The Roots of Insecurity Part 3

3. Carnal confusion

When a born again believer is temporarily walking “according to the flesh,” doubts may arise in his/her mind as to whether or not they have lost their salvation or if they are truly regenerate.[1]

One reason for this is that when the Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched by intentional sin in a believer’s life, the whisper of His inner witness is somewhat drowned out by the interference of the world, the devil, and guilt. Since God’s Spirit seeks to witness with our spirit that we are “sons of God,” hindered fellowship with Him may hinder the disciple’s perception of this inner witness (Rom. 8:16; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).

Fear concerning Biblical warnings can also be a source of confusion. 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 cautions, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” This warning is a valid motivation for the backslider to verify if he/she truly has truly been redeemed: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Cor. 13:5).

When one receives Christ as Lord and Savior by grace through faith, his/her spirit becomes alive toward God; their essential nature expresses God’s indwelling life (2 Pet. 1:4; 2 Cor. 5:17). Paul continued, “And such [characterized by sin] were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). Yet, some have concluded that any incident or temporary pattern of the former fleshly sins prove that the person is unsaved. The defeated person becomes confused: “Am I born again and backslidden, or not really saved?”

Is it possible for a regenerate child of God to walk according to the flesh? Scripture and experience sadly indicate that a carnal condition (in the soul/actions) is a common problem. (Yet, neither is carnality “normal” for saints! – 1 Cor. 1:2). In the letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle rebukes the believers for fleshly behavior such as divisions, sexual immorality, lawsuits against fellow Christians, insensitivity to the scruples of others, and disrespect for the Communion service (1:10-17; 5:1-13; 6:1-11; 8:1-13; 11:17-32). This, however, was not an indication that the church was mostly unregenerate; rather, that they had been influenced by their corrupt culture to walk after the flesh instead of according to their new nature.

Notice how Paul rebuked the carnality of the congregation: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Their temporary carnality did not indicate that they were unsaved (cf. the “natural man” in 2:14); it demonstrated that they had not grown spiritually and were not filled with the Holy Spirit.[2]

The true believer is not IN the flesh positionally, but has the capacity to walk ACCORDING TO the flesh (and then experience God’s corrective discipline–Heb. 12:6-9; Rom. 8:9; 1 Pet. 2:11).[3]

In summary, carnal confusion arises when the believer walks intentionally or passively “according to the flesh.” This, however, does not prove that the carnal Christian is unsaved. The solution is not necessarily salvation, but sanctification (Rom. 6:1-23).

Don’t let carnality ensnare you! If it does, repent and claim the power of the blood of Christ (Rev. 12:11). Rather than losing your assurance, reaffirm your faith and allow your security in Christ to motivate you to “walk according to the Spirit.”


[1] “Flesh” in this context is the interface of the mortal body and human soul that consists of the beliefs, values, identity messages, coping mechanisms, etc. acquired through living independently of God. It is sin-stained (by depravity from Adam) and sin-trained (from each person’s life experiences and choices – Rom. 7:18; Gal.5:16-21). “In the flesh,” refers only to the position of unsaved people (Rom. 8:8,9; Eph. 2:1-3). “After” or “according to the flesh,” refers to a way of living which may be evident for either the unsaved or the saved (Rom. 8:4,5,13). This is a condition or way of living out of one’s own resources and strength as if one is independent of God. It is learned before salvation (in Adam) and continually promoted by the world. “Carnal”(Latin root) is another word for “fleshly” (Rom. 8:6,7). [from GFI “Definition of Terms”]

[2] The fullness of the Spirit is God’s will for every Christian: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). This is a command, which implies that believers may or may not–at a given time–be under the full influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have all of Him, but does he have all of us?

[3] This treatment of the “carnal Christian” by no means legitimizes sin as an acceptable lifestyle for disciples of Christ. Many professing Christians bear no fruit, live a perpetually carnal lifestyle and seek FALSE refuge under the banner of the “carnal Christian.” Such ones are tragically assuming that intellectual assent about Christ guaranteed heaven, even if there are no vital signs (contra James 2:14-26.)

However, just as it is wrong to legitimize the “carnal Christian” as an acceptable lifestyle, so it is unbiblical to deny the possibility of a temporary backslidden condition in the regenerate (as 1 Corinthians 3 indicates). For further discussion on this issue, see Grace Notes: “How to Have True Assurance”; “Motivations for Choosing God’s Best.”

Copyright 2007 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to copy for non commercial use. Biblical quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson.