We're turning to 1 Corinthians chapter 1. You remember that last week we looked a little bit into the book of the Acts, and we also looked at a few verses of the book of 1 Corinthians, and we got a real feel for the place - the reason why this epistle was written, at least one of the reasons, was the city of Corinth. We looked at a couple of the other reasons, and we'll be teasing them out in the weeks that lie ahead. We begin to read at verse 1 and we'll be reading right through to verse 9:
"Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord".
Our title tonight is "Grace Greater Than Their Sin". You'll remember last week that we looked in some detail at the city of Corinth, and we found out that it was a strategic commercial harbour with regards to the Mediterranean world at that time. We saw on the map that we had in front of us how every point on the compass, almost, had to come through the city of Corinth on their journeys of trade and business. From the North, from Athens; from the south, the little peninsula of Greece; right up from East and West - everybody in the known world came through this city of Corinth, it became a kind of metropolis, a place where people stayed, and because of that there was a great wealth and opulence in the city of Corinth. So much so that in trade you could get absolutely anything under the sun in the markets of Corinth. Because it was a centre and a commercial harbour, it also became a city of real vice - a hotbed of heathenism. We saw the various temples, the various gods that were worshipped, the awful devotion was given to these gods in all kinds of sexual immorality. We found that this was a centre of immoral fornication, a centre of homosexuality, and indeed as Paul wrote Romans chapter 1 from Corinth - and that's important to note - I believe he was looking out of his window as he thought of the Roman sins that were beginning to bear on this great city. We heard about the thousand prostitutes that would come down from the Acropolis and from the temple, and would infiltrate the whole town in the evening.
It was a terrible place of sin, so much so that the name 'to Corinthianise' was a synonym for the sin of fornication and sexual immorality. Gordon Fee, the commentator, said: 'At once this was the New York, the Los Angeles, and the Las Vegas of the ancient world'. I didn't tell you last week that archaeologists have found, in the modern age, clay models of the human reproductive system that were actually offered as sacrifices unto the god Aesculapius, who was the god of healing. We read between the lines, and we suspect that the reason why these clay models of human genitalia were given to these gods was because of the venereal disease that was incurred because of their awful immorality.
It was also a city that was a great mixture of nationalities and religions, and cultures and peoples. We see it particularly in the church of Corinth: there were Jews, there were Greeks and Gentiles, all sorts of them, and various people from various parts of the world. There were poor people, there were very rich people; there was the middle-class; there were patrons and there were slaves. But one thing that we do gather from the book of Corinthians is that the church was a mirror of the world at this time, the city of Corinth. Not only in their present walking away from the ways of God, not only in the fact they were falling back into the sins that they were saved from, but they too had this real multicoloured spectrum of immorality in their lives before their conversion. Perhaps some of the most famous verses in the book of Corinthians are found in chapter 6, if you look at it, and verses 9 to 11 depict the lifestyle of these saints before they were converted: 'Know ye not', verse 9 of chapter 6, 'that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God'.
These people had this type of sinful background that we find in the culture of the city of Corinth. I heard of one man that went away from the Bible reading last week and said that he was going to christen the city of Belfast 'Corinth'. It's true, isn't it? As we look down at the characteristics of the city of Corinth in its day, we can see great parallels and similarities with our own society, our own nation, and indeed the Western world that we live in. But the difference between us and Corinth in its day, to a large extent, is that we as the church of Jesus Christ in our particular circumstance and environment are somewhat sheltered from the type of sins that the people in Corinth experienced. We, as Christians today, to a large extent - I don't want to generalise - but most of us have never known the horror of interacting with the type of sins, and people committing the type of sins, that we find in the city of Corinth. We, to a large extent, are not on the coalface of real life as it is in our society. We don't face the problems of immorality that people have to face on a daily basis. We could spend all night going into the reasons for that, but perhaps one of the greatest reasons is the fact that most of us in the Western church are second generation Christians. Certainly, I would say, a lot of us in this church have been born into Christian homes - not all of us, but many of us. That is a great blessing, we don't seek to underestimate what that means - to be brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, but what it can also mean is that we're not exposed to the horrors and the ravages that sin has on normal lifestyles. We've never experienced first-hand, perhaps not even second-hand, what sin can really do in the home and in the personal life.
