2 Corinthians 7:1

2 Corinthians 7:1

Sanctification through Promises

Every time, without fail, Chandler would take a shower after he had been with Sharon, the woman he was having an affair with. Sharon would question him each time: “Why do you shower after you’ve been with me? Do you think we’re doing something wrong here?” Wachovia and his brother, Manny, had potty mouths. Every time their mother caught them cussing, she would march them into the bathroom, force their mouths under the sink faucet, and proceed to rinse them out with soap. What these vignettes illustrate is the inherent defilement of sin. Sin is dirty. It makes us feel yucky, unclean, filthy, and just plain gross. At least it should. Tragically, it doesn’t always come across as the disgusting pollution that it is in itself. Our disgust, or lack thereof, doesn’t determine sin’s status or level of filth. Indeed, God’s more disgusted with sin than we will ever be. Because of God’s absolute purity, all sin is impurity and must be blotted out.

Last time we explored the two internecine worldviews: Christ’s and Satan’s. There are really only two ways to live. Will Christ be recognized as a benevolent Lord over us, or will we choose to remain as slaves to Satan? Our answer will radically determine the direction our lives take  (I mean that literally, radix, “to the core”). One will be Christward, the other Devilward. Since our text is the first verse in a new chapter, we might be tempted to think that Paul has changed the direction of his argument or letter. Not so. In fact, 7:1 would flow better if it were seen as “6:19” (there’s no such verse). What Paul says in 7:1 is really the hortatory conclusion to what he had just written in 6:14-18. Paul exhorts the Corinthians and us as well: “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement.”

With Paul’s command we’re taken back to the Old Testament. This is quite clear with his citations in 6:16-19 of Leviticus 26:12 and Isaiah 52:11. Back in Leviticus, God has been preparing his people to enter the Promised Land and to live holily, because their God is holy and in their presence. In Leviticus 26, the Lord puts before the Israelites both blessings (for obedience) and curses (for disobedience). They must consecrate and cleanse themselves, as they are being led by the clean God. The tribes were even arranged around the Tabernacle with God’s presence being the focal point and with the understanding that God is their neighbor. Indeed, in Numbers 5:1-4, lepers and those with discharges are ritually unclean and must be put outside the camp until they are free of leprosy or bodily discharge. Why? God dwells with the people; he’s in their midst (v. 3). Even human feces were to be placed outside the camp (Deut. 23:12-14). The idea, of course, is that of God walking and stepping on poop. That’s gross. God is too pure for poop in his presence.

Paul is dealing here with more than feces. In fact, human defecation is nothing compared to the crap that is our sin. I recently saw a disheartening photo on social media posted by a guy who bought one of those self-moving vacuums. He was displeased because the vacuum went over his dog’s butt-waste, then proceeded to vacuum the rest of the house. You can picture the mess, I take it. If you think that’s a mess, what do you think about your own sin? If you’re an unbeliever, you’re in a big mess, aren’t you? You need the blood of Christ to cleanse your life of the filthy sin of body and spirit. And the beautiful truth about the gospel is that all our sins are washed away by the pure blood of Christ. First John 1:9 says that when we come to Christ by faith, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness. That’s a remarkable gift from the God of all purity.

In 7:1, however, Paul is addressing believers, so we’re not off the hook. Let’s be clear. When Christ atones for our sins, all of them (past, present, and future) are covered by his sufficient and efficient blood. So, we’re not talking about our justification or legal standing before God. We’re talking about sanctification, God’s daily work in our lives whereby we are renewed in the whole man, and are thus enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. No true Christian will say that he is without sin this side of heaven (1 John 1:10). Paul elsewhere says that God’s will is our very sanctification/holiness (1 Thess. 4:3). The author to the Hebrews even tells us strive for holiness, because without it no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Paul urges us not to give sin a foothold. God cares about how we live. We wouldn’t wittingly dip our toes in a puddle of urine. Why would we do so with sin?

Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement “of body and spirit.” Be it of the body or the spirit, from what defilement(s) must you cleanse yourself? Unrighteous anger, bitterness, pornography, masturbation, homosexuality, ingratitude, marital infidelity, living with your girlfriend, destructive speech, deceitful words, drunkenness, selfishness, impatience, envy, worldliness, lack of self-control, over-eating, under-eating, abuse of medication? All these sins have in common an origin from the spirit that is manifested through the body. Paul gives no credence to any Gnostic understanding of the person or sin. He rejects the idea that we can do whatever we want in the body, just as long as our spirits are free of sin. It doesn’t work that way. All sins of the body proceed from a heart in need of cleansing. We are whole-person sinners. Therefore, we need whole-person sanctification. Sin defiles, but Christ cleanses.

Well, then, how do we “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit”? We cling daily to the promises of God (7:1). The word “since” is better translated, “therefore,” thereby connecting 7:1 with the preceding context (6:16-18) where the promises are specified. We need to look at the word “promises” in Paul’s letter. It’s used only here and in 1:20. You can read the post from 1:20, where I chart some of the overarching and substantial promises of God. For this post, and looking at the context of 6:16-18, we see these promises:

  1. God will make his dwelling with Israel
  2. God will walk among Israel
  3. God will be Israel’s God; Israel will be God’s people
  4. God will welcome Israel
  5. God will be Israel’s Father; Israel will be God’s sons and daughters

These are promises of his presence, preservation, Fatherly care, guidance, infallible Word, and innumerable blessings besides. Just as God promised to dwell among the ancient Israelites—being with them every step of the way, making a way for them to come into his holy presence through the Tabernacle and Temple, providing manna in the wilderness and food in the Promised Land, shepherding them with his Word—God has blessed us now with these and more promises, and in a greater measure by Christ’s Spirit of Holiness. Remarkably, Paul is applying these promises given to Israel to the Corinthian Christians. Sorry Dispensationalists, but it should be clear that Paul believes that the NT church is the fulfillment of all these Temple prophecies. The NT church has these OT promises given to Israel. How can this be? The church is the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). True Israel consists of those who are by faith children of Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8). G.K. Beale has noted an inclusio (literary bookending) with 7:1 and 1:20, thereby including all the other promises in the intervening passages: promises of the Spirit (1:22), New Covenant (3:3, 6), new creation (5:17), and resurrected body (3:6; 5:14-15).[1] When we consider all these promises, therefore, we have a lot to meditate on and much to move us to obedience.

Why do we cleanse ourselves? God has given us these many and monumental promises! God has promised us better things! With all these more glorious realities awaiting us (which we taste in part even now), why would we be content with lesser things? Why would we give ourselves over to the unclean when God has blessed us with and for so much more? Does the titillating object of pornography really compare to the glory of God? Will your bitterness sustain you more than the hope of your resurrection? Does withholding forgiveness really outweigh God’s Fatherly and forgiving love for you in Christ? Should you touch that bottle, or will the God who indwells you be enough to get you through the day? Will you cleanse yourself by the Spirit’s purifying work, or will you join yourself to Belial? Are you God’s son or daughter, or Satan’s offspring?

If we seek to live rightly in the presence of God (knowing that we have become his dwelling-place), what will be the result? If we seek to live “in the fear of God” (that regenerated recognition that God is your light and life), what can we expect to take place? Paul tells us, “bringing holiness to completion.” And that’s another promise, isn’t it? It’s God who works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). As we submit ourselves to God, as we subject our members as slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:13), holiness ensues. Sanctification follows. You know what they say: You get out what you put in. As you, by God’s grace mediated by the Holy Spirit, avail yourself of his means of cleansing and daily discipline of godliness, you become more and more like Christ. You die more and more to sin, and you live more and more to righteousness. This is the lifestyle for those who seek to be trained by God’s discipline. A peaceful fruit of righteousness is sure to follow (Heb. 12:11). Let us, then, cleanse ourselves of all filth. Let’s hold onto the sweet and solid promises of the God who has called us his sons and daughters. As beloved children, let’s pursue holiness.

[1] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, 719 (BakerAcademic).