Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Do Not Be Deceived"

The apostle Paul, as the theologian of the cross of Christ and the free grace of God revealed in Jesus, is always at pains to point out the ethical entailments of the gospel message.  Paul's gospel centered in Jesus Christ is opposed to legalism--all forms of "works righteousness" that would add to the gospel.  His gospel message is also opposed to all forms of antinomianism--a disregard for the moral imperatives that flow from the gospel.  Here are three exhortations by Paul:
      Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.  1 Corinthians 6.9-10 
       Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  Galatians 6.7-8 
      For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Ephesians 5.5-6
 A number of points should be taken note of:
1.  With the repeated refrain against being deceived Paul is showing us that there is the possibility of someone being led astray on this matter.  There is a tendency to want to downplay the judgment of God.  We are prone to deception--perhaps even self-deception-- on this point.  
2.  The context for these statements is (as noted above) judgment.  Nothing less than "the kingdom of God" and "the wrath of God" are at stake.  These are serious matters with eternal consequences. 
3.  The context for these statements concerns sinful behavior.  There are forms of behavior that Paul sees very clearly as being that which brings the judgment of God.   
4.  Each of the above statements is set within an epistle in which the gospel is clearly taught.   Consider Paul's focus on the message of the cross of Christ in 1 Corinthians chapter one.  This message which the world sees as foolish is actually the power and wisdom of God to those who are called (v. 24).  It is by God's doing--his power and activity--that we are in Christ Jesus (v. 30).  Indeed, Paul goes on to speak of how he was determined to "know nothing" among the Corinthians "except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (2.2).  Paul is gospel centered and this gospel centered message is not contradicted by his words later in 1 Corinthians 6.9-10.  In this very passage, Paul goes on to say: 
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
All of the sin and sinful behaviors mentioned by Paul can be taken away by the blood of Christ Jesus.  Cleansing sin is not the same as excusing sin.  Justifying the believer who places faith in Christ is not the same as justifying the sin.  
Or consider Ephesians.  God's gracious gospel centered in Jesus Christ is continually highlighted (1.3-14; 2.1-10).  Our salvation which is of grace and received through faith (2.8-9) issues forth in "good works" (2.10).  The indicatives of gospel grace serve as the foundation for the imperatives of Ephesians.  Consider how Paul stresses the "walk" of the Christian in Ephesians 4 and 5.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner of the calling with which you have been called... (4.1)
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.  (4.17-19) 
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for us... (5.1-2)
And then following directly after the passage quoted above (5.5-6) there are these words:
Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (5.7-10)
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.  (5.15-16) 
The people of the gospel of Jesus have a gospel walk.  It is a walk of humility, gentleness, and love.  It is a walk distinctive from the world in that it avoids the darkness of evil sensuality.  It is in the midst of these ethical exhortations that Paul warns us against being deceived by "empty words."  There are kinds of behaviors that bring forth the judgment of God and manifest that one is not an inheritor of the kingdom of Christ and God.  We would do well to remember these words for there are deceivers today who urge the ignoring of God's word and promote behaviors that will instead bring judgment.  Do not be deceived.