To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours..."
-1 Corinthians 1:2
These are the Apostle Paul's opening words to the Corinthian church in a letter in which he will rebuke them, admonish them, question their church polity and Christian character, and challenge them to grow up in their relationship with Christ. And yet, he believes that the majority of the church deserves to be called "saints," and he gladly admits that they serve the same Lord that he serves. We Christians are in process, and when we are following Christ, even poorly at times, we are truly saints.
Since most of my critical biblical study right now is focusing on Genesis, I am reading 1 & 2 Corinthians multiple times in my personal devotions. I am finding that doing so has been a wonderful balance to my study in the early chapters of Genesis. Over the last few Sundays (and for the next few as well) we've been analyzing the increasing sinfulness that is recorded in the Genesis narrative. Sin was as real then as it is now, and it was just as ugly.
We cannot speak of human life without speaking about sin, and we cannot speak of the work of Christ on our behalf (which Paul addresses frequently in 1 & 2 Corinthians) without speaking of atonement, wrath, the curse, pain, suffering, abandonment and humiliation. At the same time, we cannot forget that it is also about grace, peace, forgiveness, love, obedience and substitution. We dare not zero in on one aspect of Jesus’ work without acknowledging the other. In our Genesis study we have called attention to our own sin, our own failures, our own cowardice and our own propensity to both reject and abandon Christ. Jesus’ disciples demonstrated many of these same traits when the going got tough for them. But let us not forget that eleven of those twelve disciples stuck with Jesus when they witnessed the promise of his resurrection and spent the remainder of their lives growing up in their faith, sharing the gospel that Jesus taught them, and laying down their lives rather than renouncing the hope they had in Christ.
The bad news is that some of us are not living out our faith as we should. We sin and we make mistakes, sometimes catastrophically. The good news is that saints are sinners who have been (and are being) saved by grace. This is the understanding Paul had, I suspect, in the back of his mind when he wrote to the saints in Corinth, knowing he was about to blast away at their immaturity and lack of Christ-like character. Once he had pointed out their suspect behavior, he answered their questions and taught them how to progress in the faith, because he believed they were Christians. If you have come to trust in Christ for salvation, you have been saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. Because you have been saved from the penalty of sin, you are currently being saved from the power and dominion of sin, and you will ultimately be saved from the presence of sin. I don't just smile when I think about that, I want to shout, "Hey, that's really good news!"
I do not write this to those who have no desire to grow in their faith and who like to repeat that true (yet faith-deadening and sin-provoking) proverb that many of the Corinthians championed: "All things are permissible for me" (1 Cor. 6:12). I write this to those of you who are wearied in your daily and painful fight for sanctification and feel defeated and hopeless. Do you love Christ in spite of your propensity toward sin? Do you choose to follow him even when you feel more like a coward than you do a warrior? Do you confess his name, even though you also must confess your sin? Can you say, even through tears at times, “Jesus is Lord!” Then you are a saint, sanctified in Christ Jesus, and you serve the same Lord that those whom you admire in the faith serve. Paul's words of encouragement to the Corinthians is his word of encouragement to you: "...God raised the Lord Jesus and will also raise us up by his power."
Not just good news, but really good news!
Grace and peace,