Our Mailbag: 1 Corinthians Chapter 6:9-11

Our Mailbag: 1 Corinthians Chapter 6:9-11

mailbag_3John,

I have supported “Love in Action” ministries over the years because I feel it was a source of help to those with same sex sins. I know you left there and started your own ministry, but I must say I am shocked by your reply to the question about whether someone can be gay and a Christian. (to see article click here) As a married man who experiences same sex temptation and has for many years, I have to disagree with your approach.


I believe that we as followers of Jesus Christ are instructed by the scriptures to repent of our sinful ways, not to accept them and hope we can grow out of them. How do you interpret Galatians 5:19-21? These verses are very clear to all sinfulness in our lives (which include homosexual fornication which is sex outside of marriage) and that we are to not practice these sinful ways any longer. How do you interpret 1 Corinth 6:9-11?


We know there are daily battles with the flesh and we are instructed  to flee temptations and repent of our sinful ways.  Homosexual sin  is sinful and we need to flee from it and repent, turn away from our sinfulness. I would like your response if you would.


Thank you,


Shocked


Dear Shocked,


You are referring to the article I wrote entitled “Can my friend be gay and a Christian”.


Thanks so much for responding to my recent “Mailbag” answer. I’m not sure what drew you to find it but thank you for reading it.


I am not sure exactly what aspects of the article brought you to be shocked by my response. I am thinking through how to respond to your comments and questions so please allow me some time to compile an answer.


I have done a lot of work to learn more about 1 Cor. 6:9-11 since it is so commonly brought up in connection to the issue of homosexuality. Gal. 5:19 is also similar so I will attempt to respond to those two passages. It is really hard to do that quickly or in a few words.


When I said we must accept homosexuality as “it is what it is” I think we need to quit trying to change people and to allow God to do the work He wants to do. The crux of what I am discovering is more of what I am learning about how to respond to people who experience homosexuality with God’s grace and His redemption. I have seen how I have been like he Pharisees in presenting a “law” type of message regarding homosexuality. I also recognize that I have laid heavy expectations on people that have on some occasions pressed them into some places that maybe God may not have been leading them.



The passages you wanted my thoughts on were:


1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 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.


and


Galatians 5:19-21

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.


First of all, I can certainly appreciate your life experience since I am also a married man who has has experienced homosexuality for my entire adult life. While I have experienced it at varying levels, the way God has dealt with me has been a progressive process since I first discovered my own faith walk 35 years ago.


I believe sanctification (the life changes He brings on as a result of the gospel) is an ongoing process in all of our lives. None of us can say we are without sin. Many of us can say we have grown away from many sins as a result of God’s intervention in our lives. We are hopefully better today as a result of His work. But thankfully, I understand that Christ’s redemption has covered all of my sinfulness from birth and on into the future.


I do not believe in “completed work today” theology with regards to my temporal life here on earth. I am, with His help, improving each day. However, I will not be completely changed until I see Him face to face. Therefore, I will struggle with various sins off and on throughout the duration of my life. One of those sins may be rebelling against some things that I know are right but just don’t want to face them now! But I also understand Christ has forgiven rebellion too.


Having said all of that, I am NOT, hear me now, NOT saying that sin is ok, nor “sin – is what it is”. Sin behavior is harmful, negative, divisive, challenging, and God clearly warns us to heed His words and attempt to stay from it, with His help and our submission. But we must be very clear about what God does in light of the fact that we do sin.


Galatians 5:13

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.


I am not saying to give hearty approval to something.


My objective is not to forget the scriptural truths about God’s desires for our life and relationships. And by the way, the jury remains unclear on some of the things we think are set in stone.  I’m rather going through how to respond to people here on earth, which includes myself, who are trying to wrestle through our earthly lives.


I believe what Paul is saying is this:


To understand this passage we MUST first understand that Paul’s letter is addressed to the church in Corinth. This is VERY important! He is writing to Christian believers.


Secondly, in chapter 6, verse 9 he changes to address another audience:


“But to the wicked,(or the the unrighteous)” I say this.”


