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Immorality vs. Carnality

“We are horrified at immoral conduct in social life, but how many of us are as horrified at pride as Jesus Christ was? ...God gives us a deeper horror of carnality than ever we had of immorality.”*
My Oswald Chambers reading two days ago didn’t strike me as having anything worth writing about, at the time, but since then, I haven’t been able to get out of my mind the idea presented in the above quote. Chambers is saying that, as bad as immorality may be, there is something worse, something that should horrify us even more than immorality and that is carnality. Realizing that today’s definitions may differ greatly with the way Chambers understood the words, I went searching to see what are “immorality” and “carnality.”

  • the quality of not being in accord with standards of right or good conduct
  • deliberately violating accepted principles of right and wrong

One self-proclaimed agnostic writes, “Belief in God is not necessary for a moral system. Logic will serve us just as well,”² and points out that in a society where everyone is free to do whatever they like, randomly killing people is not a good idea because it means that I too can be killed. This kind of logic, he declares, speaks for the needs of morals even if there is no god to consider.

CARNALITY: It should be pointed out that while the word “carnal” is used ten times in the King James Version of the Bible, more recent translations, such as the NIV, do not use the word at all. What does it mean?

  • Relating to the physical and especially sexual appetites: carnal desire.
  • Worldly or earthly; temporal: the carnal world.
  • Of or relating to the body or flesh; bodily: carnal remains.

Claude T. Stauffer, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Hope on Long Island, New York describes carnality this way: “...carnality is self-rule, preoccupation with self, self-promotion, self-reliance, self-worship, and every form of selfishness; it is sin.”³

Comparing the two words gives me a better idea of what Chambers was saying. Immorality is a breaking of the rules or laws, primarily those set by society at large. Carnality, on the other hand, is a focus on self—one’s needs and desires. Societal rules rarely touch on the idea of self except where one’s selfishness, such as going on a killing spree, interferes with other people. But the very structure of Christianity is based on the relinquishment and death of self.

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. Matthew 16:25 NIV

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 2 Corinthians 4:11 NIV

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21 NIV

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1, 2 NIV

Am I as horrified by self-focused behaviour and thought as I am about man's or God’s laws being broken? Do I, in the depths of me, consider pride and greed as evil as rape and murder? I don’t think I’m there yet. Nor, in my observation, are most of those who call themselves Christian. Somehow we seem to adopt societal mores and rules more than we do what Jesus had to say. No wonder our divorce rates are as high as non-Christians! No wonder it’s often hard to distinguish us from everyone else! Our talk may be different but our lives aren’t. We do what everyone else does and see nothing wrong with it. How we must grieve our Father!

“God gives us a deeper horror of carnality than ever we had of immorality.” If I’m not horrified at my own self-focus, at doing what seems best for me, at looking out for my own needs, rights and desires, have I really allowed God into my life? Am I willing to give up my rights, my comforts, my life? Am I willing to obey God, even when it hurts or seems foolish?

God, I ask that you give me a deep horror of my self-focused ways of living, a horror of placing my needs, wants, rights, desires, life above your need and desires for me. I want your will, your ways, your purposes, you, to be what I give my life to every second, every hour, every day. Continue to change me, work in me, use me and root out my stubborn selfishness. Thank you.

* Chambers, Oswald. “Heart: The Radical Region of Life: The Radiator of Personal Life” in “Biblical Psychology” in The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers p. 171


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