Finding Rest for Our Souls

by Lonnie Lane

I am exchanging letters with a young woman who was in my Bible class several years back.  She is now in prison after a serious back-slide. By God's mercy, she is now back on track with Him, for which I thank Him, and we are now doing a sort of discipleship-by-mail.  She had a terrible upbringing which did not include too much schooling so she therefore writes 'em as she hears 'em.  In her last letter she told me, "I'm in for one felony and two Mister Meaners" (!) I assume, in her mind, acting like Mr. or in this case Ms. Meaners must be equal to acting "mean" and therefore not keeping the law. That same week I came across another phrase about keeping the law that I realized that I myself have misinterpreted, but this time it was the law of God.

There can be no such thing as a "carnal believer."

I discovered that we, or at least I, have believed a lie of the devil that being "carnal" was a matter of immaturity that one would eventually grow out of.  I have heard the phrase "carnal Christian" my whole life in the Lord. Are you familiar with the phrase? I recently took a poll and discovered that I'm not alone and many Believers consider this as an acceptable, although not optimal, part of life in the Lord.  But listen to this:

"To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law (Torah) of God, nor indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom 8:6-8 NKJV). 

The NASB uses the phrase "hostile toward God" and says the carnal person is not "even able" to submit to God's law, be it Torah or Yeshua's new commandment to love one another. According to these verses there can be no such thing as a "carnal believer" or a "carnal Christian."  It's not that these verses were new to me. Of course, I knew them. But I had been taught years ago that a carnal believer was an acceptable state for an immature Believer but it sure doesn't sound that way in Paul's letter to the Romans, does it? Perhaps the acceptance of being carnal comes from another of his letters, in his admonishment to the Corinthians: "For you were still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" (1 Cor 3:3 NKVJ) 

Other translations use the word "fleshly" instead of "carnal" which would seem to mean the opposite of living by the Spirit. The Corinthians were obviously Believers as they had the Holy Spirit, yet they were acting like "mere men," as if they were without the Spirit of God. As Paul went on to bring correction to them, he didn't tell them that they weren't saved, but he did tell them that each person's work, that is, the way they handled their lives in the Lord, would be tried by fire. "If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Cor 3:15).  There were consequences to their carnality, even if they were ultimately destined for eternity with God. 

So which is it? Is a carnal person an outright hostile enemy of God, or is a carnal person one who is weak and "fleshly" and seemingly without reward, yet saved?  It would certainly seem to be an important distinction, one which determines where one spends eternity.

For those who have seen carnality as saved-but-not-yet-fully-sanctified I believe the term has provided a mindset that allows for luke-warmism and compromise.  If I am waiting for the Lord to finally deliver me out of this or that, or until I really come to the place of total surrender to His Lordship, I could be in critical limbo, especially if I should find myself standing before Him before I "got it together," because I would not be living by faith which is the only currency in the Kingdom by which we are granted salvation and by which we should walk with Him.  It seems to me that the issue of sin isn't about what we do, but what we are -- of our entire paradigm, the way we look at life and its values. Carnality is living in ways that are contrary to the mind and heart of God. Suppose I feel that there is no imperative for me to get myself right with God today. Even now! Then I do run a serious risk of finding myself never quite getting to where I want to be. I run the risk of hearing, "I never knew you," from Him one day (Matt 7:23 ) -- I can think of no other more horrible thing to hear -- ever! 

God is about "love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal 5:22, 23.) This is Yeshua's personality. I am always amazed at the humility of God. I once tried taking out one of these qualities and I found the whole thing falls apart. Maybe that's why it says these qualities are the "fruit" and not "fruits" because they are really manifestations of One Person's Spirit -- the Holy Spirit. Try it. You'll see. Take out patience or faithfulness and then longsuffering isn't tolerated for too long. Or remove goodness and the motive for the whole thing melts away. If you remove kindness, then self-control becomes tyrannical, or at least demanding, instead.  Paul does go on to say, "And those who are Messiah's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (:24). 

There are, in fact, two related words being used in these verses. The word used in Romans is sarx, meaning: flesh, the body as opposed to the soul (or spirit), as the symbol of what is external, or human nature with its frailties and passions.  So in this case, Paul would be saying that to be acting or living from the body as opposed to the soul or spirit, or to be controlled by frailties and passions -- is death! (Rom 8:6).  Accordingly, the 1 Corinthians mention of carnal is sarkikos and is related and simple means soft, fleshly, bodily, temporal, by implication unregenerate. Unregenerate means not saved.  

