Carnal Christians

To put it in plain language (and too long of a sentence): Can those who say that they’re Christians but don’t act like they’re Christians because they haven’t changed for the better, or care to do good things–like praying and reading the Bible, and outward things like doing good things for other people–go to heaven? The common term for these people would be Carnal Christians.

car·nal
adjective
2. not spiritual; merely human; temporal; worldly: a man of secular, rather carnal, leanings. [I thought you weren’t supposed to put the word in the definition.]
Dictionary.com

In theological terms, it would be an unregenerate Christian. Since generate means to bring into existence or to create, regeneration can be a way of saying to be born again or born from above or born spiritually through the Holy Spirit. (John 3:3, 7)

For those who are familiar, I’m not going to go into the Lordship Salvation and Free Grace debate. That will bring out all kinds of people out of the woodwork that I don’t want to deal with. Comments on that will be rejected.

All I am writing about are people who have no desire whatsoever to change, but because they prayed a prayer of salvation, or raised their hand or came forward for an altar call think that’s it. They don’t care to do anything else or make any kind of change (repent). Some people who have done these things do in fact become born again. But many think they are and really aren’t. That’s where a fatal mistake can be made with faulty types of evangelism and leading people to believe that this is the end of the story when it comes to being a Christian. It can also lead to all kinds of disappointment and disillusionment.

In addition to not going to heaven, they are missing out on the greatest component of eternal life–knowing God. One of the most amazing verses in the Bible to me is John 17:3 “This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.”

As he was preparing for the Lord to approach His ministry, John the Baptist said, “Do those things that prove you have turned to God and have changed the way you think and act” found in Matthew 3:8. Those things do not save us or cause God to favor us more than others. They are evidence that we are saved in the first place.

John then says in verse 10, “The ax is now ready to cut the roots of the trees. Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire.”

Jesus says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me Lord but don’t do what I tell you?” Joel B. Green comments on this verse:

They might be eager to be the recipients of his gracious ministry, but only those who also embrace and internalize his message to the point that it has begun to generate such practices as those outlined in his sermon [Luke 6:17-49] might be genuine in addressing Jesus with the words, “Lord, Lord.”

To those who only say Lord, Lord and do nothing, Jesus says–similar to John–“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants” found in Matthew 7:21.

So, I don’t believe a Carnal Christian is really a Christian. However, we don’t know most people well enough to be able to judge this. Sometimes it may be obvious at the moment, but they have struggles and everyday lives and hearts that we don’t know. This is written as a warning for individuals, for those who have loved ones whose lives and actions are well known and also for those who may mislead others, and may have been mislead by being taught faulty evangelism schemes. Since Finney, there have been all sorts of goofy evangelism practices (a whole different story–Paul preached the Gospel and trusted the Holy Spirit to save–1 Corinthians 2:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 1:5). There is no reason for us to think we can point out who is and isn’t a real Christian. That’s a job for Someone else.

4 Responses to “Carnal Christians”


  1. 1 kevin

    Once again, I make a comment as someone who is probably less qualified than most who are reading this post.
    I believe you are correct when you say “There is no reason for us to think we can point out who is and isn’t a real Christian. That’s a job for Someone else.” The Someone knows the heart of us all. The pastor who has an affair with one of his flock. Is he a Christian? The Born Again who is abusive to others, is he a Christian? The murderer and thief who hears about Christ all his life and finally accepts Jesus as his Savior 30 seconds before dying, is he a Christian – he surely produced no fruit. Are they all Carnal Christians?
    Anytime we put an adjective in front of Christian we take away the meaning of Christian. A Christian is either wholly a Christian or not at all. A “good” Christian rates Christians – we (Christians)are all completely righteous in our Father’s eyes. The term carnal before Christian soils the meaning completely. (it is a good example of an oxymoron though)
    The knowing of God and His Son, is knowing the love our Father has for us. When a Christian boasts of God’s love for himself, this is truly knowing our Father. When we boast of our love for our Lord we are like Peter – we boast and likely fail. We feel ashamed and unworthy. If we boast of Jesus’ love for us, when we fail, it’s easier to get back up because we know our Father is helping us up – because He loves us.
    Like the Rich Young Ruler who kept all the Commandments, or so he thought, when it came time to give up worldly goods he couldn’t. He was relying on his actions. In the very next chapter, Jesus is at a tax collecter’s house and after being in the presence of Jesus and His love, he offered almost everything he had. This is the effect of knowing our Savior.
    Fruit is produced when we nourish the roots. In Christians fruit is produced when we let God’s Love nourish our hearts. Each tree produces a different amount of fruit.
    We can hold each other accountable but, again,I agree with you – as far as judging – That’s a job for Someone else.
    I hope this comment is not too far off main topic of your post.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    It’s a little late for me to read carefully, and believe it or not I’m recovering from surgery so I’m a little foggy. I’m not sure what came over me here.

    But I was thinking about putting “Christian” in quotes, but didn’t. I thought I’d leave the term as is. And as you say there are gray areas and nuances. I’m mainly talking about those who really just don’t care and don’t do anything. There are a ton of other things that could be written. You could write a half ton. (smiley would go here) Good points. I’ll read more of it tomorrow.
    Jeff

  3. 3 Daniel Meloy

    Hello there. This is an interesting article to me, as I feel I’ve had a lot of experience with the idea of “carnal christians” myself (and carnal mormons, for that matter). In my high school while growing up many people were religious. And of these people there were typically two types: actual practicing and generate religious folks, and the “carnal” religious folks. Especially among mormons, of which there was a high population in my home town. It seems that most “carnal” religious people only hold on to their religious titles because their parents are religious and they were raised that way. However, I also think that religion is a very personal and individual thing, and that while somebody might be considered a “carnal christian” that does not mean that their religious affiliation is meaningless to them. What do you think? Is it counter-intuitive to be a “carnal christian” who values their faith?

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    It depends on how they value Jesus and what He did on the cross as opposed to valuing their ‘faith’. So the Bible would be the authority on what a real Christian is a Jesus had a lot to say about that. I don’t have any verses handy at the moment but could help more if you’d like and if I’m able to help.
    Jeff

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