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A New Identity

February 26, 2023

Teacher: Brad Hodges
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 6

1 Corinthians 6

Brad Hodges

Feb 26, 2023


My kids and I recently watched the Batman movie. Not the old, ridiculous one with the purple underwear, but the new, serious Batman for grown-ups (supposedly). It’s a good movie. There’s a dramatic scene near the end where Batman finally reveals his true identity to his lady friend. He has just saved her from a gang of thugs. They’re on the top of a building, and Batman is about to jump off the building to go save the rest of Gotham City, when his lady friend yells, “Wait, at least tell me your name.” Then Batman looks her in the eyes, and in his most dramatic Batman voice says, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Then he jumps off the building and glides off to save the city.

I thought, “That’s interesting. That’s pretty thoughtful of you, Batman.” “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” I wonder if that’s true. On the one hand, he’s right. That’s exactly what we love about Batman. He’s this anonymous hero, completely unconcerned with fame or glory, who gives himself to fight for justice. He’s a man of action. I want to be a man of action. So I thought, “Yeah, it’s what I do that defines me.” But then I thought about Paul, and I wondered, “What would the apostle Paul say to Batman?” I think we know what he would say, because the Corinthians were dealing with this question in their own way, and we know what he said to them. I think he would say something like this. “Batman, you’re right that your actions matter, even more than you know. What you do has eternal consequences, actually. But you’re only partly right. You’ve actually created a false distinction. You said, ‘It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.’” It turns out that Batman is a mediocre philosopher. Here’s the important point that he missed. It’s this: being precedes doing. [Repeat] All doing flows out of being. Identity comes first, and actions flow out from that. That’s what Paul might say. That idea runs through this entire letter. Daniel touched on it last week. It’s especially important in chapter six, which is where we are this morning. What you are - your identity - is foundational, and what you do flows out of that. So, Batman was wrong. You are what you are. What you do shows us what you are, but identity comes first. Jesus said that “you know a tree by it’s fruit.” An apple tree is an apple tree, even before it has born any apples. But we know it’s an apple tree by the apples that it bears.

We could summarize Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians like this: remember who you are, and act like it. Christian growth, or sanctification, is the process of becoming who you are. There’s something paradoxical about that, but that’s the nature of the Christian life. Remember who you are, and act like it.

This is who you are. This is your identity. You are Christians, which means that you are heirs of the kingdom of God who have been called out from the world and united with Jesus Christ. [Repeat] We’re going to see a couple of specific applications of this in the first and last part of chapter six. Right in the middle of the chapter we get a high octane, straight down-the-middle gospel message about our new identity in Christ. In the first part of the chapter we see that we’ve been united with Christ in his judgment of the world. Paul makes a specific application of this having to do with how we deal with problems within the church. Then we’ll look at the hinge of Paul’s argument. We’ll see exactly what he has to say about our new identity in Christ. Then we’ll look at the second of Paul’s arguments, which is that we are united with Christ, not just in spirit, but in our bodies. And he’ll make some important applications of that truth as well.

I. United with Christ in His Judgment (1-8)

Let’s situate ourselves in the flow of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians so far. In the first five chapters, Paul has highlighted the distinctions between the church and the world. In chapter one he says that there are just two kinds of people in the world: those who are perishing and those who are being saved. He contrasts the wisdom of God with the wisdom of the world. In chapter two he contrasts the natural person with the spiritual person. Again in chapter three he says that the “wisdom of the world is folly with God.” He’s making distinctions.

The Corinthian christians were apparently having a hard time distinguishing themselves from the culture around them. Corinthian culture was overtly pagan, but it would have looked very familiar to us in some ways. Sexual immorality of a kind that was similar to what we see around us was common. The Corinthians were struggling to navigate life in an immoral, pagan culture. When do you engage, and when do you separate? That should sound familiar. Some of the Corinthians were too cozy with the world’s way of living. That might sound familiar also.

There is a continuous train of thought connecting chapters five and six. Last week we saw in chapter five that he scolded them and says that “it’s reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans.” Then he says, “Don’t even associate with such a one.” But then he clarifies and says, “I’m not talking about the world, but about people who profess to be believers.” He says, “What have I to do with judging outsiders?” “God judges those outside. It’s those inside the church that we judge.” Then we come to chapter six and Paul continues that line of thought. He says, “Likewise, just as we don’t judge outsiders, don’t turn to the world to judge family matters inside the church.”

