Guarding Against Carnality

Guarding Against Carnality

Robert Wurtz II



For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3)



Paul, from his great love and care for the churches, identified a problem at Corinth that he refers to as carnality and then summarized it as “behaving like mere men.” Mere men do not have the regenerating experience of the Holy Spirit and approach life from a different mindset. In other words, it is an unloving mode of life. As I have grown in the Lord, I look back on times with great vexation and grief when I have been carnal or reacted to situations carnally. May the Lord help me and others who may need this teaching.  


Christians Behaving Carnally


The recipients of Paul’s letter were genuine Christians, but they had not moved forward in their relationship with God and relied on their strength and reasoning. They apparently stopped letting the mind of Christ be in them (Philippians 2:5-8, 1 Corinthians 2:16). It’s not that they stopped attending church, believing, or even operating in the gifts of the Spirit; they moved away from depending on the love of God in their interaction with one another. In other words, they were no longer spiritual but carnal. 


The Wrong Wisdom  


Wisdom is mentioned 14 times in the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians. Paul contrasts the wisdom of God with the wisdom of this world. In 2 Corinthians, he speaks of natural wisdom. If we operate our lives in natural wisdom or the wisdom of his world, the outcome will not be spiritual. Why? Because this is not the mind of Christ. 


The world pushes the individual. When people think and reason like the world, they reason like Satan, the god of this world. His attitude is demonstrated in Isaiah 14:13-14 when he spoke of what “I” will do. 


The Wisdom from the Enemy


For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High (Isaiah 14:13-14). 


The Corinthians were saying, “I” am of Paul, “I” am of Apollos, “I” am of Cephas, and “I” am of Christ. Therefore, when our concern or emphasis is on “I” regarding our will and way, we must examine ourselves to see if we have become carnal. 


The Wisdom from Above


James spoke of God’s wisdom when he wrote, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17 NKJV). 


Notice the phrase “willing to yield.” The wisdom of this world says, “I will…” but the wisdom from God directs us to consider others. It understands that “I” might be wrong or “I” might not know what is best, even if I’m convinced that “I” know what’s best. 


The remaining attributes of God’s wisdom are basically parallel with the love of God that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. God’s wisdom is in keeping with His love. When we are moving in His wisdom, we are moving in His love. 


Paul and James


Paul agrees with James as we read in Philippians, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). 


When we are willing to yield to others, we demonstrate the lowliness of mind that accompanies being spiritual. But when we demand our own way, we demonstrate the wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and demonic (James 3:15), which is a carnal mindset. The spiritual mindset is motivated by love; the carnal mind is motivated by self-will. The spiritual mind agrees with God’s word, but the carnal mind is not subject to God’s law, nor indeed can it be (Romans 8:7). 


Confusion Caused by Carnality


A careful comparison between 1 Corinthians 3:3 (KJV) and James 3:14-16 (KJV) reveals that the behavior of the Corinthians matches James’ warning. Carnality leads to much confusion among the saints. It can lead us to wonder if the parties involved are born again or maybe even wolves in sheep’s clothing. 


Again, the consequence of Christians behaving like “mere” unregenerate men is that they could be mistaken for unregenerate men or possibly even false believers. In addition, if we combine carnal and spiritual thinking, we risk becoming double-minded and unstable. We risk behaving in ways that make people question whether we love them. 


Let this Mind be in You


As Christians, we must guard ourselves against the carnal mind. We must utterly resist the temptation to utilize natural and worldly wisdom in our dealings with people. Carnality breeds more carnality. If one person acts carnal, the temptation is to respond carnally. We mustn’t respond like for like. We must call one another to brotherly love. 


Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). 

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