Greetings in the Lord my brothers and sisters in Christ!
This week I have been pondering a question asked by a Twitter follower who wants to know why it is that so many “Christians” live as though God doesn’t exist, what many of us would call “carnal Christians.” Opinions vary as others wrestle with this same question, indicating that there may not be a single answer. Craig Groeschel wrote an entire book on the subject: The Christian Athiest – Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist.
Furthermore, this is not a new phenomenon. Worldliness in the church is a problem as old as the New Testament. Though Scripture says little regarding why carnality exists, it is replete with exhortations to abandon carnality.
The Crucified Flesh
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:24, ESV
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV-1978
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. – Colossians 3:5, ESV
The apostle John addresses the issue of carnality with brute force, calling the practice of sin “lawlessness,” and goes so far as to say that those who habitually practice sin have neither seen nor known Jesus (1 John 3:4-6). That’s very strong language!
Similarly, Jesus himself said that there will be many on the last day who enumerate their extensive list of good deeds, calling Jesus “Lord,” but to whom Jesus will say, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). Again, strong language!
What Causes Carnality
One frequently-explored cause of carnality the fact that our σὰρξ (flesh) is still very much alive and waging war against our spirit. The apostle Paul wrote extensively about this battle in Romans chapter seven. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes the flesh and the spirit as being locked in fierce combat (Galatians 5:16-17). This reality makes scripture’s repeated call to crucify the flesh of paramount importance.
Another cause of carnality is the church’s fascination with the world system, the world values. Much of the body of Christ has lost its distinction from the surrounding culture. Throughout scripture (Old Testament and New) the people of God are called to be ἅγιος (holy), set apart, distinct. We are called to continuous sanctification, but tend rather toward incremental compromise and accommodation (in some cases, full appropriation) of a world system against which we should stand in stark contrast.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. – James 4:4, ESV
Another source of carnality is what has come to be known as hypergrace – the idea that all my sin (past, present, future) is forgiven, thus it really doesn’t matter how I live. Those who think this way do not understand grace at all! The apostle Paul addresses this heresy head-on in Romans five and six.
Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? – Romans 5:20b-6:2, ESV
Without question, each of those mindsets contributes to carnality, and each has been explored extensively by others. There is one mindset, however, I believe has been largely ignored.
The Out-There God
A colleague once asked a man indulging in pornography if the man believed in an omnipresent God – the idea that God always exists in all places. The man acknowledged that he did, and my colleague responded, “Steve … you do not. If you believed in the omnipresence of God you would never be looking at the things you are looking at online.”
Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying, “Our Father in heaven …” and we take the phrase “in heaven” to mean God is “out there” somewhere, because heaven is out there somewhere. I’m suggesting this belief is inaccurate, that heaven is surrounding each of us even now. Heaven is touching your physical body even as you read this.
We often speak and read of heaven as a singular place but, biblically speaking, heaven is “the heavens,” a plurality, and the first heaven is the very atmosphere that surrounds you. Thus, God abiding in the heavens places God in the very air you breathe. This is why Paul, speaking to the Athenians on Mars Hill said of God, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This is no metaphor or abstraction from Paul. He meant what he said.
It is out of the heavens that the angel called to Hagar as she hid from her son, knowing they were both going to die in the desert. It is out of the heavens that the angel of God called to Abraham as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Jacob was in the house of God as he slept in the open air with a stone pillow. God spoke to Moses from the heavens. He thunders from the heavens against the enemies of God’s people. Repeatedly, we see fire materializing out of thin air, giving rise to the concept that “our God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24, Hebrews 12:29).
The heavens are here, now. God is here, now. This is what it means to say the heavens are “at hand.” The earth and the heavens are engaged in constant interplay, making God as near to us as our next breath.
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. – 2 Chronicles 16:9, ESV
The view that God is far away in the heavens is a view that cannot be supported by scripture, and the belief that God being far away and unaware leads to an excess of carnality in the body of Christ.
Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. – Psalm 19:13, NIV-1978