Overcoming the world

John concluded his first epistle with a bold statement about the victory that every believer can expect to have as a child of God. John said:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:2-5)

John equated overcoming the world with keeping God’s commandments and indicated that our faith in Jesus is what makes this victory possible for us. John’s concept of overcoming the world was most likely linked to the Jewish belief that eternal life could be attained through moral perfection (Matthew 19:16). The Greek word that John used that is translated world, kosmos (kos’-mos) “is first a harmonious arrangement or order, then by extension, adornment or decoration, and came to denote the world or universe, as that which is divinely arranged” (G2889). The reason why John thought it was necessary for Christians to overcome the world was because the present condition of human affairs is alienation from and opposition to God. If we go the way of the world, we will end up separated from God for all of eternity.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the opportunity to go in and possess the land that he had promised to give their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but along with that opportunity came the obligation for the children of Israel to serve God and keep his commandments. God assured the Israelites that he would bless them for their obedience and said:

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:3-13)

God’s expectation that the children of Israel would walk in his statutes and observe his commandments was based on his deliverance of his chosen people from slavery. God told them, “I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:13). God used the euphemism of breaking the bars of your yoke to signify that the Egyptian Pharaoh was no longer the Israelite’s master. The children of Israel were free to do as they pleased. God’s declaration that he had made the Israelites walk erect meant that his sovereign will had been carried out according to his plan of redemption that was set in motion before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4). All the Israelites had to do was choose which way they wanted to go.

In order to convince the Israelites that it would be best for them to pursue a path of righteousness, God informed his chosen people of the consequences of their disobedience. God said:

“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.”

“Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.”

“And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.”

“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.” (Leviticus 26:14-32)

God’s stern warning was likely intended to inspire the awe and reverence that his chosen people seemed to lack. The grumbling and complaining that was a constant part of Moses’ assignment to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt was a reflection of the Israelites’ negative attitude about leaving behind their lifestyle of spiritual bondage.

The book of Leviticus concludes with an important lesson about the value of a soul. Leviticus 27:1-8 states:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

The Hebrew word that is translated valuation in this passage, erek (eh’-rek) is derived from the word arak (aw-rak’) which means “to set in a row, i.e. arrange, put in order…’To arrange in order’ makes it possible ‘to compare’ one thing with another” (H6186). In many ways, that is what happens when we get involved in activities in the world. We compare ourselves with other people and we often think we are better than they are.

Jesus talked about the value of our soul in the context of compromising our commitment to him in order to gain an advantage in the world. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus used the same word interchangeably for life and soul indicating that the part of a person that is saved or becomes born again is the soul. Salvation is comparable to the redemption of persons that was discussed in Leviticus 27 except that salvation is a permanent state of redemption that can only be attained through a spiritual transaction with God. When Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for the sins of all of mankind, he completed the necessary transaction on our behalf. Thus, we can experience the benefits or gain from this transaction without doing anything ourselves. Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). In other words, if we work to get ahead in the world and neglect the salvation of our souls, we won’t experience any real benefit.

John concluded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). John’s statement had to do with personal conquest. The point I believe John was trying to make was that at the end of our lives there is only one thing that really matters and that’s the salvation of our souls. In order to be saved, we need to be born again (John 3:3) and John made it clear that the only way we can do that is by faith. The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Paul indicated that we are saved by grace through faith, therefore, grace and faith work together to accomplish the task of saving a soul. You might say that grace is God’s part and faith is our part, but Paul went on to say that “this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe this was the point Jesus was getting at when he asked the question, “what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). A person that is in unsaved state, is spiritually bankrupt and has no means of redeeming himself. It is only through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross that we can be reconciled to God and have eternal life.

John seemed to be addressing a concern that some believers had when he said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:13-15). Like the Israelites who grumbled and complained about everything that didn’t seem to be right with them, some of the 1st Century Christians may have expected a life of ease after they committed their lives to Christ. John emphasized the fact that God hears our prayers, but also pointed out that it is only when we ask for something according to God’s will that we know we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:15). One of the evidences that we have overcome the world is that our will and God’s will are aligned with each other.

