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"All Things are Lawful" - The Abuse of Grace

The Apostle Paul shows us in his first letter to the Corinthians that he is addressing a carnal church. –

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ (I Cor. 3:1).

He shows them the evidences of their carnality is manifesting in “envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal and walk as men?” (I Cor. 3:3). In addition to these things – “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you”… (I Cor. 5:1). Apparently one of their members was having an affair with his stepmother, and obviously because of the carnal spirit that was infecting this church, this sin was being tolerated and the individual was not receiving any correction.

The Apostle addresses the sin of fornication again in chapter six, verses twelve through eighteen.

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.
     Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.
     And God has both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by His own power.
     Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid.
     What? know you not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, says He, shall be one flesh (from Genesis 2:23).
     But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.
     Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.

Prior to these instructions, he had reminded this church that they have been washed from their previous sins. –

And such were some of you: but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (I Cor. 6:11).

Paul has said something curious in verse twelve. –

“All things are lawful to me”… In the previous verses nine and ten, he listed an assortment of vile sins of the flesh including fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, abusers of themselves with mankind, stealing, greed (covetousness), alcoholism, revilers, extortioners, - no one practicing these things shall enter the kingdom of God – I Cor. 6:9,10.

Is Paul saying in verse twelve that because of the atonement, “all things are lawful to me,” and that it is lawful for someone who is “saved” to practice those things? He is not.

According to indications in the original Greek, the one hundred scholars who contributed to the Holman Bible have determined that Paul is addressing a phrase that had originated from and was circulating in this carnal church. The apostle is repeating this phrase and reminding his listeners that these sins are not “expedient,” or beneficial to practice. In fact, the practice of these things can be downright disastrous and an evidence that the one who continuously practices sin has never known God, or has been saved in the first place, according to the meaning of the original Greek in I John 3:9. – Whosoever is born of God does not commit (continuingly, deliberately practice) sin.

In actuality, Paul is addressing a devastating error that was being perpetuated by a demonic spirit as we shall see. This is the spirit that turns grace into lasciviousness (Jude1:4).

After Paul addresses this distortion and its relation to sexual sin, he also addresses the issue of eating things sacrificed to idols in chapters eight and ten. The Roman empire of Paul’s day was a storm of pagan idolatry. The church functioned in the eye of this storm surrounded by a whirling dark cloud of temples dedicated to the worship of false gods. The worship of these gods sometimes included sex with temple prostitutes as an act of worship. Eating food that had been sacrificed to these gods was strictly forbidden in God’s law. Paul does not negate this law to the Gentiles he is instructing. He assures these new believers that these idols are nothing as they have come to the knowledge of the one true God of Israel through Jesus. However, they should not be seen in a pagan temple as it is a bad witness (I Cor. 8). If they purchase food in an open market, they don’t have to ask where it came from, but if someone tells them specifically that the food has been offered to an idol, then that food is to be refused as a witness (I Cor. 10:25-28).

So what relevance has this for us today, when we live in a culture that for the most part is not sacrificing pigs in a pagan temple to a demon god? What does it really mean?

Today the Christian church is also functioning within the eye of a whirling storm of pagan idolatry in various forms. The command to remain separate from any pagan practice that is in opposition to God’s word is consistent from the Old Testament to the New. The same spirit of whoredoms (Hosea 4:12) that infected ancient Israel, is also tirelessly working to undermine and pollute the Christian church as it has throughout the centuries.

The spirit of immorality that Paul had to deal with in the Corinthian church is also reflected in the Apostle John’s vision in Revelation’s chapter two. We see in the Lord’s description of the spiritual condition of the church in Thyatira,(verse 20), the same two errors that Paul is addressing in his letter to the Corinthians, fornication and sacrificing to idols. The motivating spirit behind those errors is the spirit of Jezebel. This ancient spirit of whoredoms seeks to replace the love of God with the love of the world, by subtly eroding the distinctions God makes between what is clean and what is unclean. This spirit distorts “salvation by grace” into a license to sin, and the phrase, “all things are lawful to me” becomes a mantra that is gleefully embraced by souls who are looking for an excuse to indulge their flesh. Biblical repentance and holiness are not part of this spirit’s doctrine and the result is a church in moral decline.

One of the pastors I met actually declared to his congregation that Christians have no moral code. This is another way of repeating the Jezebelian mantra, “All things are lawful for me.”

While we are saved by grace and there is no work we can do to obtain the salvation that God has ordained to come to us through Christ alone, the intended fruit from that salvation is a transformed life that is morally aligned with God’s standards in His word.

Paul instructed Timothy to read God’s word so that he may be thoroughly furnished with righteousness (II Timothy 14-17). The Holy Spirit continuously works in a believer’s life to conform us into Jesus’ sinless, selfless image.

Our moral standard has always been God’s word, which was given to us for our health and spiritual welfare. And while we are no longer justified by those standards because of Jesus’ atonement, we have been made free from the law of sin and death so we may, in this freedom, and out of love for our Redeemer, walk in those things that God has ordained for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The carnal Corinthian church Paul was correcting, eventually experienced a painful church split according to the record we have in Clement’s writings. Apparently the carnal spirit that was influencing that church was never rejected and cast out.

The devil won in that instance. Please don’t let him win in your life. Read God’s word and let it override those man inspired slogans that emulate from the mouths of Jezebel’s agents. All things are not lawful for a genuine disciple of Christ. And those virtuous things that are the fruit of knowing Jesus are “expedient” and are full of life and blessings.

Copyright 2021 by H.D. Shively

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