Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Primer to the “Carnal Christian” Theory Part 2

What does the Bible say about the division of humanity in Romans 8?

In Romans chapter 8, Paul contrasts two diametrically opposed systems of thought. In other words, the apostle expounds a bipartite division of humanity: the carnal man, and the spiritual man. There is no mention of a second-class, carnal Christian who walks like an unregenerate man.

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8:4-9, explains:

“4That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Romans 8:7 states that the carnal mind is in enmity against God; it refuses to submit to the law of God. However, the Christian is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. Paul is adamant that they who are in the flesh cannot please God. He continues to reassure his readers that “ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you (Romans 8:9).” Contrasting those that are “in the flesh,” and those that are “in the Spirit,” Paul makes no further distinction with regard to Christians. He warns, “For to be carnally minded is death (Romans 8:6).” There is no doubt that those who are “carnally minded” are unbelievers.

Commenting on Romans 8:5-13, John MacArthur Jr. writes, “But those who are according to the Spirit, Paul says, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. In other words, those who belong to God are concerned about godly things. As Jonathan Edwards liked to say, they have “holy affections,” deep longings after God and sanctification. As Paul has made clear in Romans 7, even God’s children sometimes falter in their obedience to Him. But as the apostle said of himself, they nevertheless “joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom. 7:22). Despite their many spiritual failures, their basic orientation and innermost concerns have to do with the things of the Spirit. . . . The opposite of that reality is also true: But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. The person who gives no evidence of the presence, power, and fruit of God’s Spirit in his life has no legitimate claim to Christ as Savior and Lord. The person who demonstrates no desire for the things of God and has no inclination to avoid sin or passion to please God is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thus does not belong to Christ.” (MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8, emphasis in the original.)

Can a Christian be indwelt by the Holy Ghost, and yet exhibit no evidence of sanctification? Is it possible for a regenerate man to have no fruits of the Spirit? The Apostle Peter declared in 1 Peter 1:2 that Christians are “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ”. It is obvious that sanctification is not an option. God does not redeem a person with the precious blood of Christ, only to allow him to remain under the power of sin!

The Bible contains many imperatives requiring obedience and holiness in God’s people. For example, the writer of Hebrews taught, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). The Greek word for “follow” or “pursue” indicates an intense pursuit or a dedicated striving after. The writer of Hebrews was exhorting Christians to strive for holiness, for without this process of sanctification, “no man shall see the Lord.”

Gordon Clark explains, “In the Greek text peace is feminine; holiness, or the process of becoming holy, is masculine; the relation pronoun which is masculine singular; therefore the verse says that no man can see the Lord without going through the process of becoming holy.” (Gordon H. Clark, What do Presbyterians Believe? (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1965), 135).

This passage teaches that those who are justified are progressively made holy in order to be prepared to come into God’s presence. Although Christians are not justified by any meritorious work, true Christians have a faith that works. A professing believer may be well acquainted with all the theological jargon, familiar with the Reformed Confessions, passionate in aiding the poor, impeccable in church attendance, and zealous in evangelism. Yet without personal holiness and sanctification, such a professor is spiritually dead and destined for perdition.

In Romans 8:14, did Paul write, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are spiritual Christians”? There are no two classes of Christians! Romans 8:12-14 states, “12Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (emphasis mine). The inevitable conclusion of Romans chapter 8 is this: the Spirit of God leads all Christians. Christians are in the Spirit, not in the flesh. The proclivity of the believer’s heart is to please God, and to obey His Word. The believer may stumble and fall every now and then, but they will continue to strive towards holiness and perfection. Like the Apostle Paul, they “delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Romans 7:22).

To be continued in Part 3


Mike said...

Well written piece. I enjoyed your thoughtfully worded article on sanctification.

Mike Messerli
Crossroads Bible Church
Dallas, Texas

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Mike,

Appreciate your comments. Do let me know if there are any thoughts on this subject (or any others)!

In Christ