I just got a book called No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came from, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful. It is by Andrew David Naselli. My review will appear in the next issue of our journal. In this blog, I just want to focus on one of Naselli’s main concerns. He believes that there are not two kinds of Christians, spiritual and carnal. He thinks that all Christians are spiritual, though some Christians might be carnal for a short period of time (pp. 55-60).
The notion that all Christians are spiritual, except for when they are not, is an admission that there are at least two types of Christians. But Naselli and most Lordship Salvation preachers think otherwise. They think that temporary periods of carnality do not represent what a Christian is. A Christian is spiritual, holy, Godly, Christ-like.
Let me suggest to Naselli and all that there are at least three kinds of Christians. The three kinds are the spiritual (mature), the carnal (baby Christians), and those who are out of fellowship with God, sometimes called backsliders (like the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32).
A careful reading of 1 Cor 3:1-4 shows that carnal Christians are not backsliders. They are not believers who are in rebellion against the Lord. They are called “babes in Christ.” That is why they still only can partake of the milk of the Word, the simplest of Bible truths. Though they should have been spiritually minded believers by this time (1 Cor 3:3), they were still babes in Christ. They thought and acted like unbelievers think and act: “For where there is envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3).
Let me say this again. A carnal Christian is not a Christian who is out of fellowship with God. A carnal Christian is a baby Christian.
The day you were born again you were a carnal Christian. It doesn’t matter how dedicated you were, how much you loved Jesus, how clear the person was who led you to faith in Christ, or how good the initial follow up you received. No day-old Christians are spiritually minded. It takes time to move from the way unbelievers think to the way believers should think, to have what Paul calls “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). How long? The Bible never specifically says. But we have clues.
The first word in the Greek text of 1 Cor 3:3 is “still” (eti). The believers there had been Christians for around five years. Paul is chagrined that five years in the faith they were still baby Christians. That should not be.
In Hebrews 5:12-14 we read, “by this time you ought to be teachers, [but] you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” That illustration would imply that after a year or two, believers should be spiritual and able to teach others.
Paul said that an elder should “not [be] a novice, less being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1 Tim 3:6). A novice is a new comer, one new to the faith. Again, no hard and fast number is given. But we are probably safe to say that for the first year or so all believers are carnal. After a year or so of good teaching, believers can and should be spiritual.
The third type of Christian is one who is likely not in church. He has backslidden and is in the spiritual far country (Luke 15:11-24). That person is not really carnal in the way in which Paul uses the term. Paul reserves that term for people who are in church, walking with the Lord, but who have yet to advance beyond baby status. While the backslider is indeed acting and thinking like unbelievers, he is not walking with Christ and hence it is better to think of him as a different type of Christian.
Back to Naselli. He complains that higher life theology grants false assurance to people are not yet born again. Why? Because they distinguish between justification by faith alone and sanctification by faith working through love. In his view justification and sanctification blur together. One is not born again in his view until and unless he has remorse for his sins, has determined to turn from his sins, and has fully committed himself to following Christ for the rest of his life.
Of course, there is a price to pay for that sort of thinking. Assurance becomes impossible. If those who are the real deal Christians persevere in faith and good works until death, and I can’t be sure I will do that, then I can’t be sure where I’m going until I die. Many of us lived that way for years. While well intentioned, it is a form of works salvation. And it is not conducive to pleasing God. That produces legalism, which is not a good thing.
So, if you think that all true Christians are holy, Godly, Christ-like, abiding in Christ, and filled with the Spirit, then you don’t know whether you are born again or not. And you cannot share your faith clearly because you will always tell the unbeliever that he must clean up his life, dedicate his life, and change the way he is living in order to be born again.
Yes. There is more than one type of Christian. (And there will be in eternity too since those who persevere will rule forever with Christ and those who not will be in the kingdom, but will not rule. But that is the subject of another blog.)