Carnal And Spiritual Believers

 

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1 Corinthians 3:1-4 is one of the most abused passages in the written Word of God. It has been used to justify the idea people can be saved by receiving Jesus Christ only as Saviour and not as Lord. These supposed Lord-less believers are called “carnal Christians” by easy believism teachers. So let us examine 1 Corinthians 3:1-4: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal.” The word “carnal” is used here four times and is “sarkikos” in the original Greek in verses 3 and 4. Vine says “carnal” in verse 1 is “sarkikos” in some ancient Greek New Testament texts and “sarkinos” in others.

Bauer says that in the context of 1 Corinthians 3:1 (in some translations) 3:3 (twice) and 3:4, “sarkikos” means: “belonging to the realm of the flesh in so far as it is weak, sinful and transitory”. [1] Bauer states that in 1 Corinthians 3:1, “sarkinos” means the same as “sarkikos” defined above. [2] In the New Testament, the flesh refers to “the state or condition of human nature and its instincts and desires, not as they first came from God before the fall of the human race, but as they have been warped and corrupted by the sin inherited from Adam and further weakened and perverted by our own acts of sin” or “the sinful state of what I am without the Presence and rule of the Holy Spirit.”

The context of 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 reveals Paul was referring to true believers. In verse 1, he addressed them as “brothers” and said they were “in Christ”. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says they had the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul said they were “God’s field and God’s building”, and in 1 Corinthians 3:23 Paul told them: “And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

 

But they had received Christ as Lord

 

But note by examining the Books of 1 and 2 Corinthians, we see all the Corinthian believers including those mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 had received Jesus as both Lord and Saviour. 1 Corinthians 1:2, 7:22 and 9:1 reveal all the Corinthian Christians had received Jesus Christ as Lord at conversion. 1 Corinthians 1:2 records Paul’s words: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:” Note Paul said Jesus Christ was “Lord, both theirs and ours”.

1 Corinthians 7:22 reveals that when they were called by God, they were “called in the Lord” and became the slave of Christ the Master: For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.”

1 Corinthians 9:1 indicates all the Corinthian believers including the relatively carnal ones, were “in the Lord” and not just “in the Saviour”: “…Are you not my work in the Lord?” In 2 Corinthians 3:16, Paul wrote to the Corinthians about unbelievers turning to the Lord and not just turning to the Saviour: “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” 2 Corinthians 4:5 shows Paul always preached Jesus as Lord, not merely as Saviour: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord…”

 

Carnal or spiritual in a relative and not absolute sense

 

One false view teaches a number of false associated ideas based on a pitiful understanding of 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. This view claims that:

 

·         all or many converts become so-called “carnal Christians” from the moment of conversion.

·         carnal Christians are those believers who are totally ruled by the flesh but are not ruled by the Holy Spirit in even the slightest way for months or years.

·         only some Christians become ruled to some degree by the Holy Spirit in the months or years after their conversion. These are called “spiritual Christians”.

·         carnal Christians are eternally saved despite being totally ruled by the flesh and not by the Holy Spirit to even the slightest degree for months or years.

 

The above ridiculous ideas are based on the poor assumption Paul was using the word “carnal” or “sarkikos” (and possibly “sarkinos”) in Greek in an absolute and not a relative sense. If taken in an absolute sense, the word “carnal” means “totally fleshly or completely or perfectly controlled by the flesh”. If taken in a relative sense, the word “carnal” in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 would mean these believers were comparatively more ruled by the flesh than:

 

·         what they were before or

·         what is normal for regenerated believers or

·         what other relatively more spiritual or more Holy Spirit-ruled believers at Corinth were or

·         a combination of two or all the above alternatives.

 

Being continuously totally carnal equals being unsaved

 

Note 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 cannot be interpreted in an absolute sense, otherwise it will result in conclusions opposed to what Paul and Peter said in other New Testament verses.

