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Christian morality isn’t restrictive; it’s freeing! Christian morality isn’t holding us back from enjoying life. Christian morality is living the new life we’ve been given. It’s living in and enjoying our salvation.
It’s easy to think that Christian morality (you know, like the Ten Commandments and all the standards for how we are to live) is this huge killjoy, a bunch of rules keeping us from enjoying life. This is the popular view of Christianity—that it’s full of all these rules that tell you what you can’t do. It’s full of all these rules that hold you back from living the way you want, from living the life that you choose for yourself. It’s so restrictive.
Take the sixth commandment, You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in all we say and do. To many people, this commandment seems to be holding us back. After all, we’re sexual creatures. Why should we repress our urges and desires? That’s who I am. This commandment is just trying to keep me from living a fulfilling and satisfying life. It’s keeping me from being who I am. It’s repressive!
Or take what Paul says in Ephesians, chapter 5, “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” It’s easy to hear that and think, “Oh, come on. What am I supposed to take all the joy out of my life? I mean, after a long, hard day, or a long, hard week, there’s nothing more satisfying than escaping it all by having a few drinks. There’s nothing more enjoyable than getting away from it all. Why would I deprive myself of that?”
Or take the Ninth and Tenth Commandments, You shall not covet. This one always raises questions. “This doesn’t mean I can’t want something, does it? There are so many good things out there. It’s not bad to want them, is it?” Just hearing what the commandment means—that you shouldn’t desire what belongs to someone else—makes us defensive. It seems so restrictive.
It’s not just people out there. Even for us it’s easy to think that Christian morality is holding us back. For crying out loud, you only live once, right? You might as well enjoy it!
But Christian morality isn’t holding us back from enjoying life. It’s living in the new life we’ve been given. It’s inhabiting and enjoying our salvation!
There’s something unexpected in our reading from First Corinthians today. When Paul confronts the Corinthians about their sexual immorality, he doesn’t give them a long lecture about all the rules they’re failing to keep. Instead, he reminds them of the new life they’ve been given in Jesus Christ, and he’s astonished that they would so quickly throw it all away.
The Corinthians had an excuse for their debauchery, they’re own kind of defensiveness. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food—and God will destroy both one and the other.” Food is meant for the stomach, so why not enjoy it?! Or when it comes to the sixth commandment: We’re sexual creatures. This body part was made for that body part. Why should we repress our urges and desires? Why else would I have these desires except to enjoy them? It’s all going to come to an end anyway. Life is short; enjoy it while you can.
Notice that Paul doesn’t respond by saying, “You’re breaking the rules!” Instead, he responds by saying, “What do you mean life is short and then you die? Have you forgotten that you’re going to be raised from the dead? Have you forgotten that your end isn’t the grave but the resurrection? You’re not on the track of sin and death. You’ve been rescued by Jesus Christ; you’re on the track of resurrection and righteousness!”
“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” Our bodies aren’t meant to be used and thrown away. This is why Jesus took on human flesh and blood—so that he could save our bodies!
Yes, all of us are born into the rot and decay of sin. And the wages of sin are death. But God’s Son has taken this road as his own. He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus died the death of a sinner but was raised from the dead a new creation. Jesus has death behind him once and for all. And everyone who has been baptized into him has been joined to Christ. Our fate isn’t simply sin and death but resurrection from the dead and righteousness. Our bodies aren’t meant to be used and thrown away. Jesus died in order to save our bodies. He died our death so that we might have his resurrection from the dead. As Paul says in Philippians, Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
Your body isn’t to be used and then thrown away. Jesus died to redeem your body from sin and death. So why would you throw all of that away and act as if life is short and then you die? Why would you act like you have nothing more to live for except to get a little pleasure before it’s all taken away? Jesus didn’t die our death so that we would continue to enslave ourselves to sin. Jesus died our death to rescue us from sin, so that we could walk in newness of life.
And this brings an important point to light: the new life of the resurrection is not just a future reality. It’s something we already live in even now. Even now we are members of the body of Christ, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, you’ve been joined to Jesus Christ. What happened to him in his body is what will happen to you in your body. You’ve been fused to him. As Paul says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Jesus Christ?” Or as he says in Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” And that makes our bodies holy and sacred, temples of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are the place on earth where God himself dwells. Christ is in us, and we are in him.
So why would we give our bodies over to sin? Sin isn’t just breaking a rule; sin is profaning the body that God has made holy and sacred. As Paul says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
We’ve been saved from sin and death. Our fate isn’t just “life is short and then you die.” No, our fate is resurrection from the dead to new and perfect life. And we rejoice in this. We rejoice in this at the beginning of life. As soon as our children are born, we baptize them into Jesus Christ so that they’ll belong to him. As soon as life begins, we want to give them the best. And we also rejoice in this at the end of life. Even as we lay the bodies of our loved ones in the ground, we take hope in the resurrection of the dead. We say “May God the Father, who created this body; may God the Son, who by his blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.”
So why, in the middle of life, would we turn away from that and live in the very thing we’ve been saved from? Christian morality isn’t holding us back from enjoying life. Christian morality is living the new life we’ve been given. Christian morality is living in and enjoying our salvation.
Why would we commit sexual immorality, or give ourselves over to drunkenness, or covet that which doesn’t belong to us, as if we had nothing to look forward to but death, as if the most we can get out of life is some fleeting pleasure? You have more to look forward to than death. Your fate and destiny are resurrection from the dead to new and perfect life, and that life has already burst upon you in the waters of baptism. You are a member of the body of Christ; a temple of the Holy Spirit. So glorify God in your bodies.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
1 Corinthians 6.12-20
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.