2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
There are some passages of Scripture that people tend to run from. There are many reasons for this. The most prominent of which is a misunderstanding of the difference between what their faith tradition teaches and what scripture says. They can’t seem to reconcile the two. So, instead of letting the Word of God speak without censorship, they only hear the parts their minds haven’t automatically filtered out. Unfortunately, we all have this tendency.
Others view difficult texts as mere suggestions. They approach the Word with the idea that God is a friend who offers friendly advice which can be accepted or rejected, depending on how it affects the conscience. To that group, God’s Word is nothing more than good principles to live by; a handbook for living life to the fullest.
All of us who understand the significance of God’s Word must repel the tendency to think less of the Word of God than we should: it is the creator of the universe’s communiqué to humanity. God’s word transcends traditions and our opinions; its a revelation of spiritual knowledge to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear its true meaning and purpose. And we are to take it seriously if we want to honor God. We must accept it as it is, without reservation.
2 Corinthians 7:1 is confusing to many. The prevailing thought in Christendom is that we’re made Holy in Jesus through faith alone, and nothing else is necessary. That is, once we place our faith and trust in Him, we receive righteousness and holiness as a gift, and good works are not needed. That sounds great, but it’s only partially true. We are indeed justified (made right with God) by our faith (Romans 3:28). We’ve also been made holy by the sacrifice Jesus made at Calvary (Hebrews 10:10). However, there is more to being a Christian.
In our text, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. If you haven’t read through both letters to Corinth, please do. This was a church with major struggles. There are at least two reasons why these lengthy letters were written to this church: (1) the Corinthians needed correction and instruction (2) the Corinthians needed a lot of correction and instruction.
We won’t get into the background of the book at this time, but Paul wrote to this church, “since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves” (2 Corinthians 7:1). What are the promises? In the preceding verses, Paul wrote,
What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:16-18 NIV
Paul told the Corinthians not to be yoked with unbelievers. This was an especially important instruction for those in Corinth because of all the vice and immorality at the fingertips of the residents. For example, the temple of Aphrodite, located in the heart of Corinth, was home to 1,000 priestess-prostitutes. It was a popular spot for many locals. For obvious reasons, it’s not a good idea for Christians to be associated with people who frequent those sort of places. That’s probably why Paul makes a distinction between the temples of God (us) and those who worship idols. The two don’t mix. They can’t.
Paul then lists the promises. These are Old Testament references, but they were written for our benefit. The promises declare that God will live with us, walk with us, and be our God. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Fortunately, we have received those promise through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. What a blessing! But there’s more Paul wants the church to know. “Therefore, ” he writes, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” What was Paul getting at? I think the point he’s making is that being a person of faith requires more than just believing and receiving blessings: it requires obedience and separation.
This text is where the rubber meets the road. For too long and in too many congregations, people have promoted the idea that holiness is merely a state of being, received by faith. Again, this is only partially true. Yes, we are justified by faith. Yes, we are made holy by faith. But does that mean we should go on living the way we did before Jesus found us? Paul’s response to that question is “God forbid” (Romans 6:1-2). We are in Christ; therefore, we have been called to a life of holiness.
Paul’s instructions in 2 Corinthians 7:1 should be gladly received by all Christians. We are to cleanse ourselves, with the assistance of the Spirit, from the defilements of the body and spirit. This means that we should eagerly fight against sin. There are sins carried out in the body; fornication is the best example. There are also sins carried out in the spirit. These include malice, deceit, envy, and others, all of which come out of the heart, according to Jesus (Mark 7:20). The point Paul is making is that our calling is not only to be people of God by faith but to demonstrate that we’re people of God by our conduct. This isn’t to earn salvation, its done out of gratitude for salvation. In other words, since we’ve been treated so well by God and given so many promises, let’s clean our act up. We’ve been made holy, now let’s do our best to actually be holy.
So, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, make sure you’re living out the Gospel. As Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men” (Matthew 5:16). Make sure you’re living in a way that glorifies God; He’s worth the effort.