In Galatians 6:7-8, Paul confirms that those who are completely carnal or absolutely ruled by the flesh will end up reaping spiritual decay or corruption: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

In this context, corruption refers to the opposite of eternal life. [3] 2 Peter 2:12 uses the same Greek word for “corruption” in relation to being in a state of spiritual death.

In the original Greek, the word “sows” in Galatians 6:7 above is a form of the word “speiro” and is in the present tense. In Greek, the word “sows” used twice in Galatians 6:8 is also a form of the word “speiro” and is in the present tense. In this context, the present tense indicates a continuous or ongoing sowing to the flesh or to the Spirit. If the present tense was taken to refer to a single action of sowing this would wrongly mean one sowing to the flesh in even the smallest way by believers would result in spiritual death. The words “will reap” used twice in verse 8 are a form of the word “therizo” in Greek and are in the future tense. So someone who continuously year after year sows totally to the flesh will reap spiritual death instead of eternal life in future.

In Romans 8:13, Paul stresses: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” In the original Greek, the word “live” in the first part of the above verse is in the present tense. The present tense here signifies a continuous living according to the flesh. Living is a continuous activity. So Romans 8:13 teaches that if someone is continuously living according to the flesh, he will die spiritually. The present tense of “live” could not be taken to refer to a single action of living according to the flesh. Otherwise it will also result in the absurd conclusion that even one minor instance of living in the flesh by believers will result in them spiritually dying.

In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul warns that any person who continuously or constantly repeatedly unrepentantly practices the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In the original Greek, the word “practice” above is in the present tense.

The present tense of “practice” in Galatians 5:21 must be taken in its usual continuous or constantly repeated ongoing sense. This is because the alternative of taking it in a single action sense would mean just becoming angry once would result in someone being excluded from God’s Kingdom. But note Ephesians 4:26 reveals it is possible for saved believers to be angry or wrathful at times.

It is impossible to be eternally saved and remain totally ruled by the flesh in the years after the point of a supposed conversion. Romans 8:5-13 and Galatians 5:16-25 reveal the battle which occurs between the flesh and the Holy Spirit in every true believer. But this is different from being totally ruled by the flesh for years.

The flesh trusts totally in itself. It has no real faith in God the Father or Jesus Christ. So if a person is totally ruled by the flesh, it is impossible for him to have a faith in God and Jesus Christ which receives justification. The New Testament teaches we are justified by faith.

 

All Christians battle carnality

 

All Christians commit sin (see James 3:2). Whenever Christians sin, they are ruled to some extent by the flesh in that specific area of their lives at that time. They are being relatively carnal at that point. But they cannot be classified as absolutely carnal if they are not totally ruled by the flesh in every area of their lives continuously year after year. Until believers die, they will have the flesh or carnality in them against which they must battle. This is why we can also never truthfully speak of absolutely spiritual Christians or those who are perfectly ruled by the Holy Spirit in every area of their lives every moment of every day.

In 1 Corinthians 2:15, 3:1, 14:37 and Galatians 6:1, Paul referred to believers who are “spiritual”. In Greek, the word “spiritual” used in these verses is “pneumatikos” or forms of it. “Pneumatikos” refers to believers who are relatively more spiritual than others. Galatians 6:1 shows spiritual believers are not permanently perfectly or absolutely spiritual. This verse reveals spiritual believers can be tempted with sin: “ Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”

It is dangerous to classify Christians into two absolute categories – carnal Christians and spiritual Christians. Carnality and spirituality are relative concepts, not two clearly defined absolute groups. Every new convert or older believer is more or less carnal or spiritual than other new converts or older believers. Also, every believer is more or less carnal or Holy Spirit-ruled than what he was this morning, yesterday, last week and so on.

 

No such person exists

 

There is no such person as an eternally saved Christian who is absolutely ruled by the flesh every moment of every day, year after year. This is just as there is no person who lives like Satan every day and is saved.

