1 Corinthians 1:1-2 “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours…”
Like the Corinthians, we have been sanctified, we have been made holy, in Christ Jesus. That’s not something Paul is looking forward to in the future. He says that it is true right now. And that is remarkable.
Consider the Corinthians. They didn’t look very holy. Sometimes we look at the believers in the early church and we wish for the good old days when the church grew by thousands of people in a single day. The believers all seemed to be full of love and life.
Then there was the Corinthian congregation. Nobody wishes their church was like this one. The congregation was shamelessly “cliquey.” The divisions between the members weren’t even subtle. Richer members avoided poorer ones. People openly claimed to follow different leaders. Godly teaching on sex was so confused that the congregation was proud to have a family practicing unrepented incest. Part of the congregation flirted with worship of pagan Gods. Worship services were disorderly. Many people used their spiritual gifts in a selfish, show-off sort of way. One faction denied a teaching as basic as the resurrection of the dead. Corinth Christian Church was not a happy place.
We may marvel at the issues in Corinth, but let’s pause to consider our own congregations, and our own selves. The churches to which I have belonged have not been strangers to the concept of cliques. Closed circles of friends can make others feel like outsiders. A pastor I know once commented in a magazine article, “Nobody I know has a spiritual track record free from sexual stumbling.” Are we any exception? Look at the silent toleration of impure behavior. Don’t forget about our own lustful thoughts. We may not make a show of our gifts like the people in Corinth. But is that because we just don’t put them to use? What would Paul have to say about us and our churches today?
This is one thing he would say: Like the Christians in Corinth, we have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. As remarkable as it may seem, God says we are holy. That’s not because you and I have never committed any sins. We have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. In him we are holy.
As believers, God doesn’t see us by ourselves anymore. We are in Christ Jesus. All the loving, miraculous, merciful, godly things Jesus said and did are wrapped around us like a big blanket. They hide our sinful lives. All of our nasty, petty, filthy, words and deeds were absorbed by Jesus, and he paid for them on the cross. Sainthood isn’t limited to our future existence in heaven. It isn’t the exclusive privilege of some class of super-Christians. In Christ Jesus, we are holy saints today.
That is why Paul could greet the Corinthians, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” When Paul began his letters this way, the word “grace” in Greek sounded almost like the Greek word for “hello.” The word peace was the standard word for greeting someone in Hebrew, shalom. These words were more than a personal wish. Grace and peace come from God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. We can be sure that we have God’s grace, and that we have peace with him, because Jesus has made us holy.
We may not look like much as Christians. We and our churches suffer from many faults and failings. But that doesn’t change who we are in Christ Jesus. In him, God has made us holy.