That’s where we pick up in verse one of chapter six. Verse one says, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?” Apparently what was happening was that there was some sort of dispute between members in the church. It wasn’t a criminal matter. Paul recognized the role of the magistrate and their courts in criminal matters where the state bears the sword. This was something more like, Ben sold me a car that turned out to be a total junker. I think he knew about it and didn’t tell me. But rather than sorting it out within the church, I take Ben to court and sue him.

Paul was fired up about this. The New King James does a better job of capturing his disbelief. It says, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous?” Paul says, “How dare you?” This is not exactly an appeal to reason. He’s appealing to their sense of shame. He says that in verse five. “I say this to your shame.” “How dare you take your family squabbles to a pagan court and ask them to be your judge?”

He then asks them a couple of striking rhetorical questions. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life?” Paul uses this rhetorical device, “Do you not know,” several times. The implication is that they should know better. In this case he says, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world, and angels?” You might be thinking, like I did, “Actually, no, Paul, I didn’t know that. In fact, what in the world are you talking about?” I don’t know how developed this idea was for the Corinthians, but Paul seems to expect that they were familiar with it. He probably has in mind places like Daniel 7, which describes Daniel’s vision of the four beasts. Describing the fourth beast he says, “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.” Or he might be thinking of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” This is not one of those teachings that the Bible is crystal clear about, so we have to tread carefully. But the Bible seems to say that on judgment day, the saints - that’s us - will play a role in judging the world. And Paul’s argument here presupposes that fact. What can we say about this? First, we can say that the Bible is crystal clear that God is the ultimate judge of the universe, and that Jesus Christ is the King who will sit on the judgment throne of heaven on that day. Matthew 25 and Revelation 20 make that perfectly clear. But the Bible also suggests that his people, who have been united with him in his death and his resurrection, will also be united with him in his judgment of the world. I don’t know exactly what that will look like. But if Christ is the judge, and we participate in his judgment, then I imagine that our involvement will likely be some sort of “Amen” in reply to his final word. Remember, in Nehemiah we saw that when God speaks, his people say “Amen.” His final word of judgment will also receive an “amen” that will seal the fate of the enemies of God. This includes his human enemies, as well as the fallen angels who rebelled against him. I don’t think we can go much further than that with what we’ve been told. But Paul takes this eschatological idea and brings it forward into the present. It’s an argument from the greater to the lesser. You will judge the world. Surely you can handle these petty squabbles.

If you’re paying attention, you might push back and say that this seems to contradict his previous statement in chapter five that he has nothing to do with judging outsiders. But this is all a matter of timing. Maybe you’ve heard the William F. Buckley saying, “Don’t immanentize the eschaton.” That means essentially what Paul says in chapter four. “Don’t pronounce judgment before the appointed time.” You don’t have the authority to pronounce final sentence on anyone before the time comes, and only the Father knows when that will be. You should speak the warnings of scripture. “Turn to Christ, or else.” But don’t say to anyone, you are condemned. You don’t know that. Only God does, and that day hasn’t come.

But Paul does say to us, live now in light of that future reality. You are united with Christ, the judge of all the world, and you will participate in his judgment. It is absurd to look for a judgment call from unbelievers, whom you are going to judge. You are united to the incarnate Wisdom of God who has given you the Spirit of wisdom as a gift. Yet you appeal to the world for wisdom when you have a dispute? This is absurd. This ought not be so. The wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. So, don’t turn to the world for wisdom when you have a dispute.

The reason why Paul is fired up about this is that these lawsuits bring shame on the church, and whatever brings shame on the church brings shame to the name of Christ. That, Paul will not abide, and neither should we. When we come to the world, saying, “Please help us sort out our problems,” it weakens the gospel and it dishonors Christ. Daniel told us a few weeks ago that the Church is culture’s conscience. That’s exactly right. But the world resists that. The world desperately wants to put itself in the role of judge. Think about how the world revels in every news scandal that involves the church. When the church experiences some public moral failure, it feeds and reinforces their rebellious hearts. That’s what makes those scandals so tragic. It’s not the tarnished reputations of leaders who we once admired, but it’s the stain on the bride of Christ that makes these scandals so scandalous. Public lawsuits do the same thing.

We aren’t hiding our failures. We know that there is sin in the church. We’re not trying to convince the world that we’re sinless. But we are trying to show the world that we have a way of dealing with sin when it happens. We can’t say to the world, “The gospel is the answer to all of your problems, but we’ve got this problem that we can’t sort out. Please help us.”

