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Church: You Won't Believe Who Was in Church Today (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
I'll never forget when Steve came to church. As far as I knew, he was the first of the hippies to come to our local Baptist church. He had on green bibbed overalls and a purple coat that hung down to his knees. He had long red scraggly hair and a bushy beard that made you realize this wasn't your usual corporate executive dropping into the local Baptist church on Sunday morning. But Steve came in looking for God.
I don't know about the other households at our church, but I know that at our household we were saying, "You won't believe who was in church today! You just wouldn't believe who was in church today!" We talked about Steve. The long shot of Steve's story is that God did a wonderful work in his life. The last time I saw him he was growing in Christ and serving Him faithfully.
You just can't believe who's in church these days, can you? The same would have been true if you had been in Corinth, that little isthmus of land that sticks out between the Aegean and Ionian seas. This city at the crossroads of the world was known for its tourists and for the sailors who came through its port. It was a city that if you took the worst of Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York and put them all together, you'd have Corinth. The city had a temple to Aphrodite that was on a hill about 2,000 feet high. People came from around the world to worship this Greek goddess and a thousand temple prostitutes helped people fulfill what they thought was worship to their god.
If you had gone to church at Corinth and sat down with a person who had been there for awhile, you might have been told, "See that woman over there? That's Wanda. She was a lesbian until three years ago when something wonderful happened in her life. You see that guy over there? That's Bob. He's known all over town as one of the greediest guys around. I mean he'd cheat you out of anything, until five years ago. You see Carol back there? I want to tell you about her. She was a hooker. I mean she worked the Aphrodite temple for years, until six months ago." You would have said, "What a church! What a church! You mean these people are all members of the church at Corinth?" Paul would have said, "Yes, my friend, they are; they really are."
How did this happen? Paul explains it in these verses. One of the exciting things about these three very powerful verses of Scripture is that the same Truth, the same Person who changed those lives, is at business and works today doing the same thing.
I can assure you that there are some people in churches today who would fit the descriptions we're going to look at. There are some others whose lifestyles are not listed here, yet who are in churches today. Let's find out what happened to them, what can happen to people you know, and even what can happen to you.
Notice first, Paul is giving a definitive statement. He's trying to clarify some issues in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?"
Those are the people whose lifestyles are flagrantly against what God's Word teaches. The kingdom of God is in the future -- Paul is talking about when God's Kingdom shall reign on earth and those who love Him and know Him shall be with Him. He's saying the wicked will not be a part of that future event when Christ shall reign on the earth and the world shall be in His will. He said, "Don't be deceived."
Paul begins with a list of five sins having to do with impurity. He clearly states that people who are practicing these things are not going to inherit the kingdom of God. They're not going to be a part of what God has coming for His children.
First of all, he says, are the "sexually immoral." The King James version says "fornicators." What's fornication? That's all sexual sin; it's a general description of any sexual sin. He says, no person practicing sexual sin shall enter the kingdom of God.
We all know what has happened in our country. There's been a tremendous spread of sexual sin. The April 22, 1991 issue of U.S. News & World Report contained an interesting article entitled: "History's Hidden Turning Points." The article reported that the decline and fall of chastity in the United States in the 60s and 70s was one of the turning points of history! Shocking, isn't it? And yet, it's true. What we sowed in the 60s and 70s by sexual immorality, we began to reap in the 80s and 90s.
One of the great heartaches and tragedies is that today we see a tremendous assault against the family. One of the reasons is because of the spread of sexual sin. Isn't is strange that a few years ago if a student was caught with a condom at school he was expelled? Now they're handing them out at school! Strange, isn't it, what has happened in this turning point of history? Very strange. The sexually immoral shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Secondly, he says "nor idolaters." These are people who practice worshipping or serving any other kind of god. It doesn't have to be one that's a statue or an icon, it can be anything that replaces God. Idolatry is anything that replaces the service, love, and commitment to the Lord God with service, love and commitment to other gods. They understood that in Corinth because of the temple of Aphrodite. You could just walk out, look up and see it. Idolaters shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Third, he says "nor adulterers." Adultery is the breaking of the marriage vows. It's a sexual relationship with someone outside of the marriage commitment. Again, it's a strike against the family. It has a tremendous corrupting influence in our society. As we see this corrupting influence in our society, we see a breaking down of the home. Marriage was God's plan from the beginning to do at least three things. It was to protect us psychologically. In the family where there is true love between a husband and a wife, there's a sense of knowing how to give and receive love. Everybody needs it. When adultery comes, then there's a strike against that marriage because love is shattered and trust is gone.