 

Infants or babes in Christ

 

In 1 Corinthians 3:1, Paul revealed many or all of the Corinthian Christians were “babes in Christ”. In the original Greek, the word “babes” here is “nepioi”. In Greek, “nepios” is the singular form of “nepioi”. “Nepios” means an “infant, minor”. [4]

One of the shaky foundations of the easy believism “gospel” is a dreadful understanding of the expression “babes in Christ” in the above verse. Easy believism teaches that many infants in Christ are totally or absolutely carnal or fleshly from the moment they are converted and take years before they grow any more spiritually mature than this. The New Testament itself does not support such a ridiculous conclusion.

The expression “babes in Christ” in 1 Corinthians 3:1 can never be used to justify easy believism conversions in which people are supposed to be able to receive Jesus as Saviour but not as Lord. Nor can this expression be used as an excuse for churchgoers to live totally ruled by the flesh every day for many years while claiming to be saved.

The Corinthian “babes in Christ” were living in obedience to the Word and to the Holy Spirit to some limited degree. But they obviously were not knowledgeable of and/or were not practising the Word of God in numerous areas of their lives to the depth mature believers do. Also sadly, many of them had backslidden.

 

 

 

The Corinthian Church contained many very carnal infants in Christ

 

When commenting on the meaning of the Greek word “nepios”, Bauer says that in Hebrews 5:13 “the ‘nepios’ who is fed with the milk of elementary teaching, is contrasted with the ‘teleios’ or mature person, who can take the solid food of the main teachings (see also 1 Corinthians 3:1). In this connection the ‘nepios’ is one who views spiritual things from the standpoint of a child. With this can be contrasted the state of the more advanced Christian, to which the ‘nepios’ may aspire”. [5]

One of the keys to interpreting the Bible is interpreting Scripture by Scripture, just as Jesus did in Matthew 4:7 after the Devil quoted Scripture to Him. The correct understanding of “nepioi” as used in 1 Corinthians 3:1 can be found by interpreting it in its context and by comparing it to similar verses about “nepios” in Hebrews 5:12-6:2 and “nepioi” in Ephesians 4:13-15. In Greek, “nepios” refers to one babe and “nepioi” refers to two or more babes.

So let us look at 1 Corinthians 3:1 in context. Note in this verse, Paul equates “nepioi” or infants in Christ with those who are carnal. But remember as shown earlier in this chapter, Paul is referring here to being carnal in a relative and not an absolute sense. Infants in Christ are relatively more carnal or fleshly than mature spiritual believers. After conversion, all Christians are babes in Christ. All babes in Christ are relatively fleshly or carnal when compared to more mature believers.

But note there are no such persons as absolutely or totally carnal infants in Christ. Those who are absolutely fleshly or totally carnal every moment of every day for years after their so-called “conversion” do not give evidence of ever being really converted. As Hebrews 5:12-6:2 shows, a true babe in Christ at least repents at conversion from his known sinful actions related to spiritual death and has faith in God. In the original Greek, the word “faith” in Hebrews 6:1 is a form of the Greek word “pistis”. Note in Chapter           “Greek words for faith”, the word “pistis” is partly defined as “the surrender of oneself” to God. So the babe to whom Hebrews 5:12-6:2 refers, had surrendered himself or herself to Jesus Christ's Lordship at conversion.

In 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul said to the Corinthians that they were “behaving like mere men”. This means that at that time, many or all of the Corinthians were living not much differently from their pagan neighbours. Paul was not here teaching that the usual characteristic of infants in Christ is living in every area of their lives not much differently from unbelievers. Instead Paul was saying in verse 3 here that many of the Corinthian believers were living not much differently from their non-Christian neighbours only in the specific matters of being envious and having strife and divisions among them.

