The Tragedy Of An Unrepentant Church
Paul loved the church in Corinth. He had planted it by preaching the gospel amid hostility (1 Corinthians 2:2); he prayed for the believers and longed that they might grow in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). However, their track record of obedience was not good. Although God had given them spiritual gifts to use in gospel ministry (1 Corinthians 1:7), they used them selfishly and continued to copy the behaviour styles of unsaved people around them.
Paul was eager to make another visit. But it was also a visit he dreaded. Despite his preaching, visits and letters, and the visits of Peter, Apollos and Titus, Paul feared that the believers would be worldly, carnal and disobedient to the Lord (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). He would not have been surprised if there was internal division with believers slandering each other in anger and self-will. Neither would he have been surprised if gross immorality was still accepted as normal.
His biggest concern was that they may not have repented. The purpose of his preaching and rebukes was that they might recognise their sin and be revolted by it, and repent. Without repentance, there is no way forwards in God's kingdom – which is a tragedy. Every new believer in Jesus starts with a history and multiple habits of sin. Paul knew that of himself (1 Corinthians 15:9); he was a sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. He did not expect new Christians to be perfect, but he did expect them to desire to live in a way which pleased the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:1). He expected that everybody would make progress throughout their lives, recognising sin for what it is, confessing it to the Lord, receiving forgiveness and then learning to live differently. In that way, the worst sinners become God's treasured people (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The sad reality is none of us is ever completely free of sin (Romans 7:18-19). But we do not have to accept its power over us (Romans 6:14). Having recognised that we are not as God wants us to be, we are called to repent, acknowledging before God that sin has had us in its grip and that we are helpless to deal with it apart from His grace. Repentance is the process of seeing ourselves differently than before – not as we have accepted ourselves to be, but as God sees us and is grieved by our sin – falling on His mercy and seeking His grace to change and live differently. So, if you know of sin in your life, repent and allow the Lord to remake you in new ways. If you do not see it, ask the Lord to show it to you (Psalm 139:24). Refusing to repent would be a tragedy, exposing us to His wrath (Colossians 3:5-6).
© Dr Paul Adams