Carnal or Spiritual?
"And Peter went out and wept bitterly." --Luke 22:62.
These words indicate the turning point in the life of Peter,--a crisis. There is often a
question about the life of holiness. Do you grow into it? or do you come into it be a
crisis suddenly? Peter has been growing for three years under the training of Christ,
but he had grown terribly downward, for the end of his growing was, he denied
Jesus. And then there came a crisis. After the crisis he was a changed man, and
then he began to grow aright. We must indeed grow in grace, but before we can
grow in grace we must be put right.
You know what the two halves of the life of Peter were. In God's Word we read
very often about the difference between the carnal and the spiritual Christian. The
word "carnal" comes from the Latin word for flesh. In Romans viii, and in Gal. v.,
we are taught that the flesh and the Spirit of God are the two opposing powers by
which we are dominated or ruled, and we are taught that a true believer may allow
himself to be ruled by the flesh. That is what Paul writes to the Corinthians. In the
third chapter, the first four verses, he says, four times to them, "You are carnal,
and not spiritual." And just so a believer can allow the flesh to have so much power
over him that becomes "carnal." Every object is named according to its most
prominent characteristic. If a man is a babe in Christ and has a little of the Holy
Spirit and a great deal of the flesh, he is called carnal, for the flesh is his chief mark.
If he gives way, as the Corinthians did, to strife, temper, division, and envy, he is a
carnal Christian. He is a Christian, but a carnal one. But if he gives himself over
entirely to the Holy Spirit so that He (the Holy Spirit) can deliver from the temper,
the envy, and the strife, by breathing a heavenly disposition; and can mortify the
deeds of the body; then God's Word calls him a "spiritual" man, a true spiritual
Now, these two styles are remarkably illustrated in the life of Peter. The text is the
crisis and turning point at which he begins to pass over from the one side to the other.
The message that I want to bring to you is this: That the great majority of
Christians, alas, are not spiritual men, and that they may become spiritual men by
the grace of God. I want to come to all who are perhaps hungering and longing for
the better life, and asking what is wrong that you are without it, to point out that
what is wrong is just one thing,--allowing the flesh to rule in you, and trusting in
the power of the flesh to make you good.
There is a better life, a life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, I want to tell you a
third thing. The first thing is important, take care of the carnal life, and confess if
you are in it. The second truth is very blessed, there is a spiritual life; believe that it
is a possibility. But the third truth is the most important,--You can be one step get
out of the carnal into the spiritual state. May God reveal it to you now through the
story of the Apostle Peter!
Look at him, first of all, in the carnal state. What are the marks of the carnal state
in him? Self-will, self-pleasing, self-confidence. Just remember, when Christ said to
the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, "The Son of Man must be crucified," Peter said to
Him, "Lord, that can never be!" And Christ had to say to him, "Get thee behind Me,
Satan!" Dear reader, what an awful thing for Peter! He could not understand what
a suffering Christ was. And Peter was so self-willed and self-confident that he dared
to contradict and to rebuke Christ! Just think of it! Then, you remember, how
Peter and the other disciples, were more than once quarreling as to who was to be
the chief--self-exaltation, self-pleasing;--every one wanted the chief seat in the
Kingdom of God. Then again, remember the last night, when Christ warned Peter
that Satan had desired to sift him and that he would deny Him; and Peter said
twice over, "Lord, if they all deny Thee, I am ready to go to prison and to death."
What self-confidence! He was sure that his heart was right. He loved Jesus, but he
trusted himself. "I will never deny my Lord.! Don't you see the whole of that life of
Peter is carnal confidence in himself. In his carnal pride, in his carnal unlovingness, in
the carnal liberty he took in contradicting Jesus, it was all just the life of the flesh.
Peter loved Jesus. God had by the Holy Spirit, taught him. Christ had said, "Flesh
and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven." God
had taught him that Christ was the Son of God; but with all that, Peter was just
under the power of the flesh; and that is why Christ said at Gethsemane, "The
spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."--"You are under the power of the flesh, you
cannot watch with Me." Dear reader, what did it all lead to? The flesh led not only
to the sins I have mentioned, but last of all to the saddest of things, to Peter's
actual denial of Jesus. Three times over he told the lie; and once with an oath, "I
know not the man." He denied his blessed Lord. That is what it comes to with the
life of the flesh. That is Peter.