Note in verse 3, Paul links being relatively very carnal to behaving like mere unsaved men, but he does not say babes in Christ are those who behave like the unsaved. Instead in verse 2, Paul describes “nepioi” as those who like normal human babies can be fed only on the milk and not on the solid food of the Word. Infants in Christ are all relatively carnal when compared to more mature believers. But all infants in Christ vary among themselves in relation to the degree they are carnal. So by adding they were “behaving like mere men”, Paul was showing their degree of carnality was at the highest relative levels possible for those who are still saved babes in Christ. These infants at Corinth were so relatively carnal, they were in danger of losing their salvation.

Many readers of the Books of 1 and 2 Corinthians become confused because they fail to understand Paul mixed together his comments about the two major problems of the Corinthian Church. These two problems were:

 

·         Many of the Corinthians had failed to mature past the stage of being infants in Christ. They remained immature in Christ for a lengthy period of time after their conversion (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-2).

·         Some or many of them had backslidden after their initial repentance and turning from their known sins to God in their hearts at conversion. They backslid to such a relatively high level of carnality that they were in danger of turning from faith in Christ and being eternally condemned.

 

There were numerous backsliders at Corinth

 

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, 6:9-10, 6:12-20, 10:1-10, 11:21, 11:32, 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, 12:20-21 and 13:5 indicate how backslidden and extremely fleshly many of these Corinthian babes in Christ had become. Acts 18:1-18 reveals that Paul founded the church at Corinth. Acts 18:11 shows Paul remained there for one and half years on this first visit.

1 Corinthians 5:1-13 clearly reveals Paul would have strongly disciplined any Corinthian who claimed to be a brother in Christ but who was regularly practicing sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, drunkenness or robbery or extortion. Note Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13: “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or exhortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’.”

The prevalence of various forms of sexual immorality among many of them after Paul left can be seen or are inferred in Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, 6:9-10, 6:12-20, 10:1-10 and 2 Corinthians 12:20-21. 1 Corinthians 11:21 shows drunkenness was occurring among some of the Corinthian believers. In 1 Corinthians 6:8, Paul says some of the Corinthians were defrauding each other: “On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that your brethren.” (N.A.S.B.) In Greek, the word “defraud” above is a form of the word “apostereo”. “Apostereo” means “steal, rob someone” [6] or “to rob…, defraud”. [7] 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 may reveal some of the Corinthian believers were even mixing pagan idolatry with their Christian practices.

1 Corinthians 5:1 shows Paul heard of the sexual immorality of the Corinthian believer who was living de-facto with the man’s father’s wife, after Paul had left Corinth. It is extremely likely that drunkenness, stealing, other types of sexual immorality and possibly idolatry only became the open practices of many from the Corinthian church after Paul left. This is because 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 shows Paul as senior pastor of the church would have suspended or cancelled the membership of such people from the church.[8]

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 warned these backslidden carnal Christians at Corinth: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul here uses the expression “Do not be deceived” which in the original Greek is “me planasthe” and is a present tense command. Sometimes in Greek, present tense commands which are combined with a “not” (or in Greek “me”) mean “do not continue doing the action” instead of “do not start doing the action”. [9] So Paul may have been saying: “Do not continue being deceived.”

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and 2 Corinthians 12:21 refer to the types of sexual immorality in which some of these carnal Corinthians were involved. So Paul's questions in 1 Corinthians 5:6 and 6:9 seem to mean these backslidden carnal believers were already deceived into believing a little bit of known sin here and there did not matter and that people can live extremely wicked lives continuously year after year and still be saved.

Paul’s questions in 1 Corinthians 6:15, 6:16 and 6:19 seem to suggest these carnal Corinthians were already under deception about the relationship between Christ, the Holy Spirit and their bodies and about the effects of having sexual intercourse with prostitutes. It is also possible Paul's mention in 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 of Satanic deception and of the fact many carnal Corinthian churchgoers had accepted a false “gospel”, a false Jesus and a false spirit is relevant to Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 6:9 about deception.

