Please turn with me in your bibles to 1 Corinthians chapter 6. 1 Corinthians 6. We continue tonight our progress in the apostle Paul’s letter to the church of God in Corinth.
This church, as we have seen, is struggling with sin, struggling with worldliness. They had fallen prey to the temptations of the world and of the evil one, and had given in to all manner of sin. They were divisive and schismatic. They were proud and immature. They were tolerant of sin, yet boasting in their tolerance. They were robbing and defrauding one another, and taking each other to court. And as we will see tonight, they were guilty of sexual sin, and further guilty of using their genuine freedom in Christ as an excuse for their sinful indulgences.
As is often the case, Satan can tempt believers by twisting scripture and twisting doctrine in order to introduce confusion, and lure believers into terrible sin. And we would be wise not to look down upon those foolish Corinthians, thinking that we are above such sins. We must be on guard, as we’ll see, lest we too fall prey to the temptations of Satan and the lusts of the flesh.
Let’s read together God’s word for us tonight, and then I will pray for God to help us apply it to our own lives this evening.
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. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 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.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 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, 20 for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.
As I prayed through this text this week, I began to appreciate the diversity of motivations that Paul provides for us in our battle for holiness. He uses many tools in the tool bag, like a skilled pastor should, in order to arm us for the battle against Satan and against all manner of temptations. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to one or two motivations in our battle for holiness. Rather, we should note and appreciate all the many ways that scripture addresses us and spurs us on in the Christian life and in holiness.
Thus, tonight I have drawn from this text 8 points, 8 short principles that I think God the Holy Spirit can use to help us fight for holiness.
- Believers are free. Believers are free.
Let’s look at verse 12.
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.
Paul here is apparently using a some of slogans that were popular among the Corinthians, that’s why your text probably has quotation marks in portions of the first couple of verses. The Corinthian believers were using these slogans as a means of excusing sinful behavior.
“All things are lawful for me,” he says, quoting them. And he even repeats it. This may have even been a quote from the apostle’s own lips. Undoubtedly, Paul came out of his pharisaical background of legalism and regulations and rules, and relished in the fact that he was genuinely free in Christ.
And this doctrine of liberty in Christ, or Christian freedom, is one that Paul addresses later in the book. This doctrine is true, and an important part of the Christian’s experience. When we come to Christ, we ARE INDEED free. We’re free from the condemnation of the law. We’re free from the opinions of men. We’re free from the burden of having to earn our way into heaven and save ourselves from our own sin. Believers ARE free. That’s why Jesus said in John 8 that, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
But what Paul was addressing here was the Corinthian practice of using that genuine Christian freedom as a license to sin. And that was the problem. Christian Freedom must never condone sin. Yes, Christians are free from the law, but we must understand the nature of that freedom. We’re free from the law as a covenant, as a means of securing our access to God and our entrance into heaven. But we’re not free from the law as a rule of life.
Our freedom was never meant to be a license for us to sin, and that’s where the Corinthians had gone off the rails. In fact, the presence of sin in our lives demonstrates that we’re not actually free at all. That’s what Jesus says in John 8, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[b] to sin.”
If we are in a pattern of sin, if we have unconfessed sin, if we have given ourselves over to sin, then we’re demonstrating that we were never actually freed. I’m not talking about stumbles in the Christian life; we won’t be freed from the presence of sin until the Lord returns. But if we’re under the power of sin, dominated by sin, especially sexual sin, then we have real reason to question whether we’ve been freed at all.
One of the benefits of salvation in Christ is that the power of sin is definitively broken within us. We’re no longer slaves to sin. Rather, in Christ, we’re remade into a new creation, we’re new creatures, and with that new nature comes emancipation from enslavement to sin.
Believers have real freedom, and it can never be used by us as license to sin.
But, if that is case, Paul, then how should we then think about our freedom? Let’s look at the second principle:
- Christian Freedom should be guarded by prudence. Christian freedom should be guarded by prudence.
Again, verse 12:
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.
While all things might be permissible, not all things are helpful. When we’re thinking about our freedom in Christ, we need to think not merely “am I allowed to do this?” but also “is this activity helpful?”
Let’s make a silly example. Am I free in Christ to eat fried chicken? Sure. Praise God. But would it be helpful for me to eat fried chicken for lunch and dinner every night of the week? Certainly not. That would not be helpful to your cholesterol levels, nor your spiritual condition. Whenever we’re evaluating our activities, we need to ask is this helpful, not merely is it allowable. And I’m not merely talking about sexual sin; we’ll get to that in a moment.
What about other things that might not even have moral overtones? When I’m evaluating my hobbies, my athletic participation, my recreations, my diet, the movies I watch, the clothes I wear. Are these things helpful? Sure, it may not necessarily be sinful for you to partake or engage in these things, but are they helpful? Do they tend toward godliness and maturity, both in myself and those around me?
