Christian liberty is an important subject in the New Testament. The basic principle is this: the Christian has been set completely free from every kind of bondage in order to do the will of God. The believer has been set free from the tyranny of indwelling sin (Rom. 6:7). Those who were once idol-worshiping Pagans have been set free from their bondage to Satan (Gal. 4:8). Those who were once Jews under law are no longer in bondage to law but are under grace (Romans 6:14). As those who are under grace, we have been liberated from the requirements of the Law, and every other "yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1). Having been set free in grace, there is liberty for the indwelling Spirit to act in our lives; "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). When we are enjoying the liberty we have been brought into, our communion with God and our service for Him will be completely unhindered! In the whole wide world, the only people who are truly free, are the genuine disciples of Christ; "If ye abide in my word, ye are truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:31-32). read more…
Legality and License both lead to Bondage. As those who have been set free, we need to be aware that legality is a hindrance to the working of the Spirit of God in our lives (Rom. 7). Whether we were formerly a Jew come out from legal bondage, or a Gentile come out from other forms of bondage (Gal. 4:8-11), we are not to be entangled with legal bondage. The Law is not our rule of life. We are to "walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16) and so fulfill "the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). We have liberty to practice those things that were prohibited by the ceremonial parts of the Law (e.g. holy days and dietary restrictions), but that doesn’t mean God's moral standards have changed at all. We must understand that license can be just as detrimental to liberty as legality. "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid." (Rom. 6:15). Moral sins in the Old Testament are still sins today. Confusing liberty with license leads a person into bondage; not bondage to the Law, but bondage to the flesh. Paul summarizes this nicely in Galatians 5 by saying; "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another" (Gal. 5:13). To live for our own pleasure is an abuse of Christian liberty. We must understand that we have been "bought with a price" and our bodies are "the Lord's" (1 Cor. 6:13, 20). Therefore, total liberty for the Christian can only be enjoyed by total submission to the Lordship of Christ. A nice example of this is a kite. To fly a kite, you throw the kite up in the air on a windy day. You might think "ultimate liberty" for the kite would require you to cut the string. But if you cut the string, the kite will fall straight to the ground. It is when the string remains firmly attached, anchoring the kite, that it can achieve its full liberty and soar high in the sky. In a similar way, the Christian can enjoy true liberty, not by casting off all restraint, but by offering himself or herself as a living sacrifice; which is our reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). Jesus was the one Man who enjoyed perfect liberty here in this world, and it was Him who said: "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me" (John 4:34).
O U T L I N E
Application. While this section particularly centers around the trauma of Pagan converts coming into Christian liberty, we can apply the principles of this chapter to all believers. Certainly, those who live in Western culture must be aware that moral impropriety is not only accepted, but widely embraced. We need these exhortations because the spirit of the world can creep into our hearts if we do not keep close to Christ.
Introductory Principles: Necessity and Addiction (v.12)
¶ 12 All things are lawful to me, but all things do not profit; all things are lawful to me, but “I” will not be brought under the power of any. v.12 The Apostle begins this discourse on Christian liberty with two introductory principles. It is striking that he closes the discourse with two more principles, in ch.10, vv.31-32. By saying “all things are lawful to me” Paul is speaking as a Jew who has come into Christian liberty. A great many things were prohibited under the law that weren’t evil in and of themselves, but were part of the ceremonial law. To be clear, this verse in no way suggests that sin is lawful (or, morally right) in Christianity. This is the very mistake that Paul is writing to correct; confusing liberty with license. But while all things (not intrinsically evil) are morally right in Christianity, not all things are acceptable conduct. Paul gives two “filters” that we can use to ascertain if certain behaviors are acceptable:
- Is it spiritually profitable? Activities, entertainments, hobbies, habits, etc. all consume our resources; time, money, and energy. As Christians, we are under the Lordship of Christ and owe all our resources to Him! Each of us will one day “give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Do I use the resources God has given me to return the maximum profit to Him? To give just one example; a hobby like boating can be useful to the Lord by providing an environment for Christian fellowship, and even evangelism. But if it becomes merely physical exercise or entertainment, it has lost all spiritual value and become unprofitable. Christ is the perfect example of One whose every action was for the profit of God (Rom. 15:3).
- Could I become enslaved to it? Some of the activities and things that we allow in our lives can tend to influence our behavior, and bring us under another power that is not the Lordship of Christ. For instance, the consumption of alcohol is not prohibited for a Christian (1 Tim. 5:23) but repeated use can easily lead to alcoholism. Sometimes Christians toy with things without understanding the danger of addiction. Many Christians today are addicted to food, sex, pornography, alcohol, and various drugs because they were not aware (or didn’t care about) the addictive nature of those things. We need to take care that while enjoying our Christian liberty we do not become slaves to something else.
There is a moral order to these two “filters”. If I take up with something that is not wrong in and of itself, but if it is taken up as something I do because I want it (really lust), there is a high probability that I might become enslaved to it. Two examples might be alcohol and entertainment. Many believers take up with these things under the banner of Christian liberty. There is no scripture prohibiting the use of alcohol or entertainment, period. But often, though not always (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:23), the use of those things stems from the flesh, not from the Spirit. Addiction is often the result.
