9 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,
10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
11 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.
12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
1 Corinthians 6:9-12 (NASB)
Our True Problem: Profit and Mastery
Part of the problem we have in understanding and believing the gospel is that our notion of unrighteousness is too narrow. We think that we can have sinful “tendencies” or wicked urges, and that as long as we desist from them, we have triumphed over sin. Just because you hold yourself back from acting out your lusts and wicked desires, it by no means indicates that you have victory over your sin. Of course this does not mean it is OK to act out your on your lusts; it means that the root problem is not the acting out, it is the lusts. It is “Jesus 101” material to realize that it is what your heart loves that is the issue, not simply what you physically do:
Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’
22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’;
28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
So, you cannot think that you can seethe with anger at your brother, and yet hold your tongue, and think that you have some kind of righteousness. You cannot burn with lust for a woman you are not married to and think that as long as you don’t act on your desires you are righteous. You have to love what is right from the bottom of your heart, or it isn’t holiness at all. It is unholiness restrained.
To put this in the language of 1 Corinthians 6, if in your secret heart you find some pleasure or profit in fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, reviling, swindling, or even covetousness, you are not washed. Instead, you are mastered by it. If you are washed, holiness is the issue of your heart, and Jesus is the One you find profit in. Your very soul’s desire is wrapped up in Christ; He masters your desire at the level of your secret desire and your inner notion of profit.
If you hope the force and fright of the law will prevent you from these sinful behaviors, perhaps you are thinking that the threat of punishment and rejection is what washes you instead of Jesus’ blood. It is the thing which masters your soul which must be addressed. It is the issue of your truest inner heart that defiles you:
17 Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?
18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.
20 These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
Diagnosis is No Solution
Now, naming this problem does not solve it. This requirement of soul mastery, of purity of heart, of a genuine love of the holy, is a crushing hammer which condemns completely. It doesn’t save! It is diagnosis. It condemns what is obviously evil. Let it do its job. Our sin is not mere behavior, but is the issue of our inner desire, and it is a problem which we are powerless to amend. Who reads these sayings of Jesus and says, “Oh, right! I’ll stop being angry then! I’ll stop looking! I’ll change the issue of my heart right now! Thanks Jesus! You’re so loving and gentle!”
The truth is, we read these as scathing and terrible words, words which we slink away from and discount and water down any way we can. The only way we really cope with these kinds of words is to somehow internally discount them or forget them. He can’t really mean that if we have a problem looking at a woman to lust, we should tear out our eyeballs or else suffer hell, can He? Crazy Jesus! Let’s water that down for Him! He means, if you have a problem looking, just try harder not to and as long as you don’t act on it you’re OK. Well, that isn’t what He means. He means anything less than perfect purity of the issue of your heart is going to land you rightly in hell. If we actually took this seriously as real truth, we would start fishing around for rescue and salvation straight away! We would become the person who is hungry and starving for righteousness since we would realize that we don’t have it and we can’t get it.
What is the solution then? What must we do to be saved? Who will rescue me from this death?
The Solution to our Black Hearts
First of all, if you don’t understand the solution and you don’t get 1 Corinthians 6:12, but you at least have realized the depth of your actual error of heart, you are part way there! But, don’t pretend you know the answer! You only know the diagnosis. There is salvation, but you have probably ignored it or made light of it; and so you read 1 Corinthians 6:12 and it mystifies you.
2 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
Here is the problem: we have heard it, but we haven’t paid close attention to it. We have neglected so great a salvation, and so we drift back into a subtle and perhaps not-so-subtle moralism. We need to stop thinking that we have heard it all, that there is nothing for us to learn. We probably have heard it all, but we have not paid much attention to it. The simple truths of the gospel are quite shocking in the end and I find that when I press them home, many people are surprised. So maybe these things aren’t so simple and they do need closer attention and less neglect! I believe that this neglect of the simple gospel message of Christ crucified for sinners is the central and chief problem facing the church.
Going back to 1 Corinthians 6:11, notice that he says that such were some of you, but you were washed, sanctified, and justified. There is a connection between washing and justification. You have come to a place where all things are lawful, and that your washed self in its freedom desires the holy from the true bottom of your heart.
Let’s be clear. It doesn’t mean that you’ve become a new creature and so you don’t want unholy things any more and so all things are lawful for you because you only want lawful things. It says “ALL things are lawful.” He just listed a bunch of problem behaviors, and he is talking about those things. They are lawful, because all things are lawful. They are not profitable, which is a whole new dynamic. Because of the power of the gospel, the power of the blood of Christ, we are justified by grace and not by works of the law. So, our justification is secured. We are now in a universe where we can’t lose, in Christ. It all becomes a question of freedom of choosing, of the heart. Suddenly, our heart actually matters.
Here is the question, which under the law was theoretical, but is now the paramount issue: if you knew you would never be condemned for anything, what would you really want to do with your freedom? What is PROFITABLE? What is DESIRABLE? You now have the chance to step back and look at this straight. Here is the irony: it was the power and thrill of the forbidden that made those sinful things attractive (Romans 7:8). However, if you don’t think the blood of Jesus has this kind of power to forgive, then you don’t really have that level of freedom. It is not primarily your sin which is the problem, but your unbelief. If you remain in unbelief, there remains a law over you of forbidden things, and you are still under the question of lawfulness and justification by your works, instead of under the question of profitability. The forbidden nature of these things still hold their appeal to you, and so you are not washed, you are not sanctified, you are not justified. You are under the law and still ultimately controlled by your sin.
People who are concerned about the lawfulness of things need that lawfulness because they still love the wild freedom of their beautiful forbidden sin, and they need a threat hanging over them to stop them from acting out. But sinful desire that isn’t acted upon is still heinous sin, and that is the thing the law is powerless to change. The gospel has the power to change this.
Is This too Theological and Confusing?
You may think I’m wrong about all of this and that my answers are all gobbledy-gook. I have a notion that it is not complicated jargon that prevents someone from understanding these things – it is an unwillingness to believe. Think about this: if you don’t believe your level of acceptance with God through the blood of Jesus is such that all things are lawful, if you need that law to stop you from acting out on your heart’s sin, how is that working for you? Do you seriously believe it is righteous to count restraint of your wicked heart as holiness? Do you see a connection between your practical life and the blood of Jesus? Is the blood of Jesus really central to you? Do you cringe or rejoice when they sing “there’s power in the blood”? Do you honestly get the gospel? Maybe you don’t! Go back to the cross, and pay much closer attention to what you have heard, and stop neglecting so great a salvation! There is incredible power and freedom and life and joy in the gospel. Make it your chief aim to get it. Stop pretending you get it when you don’t.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17 (NASB)
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? 1 Corinthians 13:5 (NASB)