But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? (1 Corinthians 3:1–4).
In my last two posts (here and here), I discussed the need for Christians to grow up and become mature in our thinking and living. When we are born again, we become “babes in Christ,” but we should eventually grow up. Unfortunately, many Christians remain in a “condition of protracted infancy” (to use the words of nineteenth century pastor Andrew Murray).
The divisiveness we see in the body of Christ is a dangerous symptom of this rampant spiritual immaturity. According to St. Paul, it shows that we are not aware of our identity as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We act like ordinary people. We forget that we are children of God. Instead, we act like we are “merely human.”
What is your spiritual identity? Are you a child of God, made in His image and filled with the Holy Spirit? Or, are you merely human, trying to follow a set of religious teachings in your own strength?
Too often, we justify our sins and shortcomings by saying, “Well, nobody’s perfect. I’m only human.” God calls His children to something greater. We are called to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God’s seed abides in us (1 John 3:9); in other words, we should look like our heavenly Father, especially in our actions. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore can (and should) bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). We have been adopted as fellow heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:17; see here for more on this subject). Despite the clear teaching of the New Testament, many Christians think of ourselves as “only human” and do not experience the full power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. As Andrew Murray says in “Spiritual or Carnal”:
There are thus three states in which a man may be found. The unregenerate is still the natural man, not having the Spirit of God. The regenerate, who is still a babe in Christ, whether because he is only lately converted, or because he has stood still and not advanced, is the carnal man, giving way to the power of the flesh. The believer in whom the Spirit has obtained full supremacy, is the spiritual man.…
All that is carnal and sinful, all the works of the flesh, must be given up and cast out. But no less must all that is carnal, however religious it appears, all confidence in the flesh, all self-effort and self-struggling be rooted out. The soul, with its power, must be brought into the captivity and subjection of Jesus Christ. In deep and daily dependence on God must the Holy Spirit be accepted, waited for, and followed.
This is not a call to perfectionism. We all have our good and bad days. These three groups are a helpful guide, but many of us waver between being carnal and spiritual. We also may be stronger in some areas of our lives than others. I have been commended by some for showing a lot of patience in some circumstances and with some people, only to show that I really lack that fruit when dealing with other circumstances and people.
However, we should stop accepting a lower standard for ourselves than God offers. Are we merely human, or are we filled with the Holy Spirit? If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, are we willing to allow Him to work in our lives, or will we continue to use our humanity as an excuse to live in defeat or worldliness.
We often think a carnal or worldly Christian is one who fails to follow a few rules. We may think carnal or weak Christians are the ones who drink alcohol, smoke, have sex outside of marriage, and listen to rock music. However, Scripture points out some other marks of a carnal Christian.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 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. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:1–5)
According to James, the brother of Jesus, the marks of a worldly carnal Christian are quarrels, fighting, covetousness, selfishness, etc. Other sins grow out of those. In 1 Corinthians 3:1–4, Paul lists jealousy, strife, and divisions as a few marks of spiritual immaturity. We often overlook those. Many Christians seem to think these sins are moral or spiritual virtues (“he has strong convictions and he’s passionate about the truth!”).
Throughout First Corinthians, Paul addresses a lot of problems that grew out of this carnal state. A major one was arguing over favorite preachers. The church was being divided by people who bragged that they followed Paul, Apollos (a particularly eloquent teacher), Cephas (Simon Peter), or some other leader. There was even a faction that said, “I follow Christ.” While that sounds most noble, they do not seem to get Paul’s seal of approval. It is possible that they merely boasted, “I do not need to listen to any of the apostles or teachers. I will just follow the spirit of Christ within me. You can’t tell me what to do or think!”
We may not drive around with bumper stickers that say, “I follow Paul”; or wear tee shirts reading, “I follow Apollos” or “Cephas.” But, the church remains divided. We argue over denominations. Some refuse to fellowship with people who say they believe in Jesus, but do not share their views about end-time prophecy, sacraments, or eternal security. We no longer about Paul, Apollos, or Peter (I know some who cling to “my-idea-of-Jesus-and-I-will-listen-to-nobody-else”). Instead, we follow John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Joel Osteen, John MacArthur, or some other prominent preacher. Whenever we place a human teacher over God’s word, and create division in that person’s name, we have accepted carnal worldly Christianity. We have chosen to be merely human. It is time to grow up.
Growing in Christ is a lifetime commitment. However, God has given us His Holy Spirit. We do not have to accept “merely human” as our standard. We do not have to live the Christian life in our own strength. Let us move beyond being merely human to live as children of God.
Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.