“Become sober minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” 1 Corinthians 15:34
Stop – But can we really do this? Can we actually stop sinning? Haven’t we all been told that sin is just part of our nature, that we can’t help it? Why would Paul use such demanding language if in fact we are stuck in these mortal bodies and subject to sin every day of our lives?
I don’t think we really listen to the words. We hear them, but then we filter them through our own versions of what we think is reasonable, and by the time we are done, well, the words just don’t have the same bite anymore. We accommodate to our spiritual sloth. We really don’t believe that God demands holiness. We would rather believe that God is such a nice old man that he lets a few things slide now and then. After all, we’re forgiven, right? No sense getting too worked up about a little slip here or there. Everyone makes mistakes.
We all need a crash course in seriousness. If you read this verse in Greek and you compared it to verse 36, you would notice that Paul is quite particular about which word he uses to express this idea. In this verse, he says, “me hamartanete“. Literally you not sinning!. This command is present tense, active. STOP IT! But just two verses later when he wants to say “not” he uses ou, a different word with the same English meaning. What does this tell us? Me is the Greek “not” that means we are to suppose that the thing does not exist. It is the “not” that goes along with my will. I will it not to be. But ou is the “not” for something that absolutely doesn’t exist. It doesn’t depend on my will or on any other conditions. It just isn’t anymore. It’s the difference between “I might not go to Seattle today” (it depends on me) and “Not a single ticket was available” (doesn’t depend on me at all).
OK, enough linguistics. What does this all mean? It means that not sinning is entirely up to me! There is no “I’m just human” excuse. There is no built-in must sin gene. There is no one forcing me to sin. It’s my issue. So Paul says, “Stop sinning!” and he means it. He means that you can actually stop. You don’t have to sin. There are no good (or bad) excuses. God did not make you incapable of being holy.
It would be so much more convenient if the New Testament were originally written in modern English. Then we could skate over the intensity of this command. The verse would read, “Make every effort to be good. Try hard. Bust your butt being better. But if you can’t quite make it, well, it’s the intention that counts.”
What version do you think God will use on the Day of Judgment?