1 Corinthians 6:11 - God Changes People
Yes, is that true, can you just say it generally?
Or do the changes belong to the exceptions?
There are success stories aplenty. But sometimes you get so tired of them. For it is always about other people who have experienced a lot of things, through which their lives have been changed forever.
There are preachers who make sure that at least 40% of their preaching consists of examples.
Or even more. This is how they are trained. Examples convince. Tell about the man who, despite everything, trusted God and in a miraculous way had his problems solved. Or about the woman who was brought out of the gutter in which she had landed due to her own fault, by the Lord. Tell the story, and those in the room are hanging on your every word. For everyone wants to experience that. There is a desire for real happiness which fills your life, instead of all kinds of surrogates which only make you emptier.
But how do all these stories about others help me? What can I do with all those testimonials when they are not about me?
In our circles people are very reluctant about testimonials. For it should not be about people, but about God, is what is being said. And there is some truth to that.
Not Only Forgiveness, Also Change
And yet, God changes people. Not only others, but also me. We find a very solid text about this when Paul writes to the Corinthians about how some of them were. He sums up: “the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practise homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, the drunkards, revilers, and swindlers’ (1 Cor. 6:9-10). This is quite a list. These are not sins which stand on their own, they show a deeply sunken life. Nevertheless, the apostle continues:
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
Do note: “Such were some of you”! You were like this, but you are not like this anymore. These must have been some tremendous changes.
Complete lives have been radically changed, from death to life. And not by exception. For though the apostle writes: “Some of you”, he writes this as an appeal to the whole congregation.
And he names all kinds of sinners, in plural. You were like that, but you are not like that anymore. How is that possible?
“You are cleansed”, most often refers to the washing away of sins, and that is correct of course. But apparently, we are washed in such a way that we change on the inside. We not only become clean, but also different.
You Are Now Different
That says even more when we note the specific kind of sins and sinners which are mentioned.
For example, “the sexually immoral”, who are those? What is still immoral nowadays? Well, the Greek word that is used here did not even have to be translated: Paul is talking about all “pornoi”, in other words everyone who occupies themselves with porno, in whatever way that may be. In our time this is a widely spread phenomenon, and extremely addictive as well.
The temptation which emanates from this is strong, too strong for many. How do you ever lose that? How people sigh under this, also those who to their comfort believe in the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness, yes, but do they also believe in change through the blood and the Spirit of Jesus Christ? Change, not just for others, but also for me?
Another example that jumps out is the “men who practise homosexuality” (The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts). Some of these are men who practise homosexuality with minors. Why? That is in their genes. That is situated as deeply with the homosexual as with the heterosexual man. Forgiveness is there for everyone who confesses his sins to Jesus. But is there also change? Also for the homosexual man with the minor? Is that possible?
Paul writes plainly: “Such were some of you”, which is in the past tense. So it is possible.
And then you can fill in: the drunkard, the reviler, the swindler, and so on.
You were like that, but you are not like that anymore.
A New Lord
All these people, if they do not change, will not enter the kingdom of God. That is the framework in which Paul writes. They are marked for death, in absence of God. It is namely totally impossible to come to God in such a state.
It is this death that Jesus took upon himself.
Not the natural death, for death is not natural. He entered the dirty death, the result of all these vile practices.
We can say it, but we cannot understand it.
He went through the absence of God and emptied that cup completely.
This is how he conquered the rule of Satan. He disarmed the enemy. Now all the power in heaven and on earth is his.
All the power, also in the hearts of people. He makes us rise from the dead, into a new life.
He is stronger than everything that is strong in us. This is how we confess it in Lord’s Day 17 (of the Heidelberg Catechism) where the question is: How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?
The answer begins with his resurrection and it then ends with our resurrection later. And the core of the matter is formulated this way: “second, by his power we too are raised up (now already) to a new life” (Book of Praise, page 531). That is more than forgiveness. That is change which goes as high as it goes deep, which encompasses our whole life.
A new Lord starts to rule us from the inside, we obtain different thoughts, different desires, a different inner joy and a new kind of satisfaction.
Choose Whom You Will Serve
Does that not sound too beautiful? Are we already now that perfect? Are we not troubled anymore by our deadly passions?
Yes and no.
Yes, for as long as we share in this sinful existence, we will experience that we are by nature inclined to all evil. And more than inclined: in words, thoughts, and deeds we sin. We ought to pray earnestly to God daily, to keep us from (doing) evil and to save us from temptations, pleading on the blood of the Lamb. Of ourselves we could not remain standing for a moment.
That is the reason to continually humble ourselves, to seek the nearness of God, always and everywhere, and not to trust in ourselves.
No, for sinful patterns do not rule us anymore. Even when they can still be pointed at and are still recognizable, even when we fall back in them at times, they do not rule us anymore as Jesus rules in our heart by his Holy Spirit. Especially through his Spirit you will start to see your sins more and more, and the filth they contain. It seems as if you die, and in certain ways that is true (Rom. 7:9). But it is exactly life which makes its entrance. So, the old man must disappear, to make room for the new man.
This is an exceptionally encouraging thought for everyone who is troubled by addictive sins and with falling back in those. Just ask yourself who your Lord is. Choose whom you want as your Lord.
And tell him, every day. Pray: “teach me by Your Word and Spirit. Your kingdom come, also in me”. Then you no longer belong to the “pornoi” etc., such you once were, but now you are not anymore. Now you are a “Christian”, who still is troubled by porno and such, and sometimes a lot. But that is not a reason to despair, and neither to remain in your sins without hope.
For Jesus is Lord, and he alone. And he is that to keep you with his power and protect you against all your enemies (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 19).
Hear, What God Has Done For Me
This is not just a matter of power and strength, in which our Lord conquers. The change also occurs because he lets us share in himself. The idols can leave now, for what they have to offer, pales in comparison to the love that Jesus gives. Idols make you empty, addictions cost all your energy, while Jesus gives you back the meaning of life and lets you experience the joy of it.
That is not just theory, that is a new existence. Everyone may come and experience that.
Come to the waters, all ye who thirst. Come, drink and be finally fully satisfied. Addictions entail that they never satisfy; that is why there is always a need for more. Jesus frees you from that, as he gives what every person searches for (consciously or subconsciously): He fills our emptiness, which came into being due to our farewell to God.
And could it be (so then) that Jesus reveals himself in that manner? Could changed people be living sermons?
There is a wrong kind of witness, where special occurrences dominate, which no one else needs to experience in that manner. Those people then become so special, that you do not feel part of them.
But there is also a witness of God’s goodness and grace in the lives of people, which we silence to our peril. There it is not about the exceptional but about the change which everyone experiences in her or his way, as Jesus is being accepted for the first time, or for the first time for real.
Come and be to my words attentive,
all you who God in truth revere.
Let me declare how he has helped me,
how in my troubles he drew near.”
Psalm 66:7 in the Book of Praise.
This is not about others, this is about how God is, for me and also for you.
Let believers tell the stories about what they have received from God in times of illness or through liberation from sinful patterns in their lives.
This is the tone in many Psalms, the telling of God’s great deeds, also in personal lives.
God changes people. His Word is full of this, just as his government, which is world-wide and very personal.