Condemnation of Gluttony (v.13a)
13a Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats; but God will bring to nothing both it and them: v.13a Paul vigorously condemns “the belly”, a figurative term used to describe the excessive appetite of the glutton. He does not go into much detail with this type of moral impurity, perhaps because fornication is much more serious, but he is no less tolerant of the abuse of “the belly” than “the body”. Here Paul states a short proverb; meats (fancy food) and the belly (a gluttonous person) suit each other mutually. Both come under judgment quickly; fine foods tend to spoil, and gluttons tend to die of related diseases. Seeing the short lifetime of the belly and meats, we ought not to over emphasize it.
Five Reasons to Avoid Fornication (vv.13b-20)
The resurrection of the body gives the body its proper place. Paul condemns “the belly” because it is the desire of the sinful flesh, but he does not condemn “the body”. Rather, he exalts the body to a place that was never appreciated in the Gentile world. The Greek philosophers (Socrates, etc.) believed, after a fashion in the immortality of the soul; but never in the resurrection of the body. There is something about the immortality of the soul in which man may exalt himself. He may think so highly of himself as to rule out any possibility that his soul could cease to exist. There were some who believed in trans-migration of the soul to other bodies (metempsychosis), where the consciousness lives on in another body, but the resurrection of the dead is distinct. To think of dust raised again into a living person goes beyond his thoughts. Rather than compliment his pride, it strikes fear in his heart. Resurrection is a glory which belongs only to God (John 5:21). It means – terrifying thought to man – that nothing is hid from His power. Even the wicked will be raised at the last day so they can be judged at the great white throne. Not only does the natural man fail to conceive of it, but his will immediately rejects it when the idea is proposed. “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” (Acts 17:32). Paul gives us a proper view of the human body when he desires to warn against the abuse of the body for sexual pleasure. These bodies may return to dust, but one day they will be raised again (vv.13b-14). And meanwhile, they are joined to Christ (vv.15-17), and are the temples of the Holy Spirit (v.19). These truths give the human body a wonderful place, and give the believer motivation to avoid fornication. The idea that the body is to be condemned is unscriptural. Yes, there is a connection between the physical body and indwelling sin, but the body has been purchased by the blood of Christ, and will one day be redeemed (Rom. 8:11, 23; Phil. 3:21). Not understanding this has resulted in the practice of corporal mortification, etc. which scripture condemns (Col. 2:23). Read more…
Reason #1: Know what Our Bodies are Intended and Destined For (vv.13b-14)
13b but the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. v.13b Past: God’s original intention for the body. The human body was created to be a vehicle through which God can work, and through which glory can be brought to God (Rev. 4:21). As intelligent believers, we ought to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). The “body is for the Lord” meaning it was created to be fully devoted to Him, and therefore it should not be devoted to its own lusts. Furthermore, the “Lord is for the body” meaning that Jesus is not “the Lord” in vain, but He is intended to have absolute authority over our bodies, as well as our souls. Therefore, the best possible use of our body is to offer it up fully to the Lord’s will.
14 And God has both raised up the Lord, and will raise us up from among the dead by his power. v.14 Future: the body’s destiny. Even if the body were to die, God will not leave it in that state. This is proven to us by the Lord’s own resurrection. God raised the Lord up “from among the dead” and that same power will raise us up (2 Cor. 4:14). Furthermore, the apostle makes it clear that this will not occur “at the last day” (John 11:24). Old Testament saints knew only of general resurrection, and thought that all people would be raised at the same time; those with faith and those without. But the Lord taught that there are really two resurrections; and those of faith would be raised first, leaving unbelievers in the grave. Paul gave further details concerning that first resurrection (see notes on the resurrection). He develops this subject more fully in ch.15, but his point here is that God thinks so highly of the physical body that He will not leave them forever in the state of death. Seeing that our bodies are destined for glory, shouldn’t we be careful how we use them in this life?
vv.15-20 Having covered the past (i.e. God’s intention for our bodies), and the future (i.e. God’s purpose to raise them from among the dead), Paul now goes on to speak of the present (i.e. the privileges and responsibilities concerning our bodies now).
Reason #2: Know that Our Bodies are Joined to Christ (vv.15-17)
15 Do ye not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then, taking the members of the Christ, make them members of a harlot? Far be the thought. v.15 Our bodies are joined to the Lord and constituted as “members of Christ” by the link of the indwelling Spirit. In ch.12 Paul will fully develop the composition of the body of Christ, but here he urges the moral consequences of that spiritual reality. It is not merely our souls and spirits that are joined to Christ, but our physical bodies as well. This link is made by the Holy Spirit… but this is not the only association that a believer can have. Through sexual union with another person, our bodies become united to that person. By committing fornication with a harlot, the believer links themselves to that ungodly person, and thereby links Christ – if it were possible – with evil. Such a thought is repulsive to the new nature; and Paul rejects it, saying “far be the thought”, or “don’t even think it”.
