The Gospel & Moral Laxity
1 Corinthians 6:9-20
by Fred G. Zaspel
One of the great lessons we learn from the example of Apostle Paul is the Christocentric or gospel-centered nature of every problem we face. He said as much to the Corinthians: "I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2) This was true not just in terms of evangelism, but in terms of his ministry as a whole. He had nothing to say but that which related to Christ crucified; everything worked its way out from there.
This was true in the way he dealt with the problem of divisions, factions in the church. "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?" (1:13). In chapter 3 he emphasized that any ministry which does not build on Christ was worthless. And in chapter 5, when he dealt with the problem of the immoral person in the church, his counsel was to put the man out of the church's sphere of fellowship. Why? "Because Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us" (5:7). This demands purity.
Here in chapter 6, Paul continues to deal with the problem of immorality in the church, and his counsel is in the same vein. "No immoral person shall inherit the kingdom of God" (6:9-10). That is to say, there is no room in God's kingdom for immoral people -- only formerly immoral people. "Such were some of you, but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified" (v.11). And from the start Paul deals with the problem from the standpoint of the great cleansing virtues of the gospel. "Such were some of you!"
At once here is both the wonderful, free offer of the gospel and a statement of its effects. Yes, the gospel is good news to fornicators, adulterers, and every kind of sinner. It promises to all who believe, full salvation in Christ. But when God saves a man, He does not leave him in his sin. The Christ who justifies, declares righteous, also cleanses and sanctifies. It is not one or the other. It is both. Put negatively, no man whose life characterized by immorality has a right to claim that he is in Christ. In Christ a man is really saved. The salvation Christ gives is a thorough-going, life transforming work. It is a work that not only changes a man's destiny -- it changes the man!
Now evidently in Corinth some had confused all this. The society around them had so affected them that its vices began to creep into the church.
The Greek philosophies of the age often taught a form of dualism, one emphasis of which was the idea that everything material is sinful, and everything immaterial is good. With a teaching like that, it wasn't far to reason that the body is unimportant. And if the body is unimportant, then we may well reason that what we do is not important either! And in that world, this idea was common. And so immorality of all kinds was rampant and unrestrained.
And in Corinth, as in Pottsville and every modern city, some in church had "caught the spirit of the age." The lives of some professed believers began to reflect more what they had been than what the had supposedly become in Christ. In chapter 5 Paul tells us what to do with such a person--put him out of your fellowship. It is an occasion of great mourning. But now in chapter 6 the apostle tells us why we should react like that, and what is so wrong about such a person. And for him this was no isolated ethical question. For him, the gospel itself was at stake.
Now as you might expect, the offenders in question had their reasons. And, ironically, one of those reasons seems to stem from the Apostle Paul himself! "All things are lawful for me" (v.12) may well have been a slogan taken from Paul's own teaching, a slogan taken and twisted it to imply things the apostle himself would never have approved. Paul often talked about freedom. But that freedom was never to sin! But this is a misrepresentation of his teaching which he often faced. And here at Corinth, people had "turned the grace of God into lasciviousness." Premarital sex? "All things are lawful for me!" Extramarital affairs? "All things are lawful for me! This is what Paul taught! Don't you remember his teaching that it is inner man that is important, the soul's relationship with God?" And they used Paul's own teaching to exonerate them in their sin.
Paul replies first by putting that little slogan up against another: "but all things are not profitable" (v.12). That is to say, if a given practice is harmful can it be lawful?
Then Paul lays that favorite slogan up against another very important consideration: "but I will not be brought under the power of any" (v.12). You see, ironically, this particular indulgence which they were attempting to justify (sexual immorality) is not a matter of freedom. It is a matter of slavery. In this activity a man becomes enslaved to his own lusts. And now these were attempting to justify it by claiming freedom. But, Paul says, the use of your liberty cannot go to the point of slavery. That would be a denial of very freedom you profess.
But they had another excuse. "It's only natural!" "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats!" (v.13a). Did you ever hear that one? "It's just like eating! It is a very natural appetite -- an appetite which God has given me!" Never mind that it is God who created us with the appetite, and it is God who defines the context in which that appetite is to be satisfied. "Marriage is honorable, and the bed undefiled. But fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Heb.13:4).
So Paul points out a flaw in their reasoning here also: "Your stomach may be for food, but your body is not for fornication! Your body is for God" (v.13). More, your relationship with food is only temporary, but the relationship of your body with God is permanent, consummated at the resurrection (v.14). That is to say, what right do you have to relegate body to merely temporary, horizontal relationships, much less lustful and sinful ones? God has laid claim to everything about you, You have pledged the same to him in your faith and in your baptism. You belong to God, and your body is to be used for Him.
