Saved by Grace Alone


A Biblical Analysis of Lordship Salvation


Chapter 7


Can a believer in Christ be carnal?


Many Reformed theologians and Lordship salvation advocates insist that there is no such thing as a carnal believer, but the Scriptures are very clear to the contrary: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?" (1 Cor. 3:1-4). A believer is carnal when he walks in the flesh and not in the Spirit (compare Gal. 5:16).


Although the Corinthians were carnal, we must remember that according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 their lives were not dominated by the sins of the flesh in the same way as when they were unsaved. Paul said, "such were some of you." He did not say, "such are some of you."  They were new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). However, there were times when they did not walk or act like new creatures at all. Indeed, they sometimes walked and lived like mere (unregenerate) men (see 1 Cor. 3:3).


Is it possible to misidentify an unsaved person by using the label of a carnal Christian?


Some use carnality as an excuse to cover up an unregenerate heart. There is a heaven and hell difference between a carnal Christian who is grieving and quenching the Spirit ("saved so as by fire") and an unsaved person who is walking after the flesh. It is not always easy to tell them apart. Sometimes those we presume to be saved may not be saved at all. One man once made this comment: "I was once a member of a young people’s gospel team. We were all saved, and we had some success in preaching the gospel. But one member of the team got into worldly company. He married a very worldly girl. He denied his Christian profession of faith, and he died a drunkard. Now you see, he was a Christian; he went to heaven; but he was a carnal Christian and he will not receive the reward of a spiritual Christian." This man most probably made the wrong assumption when he said, "We were all saved." Some who think they are saved so as by fire will actually be lost so as by the lake of fire! Some who think they are saved by the skin of their teeth will actually be lost by weeping and gnashing of teeth!


Can a true believer continue in sin?


This is another question that must be answered very carefully. The correct answer is both YES and NO.

YES, a true believer can continue in sin.

Consider Peter. He denied his Lord. Did he do it just once? No, he continued in this sin and did it a second time. Did he do it just twice? No, he continued in his denial of Christ and did it a third time. Peter continued in sin for a while, but, of course, later he was "converted" (changed his direction–Luke 22:32) and on the Day of Pentecost he boldly confessed Christ before thousands.


Consider David. He sinned grievously with Bathsheba and committed adultery and even made sure that her husband was killed in battle. How long was it before David took care of this sin? We are amazed to learn that the time between David’s sin and his confession of that sin was close to a year (compare 2 Samuel 11:27 with 12:15). He continued, apparently in an unrepentant state, for many months.


Consider yourself. Are there areas in your life where you have continued in sin and been in bondage to some besetting and reoccurring sin?

NO, a true believer will not continue in sin.

John teaches us this in 1 John 3:6-10 and 1 John 5:18. These verses teach that the true believer, the one born of God, "sinneth not" (does not keep on sinning) and does not "commit sin" (does not keep on practicing sin). There are at least three reasons why the true believer does not keep on practicing sin:

  1. The conviction of God the Holy Spirit who makes the true child of God very uncomfortable in his sin (compare Eph. 4:30).

  2. Confession of sin on the part of the believer (1 John 1:9). This breaks the pattern of sin.

  3. The chastening hand of the Father (1 Cor.11:31-32; Heb. 12:5-11).

Also of vital importance is the intercessory work of the Son of God (Luke 22:32; John chapter 17; etc.) and the keeping power of God (1 Peter 1:5; Jude 1,24).   To understand the practical outworking of these things, see Peter's Three Denials.


Can a true believer live, at least for some time, as an unsaved person?


A believer walking in the flesh and fulfilling the lusts thereof is indistinguishable from an unsaved person who is walking after the flesh (which is the only way he can walk). "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Cor. 3:3). Paul said that the carnal Corinthians were walking as mere ordinary men. What an insult! What a contradiction! How can a child of God walk like a child of Adam? How can a child of the light walk as a child of darkness? But it does happen far more than we would want to think. The Corinthian church was not the only church that has had major problems with carnality. Believers today commonly grieve and quench the Holy Spirit of God as well.


Even John MacArthur acknowledges the problem: "An unproductive Christian is of no more use to God than an unbeliever . . . A believer can be just as barren and fruitless as an unbeliever. A barren Christian is completely indistinguishable from an apostate, an evildoer, or a superficial, false Christian who is of no use to God" (Adding to Your Faith, pages 48-49). Certainly one who is surrendering to Christ’s Lordship could not be described in this way.


Can the degree of fruitfulness vary greatly among believers?


Yes. This is taught in Matthew 13:23–"But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matthew 13:23). There is a great difference between an hundredfold and thirtyfold. The True Vine desires "more fruit" (John 15:2) and "much fruit" (John 15:8) but some believers, because of their own failure to "abide in Him" (1 John 2:28), are much less fruitful than others. Those believers fully committed to the Lordship of Christ understand that abiding in Christ is essential.


Notice that Matthew 13:23 does not say, ". . . some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty and some zero." Ryrie explains it this way, "Every Christian will bear spiritual fruit. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. Otherwise that person is not a believer. Every born-again individual will be fruitful. Not to be fruitful is to be faithless, without faith, and therefore without salvation . . . Every Christian will bear fruit; otherwise he or she is not a true believer" (So Great Salvation, pages 45-46). We must therefore avoid two extreme teachings: the first which says that a true believer can be totally fruitless (the "free grace" position) and the second which says that a true believer will necessarily and consistently bear much fruit (the Reformed, Lordship position).


In the next chapter we will see a number of Biblical examples of saved individuals who failed to submit to their Lord.  These "Lordship failures" are truly remarkable!



Saved By Grace Alone

A Biblical Analysis of Lordship Salvation

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