There are certain passages of Scripture that are notorious for stimulating a debate, confusion, and fear. One such passage is Ephesians 5:4-5 (and its “cousin” in I Cor 6:9-10):
“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Passages like this can quickly (if we take them seriously at all) make any one of us doubt our salvation. Passages like Ephesians 5 and I Corinthians 6 can also be used to “hammer” particular sins, especially sexual ones like pornography, adultery, or homosexuality. Yet we often overlook the fact that crude joking and coveting are on the same list.
What are we supposed to do with a passage like this? What is this passage trying to get us to evaluate? Should we use the presence of certain sins to undermine the assurance of our salvation? Should we avoid passages like this in order to protect ourselves from undue fear?
I would like to propose one question (among others) I believe we can safely take from this passage and use to effectively make application of this passage – what is my life-dominating pleasure? I believe that is the big point.
If sex is my life-dominating pleasure (i.e., fantasy through porn, same-sex attraction, pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, or ev
en the frequency of sex within marriage), then chances are I do not truly know the God of the Bible.
If I get my kicks through coarse humor or if I believe that some new gadget/car/home/etc… is going to make my life what I want it to be, then I have not been captured by the character of The Holy God.
If I have to escape from the pain or stress of daily living through alcohol, drugs, golf, computer games, a hobby, etc… because I do not believe there is anything else that can help me, then the God I claim to know is drastically inferior to the God of Scripture.
Paul’s question does not hinge on what sins a Christian can or cannot commit or how frequently or infrequently a Christian can commit certain sins and remain a Christian. Paul (as Scripture always does) is aiming right for our hearts. Paul’s logic would go like this:
- If you live as if this world has more pleasure to offer than God, you do not know God.
- If you live as if this world (or you) can protect you more than God, you do not know God.
- If you live as if this world is more worth having than God, you do not know God.
The question is not whether we have “lapses in our sanity” (and I do not think that language is too strong). The question is whether we have come to the place that we believe that belonging to God is our life-dominating pleasure (Luke 9:23-24; Gal 2:20; Phil 3:7-11). That is what it means to be a Christian, or as Paul says in Ephesians 5:5 to inherit the kingdom of God.