“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”1 Corinthians 1:2
I grew up worshiping the saints, as the expression goes. Saint Paul, Saint Peter, Saint Bartholomew, and the list goes on. It was only when I came to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and started reading Bible that I realize that the word “saint” was a generic term used of all true believers in Jesus Christ. The Greek word “hagios” means “set apart one” or “holy one.” This has nothing to do with works, but one who has a right relationship with God because of what Jesus Christ did on their behalf. It is positional sainthood, because they have been “sanctified” that is, “made holy” in and by Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. John MacArthur writes, “According to the Scripture, every true believer in Jesus Christ—whether faithful or unfaithful, well known or unknown, leader or follower—is a set apart person a holy person, a saint. In the biblical sense, the most obscure believer today is just as much a saint as the apostle Paul. This is the believer’s position in Christ.”
In the coming weeks I would like to address this topic of being saints. I like the idea of having a saintly position in Christ. And I am sure if you have read the New Testament you know that there many benefits and blessings that come from having a relationship with the Savior. But what happens when position and practice are in a head-on collision? After all, didn’t MacArthur state that true believers whether faithful or unfaithful, have a positional sainthood? My question is, how is that possible? And to make matters worse, as I read 1 Corinthians I get the impression that they didn’t have a good handle on the practice part of their sainthood. Yet as the Apostle Paul states, they are “saints by calling.” But that is always the rub. What I practice and what my position is, don’t always lineup. To put it another way, what happens when what I am called and how I act is in contradiction?
To make matters worse, we know that living holy lives doesn’t make us holy, because only Jesus’ work on the cross can do that. So why bother trying to live holy lives? Look at the church in Corinth, they were a house that was divided, (v.10), loved self-glorification (vs. 26-31), had worldly, fleshly wisdom (3:18-23), and on top of all that, they were allowing immorality to run freely in the church with no accountability (5:1-12). What the Corinthian believers were called to and what they practiced just didn’t add up. Yet the Apostle Paul called them saints… holy ones, the set apart group.
HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM—Ok, I always wanted to use that expression but it fits well within the theme. As we look at the context of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, we realize it had a big problem. More than likely Paul received news from other brothers and sisters in Christ about the condition of the church. The church had fallen into divisions because members boasted about their leaders, yet had all the gifts that the Spirit of God could possibly give any one church. Yet despite their spiritual giftedness, they found themselves to be a quarrelsome lot. Like a couple of teens sharing the same bedroom, no one could see the bigger picture, no one could see who and what they were hurting.
PRACTICING SAINTHOOD NOT FOR SAINTHOOD—Working out our salvation is not the same as working for our salvation. Knowing this, tells us that we can never, ever practice for being bestowed the title of “saint.” We have the title whether we act it or not. Yet at the same time we ought to be practicing our saintliness. I understand I am using terms that are not the norm for understanding the “holy life” part of our Christianity. But my hope is that we see a need to act on the title (position) we have been given through Jesus Christ.
START WITH ONE AREA FIRST—In order to further understand how to do this, to practice sainthood in light of our position of sainthood, I want us to think of our unity in Christ Jesus. We are united in Christ positionally and we are to be united in Christ in practice. More than ever we need to be united in Christ in practice. Are we on the same page, so to speak?
The Corinthian church was filled with division. The saints were at odds with one another. They were filled with pride, puffed up over who’s leader was the best, who preached the best, who had the most baptisms. Their division was over what man considered to be the best outward qualities (i.e. talents) a person possessed rather than what God considered to be most important. For the Apostle Paul it wasn’t the delivery of the message that was most important, but the power of the message. He writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1:18) The truth is, any preacher of the gospel worth his salt knows for sure that the gospel is filled with foolishness until God pours out His power for salvation. Every preacher knows that he is not cleaver enough to change a person’s heart, open up their eyes, and get them to listen with spiritual ears. So why do we place so much emphasis in the church today on delivery and not on the work of the Holy Spirit to change the heart?
SET APART TO BE UNITED—The list is long and very unflattering of the local church that puts a premium on talents over spiritual giftedness, abilities over unity. To be called a saint is to acknowledge that we are united in our position in Christ, but also to recognize the need to be united in our practice of being Christ-like. If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I am so happy to call you my brother and or sister in Christ. We are positionally united not because of anything we have done but because of all that Jesus has done on the cross for us. But the question is, are we united in Christ in practice? Are we on the same page as to our cause, our ministry, our desire to grow in Christ? What a blessing it is when we see ourselves not only through our position in Christ, but in the practice of being Christ-like, saints who practice their sainthood through unity.
This is Pastor Pat FROM BEHIND THE PEN—Wishing you joy in Jesus!