Q: Is there any difference between a carnal Christian and a worldly Christian?
A: In studying the Bible, I believe there is a big difference. First of all the initial description gives us insight into their difference. Carnal means “fleshly”, while worldly implies it belongs to the world. Carnal will make a person fickle towards the matters of God, while worldliness will make him or her idolatrous.
This brings us to another difference between the carnal and worldly Christian. Since there is no spiritual basis in the flesh, carnal Christians must resort to a worldly attitude towards spiritual matters that fly against their conclusions. Such Christians’ flesh must be first stirred up to consider matters according to how the world would approach and perceive it. These individuals become identified with man-inspired religion in some way, rather than Christ, to justify their fleshly way of thinking. For example, if you consider the carnal debate that took place between the members of the Corinthian Church in 1 Corinthians 3, they were in competition brought on by the idea of who baptized who. Competition comes out of the many jealousies of pride which are the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20). The fleshly fruits it produced were elitism, judgmentalism, and division within the church.
We know that one of Paul’s followers and helpers, Demas went back into the world (2 Timothy 4:10). This brings us to those who are worldly Christians. These people prefer the ways and practices of the world over Christianity. They often put so-called “robes of righteousness” over their worldly practices and ways to hide their divided heart. As you can see, carnality affects the attitude of the mind, while worldliness affects the heart attitude.
Christians who are worldly often display a half-heartedness towards the things of God. After all, the world will dull a person down towards spiritual matters. Such individuals have in some way come into agreement with the world and put their reliance on the world to bring personal purpose, satisfaction, and identity. They will prove to be lukewarm in their responses towards God, but zealously critical towards those who do not adhere to what they perceive constitutes Christianity. When these people are unmasked, they are often considered hypocrites because they fail to live according to their own judgments about spiritual matters.
Another difference that has been pointed out concerning these two types of Christians comes down to where they ultimately end up. For carnal Christians, they end up wandering around in the wilderness of testing and preparation. Sadly, if they do not repent and allow their minds to be transformed, they will not prove to be overcomers and will not inherit all of the promises of God.
Worldly Christians wallow in the pigpens of the world. They walk around with the stench of the world on them. Their eyes are dull to the light of Christ, their ears deaf to the voice of the Shepherd, and their heart slow or unresponsive to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. They are like the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. They need to see the vanity and destruction of the world and return home, ready to be servants in heart so they can be once again honored as sons and daughters of God. If such Christians do not repent of such worldliness, they might find themselves in the end being regarded as an enemy of God (James 4:4).