God has given us marriage to protect us sociologically. It is in the environment of the home where a husband and wife learn to give and to take, and children learn the give and take, and receive and learn to adjust in a family situation. This helps them to adjust in society. When adultery comes and homes are broken, everybody loses.
Marriage is given for theological reasons. God ordained a man and a woman to be a model for Christ and the church. So when He saved us, in a sense, we married Jesus. When adultery comes, it breaks the model. Then people don't see the beauty of Christ and the church. It's a division. So when a marriage is broken by adultery, it's prostitution in a sense, and there's a breaking away. Whenever marriage is shattered by adults -- psychologically it's shattering, sociologically it's shattering, theologically it's shattering.
Most of the problems you see happening in our society are because of the corrupting of the family. What is the most fearful thing that I see and hear? People wanting to throw dollars at the problems. There are many political action groups trying to do something to protect children, but they cannot succeed. How do we protect children? We protect children by giving them solid Christian homes. We protect children by showing them Christ's love. We protect children by discipling and disciplining them. We protect children by giving them a godly model. We protect children by worshipping with them. We protect children by giving them security in a solid home environment. When the home is broken, we see what happens to the shattered lives: lack of self esteem, overwhelming inferiority complex, sociopathic personalities, a craving for love, hunger for attention and affection, turning to drugs and alcohol, promiscuity and perversion; all are at epidemic proportions.
We're living in one of the most devastating times of history in this country and a lot of people don't realize it. We can throw away trillions of dollars and try every program on every political agenda, but until we get back to the very basis -- and that is the protection of the home, where a husband and a wife make a marital fidelity commitment and, if God gives them children, to raise their children for Christ in the security of the home -- all the money in the world will not save our institutions and our country.
Then Paul lists the fourth thing, "nor male prostitutes." What is a male prostitute? The King James version uses the word "effeminate." That is the passive kind of homosexuality. It shows itself in other perverted forms of sexual immorality. In Deuteronomy 2:5, God's Word says that a man should not dress to look like a woman or a woman dress to look like a man. Now why did God say that? He was trying to keep mankind from blurring the distinctions between male and female. He made a clear-cut call way over in the Old Testament about the distinctiveness of who we are and the way He made us. Yet we're living in a time when we're seeing all kinds of perversions by the obscuring of the uniqueness of male and female.
Some people ask, what difference does it make? Others say, what persons do in private life is up to them. It's true, nobody can make anyone do anything. Christianity certainly doesn't. It just offers a powerful positive difference. But what happens when a society says it doesn't make any difference what you practice and what you are, though we know what God's standard is and people violate it -- does it make any difference? Look at it.
Congress. Does it make any difference if a congressman can't keep up with his personal checking account? That is personal and private! Yet we're electing people like that, who cannot manage their own personal financial lives, placing them in office and telling them to run a country that has a trillion dollar budget. And some say it doesn't make any difference what they practice in their private lives!
What about a law enforcement officer? Does it make any difference if a law enforcement officer has a sex change operation, or if he practices homosexuality or some other perversion of effeminate lifestyle? Does it make any difference? In the military? In the arts? Anyone who doesn't believe there is a carry-over from private lifestyle to public consequence, I have a piece of land on the moon I would like to sell you!
Whenever we pervert any of God's standards and choose the downside of it, sooner or later it corrupts; it's poison; it's a killer. Watch it! Watch it!
You've heard the story about the little shepherd boy and the snake. It was a cold wintry night. The snake crawled up close to the little shepherd boy whose daddy had alway told him not to have anything to do with a snake. The snake said to him, "It's cold here! Won't you please just put me on your stomach and warm me up? I promise not to bite." The shepherd boy said, "No, my daddy told me you were poison and I was never to have anything to do with you, whatever you said." The snake said, "Listen, we're both out here and it's cold, it's miserable, and if you'll just take me and put me on your stomach I'll warm you up and you'll warm me up and we'll both feel better." He persisted until finally the little boy reached out and took the snake and put him on his stomach. And the snake bit him! As he lay dying, the little boy said, "But you said you wouldn't bite me if I put you on my stomach!" The snake said, "You knew what I was before you picked me up."
