How would the church at Corinth have answered the question, “How do you know that you are OK with God?” A little reverse engineering of 1 Corinthians 10 in view of the gospel’s message not only suggests a probable answer, but also provides reason for us to pause and reflect.
We should not be surprised if the Christians at Corinth were confident of their relationship with God because of their baptism and spiritual nourishment from Christ. However, from this thought it is only a short step to thinking, just because I have been baptized and I am gaining spiritual sustenance from Christ, nothing else matters. Not so.
With a brilliant move, Paul challenges such thinking. In Paul’s hands the Exodus becomes a parallel to Christian experience. Because all the Israelites who left Egypt entered under the cloud and passed through the sea, they too had been baptized. Furthermore, he argued they too had all enjoyed being nourished by Christ the rock who provided them with spiritual drink. In other words, they stood on equal footing with the Corinthian church.
However, just because they had been baptized and nourished by Christ did not profit most of them. As he described it, “Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5). God destroyed his people because they abandoned godliness to pursue their evil cravings.
The apostle does not challenge either the efficacy of baptism nor the spiritual nourishment Christ provides. Rather, he exposes the futility of relying upon Christ, but proceeding to live in ungodly ways. The problem lies not in failing to be fully saved, rather rebellion leads a person away.
Within the context of 1 Corinthians, Paul hones in upon enlightening the Corinthian church to fully grasp that idolatry does matter. While it is true that eating meat sacrificed to idols in someone’s house is intrinsically a spiritually neutral activity (1 Corinthians 8:4-6), to walk into a pagan temple and share in the food at the altar is quite a different matter (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).
We also need to be reminded that idolatry in all of its contemporary incarnations remains dangerous. Yet, let us not lose sight of Paul’s other lesson. As essential as it is to rely upon Christ for new life, this does not empower us to live ungodly lives while assuming heaven emblazons its stamp of grace upon our unrepentant hearts.