The world is full of people who have no intention of surrendering to Yeshua as Lord of their lives, or even acknowledging His right to lordship, and really don't intend to do away with what isn't godly, because they can't see what's godly from what's not godly. "Unless one is born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). If you're not born again of the Spirit of God, you can't "see" or perceive the kingdom of God, and you can't understand its values or the consequences of being outside the kingdom.  

My concern is that there are people who confess they are Believers in Yeshua, and well, they're just carnal... but one day they'll get it together...they really mean to stop doing this or that, they really intend to start doing this or that which they know they should be doing. Or they're waiting until Jesus finally decides He's going to fix them.

Well, it just doesn't work like that. We are called to holiness from the first moment we are born again. It may take us a while to find out what that is, but if we're truly born again, it won't be long before we know we've sinned by the Spirit. We should each develop that acute sensitivity to know when we're grieving the Holy Spirit. I'm concerned that the very use of the term "Carnal Christian, which in itself has no Biblical precedent, is allowing a complacency that the Bible doesn't allow for.  Now I'm not talking about people who are really agonizing over something they're dealing with and trying to get free from, those whose hearts are in agreement with God's Word and who want to please the Lord, but find themselves "stuck" with no one who knows how to get them free in their lives. This is not a carnal believer. This is a Romans 7 believer, who like Paul, find that there's a war going on inside between our old nature and our new.  The carnal person is the one who agrees with his natural or sinful side, while a struggling Believer is one who sides with God against his own flesh. They may even cry out like Paul did in great exasperation and desperation, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom 7:24) To them we say, also with Paul, "Thanks be to God through Messiah Yeshua, our Lord" (:25a). It's only God through Yeshua being Lord that we are able to overcome and be delivered.  Paul sums up a person in this dilemma by saying, "So then, on the one hand I by my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other hand, with my flesh the law of sin" (:25b). But never is that person complacent about their sin. They agree, it's gotta go.

According to the Romans quote, a carnal person is one who is "at enmity" with God or "hostile" toward God. Enmity is defined as "hatred, deep hostility, antagonism, animosity, malevolence, acrimony, spite, bitterness, loathing, venom, or malice."  The word "hostile" is defined as unfriendly, antagonistic, bellicose, belligerent, contrary, aggressive, nasty, contentious, warring, pugnacious, or cold." I found the only use of the word in the Old Testament is a verb and relates to acting "carnally" and refers to sexual sin (Lev. 18:20; 19:20; Nu. 5:13). The consequence for this acting carnally was death!  

It's only God through Yeshua being Lord that we are able to overcome and be delivered.

Those are some pretty strong words. It is obvious from these definitions that anyone who is hostile toward God is incapable of doing His will which requires contrition and agreement with it and is therefore not a Christian! They're not Believers who are living their lives by the flesh and not by His Spirit. They are in rebellion and the rebellious are not admitted into heaven! There is no such person in heaven as a "carnal Christian." Those two terms are mutually inconsistent. (May I suggest you read 1 Cor 6:9,10; Rev 21:8 and 22:15 for a list of those who will not be permitted to enter heaven to be sure you're not tolerating something you shouldn't be.) 

Note also that I'm not saying we who are Believers never sin, but we do know that "the reproofs for discipline are a way of life" (Prov 6:23). Repentance is a life style. It keeps us clean. I'm so grateful for repentance. It's such a gift of God. Plus He has given us the grace to say no to unrighteousness which has its rewards now and when we stand before Him. "Everyone who practices  righteousness is born of Him...that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming" (1 Jn 2:28, 29). I don't know about you, but I bet if you're reading this article, you also want to "practice righteousness" and get better at it. Isn't that why we practice anything, to get better at it? 

When Israel compromised in their walk with God they strayed from the veracity, which is to say the honesty, truthfulness, accuracy, integrity and dependability of His Word, and instead entertained the ways of the pagans around them. It led them into dire consequences and a vulnerability that caused them to lose their national sovereignty and their land, so that they were captured by foreign nations.  There are consequences to not taking God at His Word. In our return to awareness of our Hebrew roots, we would do well to take seriously what led Israel down a path to destruction and be forewarned by it. 

