The church at Corinth was a sorry lot - at least by the "standards" of many modern day moralists. They were contentious, dividing themselves into parties; they dragged each other into court over petty offenses; their worship services were wild and disorderly; some of them even came to the communion table drunk; they had sex with whomever they chose - one was even sleeping with his stepmother; others were denying sex to their marriage partners; they demanded their rights in certain matters, even when their behavior caused weaker believers to stumble.
Those people today who wring their hands over what they see as a decline in morals in the church and who see the early church as some high place from which we have fallen, have apparently never given any attention to the church we see in the Apostle Paul's two letters to the Corinthians.
And yet Paul calls them "saints." He describes them as "the called," as "blameless," as lacking in no "spiritual gifts." He even says he thanks God always for them. And all this in the first eight verses of his first letter!
Do saints behave this way? Do they bring into the church the culture that lies outside the church? Do they live by the same moral standards as their unbelieving neighbors? Well, apparently the Corinthians did - and the morals of pagan Corinth were recognized as the worst - even by the other pagans.
And so it is today. I have been a pastor and I know a bit about it. I can emphasize with Paul. I empathize with my pastor. Riding herd on the saints is no easy job. No, they don't all behave in the same way as the Corinthians. In 2000 years the saints have come up with many new ways to misbehave.
So what's Paul's solution? He has many words of exhortation, but one passage is startling.
"Or don't you know that the unrighteous won't inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't be deceived - neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor greedy graspers, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God!" (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10)
Now Paul sounds more like the kind of preacher some of us have come to know. He seems to have finally given up on all that positive reinforcement, all that "saints" business; he seems to be threatening his readers - the whole church - with damnation if they behave like those described above. And I've heard and read quite a few preachers who would agree with that interpretation. I've been tempted to agree myself, at times. They see this passage as a warning, "If you behave like that you better examine yourself - you may not be saved," or "If you behave like this you will lose your salvation." (Pick your threat, whether Calvinist or Arminian.)
But Paul isn't saying anything like that; I don't think he's threatening his readers at all! This should be clear if we read the next lines.
"And those are what some of your were. But you got yourselves washed, but you were sanctified; but you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God!" (6:11)
I'll make this personal. Paul isn't talking about what we shouldn't BE, he is telling us what we WERE and he is telling us what we now ARE. We no longer belong in any of those categories mentioned in verses 9 and 10. Even if we behave that way! We are new creatures through faith in Christ. And the implied exhortation is, "Now live like who you ARE, not like who you WERE!"
I don't believe that we who are members of the Family of God need to fear being disowned by our Father, nor do we need to keep examining ourselves to make sure we belong in the Family. But we do need to recognize that we need to live as members of the Family.
Will we slip back? Most likely; I have. But our family relationship doesn't change when we do. Our relationship with God as our Father is based on the work of Christ, not on our behavior.
But as members of the Family, we do need to live in a way that will not bring shame to our Father or even other members of the Family. We need to remember Whose children we are!