Question: Please explain I Corinthians 3:1 and Romans 8:6. How can these two Scriptures be harmonized?
Answer: Let us first insert these texts in full. I Corinthians 3:1 reads thus, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” Romans 8:6-7 reads thus, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” The thought in the mind of the questioner seems to be “How could people be brethren and babes in Christ and still be carnal when it is plainly stated in Romans 8:6 that to be carnally minded is death?”
I will say at the first that this is a fair question and a good one and I will do my utmost under God to answer it as clearly and as understandably as is possible for me in my own limited understanding.
We will first consider the CARNAL MIND as mentioned in Romans 8:6-7. Matthew Henry says of it “(1.) It is death. It is spiritual death, the certain way to alienation from God, in union and communion with whom the life of the soul consists. (2.) It is enmity to God, and this is worse than the first. The former speaks the carnal sinner a dead man, which is bad; but this speaks him a devil of a man. It is not only an enemy but enmity itself. It is not only the alienation of the soul from God, but the opposition of the soul against God; it rebels against His authority, thwarts His design, opposes His interest, spits in His face, spurns at His bowels. Can there be a greater enmity? An enemy may be reconciled, but enmity cannot.”
Let us look a little closer at this carnal MIND. First of all, bear in mind that it is the carnal MIND that is under consideration. Confusing the carnal MIND with the carnal NATURE or native depravity has led some to a conclusion which has fed error rather than truth and that one who possessed this carnal mind could not live a justified life before God, free from committing sin; because the Bible said that the carnal mind was not subject to the law of God and could not be. They conclude that the carnal nature is removed in justification because one could not live justified with it because it was not subject to the law of God. This mixture of identification leads to confusion and error in the light of all the general tenor of Scripture.
“Carnal” is used in the Scriptures in contradistinction to “Spiritual” and pertains to the things of the flesh in contradistinction to the things of the spirit. The dictionary carnal is defined as “Of or pertaining to the body as the seat of appetites. Fleshly. Lacking spirituality, unregenerate, worldly.” In Romans 8:6 “To be carnally minded” the margin says, “Minding of the flesh.” Therefore the carnal MIND would have reference to the thoughts, plans, schemes, connivings and meditations of the mind for ways and means to satisfy the desires of the flesh.
Ecclesiastes 7:29 says, “…God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”
First of all this text carries the thought that man’s inventions have off-set his uprightness and led him away from God. Invention is defined as “fabrication of the imagination a device, contrivance or the like originated after study and experiment.” Again invent is defined as ” To fabricate mentally create or devise in the imagination.” Thus we see that in this text man’s inventions would refer to his studying and experimenting, creating and devising in his imaginations and fabricating mentally (in his mind) devices and ways and means to glorify himself and satisfy the desires of his flesh (natural man).
Lest we overlook some of the emphasis of this, let us go a little farther with it. Invention is defined as a “fabrication of the imagination.” But imagination is defined as “a scheme, plot or project, especially of evil a mental image a creation of the mind.” In Genesis 6:5 it says that God saw that “…every imagination [creations of men’s minds]of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In other words, men were continually creating in their minds schemes, plots and projects of evil to satisfy the desires of their flesh according to their depraved natures.
Also the word Imagine is defined as “To form a mental picture of: to produce by the imagination; to contrive in purpose, to scheme; to fancy, think, suppose.” One of the definitions of the word imagine is “to fancy” and fancy is defined as “the object of one’s interest.” Projecting this thought into the text of Genesis 6:5, it indicates that these people were primarily interested in evil and in devising ways and means to execute their evil plots, plans, and schemes.
In Psalm 36:4, speaking of the wicked it says “He deviseth mischief upon his bed;…” Again speaking of the wicked in Proverbs 6:14 it says, “…he deviseth mischief continually;…” In these texts and several more it speaks of DEVISING mischief. Cruden’s Concordance says that in the Scriptures mischief is very frequently used to denote wickedness and iniquity. Devise is defined as “to form in the mind by new combination of ideas. Invent, contrive, to plan for.” Further, contrive is defined as “to devise, plan, to form schemes or designs.” In other words, this makes it plain that those who devised mischief were planning, scheming, designing and seeking, even by new ideas in their minds, how to accomplish their evil, fleshly desires.
Now all of this shows the disposition of the carnal MIND; that it is continually inventing, fabricating, imagining, studying, experimenting, creating, devising, scheming, plotting, contriving, purposing, etc. for projects of evil and fleshly indulgence. Of course, such a mind would produce spiritual death and would be enmity against God and would not and could not be subject to the law of God and no person could be a child of God and be governed by such a mind. Let me emphasize that it is the carnal mind under consideration and the not the carnal nature native depravity. There is a difference.
The term native depravity indicates a depravity of nature at birth. Then it is something in the nature of the infant child. ” The Scriptures conclude something about sin being hereditary, a depravity of nature to be handed down through the generations of mankind from the original parent.” Romans 5:12-17 declares all men to be under the dismal sway of sin and further proves that they are thus affected because of one man and his sin and also declares that one man to be Adam who was the royal head of the human family. This could not be true unless there is something hereditary about sin.
