Who You Are
Published Nov. 14, 2012 @ 7:33 p.m.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Today when someone pulls out the first two verses in our reading it is almost always done to distinguish between the behaviors God condones and those God does not condone. In so doing, not only do we miss the point but we actually use the verse in the exact opposite point of view than that from which Paul wrote this passage. We use the verse to condemn others. Paul uses the verse to encourage those to whom he writes to come to life.
We know from the letter of 1st Corinthians that the Corinthian church was divided along many different lines including; who they were baptized by, how much money they had, how strict they were about eating meat sacrificed to idols, whether or not they spoke in tongues, and whether or not they believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The above passage is part of a division between those who believed every kind of behavior was ok and who practiced every form of debauchery verses those who participated in extreme legalism outlawing even sex within marriage.
It is instructive how Paul argues against those who believe that they can participate in every form of debauchery since they have been made free in Jesus Christ. Most of us would have stopped at the end of verse 10 and simply told everyone doing such things that they were going to hell. But Paul does not say that! Rather, he tells the Corinthians that such behavior is not who they are. That is to say, Paul argues from the standpoint of identity.
“And such were some of you …” It is likely that the Gentile members of the church were actually participating in much of the behavior that Paul lists. Most of the things listed were not only common in the ancient world but they were championed as much as they are in our culture today. Indeed, many of the behaviors listed were given spiritual meaning within the temples of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. So for those entering Christianity from the gentile world it was not a stretch to participate in these practices. It is something that they had always done.
Paul does not tell these new Christians that they are going to hell. He does point out that those who do these practices will not enter the Kingdom of God but Paul does not place these new converts outside of the Kingdom even though they may very well be indulging in those practices. Rather, Paul tells them that this is not who they are any longer. They are washed, they are sanctified, they were justified in Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. They are no longer the same beings who found such pleasure and meaning in those behaviors. They have become a new creation.
Today, psychologists know that how we see ourselves has a lot to do with how we behave not only towards one another but our sense of identity can even change our appearance. Many psychological approaches to weight loss include our imagining ourselves as a thin person inside. Paul understood this concept two thousand years before psychologists did.
Most of us have heard the phrase, “We are only sinners saved by grace.” It seems on the surface to be a very pious and humble statement. It is meant to remind us that all of salvation is by God’s grace. To that extent it is a good saying. But there is a major problem. It gives us the wrong self-image. God does not say that we are sinners saved by grace. The Word of God says that we are a new creation; “we have been washed, we have been sanctified, we have been justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God.” We once were sinners. But that is no longer who we are if we have been made a part of God’s new creation.
The problem with calling ourselves “sinners” is that we will always remain sinners as long as we see ourselves that way. I have heard someone say, “I sin, and therefore I am a sinner.” It makes logical sense but if we are to believe what Paul says that is not a true statement. It is clear that the Corinthians were participating in these unrighteous practices. But in Paul’s view that did not determine who they were before God. Rather, they were stepping outside of who God had made them to be when they participated in these things. Paul’s argument is that they needed to learn to behave in the identity they had received from Jesus Christ.
Paul understood that once the Corinthians understood who they were in Jesus Christ and accepted their status by faith that they would turn away from the debauchery in which they were participating. In place of the debauchery they would begin to practice the things of God. It was necessary to make a clear distinction between how they were living and who they were in order for them to understand they had to make a choice. But Paul would not let the Corinthian Christians be defined by their actions. Rather, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be defined by God’s actions towards them.
We are a new creation in Christ Jesus. We have been born from above and our identity is no longer tied up with what we have done in the past but our identity is tied up in God. God has given us a new spiritual DNA. We are no longer sinners but God’s children filled with God’s grace and empowered by God’s love to fulfill the ministry of redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let us no longer live into what we once were but instead live into what we are becoming in Christ Jesus.