“Escaping the Trap of Sin”
Many Christians believe that by becoming a child of God all the problems of life and the temptations to sin will go away. Some think that life in God's family rescues them from the temptations of this world. Everything now is much easier and there are very few problems from here on out. The Bible does not teach that at all. Oh, certainly the Lord knows what is going on in our lives and He wants us to enjoy His presence and blessings, yet He never promises life in His family will be free from pain, problems, and sin. That is not found anywhere in the Bible. Instead, we find stories of Christians still having all kinds of problems and dealing with a variety of temptations and sin. Some of it is not very pretty at all. The letter Paul writes to Christians living in Corinth addresses some major issues that were keeping them from walking with God. He instructs these struggling believers on ways they can escape the trap of sin and overcome its destructive nature. He offers guidance on dealing with sinful people and corrects some of their improper behavior. At first glance, this letter seems to be written to people who are not even Christians at all. It deals with some very messy situations. And yet, sometimes our life looks a little bit messy, as well; doesn't it? As we take a look at 1st Corinthians, let us be encouraged to know there is a way out and we, indeed, can escape the trap of sin.
Whenever I buy a book, I am anxious to start reading it. I have paid the money. I have anticipated its arrival. When it finally gets into my hands, I can't wait to start reading the book. Sometimes I'm even tempted to begin at the back of the book and read that first, before I read the beginning. Perhaps you have had that same experience in the past. Well, it seems that might be the best way to read the letter called 1st Corinthians, which we find here in the New Testament part of our Bible. The highlight of the apostle Paul's letter is found in the 15th chapter, out of only 16 total chapters. It highlights the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Let's begin with this statement which we find in chapter 15 beginning with verse 1. <Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.> The apostle Paul states very plainly, "The most important thing I could share with you revolves around the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Yes, Paul lets it be known, if there was something else more important he would have shared that with them; and yet, there wasn't. This was it. This was the primary focus of every message he shared. This was his top priority. This was at the head of the list, point number 1A. And yet the question comes, why is it so important? Well, the answer lies in the fact that the Christians in the city of Corinth had lost their focus. In the previous 14 chapters, Paul addresses many things that have led him to say what he just did. Many things have happened that led these Christians to disregard or to forget this Good News message. One of the reasons why Paul was so concerned about these Christians was that the city of Corinth had a negative influence on them. It was a large city and one of great significance. Located on a major East/West trade route, its residents were interested in knowing and pursuing more of the modern culture. Both the Jews and the Gentiles living here were known for pursuing wealth and immorality. Corinth enjoyed a very prosperous commercial life. The people long to be influential and socially accepted. Nothing was off limits. Whatever someone wanted to do or to pursue, that was okay in the minds of everyone else. As a result, there was an influx of sexual immorality, idol worship, and consumerism. It all greatly impacted the overall atmosphere of the city. Well, about 100 of Corinth's residence were followers of Jesus. They were what we would call today Christians, or believers. And yet, their lifestyle did not suggest to others that they followed Jesus. No one could tell that they were Christians. They were not any different from those who pursued the things of the culture. Their lives were not any different from the people who did not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Oh, it seems that in many ways Corinth was like a growing and important urban city somewhere in the world today. Well, the apostle Paul had already spent about a year and half in Corinth when he first helped establish their church, and that story is recorded for us in the book of Acts, chapter 18. He has now received word there are some issues and problems which need to be addressed. There are some things with which he can help them. Well, the church in Corinth was perhaps one of the most confused and dysfunctional churches of all that Paul worked with or addressed. They had many issues among themselves, which in turn affected their influence among the nonbelievers. Throughout his letter, Paul addresses many things that are of a concern. Here is a partial list of some of the things we find here in 1st Corinthians: the issue of marriage and divorce; improper worship; the misuse of spiritual gifts; division; immorality; and even the roles of both men and women. The Corinthian church was being torn apart by disunity. They quarreled among themselves. They could not get along as one group met over here and another group met over here; and, there were problems. Oh, the Christians really did not have any respect for one another and often times there was a lack of respect even for their own bodies. Oh yes, this was a dysfunctional church, it seemed like, in a number of different ways. And Paul addresses some of these issues. He talks about their behavior in several places. We go to the 6th chapter and notice these words that begin in verse 9 and go through verse 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 God.