John’s message about overcoming the world was continued in the book of Revelation. Each of the seven churches that the Lord instructed John to write to was encouraged to overcome a difficult circumstance in order to obtain a reward. The letter to the church at Ephesus stated, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7, NKJV) and the church in Smyrna was told, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11, NKJV). The Lord told the church in Pergamos, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, NKJV). Each of these spiritual rewards was connected with the kingdom of heaven that Jesus talked about throughout his ministry on earth and seem to form a comprehension picture of what believers will experience after the resurrection of the dead. The final piece of the puzzle was given to the church at Laodicea. The Lord told them, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21, NKJV). In this instance, sitting down on a throne denotes the assumption of power and rule over a specific dominion. When Jesus sat down with his Father on His throne, his conquest over the world became a reality in that he was able to exercise his authority over it (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus indicated that we who have overcome the world will do the same after we are resurrected from the dead.

Spiritual Bondage

The death of Jacob and then his son Joseph ended an era of spiritual prosperity in the lives of God’s chosen people. Even though Joseph and his brothers were reunited, there seemed to be an element of distrust among them that lingered for the rest of their lives. It says in Genesis 50:15, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.'” Joseph was disappointed that his brothers didn’t understand God’s will and reminded them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:20-21).

“When the Hyksos invaded Egypt and gained political power, the descendants of Jacob were forced into slavery (Exodus 1:8, 10)” (Introduction to Exodus, p. 64). It says in Exodus 1:8-12:

Now there arose a king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raames. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.

The Egyptian taskmasters were rulers that had the authority to punish the people of Israel if they didn’t do what was expected of them. The taskmasters afflicted the Israelites “with heavy burdens” (Genesis 1:11). The Hebrew word that is translated afflict, ‘anah (aw-naw’) “often expresses harsh and painful treatment” (H6031). The purpose of their affliction was to morally degrade the Israelites, to make them think less of themselves and to bring them into submission to Pharaoh.

It says in Exodus 1:11 that the Israelites were afflicted “with heavy burdens.” That meant that the people were suffering physically, but there was likely a spiritual aspect to their burdens as well. Jesus told his followers to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest” (Matthew 11:28). The Greek term that is translated heavy laden, phortizo (for-tid’-zo) means “to load up (properly as a vessel or animal), i.e. (figuratively) to overburden with ceremony (or spiritual anxiety)” (G5412). Jesus went on to say, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus indicated that the type of burden people needed to be relieved from was their personal development. The idea that we need rest for our souls comes from our human tendency to relentlessly pursue happiness. Jesus said we should learn from him. In other words, we should follow his example of how to serve God appropriately.

Jesus didn’t sidestep the issue of spiritual bondage. He told his followers they needed to take his yoke upon them (Matthew 11:29). A yoke signifies servitude and is used metaphorically “of submission to authority” (G2218). The point Jesus was making was that we get to choose who our spiritual master will be, God or Satan, but we must and will serve one or the other of them. Spiritual servitude, or if you will spiritual bondage, is not optional. Jesus’ instruction to “learn from me” meant that we can find relief from our spiritual work through an understanding and application of Jesus’ teaching. The Greek word manthano (man-than’-o) is not simply doctrine of Christ, but Christ himself, a process of not merely getting to know the person but of so applying the knowledge as to walk differently from unbelievers (G3129). Jesus said his yoke was easy, meaning that it was a natural fit and was useful for everyday life (G5543). Jesus’ reference to his burden being light was most likely related to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word phero (fer’-o) which means to ‘bear’ or carry “is rendered ‘being moved’ in 2 Peter 1:21, signifying that they were ‘borne along,’ or impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342).