Jesus gave his church a way of judging matters amongst ourselves. If someone sins against you in a way that really was sinful - not a crime, but a sin - then Matthew 18 tells us how to handle it. Go to your brother and try to work it out. Try to win him back. If you can’t, then find a wise brother in the church and bring them along with you to help mediate. He says in verse five, “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers.” It’s another rhetorical question. The implication is that there should be, and in fact there is. And if there is persistent, unrepentant sin, even after that, then finally you take it to the elders who bring it to the whole church. At that point, after all of those steps, then a judgment takes place that has been given to the church right now. That’s when the church says, “We don’t know the final state of your soul, but your behavior tells us that you are not a part of the body of Christ,” and we send them away. That’s church discipline, which Daniel talked about last week.

But it should never get to that point. Paul says that even having these disputes in the first place was a defeat for them. “Why not rather be wronged?” he says. “Why not rather be cheated?” It would be much better for you to willingly suffer wrong and get ripped off than for you to drag the name of Christ and his bride through the mud by taking your brother to an unbelieving court. Jesus said that “If anyone would sue you for your tunic, give him your cloak also.” That’s especially true when you’re dealing with your brothers and sisters in the church. All of us should have the attitude that it would be better for me to get ripped off than for me to be guilty of defrauding my brother.

Years ago I bought a car from David Douglas. An old Honda Accord, I think. It was a good, solid car. But David, being the kind of man that he is, offered it to me for almost nothing. Much less than it was worth. However, Phil had just recently preached a sermon along these lines, about not taking advantage of your brothers in the church, so my conscience was pricked, as was David’s. So thus ensued that strangest price negotiation for a used car that you ever saw. David said something like, “I’ll sell it to you for a thousand bucks.” I said, “No, I can’t go lower than two thousand.” He said, “No way. I won’t take a penny more than $1200.” I said, “Alright, I’ll give you $1500, final offer.” Then he said, begrudgingly, “Ok, fine, sold.”

That’s the way it should go in the church. It would be much better for you to suffer wrong, and get ripped off, than for you to be guilty of ripping off your brother. But if you are defrauded in some way, don’t take your brother to court. Let’s work it out amongst ourselves with the tools that Christ gave us.

Then he says, “But you yourselves wrong and defraud, even your own brothers.” That leads him into a warning and a reminder in verse nine.

II. A New Identity (9-11)

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Remember what we’ve said throughout this series. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are perishing and those who are being saved. Here Paul reminds them again, “The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Then he elaborates with a list of the kinds of people who will not inherit the kingdom. We’ll look at the list in a minute.

First, let’s think about this idea of inheriting the kingdom of God. What does that actually mean? It would be time well spent for all of us to study and meditate on what the Bible has to say about this. It’s a rich, multi-layered idea. We can only touch on a couple of things quickly. When Jesus came into the world, he said, “The kingdom of God has come upon you.” So the king has come, which means that God’s kingdom is here and now. And Paul describes our salvation as God’s act of bringing us into that kingdom. He says in Colossians that God “has delivered [us] from the domain of darkness and transferred [us] to the kingdom.” So, the kingdom is here, but some people are in it and others aren’t. That means that it’s possible to live within the physical borders of God’s kingdom, but not be a part of it. Paul described us Gentiles in Ephesians as having once been “strangers and aliens.” When God saved us, he brought us into the kingdom and made us “fellow citizens with the saints.” So the kingdom of God is here now, and we who are in Christ are citizens and heirs of that kingdom, while those who are apart from Christ are outside of it and still in darkness. But Jesus also said that the kingdom is like a tree that starts small and grows. And it is growing toward a day when all of the remaining enemies of God will be cast out and the kingdom will be completely and finally established, free from any sin or pain or rebellion. So there’s another sense in which the kingdom is not yet fully here. God’s work of kingdom building is still in progress. When the Bible talks about “inheriting the kingdom,” it usually has an eye toward that future inheritance when we who are in Christ will enjoy unending life with the King in his completed, perfected kingdom. In Matthew 25, Jesus prophesies the final day of judgment and he says that on that day “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devils and his angels.” Paul says, “Don’t you know, the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.” John says that “God is light.” He has no fellowship with darkness. Don’t be deceived. The sexually immoral, the idolaters, the adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, revilers, will not inherit the kingdom. They are living as strangers and aliens within his borders now, and they will be cast out when the king returns.