Further, Paul says “While all things might be permissible, I will not be dominated by anything.” I’ll not be enslaved by anything. There are some activities that may be permissible for a Christian to do, but may not be wise for you to do.
It may be benign for you to have a cup of coffee, or a beer, or a slice of pie, or watch a show, but if such a thing has the effect of enslaving you, then should you engage in such a thing?
We need to recognize and have a category for some activities in this life that aren’t necessarily sinful, but that do have the potential to enslave you, and we ought to look at such things from the perspective of biblical prudence. If you’re enslaved by something, even slightly, then you’re not in control. Self-control and temperance have been forfeited, and you’ve submitted to a new master.
How do I know if I’m enslaved to something? Ask yourself a few questions. What is it that you look to for joy and satisfaction? If it is taken away from you, how do you react? Do you pout and sulk, or get irritable and impatient? If the absence of that activity or indulgence negatively impacts your ability to bear the fruit of the spirit, then you might be enslaved to it.
Further, because we don’t live a life of Christian freedom in isolation from others, we ought to ask ourselves a few questions whenever we’re determining the wisdom of engaging in anything in the realm of Christian freedom:
First, will this freedom impact my witness? Will me engaging in this activity impact my witness for Christ to a watching world? What will unbelievers think about me if I’m seen engaging in this behavior? We’re not ultimately beholden to the opinions of sinful men, but biblical prudence would lead us to willingly give up our Christian freedoms in order to have a more effective witness for Christ.
Second question: How will my partaking of this freedom impact my brothers and sisters around me? Will my participation in this activity negatively impact my brothers and sisters in Christ? We’re called to live in Christian community, and if my freedoms throw stumbling blocks in front of my brothers and sisters, then I ought to have a spirit of deference out of love for them. I ought to be willing to give up my freedoms for the sake of the good of my brothers and sisters around me. We’ll talk more about this later in this book, so I’ll just leave off with that.
Third, we ought to ask about our Christian liberties not merely how it will impact our witness and our brothers and sisters, but how will this freedom impact me? How will this activity impact me? Will my partaking in this Christian liberty enslave me? Knowing how I am wired and how I operate, will it be conducive to further growth and holiness to engage in this area of Christian liberty, or will it draw my heart and mind away from Christ? Yes, we’re free in Christ to watch a show or movie. But if I know that I won’t be able to go to sleep until I have binge watched the entire season, then it might be best for me to not even start the first show.
Christian freedom should be guarded by prudence.
Next, in verse 13 Paul gives us another principle for our battle for holiness:
- Believers should have a resurrection perspective. Believers should have a resurrection perspective.
13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.
Paul here is using another catchphrase that the Corinthians were apparently adopting: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” They were apparently using the presence of a bodily appetite as a way to legitimize their own indulgence into sexual sin.
You can see the argument. The stomach was meant for food, and craves food, so we give it food. Likewise, they might argue, the body has sexual urges, and so it isn’t wrong to appease those urges. After all, Adam and Eve were made as sexual beings and God declared their bodies as good, so why would we not seek to meet those same sexual appetites that God created and declared good? It’s very akin to what we hear from culture: “I was born this way; therefore, it can’t be wrong to act out how I was made.”
But the Corinthians are wrong in at least two places. First, they wrongly equated two different appetites in the body. Yes, God made the stomach to desire food, but wrongly expressing that urge of hunger can bring all sorts of problems. Just because my body is hungry, doesn’t mean I can eat anything I want whenever I want. Sure, my body might crave pie and ice cream, but that doesn’t mean I feed it that way all the time. Further, the appetite of the stomach and the sexual appetite are not the same. To go without food will kill you, which is not the same with sexual appetites.
But secondly, Paul seeks to correct their misunderstanding by reminding them of the end.
13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other.
Your life isn’t to be about appeasing the appetites of the body now. If the Lord delays his return, your stomach will end up in the grave, returning to the dust from whence it came. There is a day of judgment coming, a day of reckoning, and because of that coming judgment, we need to remember that what we do now is significant.
Each of our actions can be filtered through the lens of what God will say about it on the last day. Is this freedom something that will be commended, or condemned on the last day? Is God and his creation honored in this activity, or is God and his creation dishonored by my actions? Your life isn’t about appeasing your bodily urges now, it’s to be used to honor the Lord, keeping in mind that the final day is at hand.
Thus, rather than our body being meant for food, Paul reminds the believers of our fourth principle:
- Your body was meant for the Lord. Your body was meant for the Lord. Verse 13 again:
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.
Your body is not merely a fleshly puppet for your soul to use in any way you please. You were created as an integrated person: a united body and soul. And it lowers the dignity and the goodness of God’s creative work to say that your body is meant merely to appease its own appetites.
