1 Corinthians 1: 1 - 11
2 brothers tormented the small town where they lived for decades. They had blown up their families and were dishonest in business. They were loud, boisterous and just plain rude to nearly everyone. One day the younger brother died unexpectedly. The older brother went to the pastor of the local church “Pastor, I’d like you to conduct my brother’s funeral. It’s important to me that during the service, you say my brother was a saint.”
The pastor said, “I can’t do that. We both know he was far from that.” The older brother pulled out his chequebook and said, “Pastor, I’m prepared to give R100 000 to the church’s building fund. All I’m asking is that you publicly state that my brother was a saint.”
On the day of the funeral, the pastor began his sermon this way: “Everyone knows that the deceased was a wicked man, a womanizer and a drunk. He terrorized his employees and cheated on his taxes.” He then paused for a second and continued, “But as evil and sinful as this man was, compared to his older brother, he was a saint!”
One of the best ways to protect our spiritual identity is to guard who God says we are because –
A Christian is a person who has become someone he was not before.
I am who God says I am.
We’re going to unpack 2 seemingly contradictory truths for those who have been saved – we are both sinner and saint.
Corinth was a multi-cultural city known for idol worship and immorality. At one point it was home to at least 12 pagan temples. The temple of Aphrodite had 1000 prostitutes dedicated to her worship. Paul spent 18 months ministering there. After he left, the church began to have some big problems. The assembly was filled with arrogance, quarreling, division and disunity, questions about marriage, lawsuits among believers, incest among family members, confusion about the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts, a lack of love and false beliefs about the resurrection.
With that as a brief background, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 1: 1, 2 “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 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.”
If you’re saved…
1. You are a saint who has been sanctified
• The word “church” means, “a gathering of called-out people.” Notice the church belongs to God but is located in Corinth. Likewise, Wilro Park doesn’t belong to me or to you; Wilro Park belongs to God. God has called out a people who gather, grow, give and go with the gospel here and to the ends of the earth.
• Paul directs this letter to “those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” To be sanctified means, “to be made clean, to be separated and set apart for a purpose.” This definition has a negative and a positive aspect – we are separated from sin and separated unto the Saviour. This is in the past tense, meaning this is something that has already happened positionally. 1 Corinthians 6: 11 “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
• We are called “to be saints together will all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Sanctify” and “saint” come from the same root word in Greek. When you are saved, you are immediately set apart because you now belong to the Lord.
Most of us push back when we hear that we’re called “saints” by God because we know we’re far from it. Turn to the person next to you and say, “If you’re saved, you’re a saint.”
The Bible uses the word “saint” at least 60 times to refer to believers who are alive. If a word appears once in the Bible it’s important. If it appears twice, it’s doubly important. If it appears 60 times, it’s extremely important!
Listen. If you’re saved, you are a saint right now! We are not saints because we are so good; we are saints because God is so good. And so, if you’re saved you’re a saint who has been sanctified. But because we still sin there’s another side to this…
2. You are a sinner in the process of being sanctified
Hebrews 10: 14 “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Sanctification is a past reality and a present responsibility.
To say it another way, believers are saints in position but we must work out our sanctification in practice. We could sum it up like this: “Become what you already are in Christ.”
What God has worked in, we must work out - Philippians 2: 12, 13 “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
We are positionally blameless but now we must practice the proper behaviour – v. 10 “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” On the basis of your position, start practicing it. Belief must translate into behaviour. In other words, it’s time for saints to act like saints.
I like how affectionate Paul is when he says, “I appeal to you brothers…” But he’s also authoritative when he says, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Incidentally, this is the 10th reference to Christ in the first 10 verses! This shows how central the Saviour is to our salvation and our sanctification.
The word “divisions” refers to “splitting, tearing and dissension.” v.11 says that the Corinthians are “quarreling,” which means they are fighting and backbiting. Once again, we see his affection when he refers to them as “my brothers.”
Christ followers are called “children of God,” “a holy nation,” “beloved” and most of all they are called “saints.” That doesn’t mean Christians don’t sin.
Christians do sin, and sin in ways that are much deeper and more serious than we often realize. This is the whole point of Romans 7 where Paul laments the fact that he often does what he does not want to do. The entire Christian life is a struggle between the new self and the old self, and the latter often wins out. Paul can even refer to himself as a “wretched man.”
But, here is what is interesting. As Paul diagnoses his own law-breaking he concludes that whenever he sins, it is not the real Paul that is doing it. He declares, “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (7:17). And again, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (7:20).
Do not misunderstand what Paul is doing here. He is not trying to conjure up some excuse where he is not guilty of these sins…Paul knows he is guilty for these sins. But, in the midst of doing so, Paul is keen to make it plain that it is not the new Paul that is sinning, but the old Paul. In this sense, he can say that when he sins, he is not his true self.
Put another way, Paul’s identity is bound up in the new man that he has become in Christ.
When we understand our true identities, it actually affects the way we view (and respond to) our sins. We might think that the best way to appreciate the depth of our sin is to think of ourselves primarily in the category of “sinners.” But, this can actually have the opposite effect. If we think of ourselves only as “sinners” then our sins are seen as something rather ordinary and inevitable. They are just the result of who we are. Sure, we wish we didn’t sin. But, that’s just what “sinners” do.
If we instead view ourselves as “saints,” then we will begin to see our sin in a whole new light. If we really are “holy ones” then whatever sins we commit are a deeper, more profound, and more serious departure from God’s calling than we ever realized. Our sin, in a sense, is even more heinous because it is being done by those who now have new natures and a new identity.
We repent because these sins are not ordinary and expected. They are fundamentally contrary to who God has made us to be.
I am not suggesting that Christians can never refer to themselves with the word “sinner.” If rightly understood, this can be fine. But, we should also be keen to think of ourselves as saints. After all, when Christ returns that is what we will be. In glory, there will be no sinners. Only saints.
“What you do doesn’t determine who you are; who you are determines what you do.”
And so, if you are saved…
1. You are a saint who has been sanctified.
2. You are a sinner in the process of being sanctified.
This is our identity. Being a saint is a mission, not just a mindset. We are set apart for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel according to 1 Peter 2: 9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
We become sinners by being born.
We become saints by being born again.
Closing Video: Identity
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 23, 24)