By Stephen W. Hiemstra
…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 (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV).
Where is your identity?
A friend of mine was involved in special operations as a professional soldier and spent time in places like Vietnam. Here was a man who had engaged in fierce combat operations. When I first met him and heard him talk, I thought that he was delusional—he talked about things that I would never have done; never could do. What was normal for him, most of us would look on in horror in the movie theater. But he was a soldier doing what soldiers are expected to do. Out his identity as a soldier, he was able to bear those burdens years after year. For him, the hard part was transitioning back into the life of a civilian and leaving the burdens of military life behind. Now, as a civilian he has a new identity.
Our identities define both who we are and how we are expected to behave.
The Corinthian church had an identity problem. In Corinth before Paul arrived, the rich exploited the poor, in part, through legal proceedings (vv 1-8). In Corinth before Paul arrived, hard partying routinely included drunkenness, orgies, and prostitution—male and female (vv 9-10). And the Corinthians even had proverbs to support their wild behavior. Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food (v 13) is a proverb thought to be used analogously to condone sexual promiscuity. When Paul established a church in Corinth, these attributes of the Corinthian identity did not change like one would turn on a light switch. The Corinthians needed help in growing into their new identities in Christ.
What about us? Is our primary identity in Christ? Or is it in our profession, our ethnicity, our gender, our nationality, our social class or some other activity? If our primarily identity is something other than Christ, we practice idolatry and suffer an idolater’s fate—an existential crisis when our idols fail us. The unemployed workaholic is not only out of a paycheck; the workaholic has lost their primary source of identity—an idol has been crushed. This causes an existential crisis. If we act out of an identity that has been crushed, then our lives appear meaningless without direction or value. Is it any wonder that drug use, suicide, and mass shootings are so common today? The problem is not psychiatric; it is spiritual—God will not take second place in our lives; God is a jealous god (Exodus 20:3-8).
Much like the commandments in Exodus 20, Paul’s vice list in verses 9-10 is used to establish Christian identity through contrast. If you are a Christian, then by definition you avoid doing these things. Paul readily admits that some of the Corinthians used to do these things (v 11). All sins are forgivable (other than denying salvation); lifestyles of sin call into question one’s true identity. Paul’s guidance is interesting: 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 (v 12). Do we let sin dominate us? If we do, we have a problem with a sinful lifestyle.
In closing chapter 6, Paul makes three arguments against sexual immorality:
- Since we are united with Christ, sexual immorality unites Christ with a prostitute—unthinkable! (v 15);
- Sexual immorality is sin against one’s own body—in other words, stupid (v 18); and
- Our bodies are the temple of God purchased at a price—we are not our own (vv 19-20).
But, our identities are in Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it: But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (v 11).
Where is your identity?