Each person here, was fearfully and wonderfully made, as scripture says, and we were made for more than just this life. We were made for something deeper. We were made for communion with God himself, and that communion is meant to be experienced through a body. That’s one reason why Paul spends so much time on the resurrection in chapter 15 of this book. We won’t spend eternity as disembodied spirits, floating around in the presence of the Lord. We’re going to be raised, with these bodies having been renewed. The bodies were made good, and will be remade as glorified and perfected in the last day.
Thus, it’s inconsistent with both our creation and our final destination to think that the bodies are merely to be used for pleasure in this life and then discarded. That’s what the Greek philosophers of the day were saying: that it’s the spirit that matters, not the body, so do with the body whatever you want. But Paul is arguing, along with the rest of scripture, that the body matters, and that we need to think carefully about what we do with it. It was made for holy communion with God, and created with dignity and goodness, so act accordingly.
Next, a fifth principle to help believers battle for holiness:
- Believers are united to Christ. Believers are united to Christ. Look at verse 15:
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 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.” Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 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 here is again addressing the sexual sin in which the Corinthians were engaging. And he is specifically addressing their deficient view of their union with Christ. If it is true that at the moment of salvation believers are united to Jesus by the Holy Spirit, then to take the body and unite it in sexual sin is to take Jesus’s spirit with you. It’s not as if believers can go about their activities without the presence of Jesus within them.
You’ve been united to him. You’ve been made a member of him. You’ve been grafted into him, and it is inconceivable that you would so grieve the Holy Spirit by uniting yourself to another in sexual sin.
Further, Paul here underscores the immensely spiritual nature of the sexual union. Sex within marriage is a good thing, something that God himself designed, and He delights in its proper expression, as we will see in the coming weeks. But to use the body as a means of engaging in sexual sin outside of a marriage covenant is not to do merely physical harm, but to do spiritual harm as well.
The world wants you to think that sex is purely physical. But the would cannot erase the clearly spiritual aspects of the sexual union. No other activity of the body has such deep ramifications, such deep scars, as sexual sin.
And if you are united to Christ, you’re dragging him with you in that sin. We may not be engaging in temple prostitution like some in Corinth were, but every time I fantasize about the neighbor down the street, or that good looking person at work, or that aerobics instructor at the gym, I’m using my body to engage in spiritual adultery. I’m grieving the Spirit of Christ and forgetting that I’m truly united to Him.
Believers, we need to remember our union with Christ the next time sexual temptation rears its ugly head. If Christ has so died for me, so forgiven me of my sin, so faithfully sought me out like Hosea chasing after Gomer in the marketplace of sexual infidelity, how can I again drag my faithful bridegroom back into the muck of sexual sin?
It should not be so, and the severity of such a situation is compounded by the nature of the sin, which is our 6th point:
- Sexual sin is unique. Sexual sin is unique. Sexual sin is unique. Look at verse 18.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
Paul here lays down a principle that is crucial for each of us to remember. Sexual sin is not like every other sin. All the other sins that somebody engages in is in some measure external. Stealing from someone is on the outside. Yelling in anger is outside. But sexual sin has a deeper, soul-harming element that is unlike the rest of the sins that one can commit.
I have a book on my shelf, for example, that explains from a physiological perspective the nature of sexual sin, and how it literally re-wires the brain with new neural pathways when someone engages in sexual sin. It changes us from the inside out. And that speaks not only to the intimate connection between our bodies and our souls, and how harming one does effect on the other, but also speaks to the spiritual nature of God’s design in the sexual union.
Expressed within the bounds of a marriage covenant, sex is designed to be a means of uniting the husband and wife in a level of communion that wouldn’t be possible through any other means. Thus, when sexual sin is committed outside of the bounds of a marriage covenant, there is a uniting and then a tearing that must take place. Sex outside of marriage is unnatural and deeply harmful;
For people to have communion without commitment, to have intimacy without interest, is damaging to the whole person. It damages the soul, harms the body, undermines the health of the mind and heart, and brings with it scars. We need to remember the uniqueness that comes with sexual sin.
And we need to especially warn our young ones among us. In an age of casual hooking up and fleeting relationships, we need to be clear about the dangers of sexual sin. Most of us still bear the scars of our past sexual sin, and a faithful parent would be diligent to warn their children of the peculiar dangers of sexual sin, and likewise to teach them of the goodness of sexual engagement within the bounds of a faithful marriage covenant.
Before I move on to the 7th principle, I want to stop and reflect upon what Paul said in the preceding section. Some of you are like the Corinthians, and you’re feeling the weight of your past sexual sin. You know that you engaged in the exact sins being condemned here, and you perhaps even have used some of the same kinds of justifications for the sin that the Corinthians were guilty of.
