Have you ever heard anybody say, “If you want to feel better about yourself, just attend the county fair?” Along those lines, if you would like to feel better about your local church, definitely read I Corinthians. Almost any group would appear chaste next to these early Christians. The morality of the Corinthians would place their salvation in question in most evangelical churches today. After all, righteousness behavior is the evidence of our salvation, isn’t it?
I don’t believe such a thought even entered Paul’s mind. Before he wields the rod, Paul demonstrates the basis his apostolic authority—a father’s heart. To Paul, these people, as messed up as they were, were first and foremost saints who will be confirmed to the end, blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In addressing their issues, Paul does not focus directly on their morality, instead, he goes to the root of their problems: the Corinthians had forgotten who they were. Paul chides them, “are you not walking like mere men?”
To Paul, the core issue was identity. He knew his spiritual offspring better than they knew themselves. They had either yet to discover or had forgotten they were “saints,” and in this condition they were behaving as mere men.
Do you view yourself primarily as a mere human, or do you think of yourself as a saint? For many, a subtle rationalization develops which goes something like this: “Well…yes, in theory I am a ‘saint.’ I have accepted Jesus; I am forgiven, and… I have a high degree of eternal security, but as to how I see myself, my experience supports the mere-man proposition.” Mere men form their identities (and doctrines) around their experience, adopting beliefs which are easier to live with than God’s Word. Paul, the wise spiritual father, attacks this stronghold with a question; he asks them, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
Paul is saying, when they became temples of the Holy Spirit, they were no longer mere men. While it may have been more comfortable to write off their morality to mere human nature, Paul simply says, “No.” He makes it clear their behavior is wrong because it is incompatible with their new identity as saints. Sin is not just unholy; it is unnatural in temples of the Holy Spirit.
Paul could have given them relief by allowing them to think of themselves as mere “sinners saved by grace.” He could have relieved their consciences, allowing that it was in the spiritual DNA of mere men to stray. In spite of “woe-is-me” interpretations of Romans 7, I don’t believe Paul elevated fallen nature to the heights we modern evangelicals have. Paul’s view of redeemed man was far more triumphant:
Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come…You are God’s field, God’s building. (from 2 Corinthians 5:17 and 1 Corinthians 3:9)
As a wise master builder, Paul is saying the only foundation that can support a mature and growing Christian experience is a new identity in Christ. Both the Corinthians and us are dependent on the revelation of our new identity as sons of God—saints with new natures.
Father, we are not the church we read of in the New Testament. Help us to humbly acknowledge this. Help us to not explain this away as some kind of sovereign dispensation of mediocrity. Holy Spirit, breathe Your life within us and awaken us to the inheritance of our new natures, our new identities and the new destinies awaiting a Bride who knows who she is. Amen.