Now let’s consider Paul’s list in a bit more detail. The first thing to say is that it’s not a random list. It’s the same list that we looked at last week in chapter five, but with a couple of additions. These are sins that the Corinthians were surrounded by, and often guilty of. The first half of the list deals mostly with sexual sin and the second half with sins related to greed or fraud. As I said a minute ago, first century Greco-Roman culture, was a cesspool of sexual sin and perversion. You can read that between the lines in Paul’s letter here, but there are also an abundance of sources from the time that describe the sorts of sexual practices that were common and publicly accepted. The reason that sexual sins show up so often in Paul’s lists of sins is not because Paul was a prude, but because that was the filthy water that Christians were swimming in.

Some of the Corinthians had come to believe that they could continue to do these kinds of things that they had become so accustomed to from the culture around them and still be a Christian. Paul says, “No, don’t be deceived. People who do such things will not inherit the kingdom.” So this list contains a warning to the Corinthians, as well as to us. There is an irreconcilable conflict between these kinds of behaviors and life in the kingdom of God. You can’t continue to do these things and call yourself a Christian. Remember, doing flows from being. Being comes first. Paul’s list reinforces that. The way the ESV translates this list, something gets a little bit lost. Paul’s list, in Greek, is a hard-hitting list of descriptive nouns. There are no adjectives or verbs. It’s all nouns - kinds of people. The New King James captures that. It says it like this: “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” That’s how it reads in Paul’s language. Those are all identity labels. “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, etc.” It’s stronger than just saying that they were people who sometimes did such things. Doing flows out of being. If you lie repeatedly, it’s because you are the kind of person who lies. We call those people liars. If you are constantly drunk, it’s because you are the kind of person who gets drunk. The Bible calls those people drunkards. Such people will not inherit the kingdom of God. That’s sobering. Or it should be, if you’ll pardon the pun. Paul’s point here is not to let us off the hook, as if to say that it’s fine as long as you only sin this way occasionally. He is making a distinction and saying, “This is not who you are,” but there is an implicit warning to us as well. You can’t say that this is not who you are while you continue to do these things. So don’t do them.

The other thing to say is that these discussions inevitably get a little uncomfortable when we get into the arena of sexual sins. The fact that it makes us uncomfortable is not necessarily a problem. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he has some very similar things to say. He says in chapter five, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” But then he says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.” In other words, “I know it’s shameful to talk about these things. But you must bring them out into the light, so that we can see them for what they are and avoid them.” So we must soldier on.

Again, the first half of the list focuses on sexual immorality, with “idolaters” thrown in the mix. “Neither sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality.” There are a few things to say here.

“Sexually immoral,” or “fornicators” (as the older translations say) you remember from last week, is the Greek word “porneia.” It’s where we get the word pornography. In the New Testament it essentially describes any form of sexual sin. Most directly, it refers to having sex outside of marriage. So let me stop and say what we already know, but needs to be said directly. God prohibits sex outside of the covenant of marriage. Inside the covenant it is blessed. It’s almost commanded, as we’ll see next week. But outside of it, it is forbidden. Younger guys and gals, this old word, “fornication,” is a good one for you to have in your vocabulary. God forbids it. Don’t be deceived. You cannot live as a fornicator and call yourself a Christian. It doesn’t work that way. God takes this very seriously. In addition to physical sex, pornography also falls squarely into this category. God forbids it. Those who live that way will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul doesn’t permit us any less offensive way of saying it.

The next word is related. An adulterer is obviously one who is married, but breaks the marriage covenant and goes outside of it for sexual pleasure. There’s something doubly treacherous about the sin of adultery because of all that the marriage covenant means. We’ll come back to this idea later on.