Taking God's Word lightly, and not taking advantage of the repentance and forgiveness He has provided for us, and instead staying in a compromised state or giving in to temptations and, as said above, giving in to frailties and passions, we run some serious risks of destruction, both personally and nationally. The chain, as they say, is only as strong as the weakest link. To say it another way, each one of us matters. How strong in God we are or are not, as we have said before, will have effect on our family and those around us. So no one can say, "O it won't hurt anyone if I...."  Yes, it will. And no one can say, "That's just the way I am," because God has promised to change us, to make us into new creations, to cause us to become like Yeshua by His Great Grace!  Amazing, isn't it? Awesomely wonderful!! 

No one need continue to be a "carnal Christian" or a compromised Believer.  We need to shed that identity and get right with God. We need to take God at His Word and believe that He meant every word that He said, which means we will be held accountable for those words. And -- good news!  Every promise He's made to us, is for us. There is wholeness, healing, deliverance, and peace for each one of us.  His "shalom" is complete. now, not later. Shalom means completeness in your spirit, soul, body. Your soul means your mind, relationships and your decisions which means He is to you wisdom. There's no aspect of life where God has not promised in His Word to be there for us and to do good unto us. "Every word of God is tested. He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him" (Prov. 30:5)!

If we go to church and still come out with the same struggles, we went in with year after year, something is wrong.

One last thought, which came to me this morning, immediately followed by a verse as I was praying for the Body of Messiah. The thought: It takes little faith to be in a seeker friendly church. The verse:  When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)  When I say 'seeker friendly' I mean churches that are attempting to draw people in by appealing to their soul, rather than speaking to their spirits. When we are entertained rather than convicted, we are left in our sin. When we are amused rather than contrite, we may enjoy ourselves, but it may not be the joy of the Lord that will be our strength.  If we go to church and still come out with the same struggles we went in with year after year, something is wrong. That's just plain not Biblical. If we're busy at church but not delivered, or if we attend regularly but we're still lonely, there's something that is not functioning as God would have us function somewhere.  It may be a part of this subtle plan of the enemy to dilute the gospel.

God created us for His glory and He has created us so that our greatest joy is ultimately to be in coming to know Him for Who He is.  That's His plan. His greatest joy is when we are most enjoying Him.  There is no greater satisfaction than fresh revelation of God from God! Yeshua came so that we might know His Father by knowing Him. He is the exact representation of Almighty God, the personification of truth, the expression of love incarnate. He is magnificent in humility. Yeshua embodied the glory of purity and is the purest expression of courage and commitment to excellence in all things. Surely there is in Him much more to be enthralled with than we could possibly find when focused on ourselves. 

God has promised that as we see Him we will become like Him. This doesn't just mean when He comes, but each time we receive a revelation of Him, we are changed. Each time we see something new about Him, our spirits are enlarged, our capacity for His presence becomes greater. And we become more like Him.  Surely the devil is not interested in us becoming like Yeshua. And so we have been duped into thinking somehow that it's okay to be less than holy, to maintain less than a commitment toward keeping a clear conscience. And we have been seduced into amusement that we call worship when it's clearly not even about Him, but about us. Yeshua is worthy of our utmost for His highest, as Oswald Chambers wrote years ago. When He occupies the place of centrality and supremacy of our faith, then we who are truly His, will find rest for our souls.

Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2008.    


Lonnie Lane

For Lonnie's other articles, check out our Exclusive Articles and Resources, especially the section on One New Man.

Lonnie Lane comes from a family of four generations of Jewish believers, being the first one saved in 1975. Lonnie has been in church leadership for many years, and has planted two “one new man” house fellowships, one in Philadelphia suburbs and the other in Jacksonville, Florida, where she now lives near 6 of her 8 grandchildren. Lonnie is the author of “Because They Never Asked” and numerous articles on this website. She has been the Producer of Messianic Vision's radio and TV shows and the International Prayer Co-Coordinator for Messianic Vision's intercessors. Click Here to order Lonnie's book, "Because They Never Asked."

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif.  All rights reserved. Used by permission.

 

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