This means that through the next paragraph he is speaking about those who DO NOT know Jesus. This is VITAL to understanding the next few verses.  In the context of the Greek language He has given a list of  outward signs so as to say, those who do not know Jesus, who act in habitual patterns like this. It then says they will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Something else we must consider.  The list of behaviors is not intended to be an “inclusive” or “exclusive” list.  It is more of a list of examples of those around them who do not know Christ that exemplify the unrighteous people Paul is referring to.  As humans, we want things in nice neat packages.  If this list were an exclusive list than maybe I am off the hook if I didn’t do some of the things listed.  I can also stare down at those that are on the list because their behavior is in the list. Paul didn’t intend it this way.


Another point is that theologians all over this issue tend to argue the issue of homosexuality with attempt to define the Greek words, “arsenokoitai” and “malakos”. This is problematic for many reasons. First, there simply does not seem to be a consensus on what either of those words really means nor how the many definitions seem to apply to our lives today. I am sure in Paul’s day he had something very specific in mind that everyone understood. But, 2000 years later, we do not clearly understand it.  To attempt to define something that is not clearly understood and then apply our own interpretation to it can cause all kind of havoc.  And it has. It seems that how these words are translated often has more to do with preconceptions and convictions of the translators than the sense of the original Greek language.


I think the main problem is that regardless of how they are defined,  Paul’s list in this passage is not the point of the passage.  Therefore we can argue about the list but never get to the point.  We can also argue about what it means to gossip, how far is too far in adultery?  We can try to define what it means to be a slanderer and when our back door discussions will cross the line.  Our discussion about the real meaning of the list is all tied to “are we good enough” or “have we crossed the line”? We often want to know if we have gone so far as to lose our precious salvation. Which are all a distraction from the amazing message Paul has to give us.


In its original context and language it would be more understood like this:


“Believers in Corinth, there are those who don’t know Jesus around you and they act like this. They do things like lie, cheat, steal, and are sexually out on a limb.  They don’t seem to know life any differently. You know people like that and you do some of these things yourself.  Don’t hold on to an identity that hangs on your behaviors. If someone hasn’t imparted my gift of redemption to their lives, they will not enter my eternal kingdom. But for you, you know and understand my gospel.  I really want you to live honestly through your new identity  and restored image in Christ.”


Well, of course the “unrighteous” won’t go to heaven! He is using them as an example to make a point. But he goes on to return to his audience, the church. He says, “But, that is not who you are!” He affirms their relationship with Jesus, their salvation, and says to kindle their position in Christ as being washed, sanctified, by Jesus Christ. He is charging them to remember who they are.


We all know that Christians all over this planet still struggle with “habitual sin” patterns like those revealed in the list in verses 9 and 10. Knowing this, says to me, that he is not saying that  heaven or the kingdom of God is only available to those who are NOT on the list.  He is also not saying that those who wrestle with, or may even be habitually involved in the things he mentioned there, will not enter eternity with Him.


Paul is challenging their identity, not so much their actions. He is saying, “lose the sinful identity and recognize Who you belong to!” In doing so, you will nurture a relationship with the One who loves you so that your lives will continue down the path of sanctification. If we remain overly connected in the old identity we will likely continue to function out of the shame of the old identity.


The interesting Transition


He then says, “all things are permissible” but not “beneficial”. This is a profound truth. So profound that Paul repeats it twice. Think just a minute about the freedom He speaks of here. He is calling them to further maturity in their actions. As a more mature adult He is calling us to ask ourselves, “is this beneficial”? Christ still loves you, is still at work in your life and will complete the work He has begun. However, He is charging us to grow in making better decisions along the way.


In Christ, we are absolutely free.


Oh, boy this is where it gets sticky. Either God gave us a free will or He didn’t. I believe He did. I see this as one of the most amazing differences between God and humans.  He is able to allow us total freedom and yet still love us completely.  He will certainly allow consequences for our bad choices. It is through this that we grow into more maturity.  He does not control our lives.  So, we are absolutely free to do with our lives as we want to.  None of our choices will in any way remove God’s love for us.  This is one of the most difficult things for me to understand.  We are so used to conditional love from other humans it is hard for us to embrace a God that loves us differently.


But in our freedom, we also have the freedom to choose to serve Him? Will we follow Him sacrificially? If we do not get that fundamental truth, our assumptions may lead us to stray from Him – fearing his retribution based upon our failed attempts to act appropriately. Moralism seems to please our human senses.  We like to check off the boxes of what we do right and what they do wrong.


