Spiritual Christian vs. Carnal Christian

Reflections of His Image

Continuing our series on the importance of “reflecting Christ’s image” and not our own, as Christians we must realize there are two spiritual forces or entities struggling against each other inside of us. One is called the old self, the flesh or the old man (which is the old Adamic nature); and the other is called the new self, the spirit or the new man (which is God’s Life in us).

If we choose to follow the old self, we would be called a “carnal Christian,” which means we have been born of the Spirit, but we are not walking by the Spirit. If, on the other hand, we choose to follow the new self, we would be called a “spiritual Christian,” one who is not only born again, but one who is also walking by the Spirit. This is a person who not only believes, but whose actions portray that belief.

Amazingly, this struggle does not occur until after we become believers. Up until that time, there is only one life in us—the old self (the old man or the old nature). It rules and reigns and that’s it! After our commitment to Christ and His Spirit coming to indwell us, however, there now are two natures in us—our old self and our new one.

Consequently, the rebirthing of our spirit by God makes absolutely no changes whatsoever in our “flesh.” It’s still incurable. It’s still fleshly and will never change on its own. Paul confirms this when he says, “In my flesh dwelleth no good thing.” (Romans 7:18) Jesus also confirms this, “The flesh profits me nothing.” (John 6:63) Consequently, as Christians, we’re going to have to deal with the flesh until the resurrection.

Our flesh is corrupt because it was created in the image of Adam, rather than in the image of God (see Genesis 5:3). In other words, sin now dwells in our flesh. Romans 7:20-23 tells us that sin is a power that enslaves us. It’s an energy force that dwells in our unregenerate bodies whose whole intent and purpose is to cause us to veer off course and to miss the mark—the mark being total conformity to the image of Christ. Satan uses this power of sin as his tool. And every time we choose to follow what our flesh is saying over what God is prompting us to do, we quench God’s Spirit in us and become the enemy’s pawns.

Like a prisoner of war, we can easily become overpowered, seized and carried off by the flesh. We can become an unwilling captive and wholly unable to rid ourselves of our bonds, our cords or bands of sin. We can become like a traveler who is caught off guard by bandits that pounced on him and carried him off. What’s so sad is how could we, a born-again Christian, allow the bandits to creep up on us so quickly and capture us? How could we, who know so many Biblical truths, who have preached them and supposedly walked them, fall like this? How could this happen? Paul, however, says that he himself continually experienced this battle. Listen:

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:23-25

Paul knew the choices he had to make to continually free himself from the enemy in order that Christ’s Life might show forth. We, too, must personally understand this perpetual struggle, as well as know the exact steps to overcome it.

Characteristics of a Carnal Christian (Soulish Man)

Let’s put all of this into language we can understand. What are some of the characteristics that identify a “carnal Christian”?1 These are born-again Christians because they have the Spirit of God in them. However, because they have chosen to follow what the flesh has told them over God’s promptings, their actions show forth “self” rather than God. Here are some marks of identification:

Carnal Christians are often talkative and flippant, always making themselves the center of attention. They tend to use many words and look upon themselves as far more advanced than others. Consequently, they are often fault finders. Working for the Lord is of the utmost importance to them, but they feel that everything must be done in a hurry. They do not wait on the Lord for His answers. They often rely upon their own personality and have a large spiritual vocabulary. They are ambitious and want to attain glory for themselves. They usually are uncommonly gifted, have great talent and magnetic personalities. But, again, they dwell on their own superiority.

The basic characteristics of the works of the flesh are independence or self-dependence, self-confidence and self-reliance. This Christian values self-will above God’s will. He can do righteous deeds and do them well; however, God says that any good that the flesh does is an abomination in His sight because it glorifies self, not Him.

Soulish believers try to satisfy their curiosity by studying prophecy. They believe that knowing mentally is the same thing as possessing experientially. They have great acquired knowledge, but not Spirit-revealed knowledge. It’s important to note, however, that increased spiritual head-knowledge will often strengthen our carnality, deceiving us into thinking we are spiritual.

The danger of the above is that because God’s Spirit is suppressed, the soulish and bodily realm will rule, allowing the power of darkness to get an advantage. God designed the sanctification process to remove all hindrances so that the Holy Spirit can control us. Sanctification is simply the process of restoring the image of Christ in us. Unfortunately, many carnal Christians are unwilling to pay that price.

Thus, you can be born again by the Spirit and yet still spend 90% of your time in the soulish realm. If this is the case, your ministry and teaching will not produce any real life or power. Listen to John 6:63, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing...”

Ask yourself, do any of the above characteristics describe you? If so, allow the Holy Spirit to personally reveal them to you and, in response, deal with them as God would have you before you get captured like that above traveler.

Other “works of the flesh” are described in Galatians 5:19-21: “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 the like.”

Characteristics of a Spiritual Christian (Spiritual Man)

Let’s now describe a “spiritual Christian,” one who not only has been born anew but who is also walking by the Spirit, thereby glorifying the Lord.

This description is easy. Take a look at Galatians 5:22 for the characteristics that God sets down for these Christians. Paul says that one walking by the Spirit is filled with all “the fruit of the Spirit”—Love (Agape), joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”

This description is then amplified in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 where Paul says, “Agape suffereth long, and is kind; [His Love] envieth not; [His Love] vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not [its] own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. [God’s Love] never fails.”

When I think of a spiritual Christian, there is one person in our ministry who always comes to mind. She is one who is willing to be a total servant to others. Nothing is too hard for her or beneath her. As I look around the Christian body, it’s amazing to me how very few of these “servant heart” people there really are; Christians who are willing to scrub the toilet if necessary, work in the kitchen if needed or be behind the scenes.

Humility, again, is the word that best describes a spiritual Christian. Most Christians, unfortunately, want to be up in front where they can be seen as “spiritual.” They want the visible jobs! A Christian with a servant’s heart is one who is only interested in what God thinks. And thus, they are willing to do whatever job is required. The Bible tells us that God’s eyes are toward the humble, the unpretentious and the one who is free from pride.

Remember a couple of other things:

  • Whatever does not issue from depending upon the Spirit is of the flesh.
  • Attempting to follow God without denying self is the root of all failure.
  • The flesh is Satan’s workshop.
  • Putting confidence in the flesh is death and will destroy our ability to glorify Christ.

Consequently, we must continually judge ourselves and bring our flesh into captivity so that God’s Life can come forth. This is called “the exchanged life” and this is what the sanctification process is all about.

To be continued next month: “Where the Battle is Fought.” This article has been excerpted in part from Nan’s new book Reflections of His Image: God’s Purpose for Your Life.


  1.  I am indebted to Watchmen Nee’s book The Spiritual Man for much of this description.