The Carnality Trap
Carnality is a word that we don’t use very often, even though the scripture has much to say about its impact on the lives of careless believers. Preachers often try to avoid it because of its negative connotation and potential to offend. No believer wants to be characterized as being “carnal.” Most Christians understand “carnality” to be a synonym of “worldliness,” which includes embracing desires and engaging in activities that are incompatible with what is normally expected of a follower of Christ. Anger, hatred, bitterness, envy, immorality, stealing, and lying, along with other similar sins, would be considered obvious evidences of “carnality.”
In the Old Testament, the word “carnally” is used only three times. In each instance (Lev. 18:20; Lev. 19:20 & Num. 5:13), it is used exclusively in reference to acts of immorality.
The New Testament meaning of the word, however, is quite different. The word “carnal” or “carnally” is used eleven times, all in the writings of the Apostle Paul. The root word is the Greek word “sarx,” which means “flesh” or “fleshly,” and denotes the “sensual” or “depraved” nature of man. Its meaning is much broader in scope than the Old Testament usage, extending to emotions, desires, and attitudes, in addition to immoral activities.
In Romans 7:14 Paul identified man as being “carnal, sold under sin” in contrast to the law, which is spiritual. In Romans 8:6-7 he declared the carnal mind to be deadly and at “enmity against God.” The apostle also indicated on more than one occasion that, while he was redeemed and the Spirit of God was in control of his life, he still had a continual battle with his flesh (Rom. 7:15-25). He likewise often admonished believers to overcome the battle with the flesh, reminding them that: “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Cor. 10:4).
Paul’s most severe reprimand regarding carnality was, however, reserved for believers in the church at Corinth, and his primary concerns were far different from what we would usually expect. The apostle characterized the Christians at Corinth as being “spiritual babies.” As such, they were incapable of understanding the danger and seriousness of their offenses. So deceived were they, that they considered themselves to be great examples of spirituality. They had fallen into a very common trap associated with carnality – self-deception.
While they were engaged in some of the sins which are normally associated with carnality, their primary sin was insisting that they were spiritual (the result of carnal pride) and demanding that others respect them as such, leading to division and strife in the church, and stifling the sense of unity and cooperation necessary for the church to function as God intended. What was their dispute? It had nothing to do with doctrine, but concerned which of several faithful believers they should follow (1 Cor. 3).
Paul concluded his admonition to them by reminding them that they were “laborers together with God” (V. 9), each bearing responsibility for the unified function of the church. All of them were to be followers of Christ.
Should we not, as members of our local church, avoid disputes over insignificant things for the sake of working together in unity?
We don’t all have to have our way. In fact, demanding that others agree with us, while insisting that we alone are right, is not a sign of spirituality. Instead, it clearly demonstrates that we have become entrapped by carnality.