What’s the relationship between following rules and believing in grace? Between moral discipline and Christian freedom?
We’ve been exploring Paul’s response to the Corinthian argument that freedom under the grace of God entails sexual liberty: you can do whatever you want with a clear conscience. Paul, unsurprisingly, takes issue with this, and as we saw in the last post, he explicitly tells them to flee sexual immorality (or, for you Monty Python fans, “Run away! Run away!”).
But that’s not all he says. With the prohibition comes a different kind of command, a more positive one. Here’s Eugene Peterson’s rendering:
There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. (1 Cor 6:18-20, The Message)
The typical translation is that each of us is a “temple” of the Holy Spirit. Paul has already used that image for the community as a whole, but here he also applies it to individual believers. I like Peterson’s paraphrase; it connects better with those of us who have no real familiarity with temple worship. Our bodies are “sacred places,” because the Holy Spirit has taken up residence.
I don’t know about you, but when I wake up in the morning and look in the bathroom mirror, I don’t say to myself, “Oh, look! There’s a temple of the Holy Spirit!” (I might try that some morning, but I’m afraid I’d just laugh.) Nor do I think that when I look at my wife, or greet friends at church, or listen to our pastor preach.
But would it make a difference if I did?
This is precisely Paul’s point. As theologians sometimes say, Paul’s imperatives (commands) are based on the indicatives (statements of fact): this is how things are, therefore do this. In other words, Paul’s moral instruction assumes that if we understood who we really are, we might not be so quick to take liberties–and this not so much out of fear of the consequences, but out of holy respect.
“God owns the whole works,” and he paid dearly for it. Why? So that he would continue to have a people in whom his character and kingdom would be embodied, a personal reality people can see, touch, and hear. This is not a demand for righteousness imposed from the outside by a distant God, but a life of righteousness empowered from the inside by the very Spirit of God.
Maybe I’ll try it. The next time I’m tempted to sin, I’ll find a mirror, look myself in the eye, and say, “You have been bought with a price; you are a temple of the Holy Spirit.” There’s nothing to lose.
And everything to gain.