In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul addressed the issue of sexual immorality. And he concluded his argument by telling the Corinthian church, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” What is it that Paul was referring to when he says we were bought with a price? This article will look to provide an answer to that question.
What Is the Importance of 1 Corinthians 6:20?
Slavery was an integrated part of the Greco-Roman world in the first century. Slaves were used in almost every aspect of life, apart from public office. They were considered property and were bought and sold in the slave markets.
This institution of slavery is mostly foreign to us today. And we tend to think of it as a barbaric and inhuman practice. And indeed, it was degrading to those who found themselves as slaves.
But it is important for us, as we read and study the Bible, to understand that it was a part of the culture of that day. And the writers of the New Testament drew from this institution to illustrate some spiritual truths. That includes the expression under examination here. Being bought with a price reflects a transaction at the slave market.
A Slave to Sin
We recoil from the idea of being a slave. Yet both Jesus and Paul identified our life before Christ as being one of slavery. Slaves, not of a human master, but slaves to sin.
In John 8:34, Jesus said that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” In Romans 7:14, we see Paul expressing that he was “sold as a slave to sin.” And, in Galatians 4:7, he looks back at what we were when he says that we “are no longer a slave.”
Our natural state is as slaves to sin. Sin, in this case, does not relate to individual acts of disobedience. Rather sin is personified as one who rules over us, and we live under the authority of sin, obeying its commands.
Purchased by Jesus Christ
Under the slave system in the Roman world, there was the possibility of being set free by a benevolent master. But a more common transaction would be for a slave to be sold to a new master.
And that is what Paul refers to by being bought with a price. We were slaves, with sin as our master. But we have been purchased by a new master. We are not our own. We now belong to the one who bought us.
Sometimes we find Paul referring to himself as a slave of Christ. But more often this transaction is being bought from sin and then adopted into the new master’s family.
This is clearly expressed in the rest of Galatians 4:7 that was quoted above: “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
There was a price to be paid for purchasing a slave at the market. And this was true for the purchase of our slavery from sin.
In 1 Peter 1:18-19, we are told “that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ.”
When Paul says that we were bought with a price, this is the price he is referring to. The precious blood of Christ.
Jesus’ Work on the Cross
Jesus died on the cross to deal with the estranged relationship between God and humanity. There have been several theories developed over the past 2000 years that attempt to describe how that reconciliation was accomplished.
The Penal Substitution Theory is common today, at least among Protestants. And it describes our atonement in a legal sense. The proper judicial response to our sin was punishment. Jesus’ death on the cross was as a substitute, taking on the punishment for my sin in my place. And, because of that, I can be declared to be justified.
An older understanding of atonement was the Ransom Theory. This theory holds that we were enslaved to Satan and that Christ’s death on the cross ransomed us from Satan, bringing us under the authority of God.
The problem with this theory is that Scripture does not identify us as enslaved to Satan. Rather we were enslaved to sin.
The Ransom Theory, modified to replace Satan with sin, describes the atonement as a financial transaction. We were bought from sin. Or, as Peter said, redeemed by the blood of Christ.
When we speak of redemption, it is referring to this legal transaction of purchasing us from slavery to sin so that we can be adopted as children of God.
Together these two terms, justification, and redemption, give us a clearer picture of what Jesus’ death on the cross did for us. He made a financial transaction to buy us. And enabled a judicial declaration of justification to be made on our behalf.
What Does This Mean?
This brings us back to what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” I have been redeemed from a life of slavery to sin. I have been set free.
Although not set free to do whatever I want. Rather, I have been set free so that I can now serve the one who redeemed me (1 Peter 2:16).
While Paul was specifically referring to sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, what he has to say has a much wider application.
But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 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 (1 Corinthians 6:17-20).
In every part of my life, I need to recognize that Christ has paid a great price to set me free. I need to live in service to him, seeking to please him in everything I do.
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Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.
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