Oxymorons are a beautiful, puzzling and engaging way of expressing oneself by making a conjunction of apparently contradictory or incongruous terms. For example, a lazy man would say ‘I am busy doing nothing’. The words ‘busy’ and ‘doing nothing’ have absolutely opposite meanings. Oxymoron is an awfully amazing figure of speech and although it may be clearly confusing sometimes, it is definitely maybe the only choice of the figure of speech that can be used for a variety of purposes.
A typically weird oxymoron has been coined from the first letter of Paul to the church in Corinth; let me give you a brief background. The church in Corinth had communal rivalries, disputes, and factions thriving among them. Paul rebuked them saying that these were evidence of their being carnal; in other words, fleshly interests and affections have influenced their thoughts, words, and actions too much. It is worthy of note that ‘religious’ contentions and quarrels are one of the many unfortunate indications of being carnal. Authentic faith makes men peaceable and not contentious. Factious, sectarian and divisive spirits are founded on human principles and are steered by pride and passions, not by the rules of love and faith. Paul lamented: ‘Are you not carnal, and walk as men? It is to be regretted that several who should walk as Christians (that is, live beyond the common rate of men), do really still walk as mere men; living and acting too much like every other ordinary man, completely under the influence of their fleshy desires. It is from this (1 Corinthians 3:1-4), that the oxymoron ‘carnal Christian’ has been coined and it suggests someone who is saved because of faith in Christ Jesus but who has no evident change of life in terms of conduct and lifestyle.
The words ‘carnal’ and ‘Christian’ are two contradictory terms with completely opposite meanings. To be ‘carnal’ is to live a life that is subject to the dictates of the flesh and its unbridled lusts. The English word ‘carnal’ is translated from the Greek word ‘sarkikos’ which literally means ‘fleshly’. To be a Christian on the other a hand, literally means someone who acts, behaves and speaks like Christ himself would. It was first used in Antioch to describe believers whose conduct and lifestyle was exactly like Christ’s. Thus, the words ‘carnal’ and ‘Christian’ are conflicting and awfully anomalous when used in conjunction to describe the same person.
Galatians 2:16 reads “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…” No one is made right in the sight of God as a result of good works but basically by faith in Christ Jesus. Although a believer should not place his hope on his good works and piety as a way of obtaining righteousness, the Bible speaks of good works as a fruit of knowing God (Colossians 1:9-10; Titus 3:14). A believer is saved by a living faith that produces good works: the works he has been prepared for from the foundations of the world in the service of Christ and his neighbor (Ephesians 2:10).
While there is a great need to emphasize that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone, there is a pitfall of giving an impression that it is OK for one to have Christ Jesus as their savior and not seek to live a life that is Christ-like. Salvation is unquestionably by faith alone, but to be comfortable living a life controlled by fleshy lust offends the (saving) faith because we are saved by faith to live a life contrary to the desires of the unbridled flesh (1 Thess 4:7). “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him” Colossians2:6. It is not OK in biblical impression and it is alien to the concept of salvation that one should be both saved and ungodly, or that one is a Christian and at the same time leads a carnal life– although there are a few of such now and in bible days.
It is true Christians are involved in a conflict against the leftovers of sin within (Romans 7:13–20; Gal. 5:16–24), and at times the flesh seems to be gaining the upper hand (1 Cor. 3:1–4). But this does not mean we are not saved. Such a conflict, are felt by those who have been regenerated by the Spirit and given the gift of faith. What’s more, as believers we are assisted by the Spirit to put the flesh under subjection (Romans 8:11-13). This way it becomes evident that sin does not have dominion over us, for if it did, we would not fight it (Romans: 6:14).