“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).”
1 Corinthians 10:12 is the Bugs Bunny of the New Testament. We think we know that text, but if we could have a conversation with that passage I’m sure he’d reply, “They don’t know me very well, do they?”
When you think of this text who comes to mind? Is it the legalist who thinks he’ll stand because of all his do-goodery? Or, does the libertine who leaves the gathered worship of the church and fellowship in the Lord’s Supper to go participate in a pagan temple worship feast and sexual immorality come to mind? If not, read the chapter.
Why would such a man think he stands? Because of the spiritual privileges he enjoys, notably, the sacraments. He’s been baptized. He feasts at the Lord’s table. This isn’t the person who thinks he stands because of his self-righteousness, but his gospel freedom (1 Corinthians 10:23). He likely doesn’t look at his baptism as a good deed meriting salvation, but as a “visible word” declaring the salvation that has freed him. He doesn’t believe the Lord’s Supper earns credit, but testifies to the credit he’s received because of Christ. He rightly sees baptism and the eucharist as pictures of the gospel, the gospel that has freed him, but wrongly reasons that he is so free, he can indulge in certain practices without consequence.
Is there a sin you think yourself free to indulge in? A sin that you easily squelch your conscience by reasoning, “I’ve been baptized. I eat at the Lord’s table. I’m free. This sin can’t hurt me.” If you reason from the sacraments that you’re free to sin, you show that you don’t understand the gospel quite as fully as you think. You don’t understand the freedom you boast in. Jesus frees us not only from the penalty of sin, but also the power of sin (Romans 6:1–4; 1 Corinthians 10:13). You cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.
Certainly the legalist needs to hear this warning too, but not exclusively. The gospel-majoring libertine must hear it also. As Luther illustrated, humanity is like a drunken man who having fallen off one side of the horse, climbs back up only to fall off the other. We need to tell both the legalist and the libertine that they can’t ride a horse, and that all who feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb, follow the King of kings and Lord of lords riding on white horses.