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TEXT: I Corinthians 6:9-11
SUBJECT: Before and After #1: Such Were Some of You
If you have ever turned on the television or opened a magazine, you've seen pictures titled, Before and After. On the left side, there's a fat man with a hopeless look on his face. On the right side, the same man is smiling and looks like he's ready to run a marathon. How did the fat man become so fit? With Jenny Craig, of course, or Bowflex, or Weight Watchers, or Billy Banks.
What the advertisements are selling is hope-hope for people who have tried every diet in the book and failed, who belong to a gym but never go. Do the products work? Sometimes they do, but more often than not, they don't. That's why there are so many of them. If any one of them worked every time, all the others would be out of business.
We need hope-and not just to lose weight. We need hope to live the Christian life, and this is what all the books and seminars are promising. But, like the Jenny Craig and Billy Banks, most of them don't come through for us. Christian books fail for the same reason diet books do: because they're based on Law and not Gospel. However much Dr. Atkins and Jillian Michaels differ from each other, their basic message is the same-
Do this and live.
Are they right? Of course they are! If you exercise and eat like the Ab-Blaster models, you're going to look like them (especially if you start early enough in life and have the lucky chromosomes they were born with!).
If you don't, you won't.
Christians don't need more law (however winsomely it is presented), we need the Gospel, and until we get it into our minds and hearts, and bones-and church-we're going to be like the frantic fat people, going from diet to diet, filling our garages with unused exercise equipment, and gaining weight every year.
Either the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, or nothing is. I cannot repeat it enough: we need the Gospel, we need it as much as unbelievers do; we live on the Gospel, or we wither up and die.
The word, Gospel, means 'good news'-and that's what it is. It's not a set of rules telling us what to do and promising happiness if we keep them. We already had that set of rules-and they didn't work!
The Gentile version didn't work, and neither did the Jewish. In Romans 1-2, Paul says the Gentiles who never heard of Moses or the Ten Commandments have God's Law written in their hearts, but instead of obeying it, they suppressed it and fell into gross sin. The Jews had more than the Gentiles. God revealed Himself to them at Mount Sinai and other places, but this deeper knowledge of the Lord and His will for their lives was wasted on them. Their lives were as heathen as their neighbors'.
The Gospel is the announcement of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is 'news'-not advice, and the news, unlike the plans and programs men offer to make us better people, makes us better people.
About 80 years ago, J. Gresham Machen wrote a book called, Christianity and Liberalism. He was a scholar and minister in the Presbyterian Church, and was appalled at what he heard from the pulpit most Sundays. The pastors were mostly good men who wanted to help their people live godly lives. They thought the best way to do it was to exhort the people to do better, to pray more, to visit shut ins, and so on.
Machen agreed with high aims-of course we ought to pray more and care for the needy. What he couldn't agree with is this becoming the Gospel instead of flowing out of the Gospel. God wants us to be holy, to fear Him and to serve our neighbors in love, but how does He make us holy?
Not by telling us to be holy, but by preaching the Gospel! Here's the quote from Machen-
From the beginning, Christianity was a way of life, a life of honesty, a life of purity, a life of unselfishness. But how was the life produced? It might conceivably have been produced by exhortation. This method had often been tried in the ancient world. There were many wandering preachers who told men how to live, but such exhortation proved to be powerless. Christianity adopted an entirely different method. It transformed the lives of men, not by appealing to the human will, but by telling a story; not by exhortation, but by the narration of an event. Could anything be more impractical? It seemed foolish to the ancient world, and it seems foolish to liberal preachers today. But the strange thing is that it works.
Decent lives can sometimes be lived without the Gospel. So long as you dumb-down the word, 'decent' and limit it to what you do in public. But godliness takes more than law, more than breeding, more than habits, more than good manners. It takes the Gospel.
This is what turned the world upside down once. And will again. Let us, therefore, get clear on what the Gospel is and stay clear! Read your Bible, listen to the sermon, eat the Lord's Supper, attend the baptisms-not to win points with God-but to receive what He has done for you. And to live in His grace.
This brings us to I Corinthians 6:9-11 in what I hope will be a short series called Before and After.
If you've read I Corinthians, you know the man who wrote it was none too happy. Paul had founded the church some time before with high hopes for its growth in grace. His hopes were unmet. As soon as he left town, the church fell back into its old ways, and became rife with quarrelling, immorality, false teaching, and a sinful tolerance.
The Apostle calls them on these things, and more, telling them to stop doing some things and start doing others. Had he left it here, he would have been guilty of the very thing my sermon is against.
He didn't leave it there, with a list of rules to live by. Paul's counsel was not hung in the air; it was hung on the Gospel!
