What does carnality mean?

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Posted by Joe Phillips on December 19, 2002 at 00:21:40:
In Reply to: Re:Was Jesus Carnal? posted by JRV on December 18, 2002 at 23:07:48:

Yes that would have been a better title. You are partially right JRV, that I expected a stir (I did want to see some good discussion, however, I completely failed to consider the volatile nature of the difference between my current view of carnality and the perspective of the CHM. Your chiding is taken in good will. I agree with you that one cannot expect every use of a single word to mean the same thing. One can, however, generally expect them to be related. I hope to shed a little light on that further on. With regard to John 1:14 and Romans 8:7, they are not the same. The first is “The Word became flesh (sarx) ”, the other is referring to the “mind of flesh”: Sarx is the root word, sarkos is the possessive form of the same word reflecting the expression “of flesh”. More on that later. In Romans 8:9, Paul does indeed say that they are not in the flesh if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in them. In context, I would conclude that he means that when indwelt with the spirit, one is does not walk in the flesh. I could be wrong. Paul says in II Cor. 10:3 that although we are walking about in human bodies (en sarki peripatountes – present participle), we do not wage war according to the flesh (kata sarka) with fleshly weapons. I am not a Greek expert by any means, but I have been an avid student of language for many years and the mastery of several other languages affords me insights I did not have before. The context fills in a lot of holes for me but I know I don’t have a corner on it. Thanks for your input.

Grandmom, I appreciate your words of caution, however, I also must contend with the fact that a seed of doubt was planted in my mind many years ago that grew into an inability to simply accept things because Reverend So-and-so preached it. I cherish that little seed and am grateful for what I am not because of it. The Holy Spirit can use a seed as well. The devil has no corner on that market. I think a lot more of that question depends on the nature of the soil than the nature of the seed. Additionally, as I will clarify in a moment, a large part of the questioning might arise not so much from what I questioned but from the way I said it and the reactions to that. I can learn from that process to consider more carefully the receiving audience and take steps to ensure that I don’t express myself outside the linguistic norms of the represented societal subset.

Lonnie, thanks for your thoughts as well. A couple notes: 1) I beg to differ – I am doing my best at looking to find God’s view with the gray matter He has given me. I hope you’ll forgive me if this sounds a bit sharp (I don’t mean it that way), but I’m not convinced that you have a better handle on human views versus God’s views than any of the rest of us. 2) It seems you got the cart before the horse on this one. Greek is a considerably more precise language than English. I’m not sure where you were going with your example. The English word “love” is vague and difficult to pin down. I love pizza, my best friend, my daughter, and God. Each of those examples could be expressed by a different Greek word that makes it clear what type of love I am expressing. The languages I was dealing with in my study of carnality and the flesh were Greek and Latin. Perhaps you thought I was basing the whole of my study on English words. If so, pardon me for not making that clear, but I’m not sure to what extent that changes anything. I’m still not a Greek or Latin expert nor do I even have advanced education in English but I pay attention to words and often I see things differently than I expected to see them. I like that and I pay attention when I see such things. Take it for what it’s worth. If you don’t agree with my conclusions, that’s fine with me. We can either drop it or discuss it some more. 3) I agree with most of what you said about Christ and His example for us. I’ll talk more about that in a bit. However, the nature of Christ was not the point of my point, but rather the nature of carnality. I hope I make that a little more clear as I continue. 4) “Overwhelming evidence” is a loaded phrase that has been used by multitudes of people on every side of every theological fence. Be careful that you don’t assume that others haven’t read the bible, studied it as much as you, or prayed over it as much as you and you’ll find yourself a more effective communicator in the long run.

Sharon, I think my responses to your points are all included below. If I missed something you felt was significant please do remind me and I’ll be happy to get my nose back in the Book.

I haven’t responded to many of you for several days for fear that I might furiously peck out a response borne of frustration that many of you have misunderstood what I wrote and have come to conclusions for which I remain convinced there is little basis in my initial posting on this subject. However, as I’ve pondered your reactions, I can see that the title I chose started many of you thinking things that I wasn’t saying and complicated communication of my thoughts. For that reason, I regret choosing it. I don’t anticipate that many of you will agree with me in any case on this subject and I didn’t set out to revolutionize anyone’s thinking. I did hope to get some rational feedback on the basis for disagreement or agreement with my thoughts.

