By faith we are changed
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
This week I read an interesting article regarding the issue of blunt language in the Bible. I came across the article partly because of the recent release of the new EHV version of the Bible, but especially as I was considering how to treat this specific section of the Bible both in my sermon and in the printed bulletin. You’ve probably noticed, it’s quite specific and graphic. In fact, the Greek words used are even more graphic. The article posed the question, how do we translate sections of the Bible that are graphic and indelicate in the original Greek and Hebrew? How do we translate sections of the Bible that are rather harsh? Do we use euphemisms so as not to offend the reader? Or do we translate as blunt or direct as the original text would have sounded to the listener? Of course, the setting does matter. We would treat these sections of scripture differently with a Sunday School class than we would with an adult Bible study. But the article pointed out that the harsh language of the Bible is always used against idolatry and gross immorality. It is important, when studying Scripture to see both the beauty of what God designed, and the ugliness of going against God’s will. It’s a contrast that comes into clear view with this short reading.
On the one hand, we have a listing of sins written out in strong language. Some of these sins are almost embarrassing to talk about out loud. “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10). Corinthians, don’t be deceived. These people will not enter heaven. Americans, central Texans, do not be deceived, these sins are still sins in God’s eyes. No, this isn’t a complete listing. It’s a “catch-all” kind of listing. It lists general categories, yet still focuses on some of the sins that would have been more prevalent in Corinthians society. Interestingly, that focus remains much the same today.
And if people want to try to explain away or excuse certain sins on the list, Paul says it twice, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will NOT inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor 6:9). Then after the list, he says it again. These people will NOT inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:10). Make no mistake about it. Do not be deceived. Because there are many among you, Corinthians, who are deceived. And there are many among us today as well who are deceived. They go on living their lives, fully expecting to reach heaven, but will be surprised on the day they find out that this list has not changed. God has not changed.
So, what about you? Are you one of those listed that will not inherit the kingdom of God? Does this listing lay a finger on the ugliness of your own heart? Look at the list. “Immorality” doesn’t just mean physical actions. It’s immoral thoughts and desires. It’s crude joking. It’s in choosing what we watch and why we watch it. “Idolatry” comes in many forms. In Bible class we discussed that in our society it isn’t so much about false deities as it is about making our money, our time, even our children our gods. “Thievery and greed” cover not only actions, but thoughts and intentions. It covers coveting and not being content with what God has blessed us with. Did any of us succumb to “drunkenness” over the holiday weekend? Do we “slander” the good names of others for our own popularity – especially when we are safe behind a screen – or “swindle” and cheat in our business practices? It’s a pretty comprehensive list. I think there isn’t a one of us who can emerge without being covered with the muck and stain of sin.
And I think what’s most surprising is the audience. Paul is writing this letter to Corinthian believers. Believers who should have known better. Believers who were backsliding. In the earlier verses of chapter 6 Paul specifically condemns believers who were going to public courts to settle disputes between one another – essentially hanging their dirty laundry and hypocrisy out for everyone else to see. They cheat and do wrong to their very own brothers and sisters in the faith. And the same goes for us. We need to consider how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. We need to consider the example that WE show not just on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday and for all the world to see. “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor 6:9) Paul asks accusingly. Yes, all these things that you deem so indecent and improper – especially to talk about among believers – well, sit down right next to them because you are backsliding. You too are one of them. You share in their loveless and selfish acts of sinfulness.
It really is amazing though how one phrase, even just one word can turn everything around. For shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night, one simple statement turned the mundane into the extraordinary. “Today… a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord” (Lk 2:11). They left their sheep, their livelihood, in the open field and went simply to sit at their Savior’s feet for a while. Because they knew what was more important. Disciples, confused and terrified that their teacher was crucified. Longing to be with him or hear his words. Now terrified of the Jews, yet one simple phrase melted that all away, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19) Jesus said as he stood among them, clearly alive and obviously the Christ. Followers of Jesus, reluctant to see him leave – ascend into heaven – are calmed and emboldened by their Lord as he says, “Surely I am with you always” (Mt 28:20).
And here, sinners who have just been thrust into the pits of hell because of the atrocities of our own hearts – thoughts and deeds too graphic and indecent to speak in public – are rescued, relieved, restored by just one word. “That is what some of you… WERE” (2 Cor 6:11). “That is what some of you were.” All packed into that one word is the acknowledgment of the realness of your sins, but also the truth that it is all in the past – that you have been completely changed. Your sins are gone, done, taken care of, and you are restored to live your future in a completely new way.
But how did this change take place? What happened so that I was changed – that was then, this is now? Paul uses three words to describe what happened. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). “Washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified”. Each one of these words is complete in itself. He could have just used one of these words and the text would have meant the same thing. But Paul piles up these terms because each portrays how you were saved in a different way. Each describes the change in a different way.
The Bible often pictures sin as a stain, a filth that covers you. The best example I can think of is what I looked and felt like after doing a mud run. There wasn’t a clean patch of skin on me. I felt weighed down, stiff, and slow. That’s what sin does. But then I washed and felt clean, refreshed, and new! You have been washed, cleansed from the stain of sin.
The Bible also talks about how sins separate us from God. That’s really the opposite of sanctified. If you are holy or sanctified you are in the presence of God – that’s why this room is called the “Sanctuary.” The opposite of that is being removed from God’s presence – distant and far from him. And that is what our sins do. Because of their sinfulness, the people, even the priests of Israel had to offer a sacrifice before they even went into the holy place of the temple. That sacrifice was to atone for sin, to sanctify them and bring them close to God. Your atoning sacrifice was Christ. He was forsaken – distanced – by God for your sins so that you could be sanctified – brought close to him.
And finally, the Bible talks about guilt and innocence. The guilt of our sins. Really the word “justified” is a courtroom term used when the case has been presented and, in view of the evidence, the judge declares the defendant “not guilty,” “justified.” In this courtroom, Jesus is the judge – the one who will judge the living and the dead. Satan is the plaintiff – “Satan” actually means “accuser.” You are the defendant. Guess who your lawyer is? It’s Jesus. And what’s the evidence he brings to defend you against the charges of sin that Satan brings against you? Your lawyer, Jesus, shows the nail marks on his hands and feet, and the scar left from the spear in his side and says, “All those wrongs were mine. All those sins were laid on me. And I paid for them in full. These charges no longer stand against this child of mine.” The gavel comes down, “innocent,” “justified.”
So, brothers and sisters. When past guilt swells, when there are temptations surging within, when you are remorseful over something wrong and shameful you have just done, remember, “That is what you… WERE” (1 Cor 6:11). But now you stand washed from your baptism, leaving behind the stain of sin. You were sanctified by the sacrifice of Christ, and connected to it anew every time you partake of the body and blood in the sacrament of communion. You were justified by Christ who said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30) and “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). The same declaration you hear again and again whenever you read the Word of God.