THE DARK BACKGROUND
The Gospel works, in part, because it has a realistic view of what's wrong with us. Suppose a man goes to a doctor with a cough. In a hurry, the doctor takes doesn't take out the stethoscope, doesn't ask the man how long he's had it, doesn't inquire about his habits, and doesn't order an X-ray. Here's a cough drop-next! A year later, the man dies from his cough because it wasn't a dry throat that caused it, it was lung cancer!
The human race is not blind. We all know there's something wrong with the world-things are not the way they're supposed to be. The thing is, we don't know what the problem is, and because we don't, we don't know how to treat it.
If the problem is medical, pass out pills; if it's political, elect better candidates; if it's ecological, pick up the trash. But what if-instead of being the roots of the problem-these are only the fruits? You don't cure lung cancer with a cough drop, and you don't cure what's wrong with man with a better president, program, or pill!
The problem with man is, he is alienated from God. This is true of really bad people, like Hitler, and also of good people, like you and me-or, you, at least. Elsewhere, Paul says-
The whole world is guilty before God
And, in another place, he explains this guilt is not like a spiritual cold or flu, but something far worse-
Dead in trespasses and sin.
In the Bible, the word, death, means 'separated', the spirit separated from the body, the man separated from the world, and in a religious sense, the sinner separated from God.
SIN AND SINS
Separation from God cannot be seen with the naked eye, but it can be seen in the way we live. Separation is the tree, sin is the fruit.
Every place and age has its own set of sins. Lady Gaga is inconceivable in Victorian England. But if they wouldn't spend their Sundays looking at her, do you know how some of them spent the day between morning and evening prayer? By visiting Bedlam (what we would call a mental hospital) and laughing at the patients.
Paul doesn't name every sin in vv.9-10, but the ones that were most common in the city of Corinth-and its church!
Some are sexual-
Fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites.
People who practice sex before marriage are fornicators, either the promiscuous kind of going from partner to partner, or the less adventurous kind who live with boyfriend or girlfriend without benefit of marriage.
Adulterers are married men or women who cheat on their spouses.
Homosexuals speaks for itself, indicating that this is not okay with God, no matter how you're wired or how faithful you are to your lover.
Sodomites is a bit fuzzier, but in the pagan world of the time, I suspect it was a male temple prostitute.
First Century Corinth was a lot like America in the Twenty-First Century: sunk in sexual chaos.
But there were other problems too, especially the love of money and what it buys-
Thieves, covetousness, extortioners.
Some so loved material possessions they'd steal and cheat to have them. Others didn't have the stomach for crime, so they contented themselves with pining for them, wanting things too much or too often or resenting people who have them. In a word, they were not content with what they had; they lived beyond their means, and if they had had credit cards, they would have maxxed them all out trying to do the very thing Solomon says you can't do-
He who desires silver, shall not with silver, be satisfied.
If some controlled their private parts and money, what they didn't rule so well was their tongues-
They tore people down with their words, they slandered them, or maybe they told the truth, but without needing to. They muttered against Caesar as many today do about the President; they gossiped; they ridiculed, some even spoke against imperfect, but faithful pastors.
At the bottom of the all is what you'd expect-
Whether it was money or sex or power or beauty or family or country or cause or whatever, there was someone or something they cared more about than God. As Paul said in Romans 1-
They worshiped and served the creature,
More than the Creator, who is blessed forever.
These particular sins are the result of being fallen away from God. This means: there's no way out of them except by being reconciled to God.
Recovery groups have done a lot of good, and I thank the Lord for them. Who knows? Maybe I would have been killed on the way to church today if my neighbor hadn't stopped drinking, and he wouldn't have quit without the help of AA.
But human measures against sin are always half-measures. We need more than willpower or the support of a loving family or wise doctors.
We need to be washed, we need to be sanctified, we need to be justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
What we need, the Lord provides. The Corinthians didn't pull themselves up by their boot straps-Jesus pulled them up! He wasn't their crutch, He was their elevator-and not only theirs, but ours too.
He is the Savior of the world.
I don't bring up grammatical things very often, but this one is worth knowing. The verbs, washed, sanctified, and justified are in the passive voice, meaning we don't do them, but they're done to us.
By grace alone. Through faith alone. In Christ alone.
CHALLENGE TO HOPE
God did no more for the Corinthians than He does for every Christian. He washes us, sanctifies us, justifies us. And because of all He's done for us, we are free from the bondage of sin and-by His daily grace-we can live the holy lives He wants us to live.
Our friends can know the same power we do. No matter what they're up to or how long they've been doing it. They, too, can be washed, sanctified, and justified. And they will be. Through the Gospel, you're sent from here with.
Go in the peace and power of God. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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