Sinners and Saints
Last weekend we started our new sermon series on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. We titled the series Sinners and Saints because of the tension we see throughout the letter between the holy identity that is ours now in Christ and the continuing struggle with sin that we often see displayed in our broken lives and relationships. For those who are in Christ we are simultaneously sinners and saints. We still sin, but by grace, we are simultaneously God’s holy ones. Both are true in these “last days.”
Joel prophesied that the last days would be ushered in by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people which happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21; Joel 2:28-32). Yet, the Kingdom of God will not be fully consummated until Jesus Christ returns to make all things new. Until then we live in the “already, not yet” of God’s Kingdom. In Christ, the benefits of salvation are fully ours already. However, we do not yet experience all these benefits in their fullness. We live in that tension.
The letter of Paul to the Corinthians teaches us how we are to live in the tension of these last days. We confront sin in our life with the gospel of Jesus Christ and remind ourselves to live out of the new creation identity that we have as a result of his grace to us. It is no accident that before Paul begins to correct any of the myriad sins that the Corinthian church was struggling with, he first reminds them of their true identity in the gospel. This is the identity they are then called to live out of throughout the letter.
The first nine verses of 1 Corinthians are encouraging verses for sinners. Read them again if you need to:
“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: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” - 1 Corinthians 1:1–9
Yes, the Corinthian church struggled with all sorts of divisions and sins – many that we would even consider egregious! Yet, in these first nine verses they and we are reminded of our true identity in Christ – church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, unified with everyone who calls upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, receivers of grace, enriched in Christ, confirmed by the testimony about Christ, not lacking in any gift, and sustained to the end guiltless! And the crown jewel of our new identity – called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord! This is pure grace given through the good news of Jesus Christ’s salvation for sinners.
If our thoughts, words, and actions were examined no sinner could merit even one of these identities. Yet, Jesus lavishes these identities upon all who call upon him! Why? God is faithful! Paul’s confidence to say such things was not in the Corinthians’ ability to earn them or get their act together. Paul’s confidence was in God who is faithful – yesterday, today, and forever! Paul’s confidence was in the God who was so committed to save sinners that he sent his Son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” on the cross he meant it. You have nothing left to do except receive Christ as he is given to us freely in the gospel.
When we doubt and struggle and fall into the same sin patterns may we look to Jesus! May we look to the cross and know that God is that faithful, which is to say perfectly and completely faithful. Let our confidence be in Christ alone who was faithful even unto death. The One who calls us to be faithful has already been so on our behalf. Now, we get to live out of the gospel identity that we already have in him! These last days will end. We will not have to live with this tension forever. On the day of our Lord Jesus Christ we will be guiltless because God is faithful. From that time forth and forevermore we will fully experience what is already a true reality in Christ. Long for that day and live today as if it were true because…it is.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” - 2 Corinthians 5:17