I wonder, as I'm looking and studying this book of 1 Corinthians during the week, if the unconverted - if you like, the great unwashed and unchurched around us - were to get saved and were to come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, could we really handle it? Could we handle the dilemmas, the knots that seem to be untieable of immorality, personal problems? I think we would be faced with real dilemmas and real headaches. There are problems coming from that type of background, there's no doubt about it. These Corinthians came to Christ, and many of them brought those problems with them - although they were immoral, they were fornicators, they were effeminate, and Paul said 'such were some of you', some of them found it very difficult letting go of the baggage that they had before they were regenerated by the Spirit of God.
But do you know something? In the study that we're going to look at tonight there's a commendable feature that comes with people who have been forgiven out of great sin. That's right! A commendable feature, something that great sinners have that is a great feature. It is simply this: great sinners tend to respond to great grace. I want you to cast your mind back to the Gospels, to Luke chapter 7 - you don't need to turn to it - and verse 47, as the Lord Jesus Christ is in the home of Simon the Pharisee. There is a tremendously immoral woman that comes to the Lord Jesus, she bows down before Him and she weeps at His feet, and washes His feet with her tears. Then she takes her hair and dries His feet, and she kisses His feet, and Simon the legalistic Pharisee, in his own mind, is saying: 'Surely, surely the Lord knows, even by the demeanour and dress of this woman, what type of a woman she really is?'. Of course, the Lord knew Simon's thoughts and replied to him: 'When I came into your house you didn't anoint My head, you didn't wash My feet with your tears. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little'. The antithesis of that is that to whom much is forgiven, that person loves much. The person that has had a great volume of sin within their life, when they turn to Christ and that volume disappears there is a great capacity in their heart left to love God and to accept the wonderful grace of God that is greater than all their sin.
With the past of great sin that these Corinthians had there was, I believe, a greater capacity for them to grasp the great grace of God that is greater than all our sin. That's how Paul, believe it or not, reacts to this very sinful immoral church. He reacts in grace! I want you to grasp this this evening. You heard last week of the type of city that these people were living in, you heard about the type of sins that the church of Jesus Christ was imbibing and was filtering into their everyday practice, and even their sacraments - as they broke bread they were getting drunk! They made holy things unholy, yet as Paul comes to write to them in a letter of instruction, what is the first thing that he brings to them? Grace!
How would you react if you were asked to address these problems? I know how I would react! I would get pen to paper very quickly and say: 'Dear Corinthians, are any of you saved at all? Corinthians, you call yourselves Christians? You can't be Christians unless you behave like Christians!'. But what does Paul say? As he writes to them in the first nine verses he's basically saying: 'Look, look at what you are! Look at what you have in the Lord Jesus Christ!' - and it's only when he tells them what they have in the wonderful riches of the grace of God that he then moves on to exhort them and to encourage them and to rebuke them in the ways that they should be going. Look at verse 10, after talking about the great grace of God he says: 'Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind', and he goes on right through the whole book starting to correct their inaccuracies in the understanding of the spiritual life and the carnal life, their sinfulness, their backsliding. But note what he does: he comes to them first of all and he ministers to them the great grace of God.
Now, if it wasn't the apostle Paul I would say that that was madness. It wouldn't be my first instinct, but what you've got to see is that there is method in the madness of Paul - if we can call it madness at all - because this old man knew, in all of his godly given wisdom, that these people would listen to him more carefully, that they would take his rebuke of their lifestyle more readily, if they got a fresh glimpse of the grace of God toward them. Now listen, yesterday we began a study in the book of Philippians, and we saw in the first two verses that in the very introduction of the book there's like a little microcosm and model of the theme right throughout the whole book and we unpacked it yesterday, we saw that Paul even in his introduction was showing them what he wants them to know. It's no different in the book of 1 Corinthians, and I want us to do this tonight.