 

Paul’s other warnings to the Corinthian backsliders

 

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul warned that those who continually practice various sins would not be saved. But note Paul’s list here is almost the same as his 1 Corinthians 5:11 list of those types of people claiming to be saved believers whom Paul said he would expel from church membership. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul lists five types of sexual immorality while in 1 Corinthians 5:11 he refers to sexual immorality in general. In both 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 6:10, Paul mentions stealing, greed, drunkenness, reviling and robbery or extortion.

In 2 Corinthians 12:21, Paul says that many of the Corinthians had been practicing various types of sexual immorality: “lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.”

It is likely in 2 Corinthians 13:10, Paul threatened to use strong church discipline on such believers if they did not repent by the time he returned: “Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.” In Greek, the word “sharpness” here is “apotomos” which means “severely, rigorously” [10] or “literally in a manner that cuts”. [11] “Apotomos” is derived from the words “apo” meaning “from” and “temno” meaning “to cut”. [12] Paul threatened strong church discipline also in 1 Corinthians 4:21: “What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness.”

It is obvious from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 that he believed severely backslidden believers who should be expelled from church membership could still be possibly saved on the Final Judgement Day.

In 1 Corinthians 11:31-32, Paul warns the Corinthians of being eternally condemned along with the people of the world. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, he tells them to test to see if they still have faith in Jesus Christ: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves…”

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Paul uses the people of Israel who were with Moses as an example of believers who lost their faith in God and were destroyed. Exodus 14:31 records these Israelites had faith in God. Numbers 14:11, Deuteronomy 1:32 and 9:23 reveal these same people later rejected God, turning to unbelief. Numbers 14:11 states: “Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?’”

In 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, Paul indicates that many of the Corinthians has turned from the true Gospel, true Christ and true Holy Spirit to false imitations: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you may well put up with it.” Many of the Corinthians had obviously done more than not maturing in Christ. They had also backslidden from what their heart attitudes were at conversion and were possibly for at least the short time Paul was first there.

In 2 Corinthians 2:5-9 and 7:5-12, Paul seems to indicate that after the Corinthian Church received the Letter of 1 Corinthians, they disciplined the man who was living with his step-mother and many of them repented in different ways. Even the disciplined man seems to have repented. But note 2 Corinthians 12:20-21, 13:5-6 and 13:10 show a large group of backsliders had not repented at the time Paul wrote the Letter of 2 Corinthians.

Paul was concerned that some or all the Corinthians were still infants and had not matured. But he was even more concerned about how extremely relatively carnal these Corinthians were. Throughout the history of the Church, multitudes have lived and died as babes in Christ. They never became mature in Christ, but were still saved at their deaths. Even now, I am sure you know of many people who really did receive Christ as Lord and Saviour at conversion, but who are still babes in Christ years later. Also throughout history, there have been many who were martyred not long after their conversions. They did not have time to mature in Christ but were still eternally saved.

 

Infants in Christ mature at different rates

 

While it is true all believers begin their walk in Christ as babes in Him, it is not true all such infants are as relatively carnal as each other. All babes in Christ mature at different rates after conversion. Some sadly mature little if at all.

Also, some infants in Christ do the reverse of maturing in Christ after their initial reception of Jesus as Lord and Saviour and their accompanying heart repentance at conversion. These babes in Christ begin to backslide from their initial heart surrender to Christ and accompanying turning in heart from sin. At conversion, they went from being totally or absolutely carnal as unbelievers to being relatively carnal as spiritual infants. Then as backsliders, they start heading back towards the state of being totally carnal.

Hebrews 3:12-15 warns of this: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion’.” Refer also to Galatians 5:4, 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Hebrews 2:1, 10:26-39, 2 Peter 3:17, Revelation 2:4-5 and 3:14-16.

 

Other key passages about infants in Christ

 

The true spiritual state of infants in Christ can be seen by cross-referencing 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 with Hebrews 5:12-6:2 and Ephesians 4:13-15. In 1 Corinthians 3:2-3, Paul said: “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” Note in verses 1-2 above, Paul says that on his previous visit to Corinth years before, he could only preach the milk of the Word to them and not solid food.

