections completely untouched by the regenerating grace of the Spirit! Finally, he summarizes,

“There are two great spiritual changes which are possible to human experience – the change from the ‘natural’ man to the saved man, and the change from the ‘carnal’ man to the ‘spiritual’ man.”

Unfortunately, Chafer’s “carnal Christian” teaching from 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, gained widespread acceptance, and has been given new life time and again. One of the most popular heirs of the Chaferian interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 is Charles Ryrie. Ryrie even marshals Herman Bavinck and John Calvin in support of making a distinction between the carnal believer and the spiritual believer. [Neither would agree with Ryrie]

What is important to notice is that Chafer, and those who have followed him, have taken 1 Corinthians 3: 1-4 and used it to justify that there are actually three classes or kinds of people: natural, spiritual, and carnal. In Chafer’s scheme, there are two types or kinds of Christians, those who are spiritual and those who are carnal. Furthermore, what characterizes this “carnal” Christian is that his life can be completely unchanged; his objectives and affections can remain untransformed. There is no observable difference between him and the natural man. He can be walking according to the course of this world. In fact, he can even be completely indifferent to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly there are other related problems with Chafer’s teaching- for instance, regarding the nature of man, the nature of regeneration and sanctification. However, for our purpose we are simply focusing on his use of 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 to justify the “carnal Christian” doctrine.

Borgman gives some pastoral observations:  [emphasis is mine]

My personal evaluation of these two teachings, derived from 1 Corinthians 3:1-15, is that they are not only exegetically indefensible, but also pernicious doctrines. The exegetical observation will be dealt with in the next section, where we will closely examine the text in its context. The other observation, that these are both pernicious doctrines, comes from a theological and pastoral perspective. These doctrines have been used to instill in people the notion that they can have true faith and yet be carnal and fruitless. The worst thing that can happen to such people is that they lose out on millennial rewards. This is not a hypothetical observation, it is one that I have heard many times over the years. A presumptuous laziness can creep in, making people comfortable with their carnality and fruitlessness. What makes this so dangerous is that it gives ground for people to think they are converted, when in fact they may well be unregenerate and hellbound.

My contention is that 1 Corinthians 3:1-15 has been abused by Chafer and others. The abuse of this passage has been tragic and remains with us to this day. It is my purpose in the next section to layout a clear exegetical exposition of the text, and then conclude with some doctrinal and practical implications.”

I encourage all of our readers to take the time to read this article. This kind of thinking, along with the hyper-covenantal Roman Catholic teachings of the Federal Vision theology in some Presbyterian churches (i.e., that if a person is baptized then they are a Christian), is bringing great grief and suffering to Christians who are victims of “Christian” abusers.

Go to Part 4 of this series
Go to Part 2 of this series