My Dear Friends,
Six times in 1 Cor. 6 Paul writes, “Do you not know ...?” He is reminding God’s people of basic, very basic, Christian truths that they are in danger of forgetting. One of these “Do you not knows” states, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived...” The catalogue of sins that follow makes solemn reading: “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Wonderfully, however, Paul is able to continue, “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 and by the Spirit of our God.”
What is deeply sobering here is that Paul can write to a church he founded, under God, and that he had spent at least a year and a half in, and still say to them, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” I read recently words that spoke with some power to me: “A minister’s people are never as far along the way as he thinks they are; and he himself is never as far along the way as he thinks he is.” It is only too easy to assume that people who sit under the evangelical, Reformed ministry of God’s word, are being decisively shaped and styled by its truth. It may be - but it may not be, at least to the extent we imagine.
You would think that what Paul writes in 1 Cor.6:9-10 would be common, foundational knowledge for all Christians. How could it be otherwise? Indeed! But the fact is that Paul found it necessary to raise this “common, foundational truth” with his Corinthian brothers and sisters. The atmosphere of the age exerted a powerful, perhaps even beguiling, influence. The permissive society that was Corinth had a way of dulling sensibilities to the sinfulness of sin. When “everybody is doing it”, after a little time we can become, if not anaesthetised to sinful behaviour, less offended by it, less troubled by it, less sensitive to its God-hating, God-denying character.
Paul’s list of sins in 1 Cor.6:9-11 focused on the two great false gods of Corinth and the twenty first century - sex and money. Unless you consider yourself “above” being influenced by such sins (and if you did you would be deeply self-deceived, another of Paul’s apostolic concerns), you will know how vital it is for every Christian believer, no matter how mature and well read, to “watch and pray.” We cannot for one moment take for granted that we are immune from certain sins, even some of the grosser sins in Paul’s catalogue! Here is an apostolically founded church. For over eighteen months they have listened to a God-inspired apostle of Christ teach them the word and ways of God. What a wonderfully privileged church this was. And yet, Paul senses the need to speak to them boldly and bluntly about the most awful of sins. The truth is (although I am perhaps only speaking for myself, though I doubt it), those of us who are pastors and preachers are not speaking as basically, as elementally, as pointedly to God’s people as we should be.
Our present age pervades an atmosphere of sensual, even hedonistic, indulgence. There is little doubt that evangelicalism is not what it once was. The cutting edge of personal purity and righteous separation from an unholy world is little more than a distant memory. Not for one moment am I advocating “pietism”, a retreat from the world into pious ghettos. No, “the earth is the Lord’s.” But our Saviour’s prayer in John 17 should surely be to the fore in our own praying: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one... Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Are we helping our children, our young folk in the church, to live distinctively? The wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God, no matter what ecclesiastical bodies seek to redefine sin and make it less than it really is.
Would Paul see the need to say to Cambridge Presbyterian Church, “Do you not know...?” I am sure of it. None of us are as far along as we think we are. The insidious atmosphere of the age can dull and even all but deaden our spiritual sensibilities. Let us pray that the Lord would impress his truth with renewed power on our hearts and minds. Let us pray for one another that we will not be self-deceived and compromised by the prevailing wickedness. It is not merely a matter of evangelical distinctiveness. Eternal destinies are at stake.
Yours in the keeping of our Holy Triune God