2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
Have you ever just thought: what happened to our country? Violence. Transgender question. What about this: what happened to the church? Read a recent statistic, based on past trends. Some church analysts are suggesting that as many as 90% of boys who grow up in the church will leave when they turn 18 and completely abandon church altogether by their 20th birthday . 15-20 million American so called Christians who don’t want anything to do with the church. They will not gather with other believers on any given Sunday. 7% of new church-goers are actually “unchurched.” That means, 93% of “new members” are simply Christians or “lapsed” Christians coming from other churches. But I want to ask you a third question: what happened to holiness? Why is it that those who pray, love the Bible, serve the church, and serious in their passion for the Lord are regarded as unusual? Why, pardon me, but why are we more often riled up about the state of our nation than we are about our holiness? Sometimes I wonder if we spent as much time begging God to heal our own hearts and less time complaining about our politicians, we might get God’s attention. Where are our burden and tears and frustrations for our own sins? Whatever happened to holiness? Let’s consider Paul’s words to the 2 Corinthians in 6:14-7:1.
The Command: We Must Be Holy
Unequally yoked.Paul uses the language “yoke” or “mismatch” to bridge us back to the set of OT law against joining two unlike things. The “yoking” law is about not putting two unlike animals, like a donkey and ox, under the same yoke. They can’t pull with the same strength, same way, and very often won’t pull in the same direction. Now, Paul’s adapting that language to apply to the believer. The faithful shouldn’t plow with the faithless.
He clarifies what he means with 5 questions:
Second half of verse 14: “no partnership. Again, verse 14, no co-existence. Verse 15: no friendship. Again, 15: can’t share. Verse 16: in strong terms now. It’s either God-worship or pagan-idolatry.
Summary: Can’t bring Jesus to the dance, and decide you want to do The Twist with the devil. Pick one. Not both. But Paul has to remind the Corinthians and us, because what we so often do is attempt to make a cocktail religion with the right mix of Jesus and Satan. Not holy enough to be strange to the world, but not pagan enough to be a stranger in church. Like Goldilocks, to find the “just right” blend of both kingdoms.
Every political season there’s a political candidate who’s got just enough Christian vocabulary to convince Christians to vote for him, and the moral track record of a mafia-boss villain. If both churches and honky tonk casino entrepreneurs both think you’ll represent their agendas before Congress, there’s a problem. That kind of moral compromising “doublespeak” is, to me, repulsive. That’s why it haunts me when I realize that I behave the exact same way. Before I came to pastor here, in fact, the weekend before, Carrie and I went to Gulf Shores. We were feeding cheap white bread to sea gulls when we saw a family of what seemed to be perfect, extravagantly wealthy doctors in white linen and khaki, in the picture of perfect health, playing on the beach. One of the women with her child was forced to come closer to us because they had to track down a beach ball. Carrie and I began a short conversation, in which she asked, “Are you staying on the beach?” I told her no, but close by, a bit ashamed. “Oh…” she said. Then she asked, strangely, “Are you a doctor?” And I said, “No, I’m a pastor.” And you could almost hear her hopes for me come crashing down: “Oh…she said, and walked away.” In that moment, I wanted her admiration, respect, and applause. It wasn’t about what I thought of my profession that bothered me. It was what she thought about my profession that bothered me. I wanted her to respect me so much that I think if I could have traded my MDiv for an MD I would have done it. And that’s what haunts me. What haunts me about that moment was the impulse to trade the rewards that only come from obedience to Jesus for the rewards would that can only come from the world. I wanted (what I imagined to be) the applause of people, of course, without losing my reputation as a Christian – a mix of Jesus and Worldly respect that would, for me, been the same thing as dressing for Jesus on Sunday but in my heart, much more happy singing: “At the office, at the office, where I first got respect and the burden of my pride rolled away. It was there by hard work, I received my reward, and now I am happy all the day.” I might as well have filled the Lord’s temple with Idols. You may struggle with other things. Pornography, laziness, covetousness, jealousy. You know you can’t have both. The call is to keep yourself unstained by the world. For Christ will have no fellowship with the Devil.
It’s a difficult call, the call to holiness. So why even consider it? Notice the rest of our passage.
The Reasons for the Command: Why should we be holy?