> These Christians once lived like every body else in the world. And yet, Paul reminds them of the time when they were washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. Their sin was cleansed and washed away. They were also sanctified, or made holy, in the sight of God. They were also justified, or made right, in their relationship with Him. He continues on with this, in verses 19 and 20: <Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.> Once these people became Christians, God gave to them His Holy Spirit as a promise and a guarantee that He would always be with them, and yet they lived their life without any regard for that. They forgot about God's presence in them. They lived to satisfy their own interests and their own lusts and desires. And Paul encourages them, remember who you are and allow that to affect, in a positive way, the way you live. Yes, their behavior came from a lack of spiritual maturity. These Christians had failed to grow up and to mature in Jesus Christ. They were attracted to the world. They could not break away from it, and therefore it affected their spiritual growth. That is another issue the apostle Paul addresses, this time in the 3rd chapter. Notice these words beginning with verse 1: <Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly —mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?> Paul is disheartened to know that these Christians cannot even get along with one another. They are quarreling and they are fussing among themselves, one group here and another group over there. There is no unity. And at the root of that there is simply a lack of love for one another. Perhaps that is why Paul wrote an entire chapter about love, in chapter 13. And he does that to remind them and to call them back to what is really important and to what really matters; and that is the love that they are to share among themselves. That love was also to be based upon the love that Jesus had for them when He died on the cross and gave His life for them and for their salvation. So, he encourages them to get back to that which is so very important. We find in the 13th chapter some qualities or characteristics of what that love is to look like among those who are Christians. Let's pick up with the reading of verse 4 and go through verse 8. <Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.> A lack of love, a lack of spiritual maturity, a lack of moral responsibility all were things that characterized the church in the city of Corinth. Their identity was not being shaped by the gospel story of Jesus Christ like it had been at one time. So, Paul wants them to separate themselves from the culture. He wants them to separate themselves from the way that everybody else was living, who did not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Oh, the pursuit of worldly things kept them from growing-up in the Lord. They were presenting a negative view of the church to those who were unbelievers, and no doubt the unbelievers did not want to have anything to do with the believers if that's the kind of church that you are a part of and represent. Yes, the apostle Paul wants them, both individually and collectively as a church, to be completely changed by what Jesus has done for them. Let's go back to chapter 3 and notice another passage, beginning there in verse 18. <Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.> Oh, many people believed that if they knew more, if they gained wisdom and insight from the things the world offered, then their life would be complete and much better. And yet, Paul takes the opposite approach. He basically says that in the eyes of God all of that is foolishness. What really makes you wise is to pay attention to and follow Jesus Christ, the One who has already saved you. Yes, these Christians were to respect the truth of God's Word instead of speaking worldly wisdom. They were to appreciate Jesus' sacrifice of love and make that the standard by which they live. Paul wants them to remember the story of Jesus they have responded to and he wants them to come back to it. He reminds them of the significance of Jesus' death upon the cross. And he does so at the very first of his letter. In chapter 1 verse 18 he writes, <"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."> The cross of Jesus, His sacrifice upon the cross, is what saves people, and Paul says, "Focus on that." Other people may disregard it. Other people may think it is nothing but a bunch of foolishness, and yet it will make you wise unto salvation. He also writes these words in the 2nd chapter, beginning with verse 1: <"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."> Over and over again, Paul emphasized the cross of Jesus. And every message he shared with them, every time he got up to speak, he told them the story of Jesus' cross and the sacrifice He made on their behalf. And once they focused on the cross of Jesus instead of what their culture provided, it was then that they could begin to solve some of their problems and deal with some of their issues. Paul calls these worldly Christians back to the gospel of Jesus. He is the real and only reason for their salvation. Paul, in fact, invites them, in chapter 11 and verse 1, with these words, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." Yes, Paul was walking in the footsteps of Jesus and he says, "Why don't you do the same thing? Remember the difference Jesus made in your life and allow it to make a difference in your life once again." The apostle Paul faced the challenging task of reshaping the faith of these Christians. They had strayed off course. They were negatively affected by the culture in which they lived. Now he reminded them, because they were Christians they were called upon to live in a certain way. Some of these issues and problems may still affect Christians and churches in our world today. It is so tempting to fall into the trap of being like everybody else and accepting and being a part of the society in which we live. It's easy to get caught