The Corinthian Church was a mess. Factions, sexual immorality, lawsuits, false teaching, and a denial of the resurrection are just a few of the issues this group of ragtag Christians were tangled up in. We would be reasonable to assume that the Apostle Paul’s interaction with them would begin with scathing rebuke and righteous anger. Indeed, he will spend a great deal of time in his first letter to them dealing with their sins and struggles with some sharp words and stern warnings. But that’s not where he starts…..
Instead, to our great surprise, Paul begins with these words:
"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: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 1:2-3)
Did he just say to this group of sinners that they are “sanctified in Christ Jesus”? Is he saying to this messy church, that they are saints?
Surely Paul had in mind a different word. Perhaps in Greek it reads “To the church of God that is in Corinth, you jerks, hypocrites, and false converts…”. But guess what? I checked it, and nope, in Greek it really does say “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” As a matter of fact, he tells them twice in these opening verses that they are sanctified, set apart saints. You see, Paul sees them first and foremost as they really are in Christ, not as they’re sins and struggles would suggest.
Now, this does not mean in any way that Paul excuses or diminishes the seriousness of their sins. Read the rest of the letter and you will find out that he is extremely disappointed at what their sin is doing to tear the fellowship apart. But the point is, before our ongoing sin is dealt with, we MUST be reminded of who we are in Christ first. Indeed, if we try to fix our sin problems without being firmly anchored in our saintly identity, we’ll never have the power to fix anything (actually we’ll just make it worse).
But what is a “saint” anyway? In our popular understanding of the word saint we tend to use it to describe the uber-holy, nearly perfect person. In one sense this is true. A saint is indeed perfect. But that status of “uber-holy” isn’t based on their own perfection or holiness, but Christ’s perfection and holiness for them. A saint in biblical terminology is simply someone who has been saved by God through the work of Jesus Christ and imputed with His righteousness, being set apart for service to Him. So guess what? You sitting there reading this right now, who struggle with pride, lust, despair, addiction, and a whole host of other sins, God does not define you by those things. In Christ, He defines you as His saint!
But how? How can God look at us with all of our guilt and rebellion and give us such an amazing title? Paul goes on to tell us:
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Cor. 1:4)
Yes the Corinthians have problems, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t received grace upon grace from their heavenly Father. This same truth holds for you: You’ve got problems, but God in Christ has given you grace upon grace and decided to make you His child. And He promises to never let you go. That’s what Paul goes on to proclaim to this messy bunch of Christians in Corinth. In spite of their sin, and their many struggles, we read in vs. 8,
"He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Is this not awesome? The word “sustain” literally means to “make firm”, or to “hold firm”. No matter how much this group of messy Corinthians had botched things, Paul gives them a promise of steadfast love and assurance, that God will hold on to them to the end.
A few years ago, I was walking through a Petsmart with my family. I was holding my son’s hand when I decided to do one of our favorite things together: I started swinging him back and forth. He was laughing and I was swinging him really high, when suddenly…. I lost my grip. He went flying and out of control, he landed right on his face. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I can remember the sound his face made when hitting the ground, and I shudder. I can remember the horror I felt as instantly he screamed at the top of his lungs. I quickly picked him up and he was crying out, “Why Daddy, why?” People in the store were staring at us and surely some thought I had abused my child. We rushed to the car and he screamed all the way to the hospital. We eventually got him to a doctor where we found out that yes, he had actually fractured his face! Because I had lost my grip, my boy was literally broken.
Thankfully, we found out that his face would heal just fine eventually (it has), but that day I was the worst dad ever and to atone for my failure, the next day we got a dog.
I want you to know this: Unlike me, our heavenly Father will never lose his grip. He will never let go, and He will hold on to you.
“He will make you firm to the end, GUILTLESS in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now again, looking at the mess that is the Corinthian church, they seemed to be anything but “guiltless”. They had messed up in countless ways! But in Christ Jesus, that stuff doesn’t come through. He is going to sustain them for heaven by declaring them innocent in His sight. Why? Because Jesus lived for them, He died for them, He rose from the dead for them, He ascended for them and He prayed for them. The same is true for you! Because Jesus lived for you, died for you, rose for you, ascended for you and prays for you right now, He will make you firm to the end!
Do you hear the good news here? Your sins are not held against you. Though your sins were as scarlet, God who justifies the ungodly, has declared you white as snow (and that will never end!).
Ultimately, you are not your problems. You are not your weaknesses. You are not your sins. You are sanctified. You are the recipient of God’s abundant, forgiving, amazing grace. You are held in the hands of your Father, guiltless and righteous, a friend and brother of Jesus Christ.
So yeah, you might be a mess, but ultimately, you are a saint.