Now, look in the second place at Peter after he became a spiritual man. Christ had
taught Peter a great deal. I think, if you count carefully, you will find some seven or
eight times, Christ had spoken to the disciples about humility; He had taken a little
child and set him in the midst of them; He had said, "He that exalteth himself shall
be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted; He had said that three or
four times; He had at the last supper washed their feet; but all had not taught
Peter humility. All Christ's instructions were in vain. Remember that now. A man
who is not spiritual, though he may read his Bible, though he may study God's
Word, cannot conquer sin, because he is not living the life of the Holy Spirit. God
has so ordered it, that man cannot live a right Christian life unless he is full of the
Holy Ghost. Do you wonder at what I say? Have you been accustomed to think,--"Full of the Holy Ghost, that is what the Apostles had to be on the day of
Pentecost; that is what the martyrs and the ministers had to be; but for every
man to be full of the Holy Ghost, that is too high"? I tell you solemnly, unless you
believe that, you will never become thorough-going Christians. I must be full of the
Holy Spirit if I am to be a whole-hearted Christian.
Then, note what change took place in Peter. The Lord Jesus led him up to
Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came from heaven upon him, and what took place? The
old Peter was gone, and he was a new Peter. Just read his epistle, and note the
keynote of the epistle. "Through suffering to glory." Peter, who had said, "Of
course, Lord, you never can suffer, or be crucified;" Peter, who, to save himself
suffering or shame, had denied Christ,--Peter becomes so changed that when he
writes his epistle the chief thought is the very thought of Christ, "Suffering is the
way to glory." Do you not see that the Holy Spirit had changed Peter?
And look at other aspects. Look at Peter. He was so weak that a woman could
frighten him into denying Christ; but when the Holy Spirit came he was bold, bold,
bold to confess his Lord at any cost, was ready to go to prison and to death, for
Christ's sake. The Holy Spirit had changed the man. Look at his views of Divine
truth. He could not understand what Christ taught him, he could not take it in. It
was impossible before the death of Christ; but on the day of Pentecost how he is
able to expound the word of God as a spiritual man! I tell you, beloved, when the
Holy Ghost comes upon a man he becomes a spiritual man, and instead of denying
his Lord he denies himself, just remember that. In the sixteenth chapter of
Matthew when Peter had said, "Lord, be it far from Thee, this shall never happen
that Thou shalt be crucified," Christ said to Him: "Peter, not only will I be crucified,
but you will have to be crucified too. If any man is to be My disciple, let him take up
his cross to die upon it, let him deny himself, and let him follow Me." How did Peter
obey that command? He went and denied Jesus! As long as a man, a Christian, is
under the power of the flesh, he is continually denying Jesus. You always must do
one of the two, you must deny self or you must deny Jesus, and, alas, Peter
denied his Lord rather than deny himself. On the other hand, when the Holy Spirit
came upon him, he could not deny his Lord, but he could deny himself, and he
praised God for the privilege of suffering for Christ.
Now, how did the change come about? The words of my text tell us,--"And Peter
went out and wept bitterly." What does that mean? It means this, that the Lord led
Peter to come to the end of himself, to see what was in his heart, and with his self-confidence to fall into the very deepest sin that a child of God could be guilty of;--publicly, with an oath, to deny his Lord Jesus! When Peter stood there in that great
sin, the loving Jesus looked upon him, and that look, full of loving reproach, loving
pity, pierced like an arrow through the heart of Peter, and he went out and wept
bitterly. Praise God, that was the end of self-confident Peter! Praise God, that was
the turning point of his life! He went out with a shame that no tongue can express.
He woke up as out of a dream to the terrible reality "I have helped to crucify the
blessed Son of God." No man can fathom what Peter must have passed through
that Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning. But, blessed be God, on that Sunday
Jesus revealed Himself to Peter, we know not how, but "He was seen of Simon;"
then in the evening He came to him with the other disciples and breathed peace,
and the Holy Spirit upon him; and then, later on, you know how the Lord asked
him, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?"--three times, until Peter was
sorrowful, and said, "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee."
What was it that wrought the transition from the love of the flesh to the love of
the Spirit? I tell you, that was the beginning,--"Peter went out and wept bitterly,"
with a broken heart, with a heart that would give anything to show its love to
Jesus. With a heart that had learned to give up all self-confidence, Peter was
prepared for the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
And, now, you can easily see the application of this story. Are there not many just
living the life of Peter, of the self-confident Peter as he was? Are there not many
who are mourning under the consciousness, "I am so unfaithful to my Lord, I have
no power against the flesh, I cannot conquer my temper, I give way just like Peter
to the fear of man, of company, for people can influence me and make me do
things I do not want to do, and I have no power to resist them? Circumstances get
the mastery over me, and I then say and do things that I am ashamed of."? Is