All things are lawful…. oh really?

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient: All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything”. (1 Corinthians 6:12).  This passage has astonished me for decades.  How could it be that ALL things, (that’s clearly what it says in the Greek), are lawful to me, a follower of Christ?  The whole idea feels so dangerously close to license that I’ve avoided it for more than thirty years.

I’m certain such a verse would never be found in the “New Pharisee Study Bible.”  It constitutes seizure material to the religious mind, (which may well explain why I’ve avoided it).  “Warning!” My mind would flash!  “A fatal error is occurring in the religious sector.”

But now that I’m finding deeper roots in the grace of God, it’s making more sense.  Grace understands that the sin issue has been so thoroughly solved at the cross, that the law no longer has jurisdiction over us.  (Romans 6:14)  We have been changed into something new, into sons and daughters defined not by what we do, but in who’s we are.

A son might say, “I’m a prince.  It doesn’t matter how I live because my Father is the king.” And in one sense that might be true, especially if the good King, by some unthinkably selfless act has preemptively taken all of his son’s punishment upon himself, and canceled all requirements of the law over him.  (Colossians 2:13-14)  But the son’s words betray the fact that he knows precious little about being a prince.

When you and I finally realize the extent of the work of Christ on the cross – that ALL of our sin is gone, and that we are no longer under the law, we might say with Paul, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient, because I am a child of God.” When a man finally realizes he’s a beloved prince, his behavior won’t be far behind.

13 thoughts on “All things are lawful…. oh really?”

  1. I’m not sure I understand what Paul means when he says all things are lawful. John says that if anyone says that he doesn’t sin, he is a liar and the truth is not in him, and tells us to confess our sin. James says that sin is transgressing the law. And the author of Hebrews says that God disciplines his children, chastises them. Why would someone for whom all things are lawful need to confess transgressing the law, and be disciplined for it?

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  2. Great question, Steve. John was addressing the Gnostic heresy when he told them “If any man says he has no sin, he is a liar and the truth is not in him.” The Gnostics believed that they, being essentially spiritual, were unable to sin. They also believed that Jesus was not born in the flesh because (again) he was essentially spiritual. So John addressed both of these ideas in his letter. If they would admit that they had sinned, then they would find the forgiveness of Christ. And later on he tells them that anyone who refuses to confess that Jesus has been born “in the flesh” has the spirit of Antichrist.

    The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was once, for all sins, and forever. (Hebrews 9:12). His sacrifice is so thorough that He is not counting the sins of the world against us. (2 Corinthians 5:19) That is the amazing good news of the gospel. It’s far better than religion has told us, and when we “get it”, sin becomes very much a background issue so that HE can become center stage.

    A Christian under grace will not go around saying he doesn’t sin. That’s very misleading and confuses the issue. But he might say “I am no longer under the law. I am under grace.” Or he may say that sin is no longer accounted against him. When Jesus took sin out of the way at the cross he made way open for man to step into life. Yet many Christians still try to live the Christian life by keeping their eyes focused on sin, performance, and the law. It can’t be done. Those things judge us, condemn us, and send us into condemnation. At the cross Jesus eradicated the judgment of sin against the human race. And now we are free to live. What amazing good and glorious news!

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  3. Hey Don, hope your day is going well. Thank you for helping me understand this issue. From what I understand, in Hebrews Jesus’ sacrifice being once for all, is compared with the temple sacrifices which were repeated and couldn’t take away sin’s guilt. Paul, in Romans says there is no condemnation for those who walk in the Spirit and not in the Flesh. In Galatians he tells us what the results are of people who live for the flesh, and those who live for the Spirit (he contrasts them so we can see the outward effects of what is going on, on the inside). Just so it doesn’t seem like I’m taking these verses out of context, I will post a section from 1st John where the writer is clearly telling believers that they do sin, and need to confess their sin. He says Jesus intercedes for us as well, why would Jesus need to intercede for us if we do not transgress the law that is written on our hearts?

     If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
    My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

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  4. Hey Steve,

    I’ve made three false starts at answering your last comment, and each time I’ve gotten bogged down with trying to figure out which direction to go. I’m not even sure if you’re disagreeing with me or not. If you’re wanting to talk more about this, it would help if I could understand more where you’re coming from. Do you think you could explain to me in your own words how 1 Corinthians 6:12 fits into your understanding of sin? And maybe you could also explain in your own words what you believe Jesus accomplished on the cross regarding sin? How does all this work for you in day to day life?

    I hope we won’t get bogged down in 1 John 1:9. I believe you have it wrong, and maybe we can talk more about it one day. But that’s beside the point anyway because I’ve never claimed in the first place to be “without sin.” I can’t ever imagine making such a claim, and I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Christian who has. But I do, along with a host of others, claim to no longer be a servant to sin; to be dead to sin, to no longer have sin as my master, and to be freed from the law of sin. And there is compelling Biblical support for such claims in Romans chapters five through eight, and Galatians chapters three through five. None of this, of course has a thing to do with me, but EVERYTHING to do with the staggering completeness of the work of Christ on the cross.

