The “carnal Christian” heresy, also referred to as antinomianism, has been a persistent and recurring false teaching throughout the history of the Christian Church. This heresy asserts that a person can have faith in Jesus Christ and still engage in sinful behavior with no relation to their salvation. This belief, however, distorts the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone as it fails to acknowledge the transformative effects of salvation on an individual’s life.
One of the earliest and most prominent proponents of this heresy was Marcion, a Gnostic theologian who lived in the second century AD. Marcion taught that there were two distinct gods – one depicted as malevolent in the Old Testament and the other depicted as benevolent in the New Testament. He also taught that Christians were exempt from adhering to the moral laws set forth in the Old Testament.
The early Christian Church strongly opposed Marcion’s teachings, emphasizing the unity and continuity of the divine nature throughout both Testaments. Despite this, the idea of “carnal Christianity” remains a prominent and persistent heresy that continues to invade the vast majority of modern churches today.
Scripture refutes the notion of carnal Christianity all throughout the New Testament. Take for instance Romans 6:1-2 which states: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” This passage highlights the idea that salvation through grace alone should result in a changed life, free from sin.
To paraphrase a teaching by Paul Washer on this idea, he gave the illustration of someone saying that they were late to a meeting because they had a flat tire, tried to change it in the middle of the road where this person was then hit by a logging truck. This person then showed up to the meeting without a blemish on them but giving this excuse. Paul then pointed out that “It is impossible…to have an encounter with something as large as a logging truck and not be changed.” He then asked, “What is larger? A logging truck or God?”
The idea here isn’t that a changed life results in one’s salvation—it is that when one encounters the saving grace of a Holy and righteous God, one cannot help but demonstrate a life and will reflecting such a change in their hearts. This is further reflected in 1 John 3:6-9 which underscores the importance of holiness in the life of a believer: “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” This passage makes it clear that those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ are expected to lead a life characterized by obedience and righteousness.
Galatians 5:16-24 further stresses the idea of a transformed life, stating: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Yet, it is all too common to see people call themselves Christians yet continue in sin, continue fulfilling the lusts and desires of the flesh, because they have elevated their sinful desires over their professed love for their savior. In fact, many so-called churches exist for the sole purpose of affirming the sinner in a state of unrepentance, leading them to believe that they are right with God without a change in their heart. Besides the typical dead churches of the mainline Protestant denominations, we see this as well in many mainstream Evangelical megachurches and churches that align with their beliefs. Such churches include Andy Stanley’s North Point Church, which we’ve exposed in recent days as fully affirming of homosexuality, as well as Southern Baptist megachurches like Saddleback Church, formerly pastored by Rick Warren, and First Baptist Church Orlando, both of which have aligned its movement with Andy Stanley’s antinomian heresies.
Many of these churches may even acknowledge that on some superficial level that many of these things are sinful, but teach that despite the sinfulness of something, God will accept people anyway. They teach that one can continue, loving their sin rather than hating it, and that one can still be saved. This distortion of the gospel, as stated previously, fails to acknowledge the effects of the gospel on the sinner, to be born again, born of the Spirit, and made new. And while the true biblical doctrine of sanctification does not teach that all sin will immediately cease upon justification, it does certainly teach that unrepentant sin shall not persist in the hearts, minds, and souls of the believer.
Paul clearly taught that when the true believer sins, he is doing what he hates, not what he loves (Romans 7:16-20). And that is the entire idea of sanctification. A changed heart, a renewed mind, is aligned with the will of God and one cannot set their mind on the flesh and please God. One’s mind must be set on the Spirit.
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. —Romans 8″7-8