Thursday, January 2, 2014

You Can Do It!

A good friend of mine and I try to meet every week over coffee.  Lately we have been studying Paul's First Letter to the Church in Corinth (actually, it was probably his third letter; the first two have been lost).  It is perhaps notable to see the many similarities between Corinth and the current changing landscape of America.  Corinth was a despotic town of vice and corruption.  I can only imagine how some of the groups decrying the decaying morals of present America would have responded to the state of Corinth in Paul's day.  It wouldn't have been pretty; but let's face it, Corinth was not a pretty place--at least, in ethical and moral terms.

Paul tells the Corinthian church something we all need to understand:

"Or don't you understand that those who are unrighteous will not inherit God's kingdom?  Don't be deceived!  Neither sexually immoral persons, nor idol worshipers, nor adulterers, nor effeminate (men), nor pederasts, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, not drunkards, not treacherous persons, not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (I Cor. 6:9,10).

Sound familiar?  And all of that and more was being openly practiced in Corinth.  Indeed, some had been those kind before they came to believe in Christ; for Paul adds, "And some of you were these things;" (I Cor. 6:11a).  Sadly, some of these young Christians continued to cling to their old manners. We know this because one reason Paul was writing to his fledgling church was to admonish them for the incest being practiced with impunity, for brothers (by brothers I mean as such in the Lord) cheating brothers, for brothers suing brothers, for dissensions because of personality cults and, no doubt, accompanying differences in doctrines, for prostitution and all the rest of the garbage happening within the church.

Now, in the flavor of the king's response during the attempted wedding in Monty Python's, Holy Grail, I will quickly interject, "What is all this depressing discussion of sin and corruption?  Bruce's blog is supposed to be a happy occasion."  I will cut to the chase.

Even though Paul is absolutely correct in warning us that all those who practice these nasty behaviors will not enter into God's kingdom of peace and eternal life--it won't happen--Paul doesn't however do what we might expect him to do at this point, which is to start to lay out a bunch of dos and don'ts--you know, a long list of rules. He doesn't do that because it wouldn't work.  Let's be honest, just because someone tells you not to do something--even if they give you ample reason--never stopped you from doing it.  So where does this leave us?  The good news of the Gospel of Christ, of course!

Notice what Paul does appeal to:

"But you were washed, you were made holy (sanctified), you were acquitted [i.e., forgiven] in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and by the spirit of our God!" (I Cor. 6:11b)

Why does he do this?  Because by reminding them whom they are in Christ they will keep their eyes on Christ and begin to live through the power of Christ's righteousness instead of their own.  You see, if Paul laid out a hunk of rules, this would most likely result in his listeners turning to themselves for the wherewithal to follow the rules, dooming them to failure; because none of us can or will obey the rules; it's just not in us to do so; but it is in Christ.  So it is by his righteousness and not our own that we will succeed in doing right (being just). And if we fail we will repent and be forgiven.  This is the good news of the Gospel.  In Christ, YOU CAN DO IT!