16 Do ye not know that he that is joined to the harlot is one body? for “the two”, he says, “shall be one flesh” [Gen. 2:24]. v.16
The physical act of marriage, even without the relationship of marriage, although never intended by God to be had apart from each other, unites a man and woman together. Paul references Genesis 2 where God instituted the marriage bond. The Spirit is bringing out the awfulness of the connection between a sinful prostitute and Christ that is attempted when a believer fornicates with such a person. It isn’t speaking so much the awfulness of fornication in vv.15-17 but the awfulness of the association thus formed between Christ and harlots. In v.18 the awfulness of fornication is addressed separately. The question might come up, what about believers who are married
to ungodly infidels? Aren’t they one flesh? Isn’t their marriage linking Christ with evil? Paul takes up this case in ch.7, and brings out the truth of provisional sanctification
(1 Cor. 7:14); i.e. that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believer’s faith, and therefore they do not need to divorce or even separate (stop sleeping together). If it weren’t for God’s grace in provisional sanctification, the believer would have to separate, as they did in the Old Testament; that is how real the believer’s link is with Christ.
17 But he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit. v.17 The believer’s link with the Lord is greater and deeper than his or her link with sexual partners. A man is “one flesh” with his wife, but if he is a Christian he is “one Spirit” with the Lord. A husband and wife may be “one flesh” in a physical sense only, but our link with the Lord is far higher, and far more complete than “one flesh”. The Lordship of Christ is the subject of His absolute authority over our lives. To be “one spirit” with Him is to have every thought, every motive, and every action under His Lordship, and in complete accordance with His mind.
Reason #3: Know the Seriousness of Fornication, and its Resulting Judgment (v.18)
18 Flee fornication. Every sin which a man may practise is without the body, but he that commits fornication sins against his own body. v.18 Having already laid out the believer’s relationship with Christ as positive motivation to avoid fornication, Paul now gives the negative reason. It is urgent; “Flee fornication”. Don’t dabble with it. Don’t entertain thoughts of it. Two good examples of this are Joseph, who fled Potiphar’s wanton wife when he “left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house” (Gen. 39:12), and Job who “made a covenant with his eyes not to look upon a woman” (Job 31:1). Two bad examples of this might be Samson who “slept on Delilah’s knees” (Judges 16:19) and Judah who “turned out of the way” to see what he thought was a harlot (Gen. 38:16). To flee something is to run from it with fear. Why? Fornication differs from most other sins because most sins are external; they affect others. Fornication is a self-damaging sin. It is a misuse of our own body. It is a violation of the very purpose of the body’s existence. Fornication is similar in this way to self-mutilation or suicide, although most people would never put fornication in that category.
Reason #4: Know that Our Bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (v.19)
19 Do ye not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God; and ye are not your own? v.19 In ch.3 v.16 we read that the local assembly is the temple of God and the dwelling place of the Spirit in a collective sense, but here we find that the believer’s physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in an individual sense. This is a wholly different motivation to avoid fornication. The Person of the Spirit of God is living inside my body! Everywhere I go, and everything I do, I take the Spirit with me. This ought to have a marked influence on our behavior with regard to moral issues. Specifically this is with regard to immorality, but this verse is broad enough to encompass the general treatment of our bodies. Consuming large amounts of alcohol, tobacco, or junk food can be severely damaging to the human body. It isn’t that those things are prohibited for the believer, but the effect of their habitual use on our body is to waste and ruin the temple of the Holy Spirit. “Ye are not your own”… we cannot live carelessly, because we have within us the Divine Guest!
Reason #5: Know the Price that God has Paid to Purchase You (v.20)
20 for ye have been bought with a price: glorify now then God in your body. v.20 We finally come to the deepest reason to avoid fornication. It is always the purpose of the Spirit to motivate right conduct: by telling us what we are in Christ (for our mind), by reminding us of the seriousness of sin (for our conscience), and finally, bringing us back to the love of Christ (for our heart). What was the price of our purchase? The precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19; Acts 20:28). There is a difference between being purchased and redeemed. To be purchased is to be bought back. To be redeemed is to be bought back and set free. Since this verse pertains to our bodies as well as our soul, it says “bought” or “purchased”. Our souls have been redeemed, or set free from the penalty and power of sin. But the redemption of our bodies will not be complete until the rapture, when they will be changed to be “like Christ’s body of glory” (Phil. 3:21). In the meantime, we are “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). Although our bodies have not been redeemed, they have been bought, and they do not belong to us. When we consider the cross, the shame and suffering, the love of God in sending the Son, and the Son’s love in suffering there, our hearts cannot help but be moved. If He was willing to pay such a price for me, then I belong to Him. Rather than use our bodies to gratify self, we ought to use them to glorify God!
O, I love to hear His voice,
Saying, “You belong to Me,
You are not your own,
With a price you’re bought,
And you’re Mine eternally.”