You remember I told you - if you weren't here yesterday, I was telling the people that a Roman letter in the ancient Greco-Roman world, when Greeks and Roman were writing letters they always began with a salutation, with a greeting. Now we normally end our letters with 'Yours Sincerely', 'Hope You're Well', 'God Bless You', and all the rest at the end of the letter - but in those days they began with the salutation, and it usually began with the writer identifying himself; and then it followed on as he told them who he was addressing it to, the recipients of the letter; and then it usually tailed off, before he got into the guts of the letter, with a general greeting. If he had heard that the people were well he would praise his God or gods for the fact that they were doing well, and hoping and trusting and praying that they would do even better in the days that lie ahead. Now Paul, generally in all of his letters, follows the normal Greco-Roman convention in writing letters. He doesn't do it in any particularly different way, but what he always does is he usually adds to it.
There are usually differences and digressions, and I want you to do a wee bit of detective work like you did yesterday morning and look for what these differences are. Just look at the first verse first of all, he says: 'Paul, called to be an apostle' - now there's the difference. He's defining who he is and what his calling is. Usually it would just be 'Paul', but Paul the apostle is saying: 'I'm an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God' - there's another difference. He's qualifying where he got his apostleship from. So there are three differences: he says that he's called; he says he's called to be an apostle; and he says he's called to be an apostle in the will of God. So the first thing that Paul is doing that's different than ordinary letter writing in this type of ancient world is: he is asserting his apostleship - that's very important. He's showing these people in the church of Corinth who disputed that he was an apostle - and we know that from chapter 9 verses 1 and 2, if you care to look at it: 'Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord'. There were people teaching, disputing, perhaps some of these leaders in the factions in the church, who were doubting, disputing whether Paul was really an apostle. But Paul, right at the outset of this letter, is establishing, re-instituting his authority as an apostle.
Now what is an apostle? It's a sort of emissary of the Lord, a representative of the Lord, a person who's coming and is an ambassador for the Lord - and specifically a person who has the right to speak for the Lord and on the Lord's behalf. Now if you didn't know the background of this letter you would think that Paul was being a bit proud, and revelling and glorying in the fact that he was an apostle - but you'd be wrong if you fell into that assumption simply because Paul knew that he needed to communicate to these Corinthians that he had a right to speak about what he was going to speak about. He had a right to put them right, he had a right to teach them because God had chosen him in Christ as an apostle, and specifically the apostle to the Gentiles. Now you can reason that in your own mind, even if you looked at our own present-day and you thought about a doctor or a person who claimed to be a doctor, but they had no medical degrees, they'd never been trained, they'd never had any experience in operating upon anybody or treating anybody. If they went along to a conference, to speak at a medical conference, they wouldn't get a hearing - why? Because they have no right to speak on the subject, they are not an authority on the subject. Paul, right away, wants these people to know: 'I am an authority on what I am about to say'.
There were various reasons why he did that, not just the fact that people were doubting his apostleship, but also the fact that he was not one of the twelve - I'm talking about the twelve disciples that we read of in the Gospels. The apostle Paul was not one of that number - so some people doubted, because of that, that he was an apostle at all. Of course, there were some false teachers coming into the church saying that he was not an apostle, and they were saying that they were apostles - so Paul had to counteract their accusations and claims. There are three things that he really wants to lay down as he says that he is an apostle, called of Jesus Christ by the will of God - it's the fact that he is related to Christ as an apostle, he is in communication and has the authority of Christ in what he's saying to these people. He's saying also that he is related to God, it's 'by the will of God' - God has chosen him as an apostle, and God is bringing this message to the church at Corinth. But perhaps the most immediate and specific to these people is the fact that as he comes to the church, he has authority over the church in the name of God and in the appointment of Jesus Christ to set them right in their doctrine and in their practice.
Now we know from the history books that when the Jewish Supreme Court, which you know was called the Sanhedrin, was asked to arbitrate in a serious dispute or to give an interpretation regarding Jewish law or tradition, they sent a messenger along who was called 'apostolos' - that's the word we get 'apostle' from. He went along with the message and the verdict of the Sanhedrin, and as far as he was concerned he had the full authority of the Sanhedrin, and he wasn't speaking for himself, he was speaking for the Sanhedrin and he brought their message - but he was more than a messenger because he had the authority of the body, and it meant that he was an ambassador. Representing and bringing the message and the mouth of God - that's what of Paul was doing. That's why, in 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 20, he says: 'We are ambassadors unto you in Christ's stead, pleading with you: be ye reconciled to God'. In Ephesians 6 and verse 20 he said: 'I am ambassador in bonds', as he's writing from prison the book of Ephesians. He's a representative of Christ even in prison!