The next descriptor is more controversial in our culture. Because it’s controversial, it’s important that we speak clearly and plainly about it. There is actually a fair bit of disagreement about the exact translation, and not just along the lines of liberal and conservative scholars (though there is a lot of that as well). The ESV translates it “men who practice homosexuality.” That’s not a literal rendering of the text. The ESV makes an interpretive substitution, which is sometimes unavoidable, but we need to be careful. In the Greek, there are two separate nouns in the list, which the ESV and some others translate as a single phrase. Remember, I read earlier the New King James, which says “homosexuals” and “sodomites.” The old King James says “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.” The first word carries the notion of being soft or effeminate, in this case obviously not referring to a woman, but to a man who exhibits those traits. Paul says here, as he does at the end of this letter when he tells men to “act like men,” that there is a kind of effeminacy that, for a man, is not just inappropriate, but is sinful. The second word is straight-forward, and is captured clearly by the old translation, “sodomite.” Most translators and commentators say that what is in view is the idea that in a homosexual relationship, one plays the feminine part and the other the masculine. Both are called out here as sinful. That’s actually important, because there are some who try to explain away the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality by saying that what is really being prohibited in places like Romans 1 is the kind of abusive relationship that was common at the time where there was a class or age discrepancy between the two men. But in this passage Paul calls out both as sinful. Let’s again say what is unpopular, and may soon be illegal to say, but is crystal clear in the Bible. God absolutely forbids homosexuality. The law in Leviticus calls it an abomination. Romans 1 calls it shameless and contrary to nature. And here Paul says that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The next few descriptors point us back to the first section of the chapter and deal with sins related to greed and fraud. “Nor thieves, nor greedy,” he says. Some translations say “covetous.” These are people who are always grasping for more than what they have, even if - or maybe even especially if - it belongs to someone else. In the case of the lawsuit between the brothers, this could have been referring to either party; the one who committed the fraud, or the one who valued his lost stuff so much that he was willing to drag his brother to court. Grasping after physical stuff is not the character of a Christian. Jesus warned us to “take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Next he calls out drunkards. This doesn’t fit directly in the category of greed or fraud, but we’ll see later in the letter that it’s a sin that the Corinthians were guilty of, and it’s certainly related to the kind of licentious, carnal living that the Corinthians had failed to shake off. Drunkenness is a sin that we have to watch closely. Alcohol is like sex in some ways. For one, it’s physically pleasant, otherwise it wouldn’t be a temptation. But also, like sex, it is a gift and a blessing within the bounds that God set for it. But outside of those boundaries, it becomes a sin and a curse. Wine is used as a symbol of blessing, and of cursing in various places in the Bible. The principle is easy enough, even if sorting through the practicalities may be complicated. The principle is, “alcohol was God’s idea, and it’s a blessing.” But at the same time we are commanded, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” But don’t be deceived, Christian. Drunkards are right here in Paul’s list of those who will not inherit the kingdom. Be on your guard.

Lastly he mentions “revilers” and “swindlers.” A “reviler” is a verbal abuser. Someone who’s heart and mouth are full of harsh words and insults. A “swindler” is a thief, but a thief who robs by cheating or fraud. At least one of the parties in the lawsuit was guilty of swindling. Paul was shocked and ashamed that people in the church would defraud and swindle each other. Let it never be so.

So that’s Paul’s unholy list. He says that these kinds of people will not inherit the kingdom of God. That idea is very offensive to our culture. But we must hold onto it, because it’s true, and because the gospel depends on it.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention in church your whole life, then I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I’ve read Romans before. ‘No one is righteous, no not one.’ The unrighteous - that’s all of us. That’s me. I’m on that list.” And if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re exactly right. Every one of us has done things that put us on this list. That’s absolutely true. But Paul’s point here is something different, and it’s one that we must not lose because it is part of the gospel message. Paul’s point is not about which people are worthy of condemnation because of our sin. That’s all of us, as he says in Romans. His point here is about identity. His point is that when Christ brought you out of darkness and into his kingdom, your identity changed, along with your nature. In verse 11, he says, “Such were some of you.” This is what you used to be. This is the kind of thing that you were. But not any more. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This is one of the most wonderful, succinct, gospel messages in the letter. You have been changed. You’re not the same kind of creature that you were before. You are a new creation. You have put off the old man and put on the new. “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers” are what you were, or what you would be apart from Christ. But you have been washed, sanctified, justified. It’s a very trinitarian statement of this idea that you have been changed. You have been washed by the blood of Christ, sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit, justified by the word of the Father.

Jesus has washed away the filth of your sin with his own blood, and he has clothed you with his own perfect righteousness.

The Holy Spirit has sanctified you, so that sin doesn’t have a hold on you any more. You’ve been made holy - set apart for service to God. Not only is the stain of your old sin washed away. You aren’t held in the grip of sin any longer. You are free to obey and to live as you were made to live.

The Father has justified you. The guilt of sin has been removed. He remembers your sin no more. You have been declared, “Not guilty” in the courtroom of God.

Thanks be to God!

