The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost June 28, 2009
1 Corinthians 1:1-2
Isaiah 55:10-13; John 10:14-16
544, 467(1-3, 6-7), 463(1-4, 7-8), 465
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.
Dear fellow saints in Christ’s Church:
“I ain’t no saint!” Besides being extremely poor English, that statement simply isn’t correct…at least not for you, a child of God.
I don’t call you a saint because you will one day be honored and worshiped after your supporters have gone through a long process of verifying your goodness and verifying miracles done through you. Neither you nor I is that kind of saint, nor will we ever be.
Although it is a complicated process to enter sainthood on a man-made list, being placed on God’s list of saints is far less complicated and far more valuable. On God’s list YOU ARE A SAINT! I. Called by God into sainthood II. Gathered by God into the Church.
The apostle Paul spent a little over two years working among the Christians in Ephesus. While he was there Paul heard about things in the Corinthian congregation that needed attention. To address these issues, Paul wrote the letter we know as 1 Corinthians. As he wrote this letter, Paul addressed it to “….those who are sanctified…called to be saints…” [v.2]
The words, “sanctify” and “saint” are talking about the same thing. Something or someone that is “sanctified” is a “saint.” Being “sanctified” is being set apart from one thing for another. After God created the earth in six days, He sanctified the seventh day, i.e., He set it apart from all the other days and made it different from all the other days. God set the Levites apart from the rest of the tribes in Old Testament Israel to be His priests—He sanctified them for that purpose. The priests used a variety of utensils for the worship sacrifices. There were similar tools used for similar things in every day life, but those in the tabernacle (and later the temple) had been sanctified for use in the temple. Those utensils were specially set apart for a special use. No longer were they the same as their counterparts outside the tabernacle. They were now “sainted” utensils, sanctified, and set apart for special use in God’s house.
Paul addressed the Corinthians as “saints” — sanctified ones, holy ones. Paul was addressing a congregation of Christians, so we too upon entering a Christian congregation could begin addressing one another by saying, “Good morning, St.__________. If we did greet each other that way our first reaction might be to say, “Whoa! Wait a minute…If you call me a saint and that puts me in the same category as St. Paul, St. Peter, and all the rest and I don’t think I fit there. I’m no saint, I’m not holy.”
It is good that we are aware of our sinfulness and, therefore, that we would feel uneasy being called holy. Yet, at the same time, we should be recognizing ourselves as saints and holy. You are a saint, holy and set apart from everything sinful. The important part of this statement is why we would make that statement and in what sense.
If we were to call ourselves “saints” and “holy” on the basis of ourselves, we would be guilty of what is perhaps the saddest thing on this earth, self-deception. “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). If we are going to declare ourselves “holy” and “saints” because of our goodness on this earth, because we live such a perfect holy life, or because there are people on this earth who think we are that great, then we are sadly mistaken, because “by the works of the law, no flesh shall be justified.”
When, however, we claim to be saints and holy ones through Christ, then and only then, we have a genuine right to that claim and God Himself agrees. Paul wrote to Corinthian Christians who were “sanctified in connection with Christ Jesus.” Jesus, God’s Son, was the reason they could be called holy ones.
We aren’t holy on our own, but because Jesus came as our substitute and died on the cross for our sins, because His righteousness covers our sins, God declares us holy and thus we are holy in His eyes. Through God’s saving plan accomplished by Jesus’ work, God has sanctified us—separated us from the world, from sin, and death and has made us His holy children—His saints. Our…Savior Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Peter speaks of the same sainthood…the same separation when he writes, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people…” (1 Peter 2:9).
We know we are sinners, but God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. We are sinners, but as Paul also told these same Christians: “BUT you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). We are called into sainthood because God has washed us clean from sin in Jesus’ blood.
The glory of sainthood in Christ Jesus, is that it is real. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sins and that makes our sainthood real, genuine, and as unlimited as God’s grace.
There are definite blessings in being saints. Among them are that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us—not dead “manmade saints” supposedly praying for others, but God the Holy Spirit Himself praying for us! “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:27). The blessings of sainthood continue…” The saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (Daniel 7:18). As for the saints who are on the earth, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.” (Psalm 16:3). “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trust in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no lack to those who fear Him” (Psalm 34:8-9); “And the heavens will praise Your wonders, O Lord; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the saints” (Psalm 89:5).
Surely we do not boast in sainthood of ourselves, rather, “My soul shall make its boast in the Lord” (Psalm 34:2).
You have been called into sainthood in Christ Jesus. We are not saints because we have not or do not sin. I know you sin just as much as you know I sin. We are nothing but condemned sinners. But as soon as we let that disqualify us from “sainthood” we are forgetting the most important part of sainthood—it comes through the holiness of Jesus Christ which God has given us. Therefore, it is God who declares us saints! When we see ourselves as saints, we are not boasting in ourselves, but rather, “My soul shall make its boast in the LORD” (Psalm 34:2).