So you see how important it is that he asserts his apostleship as he brings this message to the Corinthians. But not only does he mention his apostleship and assert it, but he also asserts how he was called to be an apostle. This is very important, he says: 'Paul, called to be an apostle'. He's saying: 'Look, I haven't appointed myself; I haven't been appointed by the Sanhedrin, or a company of Jews, or a company of Christians, or a hierarchy of a church, or by a bishop, or by a pope; I have been appointed and called by God to be an apostle'. I want you to note and ring - if you ring or mark your Bible, ring these words - look at verse 9, he mentions this word 'called' many times in chapter 1: 'God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord'. Verse 23: 'But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God'. Verse 26: 'For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called'. In fact, the word 'church' - I've told you this many times - 'ecclesia' in the Greek means 'the called out ones'. It's commonly understood that it means 'called out of the world', but that is not what 'ecclesia' and 'the church' means, to be called out of the world. They are called out of the world, but it means to be called unto God, to worship God. To be brought out of the world, yes, but specifically to worship God. Paul is saying in the same sense: 'I have been called to be an apostle', but he's going a step further and he's saying: 'In the same way that I have been called to be an apostle, God has also called you to be saints'.
You see, what you have to understand about the Damascus Road experience that Paul had in the book of the Acts, it was recorded in the book of the Acts - Paul had his salvation experience and his call to service experience at the one and the same time. Did you ever notice that? What Paul is saying here is: 'In the same way that I was called to be an apostle through the will of God on the road to Damascus, at the point that I was saved, the call for you to serve God and be a messenger of God and ambassador of God is something that happened at one and the same time, simultaneous to your conversion'. You can't split the two: you're saved to serve.
Paul adds just a little name to this introduction that is very intriguing, just to prove that our service comes at our salvation - no matter who we are, whether we're an apostle, or whether we're an ordinary disciple. He says this: '...through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother'. There's a whole debate goes on about whether Sosthenes actually wrote this book or not - of course he didn't, Paul wrote the book, but he may have been the scribe, he may have been Paul's personal secretary. He certainly was Paul's companion as he's writing this book, as he names him, and I have little doubt that he's the same Sosthenes that you find in Acts chapter 18. We don't have time to read that, but let me give you a bit of his history. He was a leader in the synagogue, you may remember that Crispus was converted in the book of Acts chapter 8, and Crispus was the leader of the synagogue. When Crispus was converted and left Judaism as a whole to follow Christ, Sosthenes took Crispus' place as the leader of the synagogue, and it caused great unrest - as you can imagine - when this man Crispus was converted. But how much more unrest can you imagine was created when the second replacement, Sosthenes, was then converted to the Lord Jesus Christ? I was reading David Prior (sp?) today on the book of 1 Corinthians, and he was relating how he was at Oxford University at the time, in the early 1960s, when it was the heyday of the Humanist Society. The president of the Humanist Society in Oxford University was converted to the Lord Jesus Christ, there was a real uproar, there was an extraordinary business meeting that took place as they thought about the successor. They appointed a successor, and to their astonishment the one who had been elected to the new presidency of the Humanist Society was converted again to Christ! There was another General Meeting, but the uproar was immense - how all their philosophy and their way of life, and their understanding and world view of God - whether He's there or not, or what our purpose in life is - was just turned on its head. Exactly the same thing happened when Sosthenes came to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the book of Acts we read that this was an enemy of the Gospel, if ever there was one. Sosthenes is recorded as being beaten for his involvement in bringing Paul the apostle to the civil court in the city of Corinth. Now we don't know why he was beaten, there are some ancient manuscripts that tell us that he was beaten by the Jews because they thought that he didn't make a good enough case before the magistrate, some manuscripts say that he was beaten by the Greeks because they felt that he was wasting their time over a flimsy item of Jewish religion. But no matter what it was about, this man was so opposed to the Gospel of Christ and Paul the apostle that he was willing to get beaten up for it all and his opposition of it! But what a triumph of grace that this man Sosthenes is converted, and is now mentioned in the epistle to Corinth, who once was the leader of the synagogue in Corinth! Paul says of him: '...and Sosthenes our brother'.
