Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This article complements the long article on 1 Corinthians 7, titled ‘A Hard Teaching’. There were some things said that need to be seen through the eyes of a new creature in Christ, and received by a heart of flesh. There is also need for every believer to be reminded that there is now no condemnation for them (Rom 8:1), for the things done in their past, because all things are made new in Christ.
We are created new, called to the same covenant by the same Spirit (1 Cor 12:4, 8-9), but we are each different and mustn’t compare ourselves. We each have our own part to play in the Body of Christ, different ministries, diverse gifts (1 Cor 12)…but bearing the same fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), which is evidence of our connection to the Vine (John 15:4-5; Matt 7:16-20). Jesus said that people will know we are His disciples by our love (John 13:35).
In the Old Covenant, it sufficed that we showed our love for God and others, by doing to others what we would have them do to us. Sometimes, in relation to judgment verses mercy, this approach was more on the side of judgment than mercy (consider “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt 5:38)). Accordingly, by the old way, we all deserved death for our sins, but Jesus came and made mercy available to us (Rom 6:23). He promoted mercy above judgment, advocating for the forgiveness of sins, and teaching such things as loving your enemies (Matt 5:43-44) and turning the other cheek (Matt 5:39). There was a difference in the love Jesus taught. It was a greater kind of love, and walking in it makes us perfect as God is perfect (Matt 5:45-48).
Jesus said that this is a NEW commandment, to love each other the way He loved us, by laying down His life for us (John 13:34; John 15:12-13). He said that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees (Matt 5:20), who practiced the Law legalistically, but who didn’t know this kind of love. Jesus required that whoever would follow Him would show allegiance to this new and higher calling by first denying themselves and bearing their cross (Matt 16:24); or as Paul put it, dying to themselves and being crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20). This is the only way that we can love and forgive like God does, when we let go of our pride, desires, possessions, fears and worries (Luke 14:33). When we obey and let go of all these things, there is now room for God to come and fill us with His Holy Spirit (Matt 9:17; John 14:23). We learn to rely on God and He teaches us to love like Him, as we abide in Him.
Now, connecting this back to the discourse on ‘A Hard Teaching’, I believe it was in light of this new way that Paul gave his teaching. Otherwise, there was really no need. They already had the Ten Commandments and the accompanying books of the Law, so why should they have asked Paul about how it applies to them now. They had to, because they were released from the demands of the Law (Gal 3:22-25), but still had the same issues of social and emotional relationships to deal with. So they needed a new understanding, and a new framework or points of reference, being new creatures of a new covenant.
I think it was interesting and GREAT that Jesus summed up all the Law in two commandments of love (Matt 22:37-40). He really didn’t want us to be burdened with the letter of the Law, but be liberated and live by the Spirit. John said, “grace and truth came through Jesus” (John 1:17), and Paul said, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). When we realise this, we will know that we have been called to a better covenant (Heb 8:6; 12:24), and we will know what the Truth is regardless of the Law. Jesus said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). It was also said concerning Jesus that He is the Word of God (John 1:1), and carries the Spirit of Wisdom (Isa 11:2). If we want to know the truth and be set free from religion and guilt, we must continue in the teachings of Jesus and abide in His love (John 8:31-32).
It was taught in ‘A Hard Teaching’ that, because of this new way, though divorce was permitted in the past due to the hardness of their hearts (Matt 19:8), it is forbidden for the believer, because we are called to walk in a higher love (1 Cor 13). There were also things which were forbidden for the Isrealites, that are now acceptable, and maybe even necessitated, for believers (1 Cor 6:12; Rom 14). If we hold to the Spirit of Wisdom, we will understand what love requires in different situations (John 14:26), and always walk in the Way, the Truth and the [abundant] Life! We will walk in love (Eph 5:2), in peace (John 14:27) and in liberty (Gal 5:1).
Now, the fact is we came to Christ with different baggage, dilemmas and experiences. But when we are accepted, we are accepted in the same boat. The Bible says there is none righteous, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)! So, whether you are a virgin or were a prostitute, when you are saved, you are a new creature – the old has passed away. Likewise, if you committed sexual perversions (including same sex relations) in the past or have been married once or more before you came to the Throne of Grace, your slate before Christ is clean (Heb 8:12). There is no condemnation. You are even free to marry again in the Lord, if you seek out His will and counsel (1 Cor 7:15). However, it could be that re-marriage is inadvisable for you. And if you truly are born again (John 3:3) and have died to self (which is the narrow gate by which you entered into this new covenant with God (Matt 7:14)), you will lay this down before God for Him to shine His light of truth on it – and then walk in it. Remember that whatever is done without faith is sin to you (Rom 14:23), because we called to live by faith (Gal 3:11).
