On Sunday we will be walking through Hebrews 2:1-4 and the author’s warning to Jewish believers to “drift away” from the Gospel and why this would be tragic. While we will advance the Hebrews passage on Sunday, I wanted to extend this idea through the writing of the Apostle Paul to the Church at Corinth to approach the subject in a broader context. The church at Corinth was filled with people from a Gentile background and, while the launch point of their world view was much different from those to whom the book of Hebrews was written, the core issue of getting the Gospel right – both propositionally as well as the implications of what the Gospel produces, make these letters two sides of the same Gospel coin.
In our day there are “make-believers” that are easy to spot – those who say things like, “I believe God will accept me because He is loving” or “I work hard at being a good person and think God accepts good people.” But what about a person who has orthodox beliefs and a seemingly genuine story of coming to Christ but is still not a genuine convert? How could you possibly know? How do you approach a person who prayed to accept Christ and professes to “believe in Jesus” yet gives no daily evidence of following Jesus in his or her life?
Paul helps us with this scenario when he writes about the “believers” at Corinth who were claiming to be Christians but were not following Jesus in the choices they made in everyday living. Paul had already confronted gross immorality that was not only occurring at Corinth but was actually being touted as being virtuous (see I Cor. 5:1-13) most likely due to a misunderstanding of what being forgiven of their sins implied and promoted – “we are forgiven so we can live however we want.” In following up on this, Paul writes another letter warning them that the desire to abandon sinful living will reveal whether or not they are truly followers of Jesus. Paul moves from the propositional reality that within the Gospel a person will receive forgiveness for his or her sins, but the result of that new reality will result in a desire to avoid sinful living and foster a growing disdain for what the world has to offer. In short, Paul fears that there are “make-believers” in the church at Corinth. How Paul deals with these people is helpful for us in dealing with the “make believers” in our social circles and even in our own families.
For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced. Chapter 13 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 2 I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—3 since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. 10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. — 2 Cor. 12:20-13:10
Paul instructs the people in the church at Corinth to examine their actions – quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder… impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced. If they see these characteristics as sinful and needing to be repented of, then they can have assurance that they are true believers. To Paul, it is the desire and pursuit to live holy that he views as a direct outcome of genuine faith. Paul is not pushing perfection in life per say, but direction of life. Paul – the champion of salvation as being based on faith-alone, would never allow anyone to believe that faith-alone means faith that is alone; faith is always accompanied by a desire and the pursuit of holy living. Without this outworking and struggle to be more than we currently are, a profession of faith is no better than wishful thinking. Therefore, when we are concerned about the genuineness of the faith of a “church-goer”, we too should urge that person to examine the street-level desires of their heart in light of the standards of living holy in an unholy world.
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. — 1 Timothy 1:8-11
I am grateful that God has given us a tool, a device that is uniquely useful to help a “make-believer” turn from empty religion to trusting and living with Christ as the epicentre of an individual’s worldview. See how the the Law of God is the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to expose “make-believers” and convert a person from wishful-thinking to Gospel-living as illustrated in the following story.