During his second missionary visit to Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote a letter which was destined to change world history, not only in the first century, but in all future ages.
Paul makes a very profound statement about how we should respond to the gift of Jesus. He said, “And He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
A prevalent sin of the last days is that people will live primarily for themselves. This is contrary to those preparing for heaven. Paul said, “Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money,” and then it goes on to list a whole series of terrible sins and says they will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1–5).
O, friend, who has your heart? To whom do you give the wealth of your affections? Are you living for yourself?
Self-centered people always end up falling into sins, predominantly sexual immorality. The Corinthians had some trouble with immorality in their church. Paul’s advice was, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty’ ” (2 Corinthians 6:14–18).
Notice that you cannot have it both ways. You cannot eat at the Lord’s table and at the same time eat at the devil’s table. This means you cannot be the Lord’s child and also the devil’s child. So, it is necessary that you not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. What fellowship can you have if you are? Either you become like them or something in the relationship is not going to work.
Paul says, “Dearly beloved, you should then cleanse yourself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1, literal translation). The New Testament is not a book describing an easy, arm-chair religion. In fact, it says that being a Christian requires a commitment and you must be willing to leave whatever you have in order to follow Christ. Notice how Jesus stated it in Luke the 14th chapter, and verse 33. He says, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
The Christian religion of the New Testament requires a total commitment to Jesus Christ, for life or death. It involves following Him, even if you lose everything in this world. It requires you to separate yourself from all that is opposed to Christ, to His government, to His law, and to His word. This concept is not very popular today where people want an easier religion that allows them to love the world, to love themselves, to love their money, and to love pleasure more than God.
This describes people who will claim to be Christian. Paul says that they will have a form of godliness, but they deny the power of it (2 Timothy 3:5). How is it with you? Do you separate from that which is unclean and evil, and that which is unlawful, or are you trying to mix righteousness with unrighteousness? These are questions to ask yourself. Are you trying to be a Christian while still self-serving and self-loving, loving money and pleasure more than God?
This is an impossible situation to be in. You will not find true satisfaction in either a form of godliness or worldly pleasure. It will not be worth anything and it will certainly not help you to receive the gift of eternal life which is offered to all who repent of their sins and make a full commitment to Jesus.
What Is Repentance?
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is one of the books that deals more about the subject of repentance than most other books. We read that on the Day of Pentecost the people who had crucified Jesus were pricked in their consciences concerning what they had done, because Peter told them that they were the ones who had crucified the Lord of glory. They believed him and responded in asking, “What are we going to do?” Peter said, “Repent” (Acts 2:37, last part, 38, first part).
But what does it mean to repent? The church at Corinth had some very serious problems. One spoken of was the open situation of sexual immorality. Paul says, “It’s worse than is even allowed or done in the Gentile world” (1 Corinthians 5:1). There were some practices that compelled Paul to say, “the people that do these things, will not be in the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:1–10).
Paul severely rebuked the church which was condoning sin in their midst and they repented. He said, “Even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:8–11).
Godly sorrow produces repentance that will result in eternal life. But the sorrow of the world, just being sorry for being caught and not that a wrong was committed, resulting in a penalty of some kind, and not being sorry enough to turn away from the sinful life will cause death.
O, friend, do you know that there are many people today who claim to be Christians who have never repented according to the New Testament? O, a man may have a problem with anger and beats his wife and says he is sorry. His wife forgives him, but the next month he beats her up again. He is sorry again and his wife forgives him once more, but he remains a repeat offender. There comes a time when his wife will be convinced that this man is not sorry at all. If he was really sorry he would ask the Lord for the Holy Spirit to give him the power to overcome his temper and live a new life.
Many people today have never really thought through what repentance is. True repentance is evident in a changed life. They may claim to be Christians and go to church but they have not turned away from their life of sin.
“Repent!” was the message of John the Baptist, when he cried out in the wilderness: “Repent” (Matthew 3:2). When Jesus began to preach, He said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17). When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, he said, “Repent” (Acts 2:38). The apostle Paul said, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
O, friend, have you truly repented, or are you pretending to be a Christian? Are you just going through the motions, going to church, making a profession, saying that you believe certain beliefs, going through religious rituals, but still living the old life? Repentance is a gift that God wants to give to you (see Romans 2). The person who has repented turns away from every known sin. Sin is breaking God’s law (1 John 3:4). He now lives a new life in Christ that is changed day by day by the Holy Spirit.
The Christian religion is the most spiritual of all religions. God hears the cry of all who desire a godly repentance and longs to answer that prayer.
The early church endured a great deal of trouble because of false religious teachers. The pressure on Paul was so great that sometimes it seemed that he could not bear it. He suffered outward dangers as well as inward fears. False teachers prejudiced the brethren against him making false charges against him to destroy his influence among the churches that he had raised up. He said, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:22–28).
Amid all of his struggles, he had consolation. He had joy in Christ. Notice how he described his mental state. He said, “I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.” (2 Corinthians 7:4, last part). However, he warned the church that they needed to be careful about these false teachers. He said I’m concerned that “if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it” (2 Corinthians 11:4)!
There are many people today who believe a different gospel than that which the apostles preached. Many claim to be Christians who do not have the same spirit that the apostles had. This is demonstrated by their actions. It is impossible to read another’s heart, but Jesus said you can know whether a tree is good or bad by examining the fruit (Matthew 12:33). So, it may be beneficial to examine what gospel we do believe; what spirit we do exhibit; what Jesus we do worship.
Paul elaborates on the false apostles and how deceptive they would be. He said, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13–15).
The judgment is not going to be according to what you profess, but whether or not that profession has changed your life. A mere profession will not save you for if it could, then the devil could also be saved.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the repentant sinner that purifies the heart and mind and transforms his or her character which is manifest in every action.
It was while Paul was on his second visit to Corinth that he wrote one of the most powerful letters in the New Testament. This letter was not written to an individual, like some of the letters that he wrote, but it was written to an entire church, the church in Rome. In it he explains more clearly than in most of the other letters he wrote just how a person is saved. He says it is only the gospel that can save you. But, if you receive the gospel, you will receive power from God to live a new life.
He said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’ ” (Romans 1:16, 17).
In the gospel there is the power of God to enable you to live a different life from that which you have lived. You will receive forgiveness for sins. You will be changed in character. You will live a sanctified life, not in your own strength, but in the strength of Jesus Christ you will be a conqueror.
“Can we measure the love of God? Paul declares that ‘it passeth knowledge’ (Ephesians 3:19). Then shall we who have been made partakers of the heavenly gift be careless and indifferent, neglecting the great salvation wrought out for us? Shall we allow ourselves to be separated from Christ, and thus lose the eternal reward, the great gift of everlasting life? Shall we not accept the enmity which Christ has placed between man and the serpent? Shall we not eat the flesh and drink the blood of the son of God, which means to live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God? Or shall we become earthly, eating the serpent’s meat, which is selfishness, hypocrisy, evil-surmising, envy, and covetousness? We have a right to say, In the strength of Jesus Christ, I will be a conqueror. I will not be overcome by Satan’s devices.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, 345.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.