“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.”
And I, brethren,
Paul calls the members of the carnal Corinthian church “brethren.” He viewed the most carnal Christians in the New Testament as part of the family of God, albeit renegade members of that family. The issue was not their membership in the family but their status in the family, their degree of maturity.
could not speak to you as to spiritual people
The Corinthian church was full of factions because of human wisdom. They boasted in their eloquence and philosophies. Members of the congregation followed leaders who boasted of these philosophies. All this resulted in the stagnation of their Christian lives. Paul could not speak to them as to “spiritual people.” Their glory in leaders dislodged them from spiritual maturity. In chapter two, Paul explained where their orientation should be. The Corinthians should have governed their thinking by the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, but instead, they allowed their thinking to be governed by human or natural wisdom.
but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.
Previously Paul spoke of the “natural” man – the non-Christian with no capacity to relate to God or understand His revelation in Scripture. Then he spoke of the “spiritual” man – the person who has the capacity to relate to God. Now he speaks of the “carnal” person. The word “carnal” means fleshen, fleshy (literally, made of flesh). The idea is to be dominated by the flesh. (This is not the normal word for “carnal,” which carries the idea of a believer is subject to sin – a different word altogether.) The carnal person here is an immature believer; he is raw flesh.
The general context of chapters one through four deals with the subject of divisions in the church. Corinthian Christians were spiritually immature because of schism. The Corinthian believers were “spiritual” because they had the Holy Spirit indwelling them, but they were “carnal” or immature because they let sin control them. Note how Paul describes Corinthian believers as “babes” in Christ. “Babes” are immature believers. The Greek word for “babe” is an infant and refers to a baby on its mother’s breast. A baby is helpless. He called stuffy, distorted Corinthian Christian adults “babies.” What an insult!
Romans 7:14, For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal [fleshen], sold under sin.
The phrase “in Christ” is always important, for it shows that our position before God has the same status as Jesus Christ’s. Corinthian Christians were carnal, but they were “in Christ.’ They were positionally the same as mature Christians. They were positionally perfect, not because of their spirituality or their maturity but because of the work of Christ on their behalf. They could never improve their salvation because Christ made it perfect at the point of their conversion. God does not bless us because we are moral; He blesses us because of our relation to Christ. God disciplines us not to punish us, but because He wants us to live consistent with His character. He treats us on the basis of what He is and not based on who or what we are. That is the way Corinthian Christians were to treat each other when they differed.
Developing the “mind of Christ” is a process that moves from babyhood to adulthood.
Carnal Christians are spiritually infantile in the way they live their lives. The Christian as a “babe” is not a problem if he is a new Christian (1 Peter 2:1-2), but if he or she has been a Christian for many years, it is a problem. A “babe” does not live the Christian life in accordance with who he is. He is a substandard saint; he lives the Christian life below par. This is a Christian who is in the process of losing the battle of the Christian life.
A carnal Christian orients to the flesh; the flesh prompts his actions. The Holy Spirit prompts spiritual Christian’s attitudes and motivation. This is what it means to “walk in the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit influences the way of life of the believer who lives in the power of the Spirit. The question for every believer is, “Am I dominated (oriented) by the flesh or by the Holy Spirit?” Which are you? The carnal Christian is egocentric and self-centered – selfish.
The difference between a “carnal” Christian and the “natural” man is that the “carnal” Christian is a believer, but he lives like the lost. The “natural” man is completely without the life of God. The carnal or immature believer is going to heaven but barely so. Baby Christians are weak and need constant attention and protection. They depend on others for their nourishment. They take but do not give. Many Christians never grow up; they remain in infancy for their entire Christian lives. A baby that remains a baby for five years is a tragedy.
Many people turn into slackers after they become Christians. Initially, they had a heart for God and had a thirst for God and His Word, but distractions turned them away from personal growth. They watch “Joe’s other wife” on TV or read sublimation novels. These are believers on their way down, down, down spiritually. Appropriation of the principles of Scripture protects us from spiritual decline. There will be no need to join some club to fill a vacuum in life once a believer turns the growth curve up towards maturity.