Also observe the verb “you were able” in the expression “for until now you were not able” in 1 Corinthians 3:2 is in the imperfect tense in Greek. The imperfect tense here refers to continuous action in the past. So continuously in the past, they were unable to receive solid food from God’s Word. Paul also said that at the time of writing years later, these Corinthians were still not able to receive the solid food of the Word.

Hebrews 5:12-6:2 says: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussions of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgement.” The writer of Hebrews here shows that everyone who is a “nepios” or babe in Christ is unskilled in the solid food of the Word of God. Infants in Christ do not know or practice the more solid principles of God’s Word.

The above verses show all babes in Christ were previously taught the first or elementary principles or milk of God’s Word. There first principles are listed in Hebrews 6:1-2. The first two of these principles are repentance from dead works and faith toward God.

Note Hebrews 5:12 says in part “you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God”. By using the word “again” here, the writer of Hebrews shows these Hebrew believers had been taught before the principles of repentance from dead works and faith toward God. The three usages of the word “you” in Hebrews 5:13 are plural in Greek. This means the writer of Hebrews was saying that all the Hebrew believers had been previously taught these first principles of God’s Word. This shows they had not been taught to have easy believism so-called “conversions”.

The expression “repentance from dead works” refers to the change of mind and will occurring at conversion in relation to actions linked to their previous state of being cut off spiritually from God. Romans 6:20-21 and 7:5 refer to sinful works producing death. Romans 6:20-21 says: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.”

Despite the fact the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 6:1 that he would not provide the Hebrew believers again with teaching on the first or elementary principles of God’s Word, Hebrews 5:12 declares that they needed to be taught these first principles of God’s oracles again. This means they needed to be taught about repentance, faith in God, eternal judgement and so on again.

Also, note the expression “let us go” in Hebrews 6:1 is “pherometha”. In its context of Hebrews 6:1, “pherometha” refers to “spiritual development” [13] or means “to change from one state to another, with the implication of progressive development”. [14]

 

Not just two categories of believers

 

There are not just two categories of believers – babes in Christ and the mature in Christ. Multitudes of Christians fit in between these two categories. This is similar to natural human development. Humans begin as babes, then become toddlers, then relatively more mature children, then teenagers and then mature adults.

In Ephesians 4:13-15, Paul compares infants in Christ to mature children of God in Christ: “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ.” Note the word “perfect” in verse 13 above is a form of the Greek word “teleios” which means “full-grown, mature, adult” when used of people. [15] In Ephesians 4:13-15, Paul links being mature in Christ to:

 

·         being the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. In Greek, the word “stature” here is “helikias”’ and can refer to a person’s age or height. [16] Therefore in verse 13, “stature” refers to Christ's maturity. In Greek, the word “fullness” here is a form of the word “pleroma” which means “full development”. [17] In Ephesians 4:13, “pleroma” can refer to all of Jesus Christ's “virtues and excellent characteristics”. [18]

·         growing up into Christ in all respects. This means maturing in our union with Christ to such a degree that He fills and rules every part of our whole being.

·         not being tossed around by every wind of doctrine. Note the word “children” in verse 14 here is “nepioi”. So Paul here shows that infants in Christ are likely to be prey for many false current winds of doctrine. This is similar to how 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 shows the relatively very carnal Corinthians who were still babes in Christ, were easy prey for false “gospels”, false “Jesuses” and false imitations of the Holy Spirit. Because many of the Corinthians were so carnal, they were unable to receive the solid food of God’s Word and were more easily deceived by the Serpent or Satan.

 

In recent years, many Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics in the United States and other Western countries have been tossed around by every wind of doctrine. Because so many churchgoers and too many leaders have remained babes in Christ and have continued to be so relatively carnal for many years after their conversion, they only have known the milk of the Word and have been easy prey for these winds of false doctrine. I am astounded about how many seriously wrong and Biblically imbalanced teachings have been gullibly accepted by so many churchgoers in recent decades.