Let me touch on a couple of questions that might naturally come out of this. First, if doing flows out of being, and my being has been changed, then why are there things that I did last week that are on Paul’s list? How do we process the fact that we are supposedly a new creation, and yet we still sin. The first thing to say is that there shouldn’t be! That’s Paul’s point. So kill it. Put that sin to death. It doesn’t belong. But there is a risk that we might start to doubt whether this new identity is really ours. So we do also have to understand that our new nature is like the kingdom of God that we talked about earlier and that you are now a part of. It’s a present reality, here and now, and at the same time it is still under construction. Here’s an analogy that I found very helpful. Imagine that you’re lost in the woods in the middle of a snow storm. You’re miserable and cold to the bone. But then you come upon a house. The door opens and inside there’s a roaring fire on the hearth. As you walk out of the harsh cold and into the warmth of the house, your situation changes in an instant. And yet, you are not immediately warm and comfortable. The cold still lingers in your hands and feet. At that moment there are two forces at work. The cold in your bones from outside, and the warmth from the fire inside the house. The cold can still be felt, but the process is unstoppable. There is one unmistakable direction and one inevitable outcome. That’s how it is with sin in the life of the Christian. So, the fact that you slipped up a few weeks ago and had too much to drink doesn’t mean that your whole life is a lie. It means that you’re still a work in progress. But when you step back and take a wide angle view, the pattern and direction of your life will be clear. It must be. And you must be killing that sin, or it will be killing you.

One other thing to mention. I want to say a word to those of us who have grown up as Christians and don’t remember a time when you didn’t love Jesus and want to obey him. It can be a little confusing when we talk about these dramatic identity changes. “If I was baptized when I was six and have been basically following Jesus ever since, am I a former idolater? A former fornicator?” Yes and no. David says in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The stain of sin is on every single one of us from the moment of our birth, or even before. That’s fallen human nature. Some of us had to walk knee deep in the snow for many years before coming in the door. Others, by God’s grace, were born on the front step. But the sting of cold that is sin is still on us. We are all saved by the same gospel, which says that God brought us in out of the cold, though we didn’t deserve it. But at the same time, don’t invent a different, seedier story than the one God gave you. If God has kept you from any of the sins in this list, that is a gift of grace for you to be thankful for. To be born into a God-fearing family and to be spared from long years of slavery to sin is a tremendous blessing that you should thank God for. Every lustful thought reminds you that there is sin in your heart, and more than enough to separate you from God forever if not for his grace to us in Christ. But remember that Paul’s message is not, “You are a fornicator and an idolater, but thank God for the gospel which allows idolaters to inherit the kingdom.” No, idolaters will not inherit the kingdom. His point is that some of you were such a one, and lingering sin reminds us that apart from Christ all of us would be. But you have been washed, sanctified, justified. The core of your identity is not an idolater, or a fornicator. You are not a homosexual, or a drunkard. If you are in Christ, that is not who you are. You have been united with Jesus Christ. You have been set apart as holy. Your identity is completely wrapped up in him. So act like it.

III. United with Christ in Our Bodies (12-20)

His argument then flows right into his next thought in verse 12. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” It seems like this phrase, “All things are lawful for me” was a sort of slogan for the Corinthians. That’s why it’s probably in quotation marks in your Bible. There’s no such thing as quotation marks in Greek, so it’s hard to know. But Paul seems to do this several times in this passage and throughout the letter. He quotes the Corinthians, and then offers a correction. Maybe this was something that they said in their letter to him that he’s responding to, or maybe it was just a common saying for them. Each of the sayings has some truth in it, but not the whole truth. That’s true with this phrase, “All things are lawful for me.” It’s true that the Corinthians were not under the Mosaic law in the way that Israel had been for thousands of years. But the Corinthians had apparently taken this idea and just run with it. They were using this new freedom to justify all kinds of sordid behavior. “All things are lawful.” The word that describes that kind of position, which has been around forever, is antinomianism. “Nomos” means law. Antinomianism is “against the law.” Paul says, “No, you’ve misunderstood. That’s not what Christian freedom is.” It’s interesting that he doesn’t flat out reject the saying. Of course Paul doesn’t really believe that literally all things are lawful. He appeals to the law a number of times in the letter. But his goal in this passage isn’t to reign them in with the law, but to persuade them of the implications of their new identity. Yes, “All things are lawful” in a sense, but not all things are good and helpful. “All things are lawful, but I will not be dominated by anything.”