- Because He empowers us to be set apart (16)
This verse is radical. The Jewish Temple is still around while Paul writes. You could go to it. That’s supposed to be where God’s presence resides. And Paul says to the Corinthians: “God has made you His dwelling place; you are his temple.” Verse 16 is a collage of 2 OT quotes (Lev / Ezek). Both have to do with the presence of God with His people. Paul says, kind of shockingly, that when God talked about the temple, he was ultimately meaning that for you, as God said. A re-created people (5:21) will be where I will dwell. That’s what God has remade you to be. Now, because he made you that way, be holy.
I love this. You know, God never, never commands us to do something without making us able to do it. If he did, that would be cruel. That’s stepmother to Cinderella kind of evil. Impossible list of chores. That’s not God. Some of you may think that’s what he’s like: “Ha, ha, ha. You’ll never live up to this, you dirty scoundrel of a sinner. Can’t stand your unholiness. Work harder. Be better.” That’s not what’s happening here. God in his kindness: first makes us into a holy dwelling place, and then tells us to live like one. “You must be holy.” Well, that’s way more than you can do. So, God says, I will empower you to do what you can’t.
T-ball. It’s right to tell our children to hit the ball. They must hit the ball. But to a 15 lb kid, that’s borderline impossible for them to do. Grab kids arms and guide the bat to the ball. Now, who hit the ball? What we demanded from the tballer, we provided the power for him to do. What he commands us to do, he also makes us able to do. So we can be holy.
- Because He encourages us to be set apart (17).
Hang with the Tball analogy just for a second. When the child hits the ball, who do you cheer for? Do you high-five the coach for hitting it off the tee? Hug him after the game and tell him he swung the bat so awesome? Of course not. And nobody makes fun of any child who needs help. “How awful. Can’t do anything.” We cheer for the kids. And we encourage them with incentives: things like…cracker jacks. I love cracker jacks. Even, I’ll try to hit a home run for cracker jacks. Why do we do that? Because we want to encourage them to keep going in something that’s difficult for them to do.
Well, the Lord doesn’t just empower us to be holy. He also encourages us to keep striving after holiness. The first part of verse 17 is from Isaiah 52:11. But the second part is a promise of blessing from Ezek 20:34. “And I will welcome you.” God is promising that he will bring his people into permanent blessing, if they are holy. Now, look. Cracker jacks are good. But God’s welcome into permanent blessing is a much better incentive program. Why be holy? Because the promise of our future is so good.
For many of us. It is immanent! 70-80 years. You’re about to trade that for 10000 years. 1 million years of blessing. Muddy rivers. Hollowed out pecan trees. Turkey drum. Azaleas in April. Beyond our imaginations. It takes Revelation’s poetry to even attempt to put God’s future paradise into words. Evil gone. Trees bearing fruit. Crystal clear river. City built out of precious stones. Walk on gold. Gates always open. Perfect light. Perfect peace. Perfect beauty. Pure harmony. Perfect heavenly city coming down, so that God’s reign will be “on earth as it is in heaven.” Rest. Behold the face of God. “I will welcome you.” So why be holy? (a) Because He empowers us to live holy lives; (b) because he rewards us for living holy lives.
- Because He brings us into his royal family (18).
Friends had two kids, and adopted 2 from Russia. Well, they didn’t start making 2 separate dinners for their kids. One with hamburgers and coke. The other with vodka and borscht. That’s crazy. New lineage, new culture, new expectations. Adoption is the miracle of assuming a new identity under the family name.
What God promises in verse 18 is the full rights of kinship in your new adopted family. An identity, family change. And so we, in Christ, begin to live like members of God’s family. We take on the family traits. Holiness isn’t a burden. It’s just what we do. Which means it’s as nonsensical for you to return to the garbage of sin as it would be for my friend’s child to start hanging posters of Vladmir Putin in his bedroom. Eph 1:3-5. We live holy lives because that’s what God’s family does.
Let me close with a quote from Charles Spurgeon:
Christ will be master of the heart, and sin must be mortified. If your life is unholy, then your heart is unchanged, and you are an unsaved person. The Savior will sanctify His people, renew them, give them a hatred of sin, and a love of holiness. The grace that does not make a man better…is a worthless counterfeit. Christ saves His people, not IN their sins, but FROM their sins. Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.