Please excuse the gratuitous selfie; I couldn’t think of another graphic to use. I was reading a passage in Greek today and it hit me in a different way than it ever has before. It’s 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, which illustrates how Christian morality differs from a casuistic or legalistic moral system. Few Christians are willing to accept how radical Paul is being when he says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” It is a morality that is based not on following a particular set of rules, but on living in such a way that we seek union with Christ. The question is whether our lives are NSFJ (not safe for Jesus). Few Christians are willing to rise to Paul’s challenge so they define their “morality” according to a safe, limited set of rules (often the trinity of “no sex, no drugs, no cussing”) that they don’t have trouble keeping and they can judge others for breaking.
So here’s what 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 says in the NRSV:
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
You may notice in your Bible that there are usually quotation marks around part of this passage (I took them out because Greek doesn’t have quotation marks). There’s a theory that “All things are lawful for me” and “Food is meant for the stomach” are slogans that the Corinthians were using. I know of no definitive proof of this theory beyond the fact that the phrases get repeated a few times, so I see no justification for artificially lowering their level of “divine inspired-ness” by putting them in quotes.
The NIV Bible translators went even further. They were so scandalized at the thought that Paul would endorse a vulgar libertine statement like “All things are lawful for me” that they had to “clarify” a.k.a. edit the Bible (c.f. Rev. 22:18) by adding “You say” to the text. I don’t dispute the likelihood that the Corinthians had come up with these slogans, but the way Paul uses them in the text suggests that he’s nuancing a misunderstanding of earlier “milk” (1 Cor 3:2) the Corinthians had received from his teaching as opposed to categorically rejecting an outright heresy (in which case he would use very different grammar).
Those who refuse to live in the tension of this nuance try to make a new Torah out of Paul’s pastorally contextual exhortations to his different congregations rather than recognizing the new covenant Paul proclaims to be categorically different than the old, based on the word of Jeremiah 31: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
The liberating and terrifying reality of the new covenant in which Paul is telling the Corinthians to live is that they can’t guarantee their covenant faithfulness with God by following the 613 mishvot of the Torah. It is instead a question of whether their hearts have been united with Christ. So if you follow your own prioritized set of “Biblical rules” perfectly and have perfectly doctrinal opinions about everybody else’s shortcomings, but you lack the spiritual fruit of Galatians 5:22-23, then you aren’t living in Christ’s new covenant and you’re no less damned than any other heathen.
The reason “all things are lawful” is because the question is no longer whether we’re following or breaking hard and fast rules as such. That would be easy. But Paul asks us instead whether we are engaged in potentially addictive or idolatrous behaviors that can “master” us instead of Christ being our master. Are we putting harmful food into our stomachs that will cause God to “destroy both one and the other”? And most importantly, are we using our bodies for porneia (which is not just fornication but any form of morally corrosive behavior) which makes them NSFJ (not safe for Jesus)?
Though Paul gives some specific examples in the life of the Corinthian people, we have to figure out how to translate these examples into our world today. Idolatry is clearly not the same thing in a world where people don’t actually attend religious ceremonies for Greek gods or eat the sacrificial meat from these ceremonies. Paul names some seedy types of people in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that we should avoid being like, using words that had specific meanings in that time but do not map onto precise categories of people today (Robert Gagnon notwithstanding).
In any case, to get back to verses 12 and 13, the thing which jumped out at me today for the first time is the way that Paul uses the same construction for “food for the stomach, stomach for food” (ta bromati te koilia kai he koilia tois bromasin) that he does with “body for the Lord, the Lord for the body” (ta soma ho kurio kai ha kurios to somati). I hadn’t noticed the second “Lord” before.
It’s not like I hadn’t read before numerous times that Jesus wants to inhabit my body, but this time the implications of that concept really hit me. My body is not just intended for the Lord, because the verse also says that the Lord is intended for my body. Which shouldn’t be a surprise either. God made His Word flesh as Jesus in order to restore His divine image to humanity. We have been given a Lord and savior because our broken, sin-ravaged bodies need to be restored into Christlikeness. As church father Athanasius put it, “God became man that man might become God.”
But in the past, I always tended to read “Your body is meant for the Lord” in strictly forensic/legalistic terms, filtering it through an image like Romans 6:13, where Paul says, “No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”
So I would picture Jesus as a general on a horse reviewing the bodies that are being “presented” to Him. Did you clean your rifle, iron your uniform, and polish your boots to specification or is General Jesus going to call you out of the line of soldiers and send you home? And the problem with this way of picturing things is that it’s very easy to consider the Jesus we’ve encountered in scripture and think, “You know, Jesus isn’t that strict. He understands me like nobody else does. I don’t really have to tuck my shirt in or wipe the mud off of my boots.”
Sure Jesus said, “Go and sin no more” to some of the sinners He redeemed, but His main beef was with the Pharisees. And when He was harsh with the Pharisees, it wasn’t just a generic rebuke of their sinful imperfection or theological incorrectness, but usually a gesture of solidarity with the sinners they oppressed:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make him twice the son of hell that you are.” [Matthew 23:13-15, just one of my examples]
There’s plenty of proof-texts I could gather to make a case for arguing that Jesus is almost exclusively hard on people who are hard on sinners, period. With all of this, I’m not saying that I think Jesus doesn’t care about my sins. I’m saying that it’s easier for me to blow off God’s concern for my holiness when it’s framed in the forensic/legalistic terms that 1st century and 21st century Pharisees are so in love with.
It’s when I think about the question eucharistically that everything changes for me, when I think in terms of the Lord who is “meant” for my body. Because then the question becomes: is my body a “safe” dwelling-place for the body and blood of Christ that I receive at the communion table or is it so polluted with the toxins of my idolatry that Jesus simply cannot inhabit me no matter how much He loves and forgives me? Is my life NSFJ (not safe for Jesus)?
Obviously Jesus is the creator of the universe and “in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Of course, He’s safe anywhere because He’s sovereign over every atom in the universe. Of course, Jesus is omnipresent as Creator inside my body just like everywhere else. But my pursuit of holiness makes a difference in Jesus’ ability to “inhabit” me in the sense of his being present to my consciousness.
The less Jesus “inhabits” me, the more I am existing outside of true human existence. To be a real human being is to be inhabited by the Word of God who is our archetype. I don’t just need God to declare me innocent on account of my “belief” that Jesus died for my sins. The door that my justification opens is relevant insofar as it leads to my inhabiting Jesus and Jesus inhabiting me. That is the form that my pistis (trust/faith/surrender) in Christ must take according to what Jesus says in John 15:4-6:
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
God loves us unilaterally and unconditionally. He doesn’t have a faith-meter that measures how sincerely or fervently we “believe” in Jesus to decide whether or not to accept us in heaven (as the evangelical gospel sometimes seems to teach). But our salvation is not just a question of whether or not God says yes to us (which He says to everyone). It’s a question of whether or not we receive the eternal life that flows from Jesus when He comes to dwell in our hearts.
Are our lives safe for Jesus to inhabit? Or are we clinging to habits and addictions that make our souls actively hostile to Jesus’ presence? If our lives are unsafe for Jesus, then His brilliant glory will likewise be unsafe for us. It’s like when a body rejects an organ transplant. Our spiritual immune system has to be sanctified for Jesus to dwell inside of us.
This is the goal of salvation. Not just to go to the “right place,” but to be “crucified together with Christ, so that it’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me” (Galatians 2:20). Heaven happens when Christ inhabits us and fills us with His eternal life. To have faith in Christ means that we allow Him to make us safe for each other. So let us pursue a way of living that makes us more present to Jesus and Jesus more present to us.