up in the things the world pursues and to forget about pursuing Jesus Christ and following His example. Oh even though we live in the world, it is in the Lord alone that we stand. It is only in Him that we boast of our salvation. It is only in Him that we consider ourselves wise and worthy and able to live as His representative in this world. The letter of 1st Corinthians calls for Christians to stay focused on Jesus Christ and how He wants us to live. It offers guidelines for Christians and for churches everywhere on how we can do that, on how we can set aside the pursuit of worldly interests and desires and to pursue Jesus and make Him the first priority in our life. In the first part of 1st Corinthians, as we noticed in chapters 1 and 2, he focused on the cross, the message of the cross of Jesus. And now toward the end, in chapter 15, he focuses on the resurrection of Jesus. That's important! Think about all the religious leaders of the world today. They may have died for various causes, yet it is only Jesus Christ who died and then rose again. That is what separates Him from everyone and everything else, the resurrection of Jesus. Listen to Paul's words as he highlights the resurrection in chapter 15, beginning with verse 12: <"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied, more than all men."> Yes, Paul highlights the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He states that if you have hope for this life only, without the resurrection of Jesus, then you are to be pitied more than everyone else. Oh, the cross of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are the two things upon which we build our lives. They are the foundation of who we are as followers, as believers, as Christians. Our faith is based on Jesus' death on the cross. And, our lives are changed by Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Yes, those two things give us hope for eternity. Those two things shape our lives and our relationships, and form our salvation. When we think about the letter of 1st Corinthians, perhaps we can say it like this, here's the bottom line: Christians are to live like the death and resurrection of Jesus means something to them. I hope and I pray that the death and the resurrection of Jesus means something to you; that, you have received His free gift of salvation and now it changes the way you live. If someone were to ask you this question, how would you respond? What defines your life? Oh, a number of responses could be given. People have said to me, "My wealth, my finances, my retirement defines who I am, where I go, and what I do." Other people say, "My children, my grandchildren define my life. I have no meaning or significance out of them and I need to be with them each and every day." I wonder, however, can you respond like this: Jesus Christ defines my life! I hope and I pray that He does. I hope and I pray that Jesus Christ is the rock and the foundation of your life, that He is the One who gives you the meaning and the significance you need in this world. Yes, my prayer is that His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave makes an eternal difference in you. In the midst of the challenging times in which we live, the letter of 1st Corinthians teaches us to ask a very important question: How am I to live? How am I to represent Jesus Christ in this world? Perhaps you have heard the phrase, "you may be the only Bible some people will ever read." Yes, people are looking at you, people are watching you and they are considering for themselves whether or not they need to respond to the free gift of salvation Jesus offers. My prayer and my encouragement for you today, consider what Jesus has done for you and then allow that to make a difference in the way you live each and every day.
The apostle Paul's letter called 1st Corinthians was written to some Christians dealing with some major problems. He addresses issues that we still deal with on a regular basis, today. They are things like morality, division, immaturity, lawsuits, and even the misuse of God's spiritual gifts. In order to correct them, Paul encourages the people to remember what Jesus' resurrection means to them. He asks them to allow their faith in Jesus to make a difference in the way they live. That is a good reminder for us, as well. Even though we may think our individual lives do not affect others, they really do. Our behavior within the church affects the whole church, also. 1st Corinthians challenges us to consider our responsibilities as children of God.
Thank you for being our guest. We appreciate you tuning in to today's broadcast. If you are struggling to overcome temptation and sin in your life, I hope you will turn to the Lord for help. Reach out to Him and receive the strength He provides through His son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. At "Key to the Kingdom," we offer a free Bible study that might assist you in overcoming the problem of sin. The study will be sent to you by mail when you call the number on the screen. It is a correspondence course and it can be completed at your own pace. I hope you will do that. I also invite you to visit our website, keytothekingdom.com. There you will find and be able to download this same Bible study online. Again, I believe it will assist you in walking closer to the Lord. Our website also offers a variety of other things that might be of interest. Previous lessons, short video clips, and other teaching material are all available. It too is free and requires no commitment of any kind. I do hope you will take a few minutes to review what is offered. If we can assist you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us. Most of all, we hope you will seek to escape the trap of sin and to draw close to God! Again, thank you for tuning in to today's program. And please, join us again next time as we continue to study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."