The Apostle Paul indicated that there is an ongoing battle between God’s people and Satan’s army because our loyalty to God often wavers. Paul said we are to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul’s description of spiritual warfare as wrestling was meant to point out that personal interaction with Satan’s demonic forces is inevitable and probably happens more often than we realize. The Greek word that is translated wrestle, pale (pal’-ay) means to sway or vibrate (G3823). The Greek word palin (pal’-in), from which the word paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) is derived, means anew or again and refers to the repetition of ideas or events (G3825). Paliggenesia means rebirth and refers to the regeneration of believers, “that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light” (G3824).

Paul indicated that Satan’s organization consists of various invisible agents that he identified as rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil. Spiritual rulers are first in political rank or power (G757) and may have a direct correspondence to rulers in the physical realm in that spiritual rulers are assigned on a one to one basis to interact with political leaders that control the world’s power. Spiritual authorities are free agents that probably act as disrupters of peace. The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) signifies “the right to exercise power” and indicates Satan’s spiritual authorities can do as they please (G1949). Cosmic powers or kosmokrator (kos-mok-rat’-ore) in the Greek means “a world-ruler, an epithet of Satan.” Ephesians 6:12 “shows that not earthly potentates are indicated, but spirit powers, who under the permissive will of God, and in consequence of human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God” (G2888).

It seems likely that the Egyptian king that set taskmasters over the people of Israel to afflict them (Exodus 1:11) was under the influence of a cosmic power and/or spiritual ruler. The taskmasters themselves played a part in making the Israelites lives miserable because “they ruthlessly made them work as slaves” (Exodus 1:14), but not everyone in Egypt was being controlled by Satan. Exodus 1:15-17 states, “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” The midwives were rewarded by God (Exodus 1:20) because their disobedience made it possible for Moses to be born.

Paul’s final category of Satan’s invisible agents, the spiritual forces of evil, are likely demons that inhabit human bodies. The Greek word that is translated spiritual, pneumatikos (pnyoo-mat-ik-os’) refers to men in Christ who walk so as to please God and the blessings that accrue to the regenerate men. In fact, “all that is produced and maintained among men by the operations of the Spirit of God is ‘spiritual'” (G4152). Therefore, the spiritual forces of evil could be counterparts to spirit-filled believers. They operate in the same way, but instead of producing the effects of spiritual regeneration, spiritual forces of evil produce spiritual degradation, a moral decline in the behavior of an individual, for example a serial rapist who becomes more and more violent or twisted over time in his acts of sexual abuse.

Jesus warned the crowds and his disciples about the religious leaders that were leading them astray. He said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on peoples’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4). The language Jesus used of tying up heavy burdens and laying them on peoples shoulders suggests physical labor, but he was clearly talking about the religious practices the were being imposed on the Jews. The Greek word that is translated tie up, desmeuo (des-myoo’-o) means “to be a binder (captor), i.e. to enchain ( a prisoner)” (G1195) and carries the connotation of someone being held hostage or an oppressive situation. Exodus 1:12 indicates that the Israelites were being oppressed by their taskmasters, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”

God’s blessing was on the Israelites while they endured slavery in Egypt and Jesus associated humility with spiritual success. Jesus told his disciples, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). The difference between affliction which produces spiritual growth and spiritual bondage which enslaves the believer to demonic forces may be the willingness on the part of those who are dealing with it to rely on God for help. Paul instructed believers to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). The Greek word that is translated take up, analambano (an-al-am-ban’-o) means to receive or to get hold of something that is being offered to you (G353/2983). Jesus used the Greek word lambano when he said, “everyone who asks receives” (Matthew 7:8), the implication being that it’s not a matter of God’s willingness to give us what we need, but our unwillingness to ask him for it.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians revealed that the power to fight against the schemes of the devil comes from Christ. Paul referred to the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe that was at work when Jesus was raised from the dead and said that God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:18-21). Paul emphasized that Jesus is not just above other spiritual rulers and authorities, but far above all rule and authority, suggesting that Christ’s power is of a better quality and that it is superior to any other type. The Greek word that is translated power in Ephesians 1:21, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) refers to miraculous power (G1411) and dominion, kuriotes (koo-ree-ot’-ace) denotes lordship or someone that is supreme in authority and is associated with Jesus’ deity (G2963/2962).

