So how would you explain: Romans 8:8, which translates from Swahili, “Those who follow the flesh cannot please God.” 1 Corinthians 3:3 “You are not carnal people; are you still walking in a human way?” which is defined in other translations in English: NLT – “controlled by your sinful nature”; NIV – “worldly”; ESV – “behaving only in a human way”; CSB – “like mere humans”; NET – “influenced by the flesh…like unregenerate people.”This sounds spiritual but, admittedly, I am not sure what I read! So, even in English we need to stop explaining to others what we, ourselves, don’t even know.
I will take a humbler approach to explaining “carnality,” and I can do that because I know what carnal means because I’ve been this. I am beginning to see a strange value in forgiveness and the Spirit’s work to educate me. He takes what I do wrong and calls it “wrong!” And over time I am like the “feral” cat that has learned that the dining room table is off-limits. The Spirit’s conviction in this analogy was my master’s squirt gun. The table is where I must not be—especially when all that food is so inviting and I’m so tempted because I am so hungry! Meow!!
Not to stir this ship off course but “What if I were mostly perfect. Temptation was by-and-large a powerless and ineffective tool in Satan’s arsenal. I might be tempted once but easily an overcomer. My shield of faith always raised to absorb his attacks. Good for me! But now carnality is just a theological term. I could probably explain better how life would have been in the Garden of Eden before the snake came by. [And I really would like to know that because I think this word “help” in Genesis 2:18—God made my wife?—should be a worthy study].
And what if I had the perfect upbringing—nothing but purest love all about me and I was the best child for which a parent could ask. What might I contribute then to a discussion on “carnality”? Carnality would be just a word that makes me sound spiritual because I could claim not to have it?
No, no, no! That’s not how life works. We all know what carnal means because it defines who we were before Christ came into our lives—into our hearts. Carnality, in effect, raises one’s self to the status of a personal god. We selfishly desire “stuff” from life and from the people around us—we lust—which makes us so vulnerable to temptation. We all have experienced the power of the tempter to pursue and persuade. We all have yielded multiple times, and multiple times we have asked God’s forgiveness until we thought Him ready to hang the sign on His door: “Out of Mercy.” But no! He keeps on forgiving and convicting until we feel the strength, the resolve, the empowerment, to say, “No!”
But we still yield to the tempter! And that’s the scariest thing because we think the Spirit might abandon us, now, for sure, in our spiritual need. We appear to be lying when we say we repented.
Well, the Spirit won’t leave us [Hebrews 13:5] and we didn’t lie. We didn’t want to yield but we did—and like Brother Paul in Romans 7:15, we cannot really explain it. We begin to think that Paul’s comment that we should be dead to sin [Romans 6:2] is just words, a prolepsis—something anticipated or represented as true before it really is.
One thing Paul got right: There is a Law of the mind [our conscience] and a law in our members, our bodies, that seem to be at war [Romans 7:21-23]. The body? Yes, that hormone driven piece of flesh that selfishly wants what it wants even if it doesn’t need it. Truth be told: I seem, at times, to be 2 people. [This is not true: I am only a “new man” in Christ, Colossians 3:10, but I need to learn the secret of living it.]
But the present reality seems: One of me wants God, wants to serve Him and love others. The other of me is so needy that sometimes in its desperation it raids the refrigerator of life instead of waiting a little while longer for dinner. It is that part of me that wants its own way—perhaps, at any cost, and feels victimized when denied. This is selfishness in peak performance. This is carnality—not the nature, but the act. That’s why I think I am 2 people on the inside, because, my true nature is Christ-like. He dwells within. But often my actions and thoughts and words misrepresent Him. And when that happens I am carnal in what I do—not who I am. Make any sense?
I am, at times, the person who couldn’t help but say—had to say—what I felt had to be said—even though it was nasty and hurtful. I am the person who didn’t get enough affection from a spouse or attention from a parent or the money I wanted for some pleasure quest. I am the person who feels neglected unless I get what I want. I am the guy that wants to be loved more than I care to love another—though I wouldn’t admit this because I am not really self-aware of it!
And that’s carnality!
But in all this we have identified where the line is between the carnal and the spiritual [1 Corinthians 3:1]. And the day comes—maybe because carnality is a characteristic of the flesh—when the body through age starts to fight on our side instead of against us. Face it: this body is running down and wearing out, losing hormone efficiency and strength. Some temptations are only for the youth! But the day will come when we will sense victory over carnality. It is not far off anymore. My beloved mother during my childhood had nothing good to say about her older sister—something happened in their relationship before I came along. But when I visited mom near the end of her life, she missed that sister and would have enjoyed a visit from her. Sadly, my aunt was gone by then.
We have learned to identify carnality and now we can appreciate the grace that rescued us from it. Total victory was never nearer. Keep praying for it because we must also learn a new meaning for “temperance” that recognizes grace. [That’s another topic].