When we know what it is, we should be careful what we pick up! When we know what it is, we'd better speak up, we'd better say something, we'd better put people in office and in places of influence who know what the standards are, because if we don't, the snakes will bite and a lot of innocent people will get hurt in the process.
Paul goes on to say, "nor homosexual offenders." We know what that is; they are people who engage in sex with other people of the same gender. Some people say if you really love some person, it's okay. They say if you really love me, you'll accept me where I am at this point. But the apostle John said in 1 John 5:2-3 that if I really love God I will practice His commands. Therefore, if I really love you and you're practicing a lifestyle that's out of context with what the Word of God says, my love for you is not symbolized by my telling you it's okay; my love for you is symbolized by my not telling you what you want to hear. My love for you is shown when I say, "This is what God wants and because I love you I say get away from that." It's not our duty to adapt to a lifestyle that's contrary to the Word of God. If we really love somebody, real love says, "I love you as a person, but I cannot accept the lifestyle because God doesn't accept it."
When you drift away from the definitively clear standard of God's Word, you can interpret it any way you want to. You can choose any philosophy and take good words like love, caring, and commitment out of biblical context. These beautiful words then become excuses for people to practice a perverted lifestyle. But God didn't stutter when He said that anybody who is practicing a homosexual lifestyle shall not enter the kingdom of God. Can it be any clearer? One can try all kinds of exegesis he wants to, he can try to twist it out of context all he wants to, but we've got to come down to one thing if we're going to be honest with God's Word -- God says no.
Then Paul lists five other things. These are sins that are practiced in other kinds of ways. In 1 Corinthians 6:10: "nor thieves." That's where we get the word "kleptomaniac." It's people who are greedy in a certain kind of way. In New Testament days, the laws were tough in this area. If you stole anything worth more than $1.50, in today's money, you would be executed. If you were at the public baths or gymnasiums and you were enjoying the beautiful bubbling water in the spa and some guy slipped in and stole your toga or anything that cost 25 cents or more, they'd put him to death for it. If anything was stolen at night, one could be put to death for it. Paul said practicing thieves aren't going to get into the kingdom of heaven.
"Nor the greedy." This is a really powerful word. It's a word used for grappling hooks in the navy in the old days. When two ships would come against each other, these grappling hooks were used to pull the ships together. That's the word used her for greedy. It's a person who's "grabbing," who's "catching hold." He says the people who are greedy, grabbing for money, are not going to enter the kingdom of God. A man who attended a church I pastored told me, "I guarantee you, if there's two dollars blowing down the street, I'll get one of them and I'll fight like the devil to get the other!" That's greed! It was a lifestyle.
Third, Paul said, "nor drunkards." It's pretty clear what a drunkard is. You don't even have to explain. He says, "nor drunkards." God doesn't give any pretty words to it, He says a person who boozes it up shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
"Nor slanderers." That's people who rape with the tongue -- gossips.
"Nor swindlers." That's con men, extortioners, embezzlers, switch-and-bait kind of people, the tell-you-one-thing-and-do-something-else kind of people with products. These kinds of people will not inherit the kingdom of God.
It's a very definitive statement. Is it exhaustive? I don't think so. It's just to give us an idea that people who practice these and other lifestyles that contradict His Word will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
However, notice in 1 Corinthians 6:11, Paul speaks of a dynamic change. Something has happened to these people! This is one of the greatest verses of Scripture in all the Bible! "And that is what some of you were." Past tense!
Guess who was in church that Sunday in Corinth: former drunkards, former thieves, former greedy people, former slanderers, former swindlers, former homosexuals, former effeminates, former adulterers, former sexually immoral fornicators, former idolaters -- they were all in the church at Corinth. Paul's looking at this congregation and saying, "That's what some of you -- not are -- some of you were." Something had happened! That church was full of ex's -- ex-adulterers, ex-homosexuals, ex-thieves, ex-drunkards. What had happened to these people, this church full of ex's? Christ Jesus had transformed and changed their lives. That's why they were ex's. And for every person there who had been saved, from whatever lifestyle, however publicly perceived, it took the same grace, the same blood of Jesus to save, because all are sinners.
I think Paul put that in there just to remind people that it doesn't make any difference how bad one may be, Jesus Christ can change any life. That's called being born again.
Don Moomaw, who used to be the pastor of former President Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California, was asked one time, "Is Governor Reagan a born-again Christian?" His answer was very simple: "Is there any other kind?" There's just one kind of Christian -- born again!