Some of the teachers of these false doctrines claim to be spiritual giants. But they are similar to the proud immature boasters at the Corinthian church (see 1 Corinthians 4:6-10, 4:18-19, 5:2, 5:6 and 2 Corinthians 11:18).

Tragically, some Western church leaders are spiritually immature and they lead churches which have grown large by appealing to the spiritual immaturity and relative carnality of so many others. Not all large Western churches are like this, but some are. Some of these leaders have miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit manifest in their lives. But like many of the Corinthians, they are still relatively carnal despite being Christians for many years. They may be enthusiastic for evangelising the unsaved and are busy in church matters. But they are still relatively immature in Christ.

We all, including myself, need to mature more in Christ. But there is an urgent Holy Spirit-inspired call on all God’s leaders to mature in Christ and His Word much more than some have in recent decades.

 

Conclusion

 

1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and other parts of the New Testament do not teach there are totally carnal believers who are saved despite having supposedly only received Christ as Saviour but not as Lord. Saved believers can be relatively more or less carnal than other believers. But those churchgoers who are totally carnal are not saved.

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.         Why has 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 been one of the most abused passages in the written Word of God?

2.         In the New Testament, what does the flesh mean when used in contexts related to fallen humans?

3.         What proof is there in 1 Corinthians that 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 refers to true believers?

4.         What evidence is there in the Books of 1 and 2 Corinthians that all Corinthian believers had received Jesus Christ as both Lord and Saviour?

5.         Explain the false view about 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 in relation to the teaching about carnal Christians and spiritual Christians. Also on what false assumption is this view based?

6.         Explain why being continuously totally carnal equals being unsaved.

7.         Why is it wrong to teach that any Christian is totally carnal or the opposite extreme – totally spiritual?

8.         What does the expression “babes in Christ” in 1 Corinthians 3:1

a)             mean

b)             not mean?

9.         What does the phrase “behaving like mere men” in 1 Corinthians 3:3 mean?

10.     What evidence is there in the Books of 1 and 2 Corinthians that there were many born-again Christians at the Corinthian Church who had backslidden in heart?

11.     What warnings did Paul give the Corinthian backsliders?

12.     Explain what Hebrews 5:12-6:2 teaches about infants in Christ.

13.     What does Ephesians 4:13-15 teach about the differences between infants in Christ and fully mature believers?


 

The false “tekna”-“huios” distinction

 

The false categorizing of believers into two totally separate groups – carnal believers and spiritual believers – is not only based on a poor understanding of 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and the differences between the Greek words “sarkikos” and “pneumatikos”. It is also based on a pitiful grasp of what the New Testament teaches about being an immature believer and on a false understanding of some other Greek words. Some Bible teachers claim the New Testament reveals there are two categories of children of God:

 

·         The first are supposedly immature believers living in an almost continual state of disobedience to His known commands. These are claimed to be represented by the New Testament Greek words “teknon” or “tekna”. In Greek, “teknon” refers to one child, while “tekna” refers to two or more children.

·         The second are supposedly mature believers living mostly in obedience to His known commands. These are claimed to be represented by the New Testament Greek words “huios” and “huioi”. “Huios” refers to one son and “huioi” to two or more sons. Supposed proof of this idea is the fact Romans 8:14 refers to the “huioi” of God being led by the Holy Spirit. “Huioi” are said to be led by the Spirit because of their spiritual maturity and “tekna” are claimed to be never led by the Spirit because of their immaturity.

But when we look at how the New Testament writers use the words “teknon”, “tekna”, “huios” and “huioi”, we see how wrong the above teaching is. Paul uses the word “tekna” about the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 4:14 and 2 Corinthians 6:13. 1 Corinthians 4:14 states: “…but as my beloved children I warn you.” Some people equate wrongly the Greek words “tekna” used above and “nepioi” meaning “infant” used in 1 Corinthians 3:1 and on the basis of the previously mentioned false understanding of “nepioi”, make similar wrong conclusions about “teknon”.

