For all the problems the church in Corinth had, with every ounce of his being, Paul wanted to see them walking in righteousness before God. Given what glimpses we get from his two letters, they had issues! He repeats the laundry list of vices in 2 Corinthians 12:20 that he had seen:
For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
What a mess! Although they had made a profession of faith – a true one from all accounts since he addresses them as brothers – they had a long way to go to reach any level of Christian maturity. If Paul is pointing out such concerns, I think we can rest assured this church was displaying every one of these problems.
What does it mean that these sins continued to plague the Corinthians? We can conclude that for some reason they weren’t walking out their faith in the necessary manner, and because of that, they were bearing no fruit of the Spirit.
Compare what Paul says in his letter in Galatians 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
In fact, to take the comparison further, look at how Paul concluded his warnings to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 12:21:
I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
It doesn’t look like there was much difference in these lists does there? That being the case, what did Paul urge the Galatians to do? He wanted them to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit to exhibit the abundance He brings. We see this in Galatians 5:22-24:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
It is evident that through the fruit of the Spirit, these churches would put aside the ways of the world. Only by dying to the flesh, i.e. crucifying it, could good traits emerge in the lives of these believers.
The questions become: How could they change? What is it that would enable them to begin the transformation of their old fleshly behavior?
Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 13:5:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
These professed believers needed to do one very important thing: They had to examine their lives. If they were truly in Christ, the fruit of their faith would be evident just like day follows night. In examining themselves, however, they could discover that they had no fruit! If that were so, they would have actually failed the test and found that they weren’t in Christ.
Paul then says to them in 2 Corinthians 13:6:
I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.
He includes himself in this statement, but I think the intent is clear that it is the Corinthians he hopes will determine their status as a true believer in Christ or not.
Remember what Paul previously said in his first letter to this church. When he spoke about taking the Lord’s Supper he wanted them to do so in a sober and reflective manner as outlined in the passage of 1 Corinthians 11:27-34. Specifically, the key is in 1 Corinthians 11:28:
Let a person examine himself…
This is exactly what he repeated in the second letter noted above in 2 Corinthians 13:5.
To do away with the ways of the world and to truly walk with the Lord, we have the critical obligation of examining ourselves. Just like with the Corinthians, if we don’t do that and appropriately change through the power of the Spirit, we will never exhibit any of His fruit. The danger is greater than that: If there’s no fruit, there may be no salvation!
How many professing Christians do we know that live like everyone else around them in the world? Why have they not been transformed? First, someone must truly want to change. Assuming that, the most common reason is the lack of repentance. A person may have given his heart to Jesus, but he never acknowledged his sin and repented of it. Or perhaps, he feels he can sin to his heart’s content because of the grace Jesus gives, i.e. that this grace covers all sins despite the absence of repentance.
That’s a dangerous place to be. Jesus shed His blood for us that we might come to a saving knowledge of God through Him. Do we despise that gift? By someone not repenting to get right with the Lord, that would seem to be the case.
In our walk with God, we need to come humbly before the throne of grace and mercy every day. Who are we to think that we have progressed in our faith beyond the need to bow before the Lord daily to ask His forgiveness? We sin whether we may think we do or not. It’s a simple matter of asking God: “Lord, if I’ve transgressed any of your ways, please bring that sin to mind so I can get right with You.” Then do what’s necessary.
For us to live righteously, we have to know that we are continually being sanctified. We’ve arrived; but we’re also a work in progress that will not be perfected until we come face-to-face with God.
Just as Paul prayed that the people in this church be restored (2 Corinthians 13:9), let us also desire to have a restored and perfect relationship with the only One who can restore our souls.