We live in a day when there are many definitions on what a Christian is. People have such a loosey-goosey interpretation of Christianity -- as long as you're not a Muslim or a Moonie or a mango, it's all right -- you're a Christian. But not according to Scripture. Scripture says a believer is a person whom Jesus Christ has changed.
So, something happened to these people. Guess who was in church Sunday? What happened to them? They were changed, and now Paul describes in the latter part of that verse the position of these people and the position we're in. Notice what he says, three things, first: "you were washed." That means the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin. That means we were all stained and polluted with sin. It's just like when we take a bath and remove the dirt. I talked to an archeology professor who was returning from an archeology dig and was so dirty it took him three tubs of water to get the dirt off! All of us have a spiritual dirt problem. We're all dirty, and so we had to be washed. What washes us is the blood of Jesus -- it cleanses us and brings us new life.
Then he says, "you were sanctified." Sanctified means a new behavior. These Corinthian Christians had ceased practicing the above-mentioned sins. They had a new lifestyle. Sanctification is the process of attitudes and actions being progressively changed to conform us to the image of Christ. There's a new behavior because of what? Paul says, in the third place, "you were justified." That's our new standing before Christ. That's a legal term. That means, because we've been saved, in God's sight we're okay.
I saw a funny thing happen recently. I was at one of the Orlando Magic games. I guess a guy had purchased a ticket and sat in the upper bowl. As he looked down he saw a vacant seat and thought he'd come down at half-time and occupy that seat closer to the action. In a matter of seconds, the usher was there and escorted him back out. You know which seat he picked out? The owner of the Orlando Magic, Mr. DeVos! Whoa man! You don't belong here! You're not justified in being here. You're legally out of order. You can't sit here. This seat legally belongs to somebody else.
It's the same thing spiritually. If we try to get to God or come to Christ in any other way except through the blood of Christ, we cannot sit down in heavenly places.
Some had practiced ungodly lifestyles, but they were washed, they were sanctified, and they were justified. Washed, removed the penalty of the sin. Sanctified, removed the power of sin. Justified, removed eternally the presence of sin.
How does that happen? In the latter part of the verse Paul designates the agent who did it all -- "in the name of the Lord ..." (he uses all three titles) "... the Lord," which means His positions. "Jesus," means Savior, "Christ" means Messiah or The Anointed One, "and by the Spirit of our God ..." The Spirit of God is the life-changing agent that changes us and transforms our lifestyles, our tastes, our whole being -- inwardly and outwardly -- when we receive Jesus.
The question comes, can Christians commit these sins and still be a Christian? A Christian can, but he won't stay there long. He might, but he'll be convicted. He'll be burdened. There will be no peace in his mind, in his heart, in his life. She can't be comfortable as an adulteress. He won't be comfortable being greedy. There will be no peace from God because God's Spirit is indwelling that person and that Spirit is being sullied by sinful living.
One old preacher put it this way and I think it's an apt description. He said, "If you take a wild hog and put it in a pen, he'll squeal and squeal and squeal and root and try to get out. If you open the gate that pig will take off and head for the woods and he'll never come back to that fence. But if you take a sheep and put it in a pen, it'll bleat and bleat and bleat and want out. You can let that sheep outside the gate and it'll scurry around a little bit but the next thing you know it'll come back to the gate and bleat and bleat and bleat and beg to get back in -- because it knows the security of the fold and the shepherd's voice."
People who have never been genuinely converted, they'll be like that wild hog -- they're gone. They'll probably stay gone because they've never been transformed by Jesus Christ. A believer won't do that unless he or she begins to fall away from the Lord. And how can that happen to you? By losing your affection for Him, not spending time praying, not spending time in the Word, not worshipping, not saying "no" to the wrong things, not saying "yes" to the right things -- you can get a cold heart and it begins to look pretty good back out there where you used to live. You might think, I'll dabble with that snake just a little bit. But you get out there and POW! It bites! Then you'll want to come back home and get in the fold and be warm again, because sheep, even though they wander, know who the Shepherd is.
There are four or five truths I think we can draw from this powerful passage.
First, we cannot ignore the moral dimensions of the Christian experience.
When we get saved, the lifestyle changes. The expectancy level changes. There are some things we just say "no" to; there are some things we just say "yes" to -- when Christ comes into our lives. We can no longer continue to practice being a slanderer, if that's what we did before we were saved. Raping people with our tongues and speaking ill of people -- we can't do that!
