Captive to Our Past?- 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

In his letters to the Corinthian church, we find Paul chastising the church over many different issues, for the church was filled with strife, divisions, dissension, immorality, etc. This was a church which was acting very much like the world, and Paul is attempting to correct this behavior. He begins 1Corinthians 6 by pointing to lawsuits among believers, turning to the world to resolve disputes among believers. This passage caps off a series of similar ones, with Paul chastening the church for acting like the world. He then, in verses 9-11, tells the church (and us) why they were acting this way and what to do about it. He begins in verse 9, by reminding them of something they already know and apparently have forgotten, that “wickedness” (behaving like the world) has consequences, that believers acting like those over whom God is not king does much damage to God’s kingdom. They have somehow been deceived into believing that acting like the world has no consequences, and Paul here is trying to awaken them to this deception in order to stop them from acting like the world. He then goes into a list of the things which were happening in the church in Corinth, and every behavior on the list is described with a noun rather than a verb, Paul is talking here not about isolated incidents but about lifestyles. So why would Paul go through this list? Because this list describes what the church was, and they are not this anymore (verse 11), because they have been (all aorist passives here, something that happened in the past and was done to them by someone else) washed, sanctified and justified. “Washed” here is apoluo, literally to “cleanse from”, they have been cleansed from what they used to be. Sanctified is hagiazo, literally to “set apart”, they have been set apart as belonging to God, they are “God’s possessions” and their behavior should reflect this. Justified here is dikaioo, literally to “conform to a standard”, to be declared righteous, declared acceptable by God once and for all. These terms describe what the church now “is”, that we are saints and should be behaving like the saints we are and not like the idolaters, adulterers, etc. that we used to be. So how did this happen in Corinth? Just the same way it happens now. Remember Paul’s admonition here, his “command”, is that they not continue in being “deceived”. An enemy was deceiving them, and he was doing so by reminding them of what they “were”, by keeping them focused on the past (what they used to be) and by this keeping them captive to it. They were acting like what they were because someone had deceived them into thinking they were still those things, kept them looking back to what they used to be and enslaving them to ways of behaving which Jesus Christ had died to set them free from. We act out what we believe ourselves to be, and the enemy had deceived them into believing they were still those things, and their behavior followed naturally. What Paul does, then, is tell them what they are, that they are not those things anymore. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, wants to let us know what we are now, and that we are not what we used to be so we won’t live like what we used to be anymore. The church had been deceived into looking to the past, into what they used to be, and was held captive by it, acting like what they used to be. Paul here is trying to set them free, and his method is to tell them the truth, to let them know what they are now in order to free them from their captivity to the past. We live out what we see ourselves to be, and the enemy wants to keep all believers trapped in the bondage of seeing ourselves as idolaters, adulterers, etc., knowing that we will live out what we see ourselves as. God, through Paul, wants us to see ourselves as we really are (justified saints), also knowing that we will live out what we see ourselves to be. The devil will continually remind us of our past mistakes and failures in order to keep us in bondage and keep us living out our past “issues”. The Holy Spirit will continually remind us of who we are now in order to set us free from our pasts. The choice is continually presented to each believer: which one will we listen to, what we will set our minds on? We can focus on what we were and remain enslaved by the past, or we can focus on what we are and move into the future which God has for us, free to be all we were created to be and do all we are created to do.

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