John 1:12-13 shows we become “tekna” or children of God the moment we are converted: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” 1 John 3:1, 3:2 and 3:10 use the word “tekna” in relation to believers. But note 1 John 3:10 emphasises all children or “tekna” of God mostly practice His known will: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” James 3:2 shows all believers do sin. But 1 John 3:10 proves “tekna” of God do not continually practice known sin every moment of every day. Being a “teknon” of God is not being in some state of spiritual immaturity in which absolutely no godly character or behaviour is evident.

1 Peter 1:14 refers to obedient “tekna” or children of God: “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts…” This verse shows “tekna” of God can be very obedient believers. Philippians 2:15 uses the word “tekna” to refer to children of God living blameless lives without fault: “that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Bauer quotes an example in secular Greek of “teknon” being used to refer to a fully grown child. [19]

In Greek, Romans 8:19 uses a form of the word “huioi” when referring to the “sons” of God. Romans 8:21 speaks of “tekna” or “children” of God. Both Romans 8:19 and 21 are referring to the future most mature spiritual state of believers. Therefore, Paul does not use ‘teknon” or “tekna” to refer to immature exceedingly disobedient believers.

In Ephesians 1:5, Paul mentions our being adopted by God as His sons at conversion: “Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself…” The expression “adoption as sons” here is “huiothesia” in the original Greek. [20] Vine says “huiothesia” is a combination of the words “huios” and “thesis”. [21] So believers are “huioi” of God from the time of their conversion, not just when they grow in maturity in Christ.

In Matthew 13:38, the Greek word “huioi” is used twice, once to refer to “sons” of the kingdom and the other time to mean the “sons” of the evil one. “Huioi” is the plural form of the word “huios”. In Matthew 13:38, “huioi” is used in the expression “sons of the Kingdom” to refer to all God’s sons – the immature and mature.

Louw and Nida say that both “teknon” and “huios” can refer to “a person of any age for whom there is a special relationship of endearment and association”. [22] Louw and Nida also state that “teknon” means “one’s immediate offspring, but without specific reference to sex or age”. [23] Therefore, a “teknon” can be an immature or mature believer.

 


 

[1] Bauer, pages 742-743.

[2] Ibid, page 743.

[3] Vine, page 131.

[4] Bauer, page 537.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bauer, page 99.

[7] Vine, page 155.

[8]  There is much debate among Bible teachers as to whether 1 Corinthians 5:2, 5:9-13, 1 Thessalonians 3:14-15 and Titus 3:10-11 refer to (a) suspending or cancelling the membership of someone from the local church while still allowing him to attend meetings as a visitor or non-member (b) cancelling the membership of someone in the local church and barring the person from all church meetings but still socialising with the person outside of church meetings or (c) all of (b) above plus other members not eating meals nor having fellowship with the person in their homes. In the latter, the pastor(s) still continues to visit the expelled person to encourage him to repent.

In the early church, membership seems to have been informal. Also, note the New Testament does not teach that a local Church must discipline unconverted visitors in the same ways converted members are.

[9] Dana and Mantey, “A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament”, page 301 and Brooks and Winbery, “Syntax of New Testament Greek”, page 127 and Richard Young, “Intermediate New Testament Greek”, Broadman and Holman, Nashville, Tennessee, 1994, page 144.

[10] Bauer, page 101.

[11] Vine, page 568.

[12] Ibid, page 568.

[13] Bauer, page 855.

[14] Louw and Nida, page 155.

[15] Bauer, page 809.

[16] Bauer, page 345 and Vine, page 19.

[17] Perschbacher, page 333.

[18] Vine, page 259.

[19] Bauer, page 808.

[20] Vine, page 13.

[21] Ibid, page 13.

[22] Louw and Nida, page 110.

[23] Ibid, page 116.


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