Christian Litmus Test #1
There is a particular scripture that pops up on occasion that I would like to bring a little attention to, and share my thoughts on. It's one that is used in a myriad of situations, mostly for a single purpose. The scripture in question is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and it reads...
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV) ...do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
We're all familiar with this scripture, right? If so, then you probably also know this scripture is sometimes used by Christians to critique, correct, or even denounce other Christians. For instance, maybe someone isn't living the righteous life God intends for them to live, or maybe there is a sharp difference in doctrine or belief between two people, or maybe someone dislikes another person and is overly critical towards them. Whatever the case may be -- whether said in love and genuine concern for someone, or out of malice, revenge, or selfish intent -- this scripture is often used to reprove brothers and sisters in Christ and even say, "Because you do this, or believe this, you aren't a Christian at all."
This is unfortunate for a number of reasons, one of which being, the use of this scripture in this manner is incorrect. Doing so actually demonstrates a misunderstanding of what Paul was saying to the Corinthians.
The fact is, contrary to what some of us believe, Paul was not instituting a litmus test in how to determine who is a Christian and who is not. He was not saying "If you do these things you're not a Christian, and if you don't do these things you are" yet this is exactly how many of us have used this scripture.
I believe this to be a common mistake that stems from a misconception about salvation. Many of us have been taught that in order to be saved we have to receive Christ and stop sinning. While no longer sinning is most certainly God's desire for every one of His children, it is in no way a requirement for obtaining salvation, nor maintaining our salvation.
As much as I would like to, explaining all the ins and outs of this would make this post far too long, but let me quickly say this. Any time we see a form of the word "repent" in the Bible, if we go back to the original text, the root meanings of the words used do not refer to sin. Instead, they refer to changing one's mind and returning to God. Most things beyond these base meanings are assumptions that have been tacked on by man as logical conclusions but don't actually exist in the text.
Nevertheless, to see that 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 has been misused, and to see that sin is not a salvation killer, all we have to do is look at the whole of scripture. For example, Paul, the very person who wrote 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 also wrote this while speaking of salvation through Christ...
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast.
If salvation is a gift given by grace, not by works, and received by faith so that none of us can boast, then how is it that some of us believe our salvation is maintained by our own hand? How is it that we believe that salvation has anything to do with us short of simply receiving it? We can't, and we shouldn't. Yet, I have seen plenty of people who condemn others for their sins while boasting about their own sinlessness as if they had a hand in maintaining their own salvation.
But further, to understand that Paul wasn't instituting a litmus test, all we have to do is continue reading. The very next passage after 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 states...
1 Corinthians 6:11 (NIV) And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Remember, Paul was addressing Christians. And notice, he didn't condemn them for their failings – neither past nor present -- of which they still had some. He didn't tell them "If you do these things you're not Christian anymore." No, instead he acknowledged the grace and forgiveness of God upon them.
What Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 were the unsaved; the unsaved will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul listed several types of sin to make a point, not to make a list by which to judge a person's salvation. And the point he was making was that these things are not in keeping with the character of Christ, therefore, they shouldn't be a part of us. He wasn't saying that if these things are a part of us, then we have no part in Christ.
Think about it, if Paul was making a list of sins that somehow prevent or even remove salvation, then why didn't he mention blasphemy? Or bearing false witness? Or murder? Or coveting another's possessions? Should we take it that these things are okay? Hardly!
But if you need even more convincing, if we continue reading, we can see where Paul addressed some of the Corinthians who were abusing God's grace. The Corinthians were essentially claiming they could commit whatever sin they wanted because the grace of God covered them. While this is true from a certain perspective, Paul reminded them that not only is this taking advantage of God's grace, but that sin is not good for us. Nevertheless, even here Paul never declared that the Corinthians weren't Christians. He didn't condemn them, he didn't throw them out of the church, and he didn't tell them how horrible they were. Why? Because none of that would have been true.
To be clear, yes, there are passages that speak of the need of turning from sin. And, yes, we should turn away from sin whether we understand why or not. Sin is bad for us. Sin gets in the way of our relationship with God. Sin negatively affects our lives in unforeseen ways. Sin even affects the direction of our lives, our family's lives, and the direction of our country and the world. However, these exhortations to turn from sin are never given as a requirement for salvation as many of us have believed them to be. Salvation stands on its own. Salvation is a sovereign move of God and we cannot add anything good to it. Repentance of sin is for another purpose -- a good purpose -- but not for the sake of being found acceptable in the eyes of God or man.
Bottom line, many of us have misunderstood the grace and the salvation of God, and view 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in a wrong light.
There are so many among us who feel unworthy because they haven't lived up to someone's standard of who they should be. Maybe they have sin in their life, maybe they believe they have done too many bad things to be forgiven, or maybe they just don't feel like they are worthy of forgiveness. Whatever the case may be, this misunderstanding of God's grace and salvation holds people in bondage. Some even fall away from God because of it, or don't want anything to do with God in the first place.
Let's stop holding each other in bondage to this lie. The Lord loves you, and He forgives. He extended grace to even the most deplorable sinner on earth, so why not you? Why would any of us believe that He would not forgive His own sons and daughters when He so lavished His grace upon us while we were still in the depths of our sin?
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