πας ο μισων τον αδελφον αυτου ανθρωποκτονος εστιν και οιδατε οτι πας ανθρωποκτονος ουκ εχει ζωην αιωνιον εν εαυτω μενουσαν εν – τουτω εγνωκαμεν την αγαπην οτι εκεινος υπερ υμων την ψυχην αυτου εθηκεν και ημεις οφειλομεν υπερ των αδελφων τας ψυχας θειναι 1 John 3:15-16
What does it mean to be carnal? If you ask that question to pastors, it is likely that you will receive several answers. You may be left confused or else misled, and the consequence will be your walk as a Christian. It may seem unlikely that such a simple thing as to not have a clear understanding of what biblical carnality is, will give rise to confusion and misdirection. Unfortunately not knowing what biblical carnality is will definitely give us many problems. In fact even when we are most inclined to be spiritual men and women, we will find this same difficulty if we do not have a biblical understanding of carnality.
The three words that are confused or else not explained clearly are, sin, flesh, and natural.
‘We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.’ Romans 7:14-20 NRSV
The problem may well be that we have fully convinced ourselves that we cannot keep the Law of God, and so that is why Christ died, and whilst this is an undoubted truth, we have missed that we are nevertheless to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. We take great comfort from knowing that Christ was without sin, and so we comprehend that His sacrifice in His own blood is an acceptable sacrifice before the Father for our own sins. Whereas we may really have missed that not all that comes from the flesh is sinful. By assuming that the flesh, as defined in the bible is entirely sinful, we simply never realise what the cross of Christ means in its fullness. So why then would the flesh, that is not sinful flesh, need to be dealt with? We focus on specific sins, and yet miss that sin is all that which is not in the will of God – no matter what character it may take. We spend our time focusing on those things that are unnatural, and contrary to our own bodies, as a proof of sin, and miss our own bodies altogether.
‘Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.’ Galatians 5:16-20 NRSV
To give an example of what I mean. If you are told that carnality means sexual desires that contradict biblical marriage, how would that of itself tell you anything that your own body does not tell you if you are attracted to the opposite sex? How does that in any way either prove what biblical marriage is or else what a contrary view is? Knowing that biblical marriage is the physical union of a male and a female is somewhat the same as telling the majority of the world’s population, that when they marry, male and female, they are biblical. In what way does telling people something that they do naturally, either help them to know God, or to understand that marriage, whilst it is predicated on a fact of physical reality, speaks of Christ and His body, the Church?
No more an important reality can a man enter into in life than to be a good father and a sound husband.
‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body [of HIs flesh and His bones]. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.’ Eph 5:25-33 NRSV
On a simple reading of Old and New Testament books and letters we cannot but see that same-sex relationships are stated as being not of the will of God. On looking at the two principle examples of same-sex activity recorded in biblical times we see that it always leads to spectacular and sobering outcomes. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah the outcome is the destruction of two entire cities. In the case of the tribe of Benjamin, in Judges Chapter twenty two, a similar spectacular loss was suffered by Israel and Benjamin.
It is clear that same-sex relations are biblically and undoubtably condemned. It is because of this clarity that some believers wrestle with contrary relationships, and the effect is alienation and mistrust by others who are in same-sex relations – who may be caring and thoughtful people. When that sense of a perceived injustice settles, the pastor may tell you to embrace same-sex relationships and to overlook the importance of biblical marriage. Or if not that, then to be a hypocrite and remain silent on the subject even though same-sex relationships are sinful.
As Christians we must necessarily have a way of understanding the difference between sin, the flesh and what is natural. This is because not everything that is natural is sinful. This must be an easy thing to understand, but how will we know that whilst some natural desires of the flesh are not sinful, the flesh also has the ability to be unnatural, sinful and carnal.