I did not and do not now doubt, question, or intend to break down or downplay the sinlessness or deity of Christ. Indeed the life, death, and resurrection of the sinless Christ are the only reason that I use my time in the pursuit of truth. Were it not for his example, sacrifice, and triumph over the grave, we would all be a bunch of pitiful morons, discussing worthless silliness. However, I see now that the automatic reaction of many would be to assume I was questioning His sinlessness based on the title alone, since many of you are working from a semantic understanding that I haven’t carried for years. Thus, I made an unfortunate judgment call in beginning with words that were likely to breed misunderstandings in this community.

I also did not say that flesh is evil. However, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that the flesh is the seat of human appetites, cravings, urges, etc. Humans sin when they walk according to the flesh rather than according to the spirit. Walking according to the Spirit is the way Christians stay clear of excess or immoderation of the fleshly appetites. The Apostle Paul was aware that there is nothing good in the flesh (Gr. sarx) (Rom. 7:18). In fact, in Romans 7, he goes into great detail explaining that the flesh is responsible for the tendency to do things that he doesn’t want to do. Being born of the Spirit, he is not of a mind to do such things, but still a resident of a body of flesh, he must contend with the resident propensity to gratify the whims of the flesh. He draws a distinction throughout his writings between the state of being in flesh (en sarki) and walking after (or according to) the flesh (kata sarka).

He also clearly makes a distinction between being ‘carnal’ and being carnally minded. He plainly states that he is carnal (Gr. Sarkikos – of flesh) and sold under sin in Romans 7:14. Here he is referring to his status as a human being in a body of flesh. Later, in Romans 8, he talks about being carnally minded (Gr. phronema tes sarkos) and makes it clear that this is the problem; from this comes death. “Phronema” speaks of mental inclination or purpose. This is one who is working to please himself (his body and its desires) rather than working to please the Spirit of God. It is precisely for this reason that the carnal mind (Literally in Greek “the mind/minding of the flesh”) is enmity against God. How can one please God who is pursuing the gratification of the flesh?

In 1 Cor. 3:3, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are still carnal (sarkikos – fleshly) and still not able to take spiritual meat. Yet speaking to the same people in verses 16 and 17 he reminds them that the Spirit of God dwells in them and that they are holy. If the word “carnal” means what the CHM says it means, then this is a contradiction.

There are only a few other passages that use the word carnal. He talks about ministering to people with carnal things in Romans 15:27, referring to providing materially (physically) for poor saints in Jerusalem, and in 1Co 9:11 referring to material (physical) provisions for ministers of the gospel. It would seem rather odd that, if the carnal is incompatible with a spiritual life, carnal provisions were made for the aforementioned individuals.

Thus, for the record, I was challenging the common CHM understanding of the word carnal and the part it plays in the CHM understanding of sanctification (By the way, the word ‘carnality’ doesn’t exist in the Bible). In the CHM, an accusation that one is carnal is serious business. If someone were to accuse me of being carnal, my response would be, “Of course I’m carnal. I still live in my body. I cannot see any basis for understanding it as any more than part of the human package that must be mortified; because of which I must “die daily” as a result of its inclinations. This was the primary point of my last posting.

Now a note about Jesus and the stir created by the previous posting: Jesus did take on flesh. This process is called the incarnation, which means “taking on carnality or flesh”. I’m sorry if you don’t like it – that’s what it means. If you and I are afflicted with carnality in this life but Jesus was not, then, simply put, He was not tempted in all points, like as we are. If on the other hand, if being carnal equals being in flesh as I have postulated, then He was carnal but He did not walk according to the flesh as he was tempted. So, in saying that Jesus was carnal, I did not insinuate that He was less God, that He was less holy, or that he was deficient in any way. As a matter of fact, I find it awe inspiring that He lived in the same type of body I have, with the same types of urges and temptations I have, and showed me that it can be done. Then to top it off He died in my place, guiltless, and covered my failure to measure up to God’s righteous demands.

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