Now of course the problem is much more serious than this, and Paul will make that plain shortly. But before we get to that, notice something very modern and very common about this situation as he deals with it. Notice that these people had good sound reasons for their sin! Well, at least they had reasons that sounded good! "We're free!" "This is only a natural, God-given appetite!" This is always the case. We always have a reason why our sin is really alright. And we have to believe this -- our conscience would never approve otherwise! So to satisfy our conscience we dream up some silly excuse, make it sound good, tell ourselves the lie, believe it, and all is well.
But what so blasphemous about this is that somehow it always claims or at least implies Divine permission. "God has given me freedom! God has given me these appetites!" And of course that is particularly effective -- the conscience glad for that, for if God approves, how can it object?!
Isn't this just how effective a deceitful heart (Jer. 17:9) can work? It can always find a reason. We can even rewrite the Bible, call it inspired, believe it, and we are confident that our sin is really not sin. Stupid? Yes, but we do it all the time. "I have needs, legitimate needs, God-given needs. God loves me and would want me to be unhappy!" "I need companionship, and I cannot have it with my wife/husband, so...." "God wants me happy. I can't be happy married to her/him, so.... "Nobody's perfect. Not even you, pastor. Yes, I got in a bit deeper than planned. But I'm trusting the Lord's wise providence." Or, "Look at so and so, and what he's got by with! Surely the Lord patient with me! Surely he understands!" We rationalize away the Bible and, surely, any reasonable man will understand! And if anyone objects, he just doesn't understand, and he's probably a legalist. The whole situation here in Corinth rings a very modern bell, doesn't it.
But it is at just that point, a "stubborn" or probably "know it all" Apostle steps in and asks those troubling questions: Has God changed? Did God change His law just for you? Where does the Bible provide that Exception clause? And in judgment when God comes to deal with the person and deals with him/her only in terms of obedience and disobedience, he'll act surprised! But Paul reminds us (Rom.2:2), that God judges "according to truth" -- not fiction, not our make believe world of excuses.
But as I said, there's more to this problem than just that. For Paul, this affects something fundamental to Christianity. "Don't you know that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? God forbid!" (v.15).
This is that great truth which Paul made so much of throughout his ministry, the doctrine of our union with Christ. This great truth he expounded at every turn, for it was the heart and soul of Christian salvation. The great privilege of every Christian is that he does not stand on his own before God -- he stands "in Christ." Joined intimately and eternally to Him, God sees us as having died (in Him) under His condemnation against sin, and (in Him) as having a perfect righteousness before His holy law. We have all blessings, because we are "in Christ."
Jesus alludes to one very practical side to this when He says to Saul on the Damascus Road, "Why do you persecute me?" He does this again in Matthew 25 where He says that what is done to those who belong to Him is done to Him (Mat. 25:34ff). That is, we are so wonderfully united to Him that no one can touch us without touching Him!
But there is another side to all this. Just as no one can touch us without touching Him, so we cannot do anything without involving Him! You cannot say, "Now Jesus, you stay here at home while I go off to do something." You are intimately united together -- you cannot leave Him anywhere! He is with you, and you are in Him.
So then, Paul asks, "would you take Christ and put Him in bed with a harlot?" God forbid! But then what are you thinking? Did you think left Him at home? Do you think He left you? Don't you know that you are members of Him -- you just cannot do this! Your adultery, your fornication, as harmful and awful as that is -- it is worse still: it is blasphemy, high treason!
This is precisely what we must remember when we are tempted with sin. Can I drag the Lord Jesus into this?
Then, before proceeding to next step in his argument, the apostle interjects this command: "Flee immorality!" (v.18a). This is your responsibility in relation to sexual sin -- Run away! After all the rationalizations and the excuses, this still is your duty: Flee! Like Joseph, turn and run away.
But still there's more. "What don't you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you" (v.19)? The thought here is much like v. 15, but with this dimension added: God the Spirit dwelling in you renders you a "Holy Temple," the sanctuary of the holy God. And to indulge in illicit sexual relations would be to desecrate the sanctuary! Your body is the house of God -- so live like it!
Finally, Paul speaks in terms of Redemption. "You are not your own, for you are bought with a price" (vv.19-20). The idea involved here is clear. In dying for us, Christ has bought us. We now are his. And if we belong to Him, then how can we live as though we didn't? Was not our faith a surrender to Him and to His claims? Did we not in coming, lay down all opposition against Him and "take His yoke"? We have no right, no excuse at all for violating His commands. It is rebellion, and it is nothing less.
This is where Paul has brought us. Immorality strikes at the heart of all that we are as Christians. These things may be true of our past, but no more. They cannot be. They must not be. Too much is at stake.
If we so united to Christ that all we do involves Him, if the Holy Spirit indwells us such that our bodies are rendered a Holy Temple of God, if Christ has bought us such that we now are His by right, how should we then live?
Answer: "Glorify God in your body" (v.20). This consideration must be the guiding factor in all we do.