What You Were Is Not Who You Are

sad isolated young woman looking away through fence with hope

In a continuation of Paul’s thoughts in 1 Corinthians on purging the evil person, he reiterates that people who are practicing wickedness will not inherit the kingdom of God. In chapter 6 he repeats the list he gave in chapter 5, while adding to it. Paul is not backing it down. He is ramping it up. The point is that unrighteousness is not to be tolerated in the church because it destroys lives and maligns the body of Christ. Paul said earlier to “cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” (1 Cor. 5:7 ESV).

What he’s referring to are the people within the church who create division and attempt to cause others to fall away from God. You cannot have both poison and nourishment in the same body. When Paul wrote the first letter to the church at Corinth, he was addressing some very serious sin issues. Christians were extremely divided, were sexually immoral, were having drunken parties during the Lord’s Supper, and were fighting horribly over spiritual gifts. The church was in complete shambles, and Paul was issuing a stern warning that they better clean up their act.

What’s noteworthy is that Paul is less focused on working on current issues and puts more emphasis on who they were called to be. In the church today, we tend to get caught up in the past, bringing up all the issues we have with people who are causing problems. Paul has no interest in placating the Christians at Corinth. What they were is not who they are.

Paul says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). He is reminding them that, yes, they really messed up. But that they need to repent and focus on who they are as bearers of Christ’s holy name. In other words, he tells them it’s time to get over themselves and move forward in unity.

Jesus’ Message Was to Repent

Man praying

Jesus could have preached any message he wanted. As the son of God, he came with authority to preach the word with all power. We often pay attention to what Jesus did in his ministry, but we also need to pay attention to what he said. The word of God is a double edged sword. It is powerful and effective.

So what did Jesus preach? We tend to focus on the blessings that Jesus spoke about. But what was the actual content of his sermons? Matthew records the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and it started with the arrest of John the Baptist. Just prior to this, Jesus was baptized then led into the wilderness to be tempted. On the heels of that, John was arrested.

Then Matthew records, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Jesus preached repentance wherever he went. Repentance is the central theme of the New Testament. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost was a message of repentance. It’s also important to note that Jesus’ message was combined with actions. He had mercy on the oppressed, poor, and heavy burdened. Jesus did not shrink back from condemning people, but neither did he hesitate to help those in need.

While we Christians need to help those in need, we also shouldn’t shrink back from a message of repentance. Repentance is essential for salvation. We should be willing to speak hard truths and call people to repentance while we model it ourselves.

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Responsibility for Sins

apple in front of woman

We all heard the phrase, “The devil made me do it.” As ridiculous as it sounds, people throughout history have pinned the blame for their sins on other people. “He or she made me do it” sounds about as silly as “the devil made me do it.” Ezekiel wrote at length about people bearing responsibility for their own sins. God said, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4 ESV).

Throughout the Bible, fathers had a responsibility to teach their children in the Lord. Parents were expected to instruct children, and teach them God’s law. But through Ezekiel, God makes it clear that the father is responsible for his own sins, and the children are responsible for theirs. Ezekiel gives an example of a son who sees the sins of his father and does not do likewise. The son walks in righteousness while the father continues to sin. Ezekiel says, “As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity” (Ezekiel 18:18).

Guilt by association does not hold up with God. Neither does unjust accusation. God always prefers repentance. The person who sins is not doomed if he repents: “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, she shall surely live; he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:21). The reverse of that is true too: “But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed for them he shall die” (vs. 24).

It’s important for us to teach our children to be responsible for their own actions. They cannot shift blame. At the same time, we need to demonstrate to them that we are responsible for our own sins too. And that God loves repentance! His grace and salvation are wonderful!

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What Should We Do?

revival

Our theme this year is Revival. The very core of the gospel is revival. Jesus came to save that which is lost. The central theme of the gospel is repentance–literally turning around. Jesus reached into the lives of people whose worlds had crumbled around them. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He freed the oppressed. He cared for the orphan and the widow.

When John the Baptist began preaching, he immediately called for repentance. He called out to the crowd, “You brood of vipers!” John told them to bear fruits in keeping with repentance and said that the axe was already laid to the root of the trees, meaning the people who produced bad fruit would be cut off from salvation.

Luke’s account takes a turn from the other accounts. There is an interruption and the crowds ask, “What shall we do?” (Luke 3:10 ESV). Jesus’ response in in step with Isaiah 61, which is what Jesus quoted when he stood up and said, “Today these scriptures are fulfilled in your presence.” John answers, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). The tax collectors who came to be baptized asked the same question. John answered, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do” (vs. 13). Then the soldiers asked the same question. John answered, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (vs. 14).

Revival is rooted in repentance. God commands us to produce fruits that care for others. We need to treat people righteously, with fairness and by meeting their needs. Revival builds up that which has been broken or torn down. John’s message began quite the buzz. People were wondering if John was the Christ. When we bless people, God blesses.

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The Beauty of Blessing

blessing

When we hear the word “blessing,” we often think of rewards. Think about it. What is the context of “blessing” that is used over and over again? Typically we talk about rewards, and most often we use it in the context of our rewards. What we don’t hear very often is blessings being placed in the context of righteousness and repentance.

In Isaiah, Israel will bless other people by displaying righteousness and calling people to repentance: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV).

Israel is kept by God, who holds their hand. They do not walk this path alone. God does not abandon His people or leave them stranded on some vacant island. Rather, God walks with His people, hand-in-hand, to instruct them in how to live as children of light. He gives them as a covenant for the people, to open the eyes of the blind and to call people out of the darkness of the prison of sin.

Through God, this is how we bless people still today. We free the oppressed. We give to the needy. We sit with the broken. We teach them to do right by our righteousness. We call them to repentance in the name of Christ. Transformed lives are the beauty of blessing!

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