Wednesday, March 19, 2014


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!


Canadian Atheist said...

What about the billions that don't believe in Christ?

Bill Ball said...

C.A., this has always bothered me probably much more than it bothers you. You're not the first to bring up this question. You may want to read my post, "Are They Out of Luck?" (10/17/2010).

Canadian Atheist said...

I read it:

"So I’d have to say that, as I understand the Scriptures, the only persons who are “s____ out of luck” are those who haven’t responded in faith to the God who has revealed Himself in nature, in the Scriptures and in His Son."

It doesn't really answer my question. You were talking about those who came before Christianity, which in itself raises questions about the legitimacy of any religion that didn't exist for thousands upon thousands of years.

I'm talking about other faiths who don't believe in Jesus and/or those who are like me and don't believe in God(s).

Bill Ball said...

CA, I'd have to say that those persons are separated from God and not members of His coming Kingdom.

Canadian Atheist said...

"CA, I'd have to say that those persons are separated from God and not members of His coming Kingdom."

That's pretty vague. Can you please expand on that? Does that mean hell?

Bill Ball said...


Canadian Atheist said...


Thank you for your honesty, Bill. In a way, I rest my case.

Bill Ball said...

CA, I've actually said quite a few things on the topic of Hell; to see my thoughts just type in "Hell" on the top of the page.

Canadian Atheist said...

It's a disgusting theology and one believers shouldn't feel comfortable discussing, especially since they preach that god is all-loving, yet turn around and say it is ok (and they're even comfortable with the thought) that their god will torture billions of people for eternity.

It also makes no sense.

I wish Christians would spend more time discussing the things in the bible that are abhorrent instead of the nice cuddly parts. How and why do they ignore or rationalize things like God killing every first born son? Why is it okay for god to commit mass genocide and then populate the earth with the same human filth that somehow forced him to drown babies? Why is god ordered genocide okay? Why does god never condemn slavery, yet seems to endorse it by giving rules on how to do it properly? What exactly does hell mean to believers and where is the evidence?

These are some of the things I’d like to read about. Most churches and people gloss over or ignore these things. Understandably so, since they’re probably a bit embarrassing.

Bill Ball said...

There are many things in Scripture that trouble me and other Christians. We do not ignore them. But our faith is not something which we can pick and choose. To choose what we like in the bible and reject those things we find distasteful would be dishonest.