Now, for the singles (virgins and redeemed fornicators alike), who may or may not be desirous for marriage. ‘A Hard Teaching’ counsels them to abide in their single condition, expectant of Christ’s return (1 Cor 7:26, 29), and giving themselves wholly to ministry. However, we know not all are leaders. Not all will run churches. Still, ministry of some kind (great or small) is expected of all who believe and are part of the Body of Christ. Paul made reservation for those who are unable to control their passions to marry, so that they do not commit sexual sins instead (1 Cor 7:2, 9). Even though this is a concession, no one should feel bad for taking it! It is better to be honest with yourself, and not to carry someone else’s burden, when you haven’t been gifted the same (1 Cor 7:7, 1 Cor 12:30). However, the reason for the teaching is for WISDOM (2 Tim 3:16) and empowerment (knowledge and understanding empowers people to walk in liberty)! It is wise counsel and of great benefit. It should be taught, but people refuse to consider celibacy, let alone teach it, for fear of losing followers or being judged.
If we don’t teach it, we are also guilty of heaping burdens on people that we won’t lift our fingers to help them with (Matt 23:4). Consider the challenges discussed in ‘A Hard Teaching’ about marriage, divorce, children, the end times and nursing mothers, cheating and abusive spouses and so on… The defense for marriage as the preferred way is a worldly defense. It defends the status quo, which ‘makes the world go round’ so to speak. It means that people will still give priority to making money (to look after legitimate or illegitimate needs) than to winning souls – and keeps them going to Church (few will go to a Church where they are told to die to themselves daily or even sell their possessions and give to the poor) and paying tithes! It supports the religion of life, but not the abundant life that Jesus spoke of, which is gained by forsaking all these things (Luke 12:32-33). A true paradox!
The last point on this discourse is about those who marry in Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:39 that Christian marriage is for life. So even though the divorced unbeliever becomes saved and is liberated to marry in the Lord, the single believer who marries in the Lord doesn’t have the liberty of divorce and re-marriage, because such a thing is unheard of in the definitions of love! A believer, whether married to a believer or unbeliever, is not permitted to divorce (1 Cor 7:10-11), because it goes against their new nature, which now lives for Christ, who died for them. But what happens when they do anyway…or if their spouse (who would have also been a believer) divorces them? Can they sign the papers? Can they marry again being relieved by their spouse (who by virtue of their decision to divorce has broken the faith)? Can a believer who divorced his/her spouse (being of a hard heart) be made whole again in Christ?
These are the really hard questions, and there is only ONE law for them, which is the new commandment Jesus gave. Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34). I don’t believe we can be legalistic about ‘adultery’ here, knowing what Jesus said about it, that if you lust after someone else, you have already committed it (Matt 5:28)! He says, that is small fry compared to His standard. So what then? Do we go to the Old Covenant for laws or concessions on when and how to re-marry? Do we fantasise about the death of the ex-wife or ex-husband, so that we may be liberated? Do we resent the liberty of our divorced friend, who just got saved and is married again, and think – why must I suffer alone? Do we not also have access to the grace of God to cleanse us from the stain of our broken marriage, the same way He has cleansed us from the stain and guilt of the countless other sins we might have committed since we have been saved (1 John 1:9)? These are the questions the Christian suffering from the guilt of the failed marriage asks. I know, because I am one.
It is good to remember that we have been called to peace (1 Cor 7:15). James said that the backslidden can be restored (Jam 5:19-20). Jesus said that He will never leave nor forsake us (Matt 28:20; Heb 13:5). The Bible also says that though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise up again – because he is righteous (Pro 24:16). So, the first thing to realise, when you’ve done all you can to reconcile and restore the marriage in sincerity of heart (Matt 5:24), but still fail, is that your sins are forgiven (if you have confessed them – 1 John 1:9-10). You are not under condemnation. You have access to the Throne of Grace. And what is more, just like your Christian brothers and sisters struggling with all types of shortcomings and sins, Jesus is daily before the Father interceding for you on this very matter too (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:34).
Now, Paul also said something that may sound contrary to this; that those who fall away cannot be renewed again in the faith (Heb 6:4-6). Peter also attested to this (2 Pet 2:20-22). Praying about this, I came to understand that what Paul (and Peter) was talking about was not mere backsliding, which every Christian has done at one point or another (consider Peter’s denial of Jesus (Matt 26:75)), but about apostacy. This is not about sin only, but about the blaspheme of the Holy Spirit, by someone who has once been touched by Its power, and denounces It. This person has rejected Christ after knowing Him, and cannot come back again, as it would be like crucifying Him over and over and making His sacrifice a joke. But the one who sins and confesses, and repents, hanging on to their faith and hope in the grace of Christ (Ps 51:10-12, 17), will receive forgiveness and restoration – because God is able to restore (Joel 2:25, Eze 37:4-6)!
