It wasn’t long after my transition from the Roman Catholic Church to the Protestant church that I began to hear the very interesting phrase carnal Christian and its associated form carnal Christianity. I found the phrase interesting because I was intimately familiar with the concept. I knew what it was like to wrestle with temptation and lose, and I knew what it was like to bypass the wrestling entirely and just go ahead and sin. Sometimes I sinned because I didn’t care, and other times I rationalized my wrongdoing by thinking the way a carnal Christian does: “I’m a Christian, and in the long run it doesn’t matter whether I sin or not, because my life is all under grace anyway.” Who hasn’t thought along similar lines, and possibly even turned thought into deed on an occasion or two? Here’s the current draft of the entry for carnal Christian:
This issue of being a Christian in relationship with God and yet still having sinful urges and acting on them is why we have an entire cluster of words about this idea of Christian carnality. More than likely you’ve heard the term cheap grace. This is the idea, basically, that you might as well sin all you want, using up a ton of grace, because you can always get more. The concept of cheap grace has entirely forgotten that this grace was purchased with our Savior’s blood.
A closely related term, which you can see in the cross-references for carnal Christian, is partial surrender. Whereas total surrender would be completely giving over one’s life, hopes, dreams, powers, possessions, et cetera to God, someone who is practicing mere partial surrender is only giving God control over some things.
The idea of professing love for Christ and yet willfully engaging in sin is utterly serious business, and yet I’ll close with one of the more humorous terms I’ve come across in my research. It’s the term wet devil, and that’s a person who’s been baptized (hence “wet”) and yet continues to act like a licentious heathen (hence “devil”). I imagine, strictly speaking, a wet devil is someone who isn’t actually a Christian. Sure, they may have participated in some of the ceremonies and they may even attend services, but the doctrine hasn’t penetrated into their heart. They may have gone under the waters of baptism and come up again, but the only difference that was made in them was that they got wet.
Have you ever heard someone talk about carnal Christianity, cheap grace, partial surrender, or a wet devil? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!