Aside from Christianity, all religions are built on rituals, moral obligations, works that must be performed, or codes of conduct that must be followed. While Christianity is radically different with its message of grace and free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, mankind has a hard time accepting this simplicity and always tries to weave works and rituals back into the mix.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul tackles this issue and warns the Corinthians about the danger of allowing subtle forms of idolatry to work their way into their Christian walk. Paul uses the example of the Israelites during the Exodus to showcase the point that one can do all the right things, attend the correct meetings, follow the moral code, and participate in all the spiritual events but still live a life grossly displeasing to the Lord.
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”
~1 Corinthians 10:1-5
At the end of chapter nine, Paul talks about making sure that one does not become disqualified from the race of faith. Even though Paul actively served in ministry, consistently attended church, and lived a good Christian life, he didn’t want to become complacent nor did he want the Corinthians to become complacent in their Christian walk. For as Paul pointed out, rituals, attending church events, and external appearances of morality do not save.
Paul used Israel’s history to prove this point. During the Exodus, all the children of Israel saw the Lord part the Red Sea, they all ate the manna from heaven, all heard God’s voice on Mount Sinai, and all experienced God’s miraculous direction and provision for them in the wilderness. However, not all the Israelites feared and honored the Lord. On the contrary, many of the people God delivered from bondage completely rejected Him and used their new freedom to engage in evil. Therefore, God judged them and brought death and destruction upon them, for He will not be mocked.
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
~1 Corinthians 10:6-12
For this reason, Paul urges the Corinthians and us to learn from the Israelites’ example and not assume or rely on rituals, experiences, miracles, or being a part of the crowd to save us. To be truly saved, we must have a reverent fear of and personal relationship with God. Therefore, let us take to heart Paul’s warning and not allow ourselves to become complacent in our faith. But may we learn from the example of the Israelites and take heed, lest we fall. And may we always remember that rituals, works, and group identity never save—only faith alone in Christ alone!
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