Christian liberty is not about the freedom to do whatever you want to do. Christian liberty is about freedom from the bondage of sin. Paul says in Romans six that you are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. The fornicator, the homosexual, the drunkard, are slaves to their sin. Without the changed identity that comes when we are saved and united to Christ, there is no hope of changed behavior. But when Christ washes us clean and frees us from slavery to our fallen, sinful passions, he frees us to be what we were created to be. Being freed from the Law of Moses doesn’t mean that anything goes. Jesus didn’t lower the bar. He raised it. Paul echoes Jesus (as he always does) when he summarizes his message to the Corinthians at the end of the letter. “Let all that you do be done in love.” Love is the standard by which we judge our behavior, not liberty or law. Love of God, and love of neighbor - the way that God defines love (which the law teaches us, by the way). The Christian is free, and wonderfully so. But it’s not a libertarian kind of freedom that says that I can do whatever I choose. Martin Luther wrote a helpful tract on Christian liberty and he had this pithy summary: “A Christian is the most free lord of all, subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone.” Christian liberty is about the freedom to give things up for the good of your neighbor and to give ourselves to God as his happy slaves.

His second qualification to their claim to freedom is “I will not be dominated by anything.” That again takes our mind back to Romans 6. “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Whatever you obey, whatever you cannot be without, that thing dominates you, and you are its slave. You cannot serve two masters. We are either slaves to sin or slaves to God. Alcohol, food, sex, or a nice boat - those things are lawful, and a blessing if they are received with thankfulness within the boundaries that God has set for them, but Paul says, “I will not be dominated by any of those things.” Slavery to those things is sin. You are slaves to God. That’s who you are. That means that you are not slaves to sin. So don’t be.

Then in verse 13 Paul quotes the Corinthians again and changes his emphasis just slightly. His main point is still about Christian identity and union with Christ, but he begins to correct a misunderstanding that the Corinthians had about the importance of the body. “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food - and God will destroy both one and the other.” This looks to be another Corinthian slogan. It’s not clear whether “God will destroy both one and the other” is part of the slogan or if that’s Paul addition. It doesn’t really matter. Either way, it’s a pithy statement about the irrelevance of the old testament food laws. And Paul agrees with that as far as it goes. But remember, the Corinthians were taking their freedom from the food laws and using that to justify sinful sexual behavior. But Paul corrects them, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.”

Paul takes the Corinthian slogan and flips it to make his point. His argument goes like this: “As you say, ‘Food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food, and God will destroy one and the other.’ True enough. But the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body, and God will raise us up by his power.” Paul agrees that food doesn’t matter in any ultimate spiritual sense. He’ll talk more about that later in chapter eight. Jesus said that what you eat just passes straight through you and cannot defile you. But that is not true of your body. Your body is not meant for porneia - for sexual immorality - it is meant for the Lord. Our bodies are not like food that passes through and rots away. Our bodies are eternal. “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power,” he says. So live now in light of that future reality. It’s true that our bodies came from dust and will return to dust, but that isn’t the end of your body. It will be raised, and that should affect what you do with your body now.

Then in verses 15-17 Paul makes this profound argument about our union with Christ, and how that union completely rules out the prospect of sexual immorality. He speaks specifically of going to the prostitute, but his argument applies to any form of sexual immorality. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” We use the language of union with Christ to capture all of the many different facets of our salvation. Here Paul is teasing out what it means to be united with him in his resurrection. God raised up the Lord, which means that he will raise you up. And because of that, our bodies are part of the deal. They aren’t discardable. Our bodies are members of Christ. They have been joined to Christ. Our union with Him encompasses all of our being. Not just our soul, but our bodies also. Then he asks,

“Shall I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”

Paul is appealing here back to one of the strangest, most wonderful and mystical realities in God’s creation, just as God told it to Adam in the garden. God created man and woman and brought them together. And when they come together, something mysterious happens. The two are joined in such a way that they become one. There’s depth of meaning here that maybe only the poets are fit to explore. When this happens inside the boundaries of the covenant of marriage, it’s unspeakably beautiful, and in some mysterious way is even a picture of Christ’s relationship to his bride, the church. When Paul talks about this in Ephesians, you can almost see him shaking his head when he says, “This mystery is profound, but I’m saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” When a man and his wife come together, something mysterious and true is being said about Christ and his bride, and it’s glorious.

Outside of the marriage covenant, sex is still a joining where two become one, but it’s telling a lie about Christ. Paul asks, “How can you take your body, which has been united with Christ, and unite it instead with a prostitute?” Never! To be one with Christ and one with your wife is coherent and beautiful. But to be one with Christ and one with a prostitute is incoherent and shameful.

