“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). This was Paul’s bleak assessment of the spiritual state of the Christians in the church of Corinth. They were suffering from a case of arrested spiritual development. Much to his disappointment, he could not speak of them as Christians advancing in the knowledge of God and in holy living. They were struggling in spiritual infancy, despite the abundant measure of God’s grace which they had received (1 Corinthians 1:4-7). What was prohibiting them from feeding on the solid meat of God’s Word? We learn from his letter to them that pride was a big factor. Their “name dropping” about their spiritual instructors was fostering division in the church (1 Corinthians 3:4), and they were puffed up about their spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 4:7). In some ways, they resembled the church of Laodicea, whom Jesus rebuked: “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17) . In addition to their boasting, the Corinthians failed to separate themselves from some of the sinful pursuits of their past way of life. In a word, they were carnal, or sarkinos, which means “minding the flesh” (1 Corinthians 3:3,4). In the battle between the flesh and the spirit, the flesh was winning. A Christian dominated by the flesh will always want his own way; he will not seek the things of God.
It is expected that new believers will be carnal for a time because nobody is born mature. However, Paul had labored among the Corinthians to ground them in truth: “And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). The Lord had given them “the best of the best” in theological instruction, and they were without excuse. So, in this age, is every Christian who has all the more access to gifted teachers, books, and a rich heritage in the faith. How about you? If you lay claim to being a Christian, are you a growing Christian? Or are you still in the church nursery? Perhaps you are out of the nursery but still far behind where you ought to be. You may be saved, but as Alan Redpath wrote: “The carnal Christian is a child of God, born again, and on his way to heaven, but he is traveling third class.” Is it time for you to join the first-class passengers and pursue the deeper things of God’s Word? “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
How do carnal Christians get from a lower plane to higher ground? There are no mystical practices to follow, no spiritual vitamins to consume. The spiritual nourishment of God’s Word, prayer, preaching, and the fellowship of the saints is sufficient. These are the ordinary means of grace for daily living as the Christian seeks to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). But even all of these blessings will be of no help if the desire to grow is lacking: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). The desire must be followed by action. People can admit they have a weight problem, they can talk about dieting and buy books on the subject, but if they don’t discipline themselves to change their poor eating habits, the pounds won’t magically come off. Just as the latest diet fads don’t work in the long run, the latest Christian fads won’t work. The spiritual disciplines we practice day after day will make the difference (1 Timothy 4:7). This begins with setting our minds “on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Jack Crabtree wrote: “The lack of spirituality in our culture is really a very simple problem. We are a people who stubbornly refuse to confront the truth and do business with it; we are a people who refuse to acknowledge the truth as truth and embrace it with all our soul. The solution, therefore, is simple: we must repent! We must change our minds and make a different choice. We must decide to pursue truth (and the best and most direct way to do that is by pursuing an understanding of the Bible), and we must decide to embrace it with our whole being and to live our lives in the light of that truth. Nothing more and nothing less is needed. May God help us all to make that very choice for ourselves.”
Just remember, there is no neutral ground when it comes to your spiritual life. Either you are making progress, or you are slipping backwards. I trust you are not in reverse, and I pray that all God’s children will endeavor with all their hearts to be mature disciples of Jesus, so they can help others to grow into His image. “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2; 1, 2).
May the Lord keep you strong and maturing in Christ,