Jesus pronounced eight woes on the scribes and Pharisees that were interfering with his ministry and began with a scathing rebuke of their hypocrisy. He stated, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:14). What Jesus meant by shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s face was that God’s compassion wasn’t being received because people were under the impression that you had to work your way into heaven. Jesus reiterated that the religious leaders were mistaken about the way to get to heaven by stating, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:16). In this instance, Jesus used the Greek word huios (hwee-os’) to refer to a child. “Primarily this word stresses the quality and essence of one so resembling another that distinctions between the two are indiscernible” (G5207).

Jesus’ identification of the scribes and Pharisees as children of hell suggests that they were so much under the control and influence of demonic forces that it was impossible to tell the difference between them and the demons that he often cast out of people. The Greek word that is translated hypocrites in Matthew 23:14 and 16, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (G5273). Jesus knew that the scribes and Pharisees were only pretending to be concerned about keeping God’s commandments and were intentionally breaking the laws they expected others to keep. Jesus told them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). Jesus concluded by stating, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

Jesus broadened his condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees to include the entire city of Jerusalem. He lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 24:37). Jesus’ statement shows that in general, the population of Jerusalem had turned away from God and were unwilling to repent. The Greek words thelo (thel’-o) and ouch (ookh) which are translated not willing stress the finality of a decision in conjunction with the nature of the person that is deciding (G2309/G3756). Another way of expressing what Jesus meant by not willing might be “it wasn’t what you wanted to happen” or “you didn’t like that outcome.” Something that became clear about the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt over time was that they were content with things the way they were. One way of looking at it might be to say that they didn’t want to give up the security of their steady jobs.

Jesus expressed to the people he was talking to at the temple in Jerusalem that it was his desire to gather them “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus’ comparison of himself to a hen was likely meant to convey the tender heartedness with which God was inclined to deal with his chosen people. Jesus invited all who were tired of trying to work their way into heaven to come to him because he was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:28-29). The Greek word that is translated gentle is praios (prah’-os). “Gentleness or meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will” (G4235). Jesus demonstrated his trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation by willingly going to the cross to die for the sins of the world. He also told his disciples that, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-25, 27).

Sexual purity

Paul openly declared to Christians that they were expected to live differently than everyone else. He stated:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: 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. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)

Paul used three terms to describe the born-again Christian; washed, sanctified, and justified and implied that believers have a supernatural type of purity that can only be attained through the name of Jesus Christ and Spirit of God. According to Paul, believers are considered to be completely clean, innocent of all charges that might be brought against them that are of a spiritual nature. In other words, Christians are sin-free.

In spite of the believer’s purified state, Paul argued that restraint was necessary to ensure that a Christian’s purity was not compromised. He stated, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Paul’s reference to being brought under the power of any was likely meant to indicate spiritual bondage or demonic influence. I think Paul was trying to subtly suggest that sin and Satan go hand in hand; any door that we open through sin, Satan is likely to walk through.

Paul’s primary concern related to purity was fornication or sexual sin. He told the Corinthians, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20, ESV). Paul’s practical advice to the Corinthians was to get married if sexual temptation was an issue for them. He said, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

Paul instructed Christians that were married to stay married even if their spouse was not a believer. Paul’s argument for remaining in the marriage was that the unbelieving spouse could be influenced by the godly life of their Christian partner (1 Corinthians 7:14). The only exception to that rule was if the unbelieving spouse chose to abandon the marriage. Paul said, “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). In other words, Paul didn’t expect believers to live in conflict. Paul concluded with the statement, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:39-40, ESV).