Is carnal Christianity a deception?

By Jim Allen

Dealing with questions about salvation is always a balancing act. On one side the Bible gives warning about the need for self-examination. On the other side it gives reassurance about victory in Christ and salvation assured. Between the two sides there is truth and stability, a point of balance to help walk the narrow path.

From what I've been able to observe, just about every believer struggles with salvation issues from time to time. So, it is normal to feel a little anxious about salvation when reading all manner of articles promoting so many differing views.

As a believer, I dislike loose ends and especially ones that confuse the Gospel message. While debates about salvation and sanctification in particular are healthy, there is one debate that treads dangerously close to heresy. This debate suggests that a person (having made a profession of faith in Christ) has the option to continue living in sin.

While it is true believers tend to stray, it is also true God will nudge them back onto the narrow path. This is why Jesus portrays himself as the Good Shepherd, to watch over and guide believers in times of temptation and trouble (John 10:11). But what of believers who stray and never seem to sense the Shepherd's gentle nudge to get back on track?

One likely cause for not sensing the nudge is a deception that has grown a deep root in the church known as carnal Christianity. About this teaching L. R. Shelton, Jr., writes:
Dear Friend, a false gospel is sweeping our land, and has swept like wild fire through Christendom in these last decades, damning more souls to hell than seemingly any other of Satan's subtle lies; and I've come again to warn you of this false gospel of Carnal Christianity.
According to Shelton, the doctrine of carnal Christianity is one of those loose ends that give professing believers the idea they can live as they please because they are eternally secure; and, that they will still be in heaven along with the faithful super saints. Others refer to this idea as easy believism that excuses the believer from moral responsibility and the seriousness of the high call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). John G. Reisinger says about this disregard for the high call of God:
Seriously, what kind of salvation is that? Where is the freedom and liberty won by the Redeemer in His battle with sin and Satan (John 8:32, 36)? Where is the power and life infused by the Holy Ghost in His mighty work of regeneration? This is not a salvation from sin. It is a salvation in sin. The very essence of biblical salvation is expressed in the Angel's announcement that Jesus would "save his people from their sins," (Matthew 1:21).
Is a person who professes faith in Christ saved if choosing to continue a carnal lifestyle? While some strongly argue yes and cite convincing verses to back it up, Galatians 6:7-8 says no and agrees with Reisinger's view including the view adopted by Got Questions that clearly teaches carnality for a born again believer is never an option after salvation.

About this debate Got Questions says:
The key thing to understand is that while a Christian can be, for a time, carnal, a true Christian will not remain carnal for a lifetime. Some have abused the idea of a "carnal Christian" by saying that it is possible for people to come to faith in Christ and then proceed to live the rest of their lives in a completely carnal manner, with no evidence of being born again or a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Such a concept is completely unbiblical.
While the Bible teaches we can resist the work of sanctification, it never teaches we have the option to stay in an infantile state of awareness about the holy things of God. This is not the life Jesus had in mind when he gave his life for ours. This is not the life Paul had in mind when he was inspired to write Romans 12:2 and 13:14.

Chris Hohnholz insightfully writes:
He gave me a new nature. As part of that nature, God made me aware of my sin, not in a generic sense, but in a very specific one. No longer did I feel bad about coveting, lusting, lying or hating just because bad consequences occurred. I actually began to hate my sin because I saw it for what it was, a rebellious act toward a kind and loving God...who mercifully redeemed me by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And instead of just trying to find some way to justify my sin, I now wanted to repent of those things because I loved my Savior.
Chris has it right! The entirety of a believer's life after salvation consists of change, growing from carnality (living for self) to full maturity (living for Christ). A new creation in Christ will grow and mature and eventually produce the fruits of Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

God gives all true believers the desire to seek after truth (Matthew 6:33), examine it carefully (2 Timothy 3:16), keep it in memory (1 Corinthians 15:1-2), and then make it a working part of their daily life (Philippians 2:12-13). God does not give His children the option to stay at the starting gate of carnality after salvation (2 Corinthians 13:5). If He did, then why would He bother to save any of us (and from what would He save us) if not from ourselves?

While the thief on the cross was saved, he had no opportunity to mature in Christ. So, in this isolated instance (and instances like it whenever a believer's life is cut short) the Bible agrees a person can believe (and be saved in an instant) without growing to maturity. So, while it is true sanctification is not a condition for salvation, sanctification (growing up) is evidence of salvation (Romans 13:14). To live without an increasing desire for holy living is foreign to the Spirit of God living in us.

Though justification is an instant work, sanctification is a lifetime work. God begins this lifetime work by preparing and declaring us holy vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). As the Got Questions article on sanctification says, "Just as the temple of old was sanctified for God's use, our bodies, temples of the Holy Spirit, are set apart for God's holy purposes (1 Corinthians 6:19)."

I like to think about sanctification as the time we spend getting ready for the approaching wedding ceremony (Revelation 19:6-10). This "getting ready time" on earth requires personal involvement and cooperation because there is much to learn about the Bridegroom and His divine protocol for living in the Kingdom of God.

The Jewish wedding ceremony is a type of this future event. The betrothal period is the time both the bride and groom are separated but also the time for the bride to get ready. Though the Holy Spirit seals our heart with the "promise ring" that Jesus will return to take his bride (Hebrews 13:20, Luke 22:20, Ephesians 1:13), the Spirit (bridesmaid) labors long and diligently to ensure the bride will be ready and without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27).

A believer exhibiting carnal behavior is warring against this holy preparation. I am not suggesting a born-again believer will never sin or backslide or resist. Heaven knows there are times when we all grow weary and slip from the high call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). I have. We all have. But, here is the difference. The Holy Spirit will not allow us to remain in a state of carnality. The dominant idea promoted by carnal Christianity is that a carnal believer can stay as they are without any evidence or need for a changed life. Even more disturbing is the idea that at a carnal believer can opt to live unholy and then rightfully expect to be counted among the faithful in heaven. The Bible does not teach these unholy creeds (Luke 13:27-28).

What the Bible does teach is that the enemy will sow tares among the wheat, mixing false brethren among the true (Matthew 13:24-30). As a result, the Gospel we so dearly love and live by and bear witness to loses credibility and any gain by a moral and good people falls by the wayside. This is why a true witness of the Gospel is indeed a living and changing epistle, a person willing to show and tell the world that by personal transformation our faith is alive by the grace of God at work in us (Philippians 2:13).

In closing, Got Questions sums it up very nicely without any misunderstanding: "The key thing to understand is that while a Christian can be, for a time, carnal, a true Christian will not remain carnal for a lifetime." A true Christian will change. They will grow. And though they will stumble from time-to-time, they will continue to get up and move forward. They will be faithful to prepare and press towards the high call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

The true Christian will be ready like the wise virgins and faithfully trim their lamps daily to glow brightly on the narrow path of holy living. When the roll is called in heaven, they will be there to hear Jesus say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant...enter thou into the Joy of the Lord (Matthew 25:23).

Published 10-15-14