Has there been any difference in your moral commitments since you met Jesus? One of the most frightening things, and recent statistics have shown it, is that in the church -- evangelical churches -- young people are getting pregnant without marriage just as much as people out in the secular world. What is this saying? Perhaps that the principles of godly living haven't been understood, or their experiences were not genuine. We can't escape the moral dimensions of the Christian experience. Jesus makes the difference. He says, some of these things "you were" -- past tense -- but are no longer.
Second, we can't explain the power that transforms a person.
How do you explain a person's life being changed? Well, you can take them to HRS and IRS and CBS and everybody else in the world and try to get a fix for them, but they can't help them. How do you explain a homosexual who, though he may be tempted to continue practicing, says, "No! Jesus has changed my taste." How do you explain it? You can't explain the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, but that same Person and power that changed those people in Corinth, Jesus Christ, is alive to change people today. And if you find yourself in any of these categories, I want you to know that Jesus can transform you by His power.
Third, you can't neglect the personal and corporate responsibility we have to forgive and accept those who have confessed their sins and have come to Christ.
We cannot condemn the people who are practicing these kinds of lifestyles. Condemn the sin, yes, but love these people! We have no excuse not to pray for them, not to love them, not to care for them, not to seek to bring them from the past into Christ's glorious and wonderful present. Most of us are around people who need the transforming power of Christ to change their lives. The tendency is to say, "Their lifestyle is so bad and I feel so uncomfortable around them. Lord, just get me away." But those people are hurting and we are to stand at the Door of Life and invite them in.
I was at the airport with several businessmen. Two of them sat beside me; another one was on the telephone. They were cursing God -- every other word they uttered took Jesus' name in vain. They were drinking; they were angry; they were hurting. You know what I felt? I didn't feel any better; I hurt for them. We can't neglect them. And when people come to know Jesus, whatever their backgrounds have been -- if you know a person who has been divorced five times, or slept with ten women, or has been a homosexual for fifty years -- and they come to Jesus, we must accept them in Jesus' name. If He has forgiven them, we're not to judge. We're to say: "Such you were, but Christ has transformed you. Welcome to the family of forgiven ones, because we've all been forgiven." That's what it is, isn't it? A family of forgiven ones. That's who we are and we are to give that forgiveness.
Somebody said, forgiveness is a flower that you step on and out of its crushed life comes a fragrance. The fragrance of forgiveness is what so many people need to have today.
Fourth, we can't close the doors of the church.
The doors weren't closed at Corinth, a New Testament church. So the Lord's church says, come. Those who have family, friends, and colleagues who are homosexuals, adulterers, slanderers, idolaters -- bring them. Bring them. Bring them! We'll not condone their lifestyles, nor condemn them as people, but we will commend them to Jesus Christ. We can't close the doors of the church!
The movie "The Mission" tells a story that happened in the eighteenth century. A brother who was a slave trader became jealous of his younger brother over a woman and killed him. Later on this man had a change of heart and became a Jesuit priest. As penance, he takes all the armor he wore on his slave-trading expeditions in South America and returns there. He ties his helmet, his breastplate of steel, all his swords -- everything he wore into battle -- around his neck and he drags all this clanging armor through the jungle. You can hear him coming for miles. Here's this man who is trying to get absolution, trying to know that God has forgiven him for murdering his younger brother and for coming into these villages and taking off the little children and killing off the men and taking their wives into slavery.
He returns to a certain village and tribe. They hear him coming with all his clanging armor. He's nearly skin and bones. The penance has not lifted the guilt he's carried. One of the tribesmen takes a sword and rushes towards him; but when he gets to the penitent, the tribesman swings that sword -- whoosh -- and cuts the rope around his neck, and all the armor goes clanging down a mountainside. With disbelief, then tears of joy, the troubled man realizes he's forgiven; no longer must he carry the weight of yesterday around his tired body and soul.
People, don't carry that burden around anymore. The Sword of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, has the power to take over any life to transform it forever. He takes that Sword of His Spirit and cuts away sin's power.
You'll never guess who's in church on Sunday! Sinners like Jim Henry and like you, and you, and you, and you -- all forgiven when we accepted Christ and what He did for us on the cross -- and the talk shows up in the walk -- "and such were some of you."
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