Paul comes back to the same message in his letter to the Galatians:


Galatians 5:13

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.


Our church communities are far too full of performance expectations and sin management. We are trapped in a legalism of expectations that keep us weak, immature, and fearful of a God that we believe may be a dictator. We may sense He is ready at any moment to remove His hand, close His heart, and maybe even shut us out – that is if we don’t act right.


I now realize that Christ does not hold a hammer over my head waiting to tromp on me if I make the wrong move. I have come to realize a fuller love from Him that is truly as the bible says, unconditional.


I’m starting to gain a better understanding of all of this.  If I make the mistake of going against His desires, overt or covert, He loves me, accepts me and offers me His hand. He will be there with me to work with me along the way. No matter how long it takes. He is the divine surgeon who will remain with me through the end of this life and usher me into the next with His abundant grace. (please see my article, “I Have Failed”)


My only option at this point is to love others with that same love. This doesn’t mean I will not approach someone with a challenge to do better. If I have built a relationship with them, laid a foundation of trust, I will know when it is appropriate to speak with them as a brother to help them see things through the eyes of Christ that may help them grow.


Paul goes on in his letter to urge believers to consider their sexuality and to recognize that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  He lines out for us the deeper motivation to walk in righteousness that is imparted by the gospel.  He is exhorting us to consider our lives and our choices.


Galatians 5:19-21

He starts by saying, “acts of the sinful nature” are… I do not have a sinful nature any longer! I am a new creature in Christ. I have a new heart, a new identity, a new motivation for life! Oh, this doesn’t mean I don’t have the flaws of humanity. I do wrong things, but these are not because I have a sinful nature, they are because of the humanity I live in today. God’s new nature is working in me day by day throughout my lifetime. As I read this passage, I see it as a repeated message from Paul. Know who you are!  Walk in your new identity! Recognize the differences that are in you as opposed to those who do not know Christ and walk them out! It is NOT a statement of conditions for salvation. And it is a call to maturity. But it is NOT a call to performance based religion.


Again, he is relating to what the unredeemed are like and if you take into account the entire chapter 5, it is saying what I am saying. We are free. Don’t take this freedom lightly, but we are free. It speaks to legalism as the enemy. Submitting to the law as though through it, you will be sanctified by doing the right things.  It reiterates the message of the gospel:


Galatians 5;14

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.



We Are Free in Christ!


John


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8 Responses to “Our Mailbag: 1 Corinthians Chapter 6:9-11”

  1. greg wallace says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful and very gracious response, John. I knew you were opening the proverbial can of worms with your first post, but let the chips fall where they will. You are doing an excellent job of parsing a very complex subject. Keep up the good work.

  2. Maggie Breece says:

    Hi John! I wanted to chime in here for a moment as this has been a particular issue in my Christian journey. Maybe it will help someone grasp the idea from a different angle.

    When I became a Christian I was involved in Wicca and had been for several years. I was also living a life that was very liberally oriented and humanistic. God led me to a church that was very liberal at first. He knew I couldn’t have dealt with anything more than that.

    However, as I began growing and changing through His power and love, I began to hunger for more and more of the Word and began realizing how shallow the message being delivered was. That hunger caused me to look for a new church to attend. When I found that church, God met that hunger (that He had developed in me) by feeding me deeply from His Word. I am still at that church 21 years later.

    The point is that God knows me so intimately that only He knows the scars from the past and the rate at which I can handle growth. He brings it in His timing, in His way. If I had been bound by certain “law”, I would surely have turned away before I would have grown to the degree I could move away from that church.

    Does this make sense?

    Sure wish I could see you again! It seems like it’s been forever. If you end up having more training sessions for leadership on ministering to women, I’d love to have the chance to join you. We seem to have less success in that area than any other…

    Good talking to you – have a blessed week!

    Maggie Breece (Calvary Assembly of God – Decatur, Alabama)

  3. John Smid says:

    Used with permission from a personal FaceBook message. The author wanted to remain anonymous so as to not face more intense responses from friends. This speaks to where their heart is still bruised but thankfully, in this story, Jesus is reaching into this person’s heart with His love.

    I found your response to “Shocked” interesting. It is responses like those from “shocked” that leave a very bad taste for Christians with me. I found more love and acceptance from the gay community than I ever did in the Christian community. Oh sure, as long as I was following the rules things were fine but step out of line and things aren’t so gracious or loving anymore.