On July 4, 1971 the Immanuel Lutheran Church of Mankato, MN was reduced to a smoking hulk. Why didn’t the church cease to exist when the building burned down? It didn’t cease to exist because the building is not the church….the saints gathered in the building are the Church. A church building is constructed not as a monument to man, but as a place in which the saints of God can meet to worship and conduct the work of the Gospel. It is set apart for the special use of the saints, but take the saints out of it and it becomes just another big building with pretty furnishings.
The saints—you, I, and all believers—are the church. Just as God has called each individual believer into sainthood, so He gathers the saints into His invisible Church and then they gather on the earth into visible churches in various locations. In our text, Paul addresses his letter to “the church of God which is at Corinth…” Paul then goes on to define what the “Church of God” is, namely, those who are sanctified, those who are called to be saints.
During the week before His death, Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). Our Lord’s desire is to gather sinners to Himself, to bring them into the eternal life He won for them. In the case of the majority of Jerusalem, this did not happen because they rejected Jesus. Jesus sends His disciples into the world with the Gospel so that through the Gospel sinners might be brought to faith and gathered into the Church of God.
All saints—all believers—are gathered together by God into the “Communion of Saints,” also called “the Holy Christian Church.” The Church of God as described in Scripture is this gathering of saints. It is an assembly of believers gathered around our Lord and Savior Jesus, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is an assembly of saints and saints alone—no unbelievers, no hypocrites.
This Church remains invisible to us in this life because we cannot determine with certainty who has or who does not have saving faith in Christ. Nevertheless, we know that the Church—the assembly of all saints—exists because God has promised that where His Word goes out it will accomplish its purpose (cf. Old Testament Reading). The Word is the power of God to bring sinners into salvation. So, where His Word is used, there will be believers, and wherever there are believers, those believers are part of the invisible Church of God—the gathering of saints.
This assembly of saints which we know as the Holy Christian Church is unlike any earthly church we know. The Holy Christian Church knows no bounds of space. Paul could not write a letter to the whole Church of God, but did write to the part of the Church who lived in Corinth at that time. Because the church is not bound by space and there will be believers wherever the Word is preached, we know we have brothers and sisters in Christ half a world away in India and Nigeria. We may never meet them, but we are gathered together in the Church. As Paul wrote the Corinthians in our text, “…with all who in every place call on the name of the Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” [v.2] Space cannot divide the Holy Christian Church or separate us from our Lord—the one we worship and hold in common.
On this earth we are creatures of time and there is a time limit to everything on the earth. Solomon reminds us, “There is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die; …” (Ecclesiastes 3:1ff). The Holy Christian Church knows no bounds of time. The beauty and the glory of being in Christ’s Church is that of “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
Neither time nor death can divide the members of the Holy Christian Church. Death does divide us physically when some saints die and we continue to live on the earth. But they are not separated from us in the Holy Christian Church. Neither death nor life can separate us from our Lord Jesus Christ, and if death cannot separate us from our Lord then neither can it separate us from those to whom we are joined through the Lord. “For to this end Christ both died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9).
Oh, what a joyful reunion the Church will have on the last day and for all eternity. There will be all the saints from Adam and Eve to Moses and Joshua to David and Solomon to Peter and Paul to all our loved ones who have already died in Christ to you and I and to all those saints who are yet to follow. It will be a joyful reunion of those we have known well on the earth and those we did not know except by the common faith. There will be saints from every tribe and tongue and nation and people” each of us having been made kings and priests to our God! (cf: Revelation 5:10). Then we will see face to face the Church into which Christ has gathered us and which we now know by faith. Then we will live with all the saints forever in perfection and in the presence of our Lord!
While we continue to fight the fight of faith on the earth, God’s saints gather together in visible congregations. Unlike the Holy Christian Church, these visible churches are bound by time, space, and may also include hypocrites. There is not always perfect unity among visible churches. God does want us to be unified, but true unity—like the oneness in the Holy Christian Church—comes from the truth of God’s Word. Unity among visible churches that is built upon anything other than the truth of God’s Word is not real unity.
When visible churches forsake the truth of God’s Word it is necessary to separate from the error for the preservation of the truth in order to keep the true unity in tact. Faith and membership in the invisible Church is an evaluation left only to God. So it is possible that we might share the bond of Christ and membership in God’s Church with individuals with whom we cannot join in fellowship on earth because they are part of a visible church that teaches differently from God’s Word. Remembering the difference between the invisible and visible churches helps to explain how this can be.
Knowing that the Church is God’s assembly of saints keeps us from thinking of is as nothing more than an outward organization. It keeps Christ as the head of the Church rather than making earthly leaders the head. It keeps us going to God’s Word to determine what we teach and believe rather than having people decide by what they think. When individual church leaders or entire visible churches turn away from God’s Word, it comforts us to know that the Church—God’s Church—lives on, and that according to Christ’s promise, the gates of Hell cannot and shall not prevail against it (cf. Matthew 16:18). Built on the Rock, the Church doth stand, even when steeples are falling—because the true Church is the saints of God, not the earthly signs of it.
Life in the visible church will at times be hard—we feebly struggle because we remain in the fight of faith against the Devil and his best efforts. However, because you are a saint gathered by God into the Church it is also true that “the golden evening brightens in the west; soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest. Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest! Alleluia! Amen! [TLH 463:8]
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.