The truth is a simple one – it is easier to focus on others’ actions that contradict the one aspect of marriage that every person can understand – namely that we naturally love our own wives or husbands. Who cannot understand that? We would rather speak of the faults of others before we face the facts of our own faith and realise that ‘we are members of his body [of HIs flesh and His bones]. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” How easy it is to see the latter part (marriage), and to miss that marriage is predicated on the former meaning (Christ and the Church)? Unless we ourselves are living proof of Christ – then no amount of explanation will serve a good purpose – outside of a private witness. This effect of our wrestling with sin in other peoples’ lives is a real problem because whilst marriage is an undoubted biblical principle and reflects a spiritual mystery, as well as a natural fact, it would be simpler if we all laid hold of an understanding of what carnality means, biblically, and by that means we learned about our own carnality before we press others about theirs.
The Ministry of the Word is given to settle that difficulty. The Ministry of the Word is given to the churches to feed believers with spiritual meanings that are laid down in the apostolic and prophetic foundation of the Church. And whilst Christ is the chief cornerstone, it is all of Christ and not merely a part of Christ that we must teach and speak of to others. When we do that we have a basis for understanding the foundational truths of Scripture, their contradictions in real life, as well their evidence in spiritual meanings. These spiritual meanings cannot be understood unless we have Christ as He is, and not a Christ of bits and pieces. If we get that fact of Christ in a full and transparent meaning, then spiritual reality will inform physical events, and those physical events will come into their proper foundational purpose as defined by God.
Unless we realise that God has given us an answer to our times, then we may well miss that we have become carnal or natural in a calling that necessitates a spiritual meaning first and foremost, whilst not neglecting the condition of others. In short, we need to separate the Gospel with its conviction of sin, from feeding the sheep in ministry. I realise that some brethren will be concerned by this claim because in many churches we hear about the forgiveness of sin, wherein there is no more a conviction of sin, but rather an understanding that we are indeed forgiven through Christ. That fact of our forgiveness, however, will not in any way shape our walk unless in our walk we also understand what it is that obstructs our ability and willingness to lay hold of a full obedience where we do not neglect to celebrate Christ and His obedience, whilst learning to overcome, sin, the flesh and the devil. This victory in Christ, in our own lives, is called walking in the Spirit.
One the the most damaging realities that can be found in the church today has been the Charismatic effect of boasting of our forgiveness in Christ and then living a carnal, fleshy and often sinful life. If this were not sufficiently bad enough, the revelation that Christ died for us has lent itself to a prophetic falsehood in that we have taken a claim to a prophetic gift in almost any number of brethren and encouraged them to resist correction of their carnal and fleshy lives, by railing against the devil, standing against the consequence of sin and believing all such stands make us spiritual. Or else we have made carnality and fleshiness an ambition. Some believers have become utterly false in their walks and their lives. Such a condition is so grievous that its evidence is a burden – as its address must also be a burden. Flee from such an attitude of boasting in Christ’ death for our sin, and then likewise boasting of God’s grace as a means of continuing in a sinful life. It is appalling and truly grievous.
The only two sacraments that are commanded in Scripture are Communion and Baptism. Both speak of the death of Christ and so it ought to be no surprise that if God has given us a formal command to break bread, and thereby remember the Lord’s death, as well, to be baptised, which is a burial into Christ’ death, then it is Christ’ death that holds an understanding to our walk. And whilst this does mean forgiveness of sin, it also means our inclusion in Christ’ death, else we are not included in His resurrection also. And this faith we have, if indeed we have received newness of life, is no mere doctrine as some hold it. It is a living expression of Christ Himself – and if Christ, then it must be His resurrection. For we first believed and were baptised into His death, and only then do we remember His death until He returns. How will we walk in newness of life if we have a mere doctrine?
If we are given to the body of Christ as ministers of the Word, be that apostle, prophet, evangelist, else pastor and teacher, and if by that instrument of God we do not produce an effect in our labours wherein others in their own bodies are living proof of a true faith, then we are vain babblers. There is only one ministry of the Word of God and it is not a thing to invent oneself. Even as being in Christ only has substance because it it true by His death and ressurection. We have no authority to either change the Gospel of repentance or the Ministry of the Word. Yet some do and the effect is utterly appalling and severe. We will not do that, and whilst it is clear that this will produce some discord, that discord cannot be a basis for removing ourselves from the Scriptures in all but their childish meaning. Neither can we be condemnatory and argumentative. We must prove that perfect and acceptable will of the Lord by being renewed in our own minds, until we are renewed in the spirit of our minds.