Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Bought at a price"

Like the last post, this is the body of an email I wrote, replying to a friend's question about Scripture.

The question:
"The verse 'You are not your own; you were bought at a price' really struck me. What does it mean?"
Let's start by taking a look at the pieces of this verse. What are they saying?
  1. "You are not your own." You don't own yourself. You are not your own master; Someone else is. This means you are not in charge of deciding what is ok and what is not ok (like how you are not your own judge; only God is the Judge), and you are not in charge of deciding what is important or deciding what to do with your life. --Which raises the question: Who is my master? Whose am I?

  2. "You were bought at a price." Someone bought you (which is why you don't own yourself) and the purchase was costly to the buyer. Someone wanted you enough to pay the price to say to the world, "This person belongs to me; this person is precious to me." --Which raises the questions: Who bought me? What was the price?
Note: I've been writing "you" because that's how the verse is phrased, but of course this is you && me && O. && all the Intervarsity kids && all the people at our church && just everyone who is following Christ.

Ok, so those questions: Who is my master? Whose am I? Who bought me? What was the price?
Clearly they are connected. The one who is your (our) master and the one you belong to and the one who bought you should all be the same person. This is the person who paid the price for you. So who is that?

You probably have a pretty clear guess already that this Person is Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins, who is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. Death is a pretty expensive price to pay...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. To really know if the Owner/Master/Buyer is Jesus, we should look at the context of the verse. "You are not your own; you were bought at a price" is verse 19-20 of 1 Corinthians 6, so... what's going on in the rest of the chapter?

And actually, we should also ask: What's going on in the other parts of the verse? "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (v. 19-20).

Two chains of reasoning here:
  • v.19: The Holy Spirit is in you => Live as though your body is a temple (holy).
  • v.20: Someone bought you => your body doesn't belong to you => honor God with your body. [implication: God bought you => your body belongs to Him => honor Him with your body]
So I think from that context it's pretty clear that the one we belong to is God. Verse 19 specifies that the Holy Spirit (who in theological terms is one of the three Persons of God) lives in us, and we are temples of the Spirit, i.e., we belong to the Holy Spirit. But what about Jesus? and what about the "price"? Where does that come in?

If we look earlier in the chapter, it's dealing with several topics that might not initially seem related (lawsuits, food, sexual immorality). The connection is that the argument explaining what's wrong with all of the wrong behaviors. This argument is essentially the same as the one in v. 19-20: we are belong to God, we are united with God, so we need to act like it! In explaining this idea, Paul first states is in a much more expanded form than what we were first looking at. Verses 9-11:
"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor [other sinners] will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
Verses 14-15 deal with this idea also. We are united with Christ, so how can we not live like Christ?

So, even though the chapter is addressing various behaviors, actually the ideas are all about who we are, not about what we do. The ideas are about identity, not about laws. The fundamental problem when we sin is not that we are breaking rules, but that we are acting totally out of sync with the real identities that God has given us. Our identity lies in belonging to God. "You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God."

This is like how our identity is also as the sheep that belong to Jesus in John 10. "[The shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." On our own, we are lost and helpless. But we are not our own anymore; Jesus has found us / bought us / freed us from sin / brought us into the family (compare: John 8:34-36).

I could keep writing for pages and pages about what it means to belong to God, but I think this email has gotten long enough! :) But really, most of the Bible is about exactly this topic. What does it mean that we do not belong to ourselves? What does it actually look like to obey God? For what price did God buy us? Why would he want to buy us in the first place? So keep reading, and it will gradually become clearer and richer. In particular, you might want to read Romans 6, which also uses the metaphor of being slaves to sin and then becoming "slaves to righteousness" because of Jesus. And then if you read on through Romans 8, Paul moves beyond the limited slavery metaphor to the truer image of us being adopted into God's family.

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