How many thousands of people have repeated a prayer and publicly announced that they were a follower of Jesus Christ only to fall away back into the world? The answer to that question cannot be fully comprehended. Many estimate the number of false Christians to far outnumber the true Christian population which is a staggering thought to consider. Yet, it seems that was what Jesus communicated in Matthew 7:13-14 as he differentiated between the “many” and the “few” in relation to the false Christian and the true believer.
Throughout time, a certain category of Christianity has emerged under the name of carnal Christianity. This category is the product of a certain belief that claims it’s possible to have Jesus as Lord and Heaven as your home while living in open sin and remaining in love with the world. Not only is this a harmful belief system, it’s simply unbiblical. In short, there is no such thing as a carnal Christian. The carnal Christian is like a unicorn walking around in an open field—it’s an impossibility.
The Christian’s Call to Holiness
To be a Christian is to be a child of God. What God expects from his people is a life of holiness. As Peter stated, “Be holy for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15-16) as he quoted from Leviticus 11:44. God has always had one goal for his people and it’s holiness. In Ephesians 2:10, we see Paul emphasizing the fact that God has before ordained that his people walk in good deeds (a life pursuit of holiness).
Far too often people miss the point of the Levitical laws. They turn them into a system of positives commands and negative prohibitions when in reality something far bigger is taking place. For instance, God was not merely forbidding the Israelites from enjoying a good BBQ sandwich in the dietary laws. God was positioning his people to be a distinct and separate people from the rest of the world. The Levitical laws were used to separate the people.
God is holy and has called us into a life of holiness. Paul urged the church at Ephesus to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). The pursuit of our lives should be on becoming conformed to the image of God rather than being marked by the world, the flesh, and the devil. That was our former way of living and we have been called out of that lifestyle. Listen to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:2-3:
Ephesians 2:1–3 – And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Notice that Paul emphasizes that the believers in Ephesus (true about all believers regardless of geographic location) were once dead in their trespasses and sins. This spiritual deadness caused them to walk (a statement about lifestyle) in a manner that was following the prince of the power of the air (a title for Satan). This entire lifestyle is focused on satisfying the depraved passions of the flesh. It should be noted that Paul begins by describing this pattern of living by the believers in the past tense. In other words, before a believer’s conversion their lifestyle is carnal, but carnality is not the description of the believer in the present tense (after conversion).
According to Titus 1:8, the Christian is called to be “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” An undisciplined life centered on satisfying depraved cravings is not the picture of a pursuit of holiness. It’s the picture of a life that’s pursuing the world.
Conversion Results in Sanctification
When God saves a person, he not only saves that person from the penalty of their sin, but he likewise removes the shackles of sin and gives the individual victory over sin. Why would anyone believe that the God who can transport people into the his presence in eternity could not remove sin from a person’s life before they cross over the precipice of eternity?
The Christian’s life will be a constant battle against the flesh (Rom. 7). However, God calls the Christian to present himself as a living sacrifice—one that is holy and acceptable to God (Heb. 12:1-2). As a result of conversion, the child of God will love God more than the world or anything this world has to offer (1 John 2:15). As John makes clear, if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Sanctification is the progressive process whereby the child of God puts off the deeds of the flesh while putting on the clothing of holiness. Listen to how Paul describes this process in his letter to the church at Ephesus:
Ephesians 4:22–24 – to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Salvation should be viewed holistically rather than merely a compartmentalized focus on the soul. The work of salvation impacts the entire person, body, mind, and soul. The renewal of the mind comes as a byproduct of the changed heart at conversion. New desires and affections for God emerge which change priority lists, goals, lifestyles, and nearly every other detail of the human’s existence in this present evil world.
Conversion without sanctification is not genuine salvation. Carnality is not a description of a child of God. When a true child of God walks off the straight and narrow path—the Spirit of God will not allow that to be an ongoing pattern. There will be a chastening of the disobedient Christian that brings about correction. This process could come in form of a sermon preached where the Spirit deals with the sin internally resulting in repentance. It could be a private rebuke by a pastor out of love. It could come in form of church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). For the obstinate, God has more severe methods of correction (Heb. 12:3-17). God will sanctify his people and Christ will have a pure bride.
Charles Spurgeon once remarked, “Christ will be master of the heart, and sin must be mortified. If your life is unholy, then your heart is unchanged, and you are an unsaved person. The Savior will sanctify His people, renew them, give them a hatred of sin, and a love of holiness. The grace that does not make a man better than others is a worthless counterfeit. Christ saves His people, not IN their sins, but FROM their sins. Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.”