This love and mercy which is available in Christ, doesn’t give us liberty to continue in sin, or to do wrong thinking we will come back and claim the blood of Jesus. In fact, if we continue in sin, it shows that we do not have God’s Spirit in us (1 John 3:6-9). Simply, those led by God’s Spirit will walk in the light and are not under the power of sin (1 John 1:7-8; Gal 5:17-18). God is not fooled, and He shall not the mocked. Whoever is seeking to abuse God’s grace will find that their days are numbered! Blaspheme of the Holy Spirit (which can be understood as treating God like a fool, and His Spirit with contempt) is the only unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-29)! It is not that such a person cannot be forgiven, but they never truly come to repentance. Their consciences are seared, and they will to do only what they please, denying God and His power to save. So by their own will and pride, they exempt themselves from forgiveness and salvation.
Now, the one who has backslidden is not abiding in Jesus’ love. They have broken fellowship with Him, and so cannot walk in peace and liberty (Eph 2:14), nor in the power that He gives (John 15:5). But God is faithful, even when we are faithless (2 Tim 2:13). Because He is LOVE (1 John 4:8), He still seeks to reconcile us back to Himself (Eph 2:16) and helps us in our infirmities (Rom 8:26; Phil 1:6). Those who are strong ought to pray for the weak, delivering them from falling away (Jam 5:15-16; 1 John 5:16; Jude 23). They must be merciful and not judgmental (Luke 6:36-37). The way to stay connected to the Vine, is also the way to be reconciled when we sin. This, therefore, is the term of reference for the backslidden for their healing:
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7)
Note that we are cleansed from all sin. What must we do? We must walk in the light, which is the love that Jesus showed us. We should have fellowship with believers, exercising our love through submission to one another (1 Pet 5:5). As we entered into covenant before, so we must enter in again…by denying ourselves – which is a daily discipline. We must practise sacrificial love, loving one another as Jesus loved us (Gal 6:2; 1 John 4:20). We must lay it all down again, whatever baggage we have picked up that caused the broken marriage. It could be unforgiveness, lust, greed, pride or a host of other self-glorifying offences. We must recognise that we are backslidden and confess our sins (Jam 5:16), so that we can be restored (1 John 1:10). We need to come back to God again, like little children (Matt 18:3), knowing that He loves to heal us. Remember that it is pride that tells us that our sin is too big for God to forgive. It is also rebellion, when we don’t come to Him, because we are not ready or willing to be submitted to His love. In such cases, we make ourselves unforgivable. Grace is abundantly available for us, but we must reach out for it in humility.
God is a forgiving God, a restorer of souls, and no lover of persons. Do not try to justify yourself with excuses or explanations, only confess and offer a contrite heart. It is only God who justifies (Rom 8:33), and only God can judge you, because He sees the hearts of men (Jer 17:9-10). I believe, by the mercies which I have received in Christ, that the same grace is available to these (believers with broken marriages) that is available for the new believer, only that more is expected from them (Luke 12:48)!! If you are one, you should be wiser now. You should be able to love more now. Think about what Jesus said about the prostitute who was forgiven much and loved much (Luke 7:47)! Like the woman caught in the act of adultery, Christ releases you from your burden of guilt, with this simple chastisement: “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Jesus said that we are made clean by His words, which we receive in our hearts (John 15:3). Peter also said that it is the word of God (or faith) that makes us born again (1 Pet 1:23). And Paul says that if we believe and confess, we shall be saved (Rom 10:9). When you first got saved, there was most likely no visible manifestation of this. You probably felt exactly the same. But you were able to walk in freedom because you believed. By the same assurance, when you have fallen short and sinned, you have come to God and believed that He forgave you for your sins, so that you can walk in good conscience before Him. In the same way, believe that you are not under condemnation, and if you return to walk in His love and light, you are truly cleansed from ALL your sins, including your failed marriage.
Now, as you are also free, you are Christ’s slave (1 Cor 7:22)! If you are to re-marry, seek the Lord’s counsel, and let your partner be found in the Lord. But it is still advisable to heed Paul’s counsel, and KNOW that it is better not to marry – whether you accept it for yourself or not. It still remains that it is better to marry than to burn and fornicate (1 Cor 7:9). However, if you will seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, and not be worried about your life and passions, but submit all to Christ, you will have all that you need (Matt 6:33)! You must trust in the Lord, and submit to His way, and He will create in you a clean heart (Psa 51:10), so that your desires are His, and they shall be granted unto you (Psa 37:4). AMEN.
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