So “flee from sexual immorality,” he says. Flee from porneia. Flee like Joseph, who left his coat behind and ran away from Potiphar’s wife. Flee as if your life depended on it. Nothing would be too dramatic. If your phone tempts you to fornication, be ruthless with it. To throw it out the window of your car as you drive down I-40 would not be overly dramatic. That’s what you would do if you were holding a live hand grenade. All a hand grenade can do is send you to be with the Lord. But fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus said that you should cut off your hand if it causes you to sin. It would be better to be without a hand than for your soul to be thrown into hell. It would certainly be better to be without a phone. Flee from sexual immorality.

Then Paul says this strange thing: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” What’s that about? There’s another interpretive addition in the ESV translation. The word “other’ is actually not there. The text just says, “Every sin that a person commits is outside the body.” It could be that this is another Corinthian saying. For the Corinthians to say that “every sin is outside the body” would make some sense. They had decided that what you did with your body didn’t matter. Sins were only spiritual. But Paul says, “No, the sexually immoral person sins against (or with) his own body.” That could be. But the translators decided that he probably means “every other sin.” That could also be right. In that case Paul really is separating out sexual sin as being in some way unique. We can think of other sins, like gluttony or drunkenness, that seem to be “against the body.” But Paul may be saying that sexual sin has another dimension to it. The great mystery that sex is somehow meant to say something about Christ himself means that to sin in that way has some extra significance. That should be humbling for all of us.

But then, after that hard word, as Paul always does, he ends with this wonderful positive statement about our identity. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” A couple of weeks ago we saw in chapter three that “y’all (corporately) are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” So the body of Christ is a temple of the Holy Spirit. And in a similar sense, your physical body is also a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the most profound statements about our physical bodies in all of the Bible. The first thing to notice is that it’s another statement about identity. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” That’s what you are. You are a dwelling place for God. We’re accustomed to speaking of Christ dwelling in our hearts, and that’s true. Paul says that in Ephesians. But for Paul to say that our bodies are a temple of God is striking. For a thousand years, God’s special presence with his people was in the temple. It was the holiest of places. For Paul to imply that that holy place of God’s intense presence is now within us - and not just in our hearts in a spiritual sense, but within these fragile, awkward, dirty bodies of ours - would have been a shocking idea to a Jewish Christian. And it’s shocking to us as well. The idea that our body is temple of God goes against all of the gnostic tendencies of our culture. Gnosticism is a very old idea that basically holds that our bodies are just a shell. They don’t have any meaning. All that really matters is the mind and the will. Our culture is very gnostic. We’ve decided whatever you want to do with your own body is fair game. It’s your choice. In fact, not even your sex is fixed and determined by your body. Even that is a matter of the will. Our culture treats the body as just a tool for satisfying the desires of the will. It’s ironic that the unbelieving world, which says that your material body is all that there is, really, has such a base and empty view of the body. It’s Christians, who are always talking about the spiritual world, who actually have a high view of the body.

Another image comes to mind when you remember that Paul’s audience, who were not Jews, but were recently converted pagans, would probably not have thought of Jerusalem when they heard that their bodies were a temple. They would have pictured the temples of Apollo and Aphrodite there in Corinth. Those temples were obviously different from God’s temple. For one, unlike the Jewish temple, they would have been littered with statues and images of the god who supposedly inhabited them. Paul must have also had that picture in mind. We aren’t allowed to make images of God. But you and I, who were created in his image, actually bear the image of God in our bodies. In a way, our bodies are like those pagan temples. Your body is a shrine to the Spirit of the living God. His image is all over you. To use your body for sexual immorality is an act of desecration. It’s like taking a can of spray paint to the image of God that you bear in your body.

Our bodies are not ours to do with as we please. Our culture has its own slogans, like the Corinthians. “My body, my choice” is one that you often hear. It’s utter nonsense. Paul flatly refutes it. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” Your body is not your own. It’s not even your own at a purely human level. Paul will say in the very next chapter that the wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise, the husband doesn’t have authority over his body, but the wife does. But ultimately, the blood of Christ, spilled on the cross, purchased you for himself. When Christ ransomed you out of slavery to sin, he didn’t just get your heart. He saved your whole being, and therefore he has a rightful claim over your whole being. You have been bought with a price - mind, soul, and body. To have been bought by Christ is to be happy indeed. Once again from Romans six:

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


“So, glorify God in your body.” That’s Paul’s summary conclusion. “Glorify God in your body.” That’s the great “doing” that flows out of all of these wonderful “being” statements in chapter six. “You will judge the world.” So, glorify God in your body. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” So, glorify God in your body. “Your bodies are members of Christ.” “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” So, glorify God in your body. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” So, glorify God in your body. Amen.

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