When the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, he had to confront them on certain behaviour issues in the church.
It turns out that one man in the church had begun a sexual relationship with his step-mother – and the church, instead of confronting this man on his sin, were seeing the relationship as an outworking of their freedom from restrictions, and even boasting about it!
Paul reminds them that Christ calls us to be like Him, to live out of our identity as a holy people, set apart for God. Scripture is clear that God gave sex for building intimacy (and procreation) within the context of marriage. Paul pulled no punches in reminding the Corinthian church that any sexual activity outside of marriage is an affront to God’s character, and displays a heart which is rebellious toward God.
These words of Paul would have been a difficult challenge to the church. The culture in Corinth was highly sexualized – in fact, worship of the goddess Aphrodite often involved sleeping with temple prostitutes!
Paul’s challenge to the believers to live toward God meant provoking them to live at odds with their own culture, and what their non-believing friends would consider normal or acceptable.
This challenge is true for us today
Most people, when first receiving Jesus as their Saviour, face a similar challenge. In fact, you may be in that place right now. Behaviour which seems ‘normal’ in our culture has suddenly become unlawful for you. We all respond differently to this challenge – some people resent the perceived restrictions on their behaviour. Others, sensing the conviction of the Holy Spirit, find behaviour which has seemed good in the past makes them feel dirty, and disconnected from God.
It’s a challenge that all believers face, though the details will be different for all. Whether your particular challenge is having sexual relationships with someone you’re not married to; downloading pirate movies off the internet; gossiping or spreading rumours about others; taking stationery products home from the office; watching pornography; charging personal expenses to your business account; avoiding paying taxes…. you need to understand that God calls you to be like Jesus in these areas.
The believer has been crucified with Christ and raised to new life in Jesus. That means our old life is dead, and we now have power, by the Spirit, to put to death the sins that so easily entangle us. The Holy Spirit leads us to become like Jesus in our attitudes and behaviour. We are often called to live at odds with our surrounding culture – living instead in a way which brings pleasure to the King of the Kingdom of God.
If you’re struggling with something like this right now, here are some things to remember.
1) Our righteousness comes from Christ – not from our actions.
By grace alone we received righteousness from God, a new spotless robe of purity, when Christ paid our debts on the cross. It was not by any action of ours. So we do not try to gain our rightness with God through right behaviour.
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.” Eph 2:8-9
2) Even the sins we commit after putting our trust in Jesus are covered by His sacrifice on the cross.
God still loves us when we sin. The Bible tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even our sin! So if you’re struggling with sin, do not do so under fear that you could mess up and lose your salvation. But come back to God quickly in repentance, so that sin does not gain mastery over you.
“For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Romans 8:38-39
3) Grace is not a licence to sin.
It is true that there is nothing we can do – no sin too big – that God won’t forgive. However, knowing that we are forgiven is not an excuse to continue sinning anyway! In fact, the mark of someone who loves Jesus is that there will be life change – they begin to desire to be like Jesus, and find joy in putting sin to death in their own life.
“What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:1-2
Jesus clearly called his followers to live as He lived. Just read through the sermon on the mount found in Matthew ch 5 to see an example of what Jesus taught. While living according to Biblical guidelines cannot save us – once we begin the journey of salvation our hearts respond to God by wanting to live in a manner which pleases Him. We choose to live according to Kingdom culture rather than the pervading culture around us, not to gain our salvation, but out of a joyful and thankful response to our salvation!
If you are struggling today with the challenge of Kingdom living in a world which calls different behaviour normal – you are not alone. As we thank God for Jesus, and seek His pleasure in our lives, the Holy Spirit will empower us to walk free from sin. Take some time to pray, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you His desire for your life, convict you of any changes you need to make, and remind you what a glorious call you have received in Christ!
“I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”