For a thing to be hereditary it must be inherent in a child at birth and not something acquired later on in life. Hence; this depravity of nature must be in the infant child at birth. I believe that in general we would all agree with this. But the carnal mind could not be existent in an infant child at birth because he would not be capable of exercising his mind to invent, study, fabricate, imagine, scheme, plot, purpose and create projects of evil and fleshly indulgence. Thus we see that the carnal mind could not possibly be identical with the carnal nature but is a product of it and is acquired by those who are more advanced and developed in capacity and ability and established in the practices of carnal, fleshly desires and is therefore more attached to the actual fleshly life than to the nature only.
Colossians 2:18 mentions man as “…vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” “Fleshly mind” and “Carnal mind” are one and the same thing and belong to the fleshly life. When one puts off the deeds or works of the flesh which are cataloged in a general way in Galatians 5:19-21 and repents of his sins and, through faith in Christ, is saved (born again) and receives the Christ life into his soul which is called “Newness of life” in Romans 6:4; he also receives a renewing in the spirit of his mind (Ephesians 4:23). In other words, the disposition and tendencies of his mind are changed to conform to the change in his heart and life. Therefore, the mind of one who is saved is not scheming, planning, plotting and inventing projects for satisfying fleshly desires, but rather thinking, planning and meditating on ways and means whereby he may maintain and improve his spiritual life and better please God and may have more time and opportunity to engage in His service.
In this 8th chapter of Romans, Paul is pointing out a line of distinction between the flesh and spirit and in the course of the discussion deals with the fleshly or carnal mind and the spiritual mind. In fact, the major portion of the Epistle to the Romans is dealing with such distinctions and opposites law and grace, Jews versus Gentiles, and works of the law versus faith in Christ, flesh and spirit, etc. These people are not charged with having or manifesting a carnal mind but are just admonished or warned of the consequences of following such a mind. In fact, we would judge from this epistle that in the main thought the Church of God at Rome was quite spiritual, prosperous and thriving.
In the 3rd chapter of I Corinthians the case is different. No mention is made here of a carnal mind but the church at Corinth is complained against and is definitely charged with being carnal. However, Paul addressed them as “Brethren” and as “Babes in Christ;” and it is evident that they were alive and could be fed because Paul said he was feeding them with milk and not meat. This would be true of all babes. In their baby state they could not digest solid food; and Paul complained of these folks at Corinth that they were not able to bear meat (the strong, deep truths of the gospel) but must still have milk (the very simple, elementary truths and instructions of Christian living).
These folks were not charged with being activated by the carnal mind (scheming, imagining, contriving, devising and dreaming up ways to satisfy the fleshly desires and appetites). Their situation was that they were all new converts to the Christian faith and were in a baby state in their Christian experience, and had no degree of advancement in the things of God and had not learned the ways of God and how Christians behave. These folks were still possessed of the native depravity of mankind perhaps without even knowing it, or anything about the need of entire sanctification which eradicates that principle. Perhaps they did not even know they were supposed to resist such tendencies as they were manifesting here and did not know what was prompting them and they were just behaving like natural men behave. However, it was not the satisfaction of evil and sinful pleasures and lusts of the flesh they were seeking after here, but just to have their own way and likes which is the predominant characteristic of the carnal nature or native depravity. The extent of the thing manifested here was that they became activated by a party spirit and preference of preachers and continued in it to the point of factions and divisions.
We may condemn them for that and certainly they should not be commended for it because it was wrong and still is wrong today. Let us not overlook the fact that there are not just a few among us today who are well instructed in the truths of justification and sanctification and how saints should behave themselves and be in unity and be one in Christ Jesus and in all the truths of the gospel who are guilty of this same thing and have to have their own way and still profess to be saved and sanctified. Some who contend that these folks could not possibly be saved at all on this account are guilty of the same thing, too, and tear the body of Christ in sunder because the saints do not accept their position.
Let us look well at these folks. True, they did not behave themselves as more mature saints would, because they were not more mature than they were and were not established in the ways of the Lord. There were many irregularities in that Corinthian church. There is much reproof and even some rebuke given them for their errors throughout the first epistle Paul wrote to them. It becomes evidently certain that these people had no evil intent or purpose and were not controlled by a carnal mind which was inventing, contriving, imagining, planning, plotting, purposing to discover ways and means to satisfy the desires of the flesh. It is evident and clear, I say, because when Paul had written them and reproved them for their errors and irregularities, they accepted that and moved up and measured up and in Paul’s second Epistle to them, he commended them and told them in chapter 7, verse 11 “…In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” This would certainly prove that those folks were intent upon growing spiritually, advancing, and increasing in the things of God which could never be true of people dominated by the carnal mind. (II Corinthians 7:11)