When we’re feeling the weight of our sin, we need to remember to gospel for ourselves. We need to remember that Christ came and sought out an adulterous bride, sought out sinners like me and you, sought out the Gomers who were busying themselves in the marketplace of sexual sin. And He Redeemed us from slavery to that sin. He died so that you might be made clean. If you trusting in Christ, you’re a new creation. You’ve been washed, you’ve been sanctified and made holy in Christ, you’ve been justified, Paul says. And your sexual sin has been forgiven.
Remember that when the wounds of past sins start to sting again. And we can use the pain of past sin, and let that drive us both TOWARD Christ, reminding us of the gospel, and let it drive us AWAY from sinful temptation. Remember well the sting of past sin, and let it be a deterrent against indulging in the same kind of sins again.
When the temptations of sexual sin rear up again, we need to be like Joseph. Not merely saying “NO” once or twice, but vowing not even being around Potiphar’s wife, running away from anything that tempts us to sin against so great a God. We don’t even need to be in the same room as the temptation, because of the uniquely damaging nature of this kind sin. As one pastor has said, “If you don’t want what the devil is cooking, don’t be in the kitchen smelling his gravy.” Which means that if we don’t want to feel the terrible pain of sexual sin, then we need to not even get near it. Flee sexual immorality.
Remember the words of proverbs, about keeping your feet far from the path of the adulterous woman.
And why must we not even go near sexual sin? Why is it so sinful to unite our bodies with sexual immorality? That’s what Paul explains in our seventh principle:
- Believers are a temple. Believers are a temple. Look again at verse 18:
18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 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.
This is a principle that Paul previously stated in chapter 3, when he was collectively applying it to the entire church. But here he is applying it to each individual believer. For everyone united to Christ, you have been filled with the holy spirit. That’s true, not merely collectively as a church, but also individually as believers. The Spirit dwells in you. “Don’t ya’ll know that ya’ll’s bodies are each a temple of the Holy Spirit?”
And that knowledge should be another weapon we employ to help us battle against the temptation toward sin. I am not the ultimate owner of this body. This is God’s temple. I am not the moral arbiter of what is permissible, God is. And if God himself indwells this temple, how could I defile His temple with sin, especially sexual sin.
God’s own presence is within me, and to engage my body in sin is to tempt a holy God to discipline me, like the loving father that he is. None of us wants to be disciplined for sin, but that’s what we tempt God to do whenever we are quick to jump back into sin.
Further, we grieve the very spirit of God, tempt him to withdraw his ministering presence, and all the blessings that come along with that. Whenever I willfully engage in sin, I grieve the Spirit, who will sometimes pull back our sense of His presence, which often results in us feeling far from God, us feeling depressed, us losing Christian joy, and us losing our assurance.
Indeed, if you’re knowingly defiling your body through sin, if you’re engaged in an unrepentant pattern of sexual sin, then you have real reason to question your standing before God. Your assurance should be shaken if you’re unrepentant about your sin.
No true child of God would persist willfully in a pattern of sin and expect no ill-effects. God will work to preserve His child, even if that means painful discipline. But if I am headlong running down the path of sin, then be warned that God might just be giving you exactly what you want, giving you over to your sinful desires, and thereby proving that you never were a child of God at all.
God’s temple is precious to Him, and he will work to protect its purity. And why is that? That’s in part because of our 8th principle from the text:
- Your body was expensive. Your body was expensive. Look at verse 19:
You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.
You don’t own your body. You are not an autonomous ruler of your own domain. You, including both body and soul, are owned by another. God owns you. That means that you’re not free to do whatever you like with your body.
Your job is to honor the owner. To submit to his clearly revealed will. To live according to his design for your body. To engage in your Christian liberties in a way that loves Him and loves your brothers and sisters, rather than demanding that everyone else honor your freedom.
That’s the high calling of a follower of Jesus Christ.
As you hear Paul’s words, if you find yourself to be guilty of sin, guilty of using your body to gratify the flesh rather than glorifying the Lord, then know that you stand condemned. God sees you, and not merely the outside, but sees right to the heart, and knows of your sinful desires, even if you haven’t acted upon them.
But also know that God is not without compassion. He has provided a way of escape. He’s given his own Son to be the perfect sacrifice for defiled sinners. He’s made a way for his temple to be purified, and that way is narrow. That way is, in fact, exclusive. That way is Jesus Christ alone.
Faith in Christ is the only means of being purified, the only means of being forgiven, the only means to escape the wrath to come. Come to Christ tonight, and trust in the Son. Trust in Jesus as the perfect, spotless savior who died so that a blemished bride might be washed.
And if you come to him, you too will be washed. You will see the enormous price that he paid for you, the great ransom that he paid to buy you back from enslavement to sin, and your heart will we warmed by his love for you, and He will fill you with His Holy Spirit, who will help you as you battle against sin and strive for holiness in this life.
You are not your own, you were bought for a price, an enormous price, so glorify God in your body.