Question: The words, "carnal Christian," sound like an oxymoron. From passages such as Ezekiel 33, Matthew:7:19-23, I can't see "carnal Christians" in heaven. People use 1 Corinthians 3 to prove that all professing Christians will be saved no matter what they do. But John MacArthur in his study Bible says this primarily refers to evangelists and pastors. I think a viable interpretation...is that the work they are doing is...evangelizing and helping the Body of Christ to grow in its knowledge of Him.
If they give a false gospel, the convert will be burnt up because he doesn't have Christ as a foundation. If the builder tries to build up other Christians with false teachings...those teachings will be burnt up...and the builder will not receive a reward. The builder will be saved, but his works will be burnt....I don't think this passage proves that there will be unrewarded carnal Christians in heaven.
Response: On the contrary, Paul is not referring only to"evangelists and pastors," nor does MacArthur's Study Bible say so. Three times Paul says "any man" and once "every man." It is the man's works (not his "converts") that are tried by fire (v. 13) and it is the works that are burned, not "converts" to a false gospel.
You believe "carnal Christian" is an "oxymoron"? Paul introduces the idea, beginning with himself (Rom:7:14). Though he calls the Corinthians carnal, yet he also calls them "brethren" and "babes in Christ" (1 Cor:3:1-4).
"Carnal" is a biblical term describing those who are living in "envy, strife, and divisions." Paul accuses them of condoning fornication and of going to law in secular courts against each other. He warns them against prostitutes and various other sins unbecoming of Christians. He even declares that a person could have been so carnal that all of his works will be burned up-yet "he himself shall be saved" (1 Cor:3:15).
I agree that this passage doesn't prove that all professing Christians will be saved no matter what they do. Professing is not enough. After making it clear that Christ is the only foundation, Paul refers to those who "build upon this foundation" (1 Cor:3:10-12)-i.e., real Christians.
There won't be any carnal Christians in heaven because "when he shall appear, we shall be like him" (1 Jn:3:2). But we are not told that carnality will keep anyone out of heaven. If one must live a perfect life in order to get to heaven, no one would make it. Paul wrote most of his epistles to correct error in the church. But he doesn't say that even the most carnal Corinthians are not saved. Paul stands in doubt of the Galatians, not because of carnality but because he questions whether they believed the true gospel (Gal:4:11,19,20).