When it comes to drawing conclusions from Scripture we need to ensure that we are being led by our God and not our opinions. Whatever answers we are looking for it is good to be reminded of the following i.e. God never changes:
- Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever
- Malachi 3:6 – God does not change
- Isaiah 40:8 – God's word stands forever
- James 1:17– there is no variation or change in God
- Psalm 102:25-27 – God is eternal and does not change
When it comes to sin and judgment, this is confirmed:
- Old Testament: Ezekiel 18:20 – the soul that sins will die
- New Testament: Romans 6:23 – the wages of sin is death
It is important to realise that God's take on sin has and never will change and that His judgment that was swift and total in the Old Testament will be the same at the end of the New Testament. This fact that God will judge the world (even though it might seem that at present He winks at our sin) is born out in verses like Habakkuk 2 (God's judgment will take place) and in 2 Peter 3 where he talks of the day of the Lord. However the good news in all of this is that the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2 and Romans 1).
With all of the above forming a foundation as to where we stand before God, we can now jump to two wonderful promises in the New Testament that we are now able to appropriate for ourselves.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17 - Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
- Romans 8:1 - There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
So yes, our God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 9:3, Hebrews 12:29) but in Christ we have passed from death into life (John 5:24) and will “not come into judgment”. And while there are many scriptures to support the following, the experience of the thief on the cross (Luke 23:32-43) gives a very powerful example of the fact that salvation is all of God and none of me i.e. to be saved I simple need to confess with my mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in my heart that God has raised Him from the dead to be saved (Romans 10:9).
This now brings me to the question in point i.e. what does Paul mean by the statement that all things are lawful for him (1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23)? Firstly one must always bare in mind that no verses should every be read in isolation but they needed to be read in context as well as with the backing of the whole of Scripture.
At no point did Paul ever indicate that he was above or greater than the Word of God. In fact in Galatians 1:8 he states that if He ever contradicted the Gospel that he should be under God's curse. Therefore Paul's teachings will never give anyone license to contravene the Holiness of our God. Taking 1 Corinthians 6:12 in isolation would allow us to conclude that adultery, murder, white lies,etc are not really big issues for Christians in the sight of God . And in doing this we ignore verses 9 and 10 of the same chapter i.e. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Verse 11 is the verse that ties our past with the current grace of God, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God”. And it is in the context of verse 11 that Paul states verse 12, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful”. In short the believer should no longer be engaged in these or any other sinful activities – doing so is truly not helpful for our walk with the Lord. The rest of the chapter goes on to reinforce this.
Now what is sin? This is a crucial question as God states that the soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:20) . In short, sin is disobedience to God. In Genesis God tells Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and instead of obeying, Adam and Eve defy the Lord and eat of that tree. The result is that through them death enters into the world. In Deuteronomy 9:7 we read of the rebellion of the children of Israel against God; rebellion which 1 Samuel 15:23 refers to as the sin of witchcraft. In short rebellion simply put is blatant disregard of, or disobedience to God's will. The problem with sin is that it is seditious (i.e. encourages rebellion against God). It is like cancer that starts small but ends up killing it's host. As God's word says, “a little leaven leavens all the lump” (Galatians 5:9). If we dabble with sin we will very quickly be overcome by it. Psalm 1 describes it well: “Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and has not stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is only in the Law of Jehovah; and in His Law he meditates day and night.” The message here is clear. If we entertain sin, we will then start walking in sin and eventually find ourselves continually abiding in it. Given the above, is God indeed able to save us from the uttermost to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25)? Of course He can but we need to abide in Him for this to be possible (John 15). The fact is that sin leads to a hardening of our hearts which in turn will lead to our separation from God (John 15); the Old Testament referred to this as backsliding. This is why believers are called to regularly break bread while not forsaking the assembling of themselves together; so they can keep their hearts soft as they remember from where they have come and what it cost to get them there. At they same time they are to keep their minds renewed by allowing God's word to permeate their minds (Ephesians 5:26).
So does the above open the door for legalism whereby we can lord it over each other, holding believers to our standards, telling them how to or how not to live? Absolutely not. Romans 8:1 makes it clear that we need not walk in any sort of condemnation but that does not mean we can continue sinning. As Paul puts it, “God forbid”. John tells us how we ought to deal with sin, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2). And to brings things right back to the beginning with respect to an incorrect application of “all things are permissible”, 1 John 2:3-5 reminds us that, “by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him', and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” and by taking note of the following, we can establish where we stand before God; “whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”
To conclude, do I walk fearing for my salvation? No, not at all. While chapters like Hebrews 6 or a verse life Revelation 3:5 caution me not to harden my heart or drift from the way, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Further while I am called to “work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), I have nothing to do with the actual salvation part – this is all God's doing; I just need to allow Him to do it. However the really good news about being a new creature in Christ is that in the same way that an apple tree bears apples, I need not strive at being saved but rather my life (through and because of Christ) will automatically bring forth fruits of righteousness and salvation; the Christ in me will enable me to live freely, unhindered, according to the perfect law of liberty which only brings glory to His name. What a gracious, great and glorious God we serve.
The question I therefore have for myself is, “What fruit is my life displaying?”