    Blessings,
    Don

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  5. Thank you so much for continuing this conversation with me. As I read 1 Corinthians 6:12 I see that prior to this, in verse 9, Paul is telling the readers the unrighteous behaviors they we slaves to such as prostitutes, drunkards, homosexuals etc… And he encourages the readers that they are no longer this way, because they have been washed clean, justified and sanctified by Jesus’ sacrifice and the Holy Spirit’s work in them. It seems to me, that throughout this letter Paul has to be critical of the Corinthians because they are using, in their mind justifying, their continuance in those sinful behaviors. So Paul says all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable, and he cannot become a slave to the fleshly desires- he cannot allow those behaviors to control him. Sex is lawful the desire is a gift of God and He has told us the proper fulfillment of that desire. Drinking is a gift, and is to be enjoyed in a way that will not cause us to be enslaved by it. Also, the freedom to use these gifts should be tempered/abstained from if it were to cause our brothers/sisters to doubt and sin themselves. We are to do it for love of God and others. I hope that makes sense.

    What did Jesus accomplish on the cross? He said it is finished, the sacrifice for my sin and yours is completed. Through faith in Christ I have access to God, forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, peace with God, comfort in trials, encouragement to persevere for Jesus who loved and gave himself for me. It works out in that when a coworker takes advantage of me, I allow him/her forgive them,and don’t seek vengeance. I trust God that when circumstances look their worst for my family- he is in control and trust Him. Love others and encourage them. Be patient through trails, be content. Be Joyful in the Lord for what he has done, and look forward to his Grace when Christ returns.

    Thanks again for this discussion. I’ve always appreciated reading your insights and following your travels.

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  6. Hi Don.
    Thanks for this thought-provoking post…it makes stand in awe all over again at the power of the Message! Here are some thoughts that are burning in my heart after reading this one…

    I believe that the good news about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God frees us from our sins so thoroughly…so entirely…and so completely…that we are able to change our entire focus of heart and mind from one of NOT SINNING to one of LOVING GOD and OTHERS.

    Our only concern in life becomes how we can love God and love others with the love we have been so freely given by God in Jesus Christ. In the words of Paul, we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.

    Who are we?
    At the core of our being…
    Are we beloved children of God struggling with sin?
    or
    Are we sinners struggling to become acceptable to God?

    The good news declares that we have been made beloved children of God through our faith in Jesus Christ – NOT our ability to keep the law. How incredible is that?!!

    Sad, guilt-laden law-keepers didn’t turn the world upside down.
    Joyful, confident, grace-transformed people did!

    Well, time to stop writing now and get back to doing my taxes…I have thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful interruption!

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  7. Hey Guys!

    Thanks for the feedback and for adding to the conversation! Sean… you always, always make me smile. I sure hope we’ll be able to have a face to face talk one day. It’s been way too long.

    Steve, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It was very helpful to me. I’m glad you mentioned the context of 1 Corinthians 6, regarding unrighteous behaviors in the church. I recently noticed that Paul’s handling of the situation is very much in accord with what I’m talking about. He reminded the Corinthians of who they are ARE! “You WERE such as these, but NOW you are washed, etc.” It’s almost like saying “you were commoners eating from the world’s trash, but now you are royalty, eating from my table!” (He even called these people “saints” at the beginning of the letter!)

    Obviously those unrighteous behaviors are not a part of the Kingdom, which absolutely separates light from darkness. The Kingdom never bows to embrace sin, yet the King opens His doors wide to the sinner.

    I like how Jesus says to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Many in the church today reverse the order and say “Go and sin no more, and then I will not condemn you.” (And being “equal opportunity judges” we say the same to ourselves as well!)

    Blessings!
    Don

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  8. Hey Don, thanks again for the discussion. I have another question that I’m curious how you would answer.

    In Acts Peter, with help of the Holy Spirit, strikes Ananias dead, then his wife Sapphira. Why do you think that was?

    In a letter to Timothy, Paul tells about Hymeneaus and Alexander who Paul says he delivered them to Satan that they would not blaspheme. What was all that about? Rough stuff man.

    What do you think these people were thinking that had such consequences delivered to them? Whenever I come across these passages I stop and think, wondering who were they fooling? Then I thank God that I’m not struck dead where I stand.

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  9. Hey Steve,

    Yeah… the church would be pretty slim if the same things were still occurring. I don’t know all the answers to these questions. Sometimes I just have to make a mental note to come back later in the journey to see if perhaps they’ll make more sense then.

    Some people say God uniquely struck people dead in the early church in order to establish a strong foundation on the fear of God. I don’t know. At this moment I see the thing of “turning over to Satan” somewhat like a family member who makes the difficult decision to stop trying to protect an addict from the consequences of his actions so that he’ll reach his lowest point and recognize his need for help.

    But I hold these views lightly, and stay open to further insight and correction. What do YOU think?

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  10. Really enjoying your blog Don! Still buzzing off last weeks teaching! My eyes have been opened to things I never understood before. The Kingdom of God is way closer than I realised and I am noticing His glory so much more and learning to appreciate how He wants to redeem Everything 🙂

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