    I found that living a legalistic, black and white, the church world left me paralyzed with fear and feeling unable to ever attain the standards put before me.

    When I made the decision to “just be gay” I experienced more freedom than I ever had in my life. Almost as if God was saying, “Finally, now we can start the work that needs to be done.” God brought people into my life that have walked with me for the last 3 years and never once pressured me into change. Their love and acceptance of me (even though I know they disagree with homosexual behavior) has slowly allowed me to step out of the dark and wounded corner I have been living in and into the light. To pull and thrust me into that light would have only left me running for cover. Unfortunately, people like that are few and far between in my experience.

    I hope if you truly are changing the way you have handled this issue in the past, that people will start to listen to you. Years of hurt and anger don’t go away over night but time can open avenues once closed off.

  4. Will says:

    John, For many years my beliefs and feelings regarding the “ex gay” movement have been very clear to anyone who knows me. My first exposure to the movement was via Greg Reid and his Eagle Ministry (I think that was the name), and shortly thereafter Kent Philpot and the original Love in Action.

    I have been good friends with all the people who were in his book The Third Sex. I quite honestly do not in any way support the “Ex Gay” movement, yet underlying all of that is the fact that those of us on both sides of this very controversial issue are sons and daughters of God; none of us having all the answers.

    While it seems clear that you and I are in disagreement over things regarding the ‘ex gay” movement and homosexuality itself, I was impressed with your answer to “Shocked”. Your words to him make me realize that dialogue is, in fact, possible, and that we are all on a journey that is the path of the just which is leading us to the fullness of day.

    God’s Peace to you,
    Will

  5. Molly Laster says:

    John,
    These answers are very interesting and helpful. How do I respond to my son when he says to me”I need to hear the words that you are proud of me as a gay man”. He is 23 years old. I have been praying for the last year that God would give us a love language to let him know how much we love him. We have come a long way in our understanding him,, but, not sure how to respond to that statement. We tell him every time we speak with him that we love him so much and he responds the same. We try to show this in actions as well. But, in conversations we have from time to time(he doesn’t come around our house much)he makes that statement. Any suggestions? Thanks

  6. Brad Grammer says:

    John,
    Great job in responding. I’m on the same page as you and appreciate that there are opportunities to write a way of thinking that I believe is more consistent with the Kingdom of God. Keep up the good work brother!

    Brad

  7. Tim Raper says:

    John, I really appreciate your desire for truth and the work you have put into revealing it. The entire article was very informative and gracefully written, with great compassion for souls. There were several lines that particularity ministered to me, not in edification, affirmation,or condoning,but in Godly love and Truth. These are they;

    1.If I make the mistake of going against His desires, overt or covert, He loves me, accepts me and offers me His hand. He will be there with me to work with me along the way. No matter how long it takes. He is the divine surgeon who will remain with me through the end of this life and usher me into the next with His abundant grace.

    2.“all things are permissible” but not “beneficial”.

    3.We are so used to conditional love from other humans it is hard for us to embrace a God that loves us differently.

    4.Our church communities are far too full of performance expectations and sin management. We are trapped in a legalism of expectations that keep us weak, immature, and fearful of a God that we believe may be a dictator.

    5.I have come to realize a fuller love from Him that is truly as the bible says, unconditional.

    Tim

  8. Mr. Peterkin says:

    John,

    After reading a few of your articles written and even Shocked’s response, comments, and conerns and seeing how you allowed the Lord to guide the words that came from you which had a consistent flow, I became very excited.

    I can attest that being in ministry can be very difficult at times due to not always being understood in your position as a clergyman in his/her respective place and still living in the world; yet, not being of the world.

    I was able to see the lovingkindess Jesus speaks about in the word being shown through your approach in response to Shocked. In maturity, comes wisdom which is quite different than just being smart. If we as a body of Christ cannot love people from all walks of life and accept them where they are, we have not fulfilled our own jobs on this earth to win those lost souls over to Christ. We were not given the charge to damn people to hell; yet, we were given a charge to spread the message of the good news to all nations producing more disciples through love and that cannot be done if we come down on people and push them away.

    So, I am very glad that you were able to give the message in such a loving way. I’m certain that a positive seed was sown.

    Blessings,

    Mr. Peterkin

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