Was he an apostle? No. I learn a wee bit about how God works, because Paul, in the reproductive system of spirituality, was giving birth to his own likeness, wasn't he? A man totally opposed to the Gospel, a man who was a zealot for Judaism, a man who was trying to bring Paul himself before the civil court, yet that man is gloriously converted by the grace of God. We can produce like people who are converted in the same way as we are, but what I want you to notice is simply this: Sosthenes was not an apostle. Paul was an apostle, but it didn't matter to Paul whether you were an apostle or not an apostle, you were still a brother and you could still serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Now let's banish this absolute nonsense that you have to be a pastor, that you have to be a preacher, that you have to be a missionary, an evangelist, to be able to serve the Lord Jesus Christ - we've got to get out of this ecclesiasticism!
I heard of a man today who waters his grass with a big sprinkler system that is the state of the art. You've never seen anything like it, it waters every single blade of grass in the whole garden. One day his little daughter was wanting to help him, you know what it's like, and she got her little watering can, and she filled it up and she was going around watering all these little bits of grass, helping her Daddy. You might say: 'What a comparison! There is no comparison at all between a little watering can and the sprinkler system', but here's the thing: to a parched little tuft of grass, what does it matter? Whether it's Paul the apostle, or Sosthenes the unknown to the 21st century, to men and women who are dying in their sin it doesn't matter who gives them the water of life, as long as they get it and as long as they drink it and as long as they're satisfied!
Well, what a lesson Paul has given us in the first couple of words. What is the lesson? Oh, it's grace! For in verse 3 we have it: 'Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ'. He's changed here the conventional Roman greeting, instead of just saying: 'Greetings', he's using the word 'grace', he's saying 'peace' because that's what comes when the grace of God is shed abroad in your heart. Then from verses 4 through to 9 he's giving that prayer, the wishing of well to the person he's writing to. In this second section he's giving thanks to God on the behalf of these Corinthians for grace. Now are you asking yourself - I hope you are, because I was certainly asking this today - how can Paul be so positive, how can Paul be so thankful, when there's such trouble rife in this church, when they're divided, when there's so many abuses of holy things and so much immorality? How can he do it? This is how he can do it: because he knows and has a grasp of the character of his God. We'll see this, and we'll tease this out, but chiefly it is this: our God is a God of grace.
In spite of their sin, they were these things...let's look down the list: one, citizens of heaven. Verse 2, first part: 'Unto the church of God which is at Corinth', the church of God which is at Corinth. Their identity was not 'Corinth', their identity was the fact that they were the church of God. Our identity as believers is not the city that we live in, the country that we belong to, it's not a certain preacher or theologian that we follow and adhere to, but our identity is with Jesus Christ for we are in His church. Every church, indeed every Christian, has two addresses: Corinth and Jesus Christ; Thorndyke Street, Templemore Avenue, and Jesus Christ. What this message is communicating to the Corinthians specifically, and to us today, is: no matter if you live in a little hellhole like Corinth, a place of immorality and godlessness, you can live in Jesus Christ a holy, a sanctified, and a spiritual life - and if it can be lived in Corinth it can be lived anywhere, do you agree?
Now, if I was to tear out of my Bible the first nine verses of the epistle to the Corinthians it would be very difficult to say anything good about this lot, wouldn't it? In fact, I wouldn't be preaching to you a message of grace, it would be a message of instruction - but the amazing thing that is in the first nine verses: Paul sees these believers in Christ. Isn't that the way we are? For if you took Christ away from you, the first nine verses of your epistle written unto men, if you took Christ out of your life what would you be? Just like the Corinthians! You mightn't have committed any of their sins, but you know that you of all men are most miserable in your heart without Christ, without the glorious life of His resurrection. We have the same weaknesses, the same flaws and vulnerabilities of other people who are blind without Christ. I wonder are you here tonight, and maybe you're discouraged, maybe you're downhearted, maybe that temptation that you continually succumb to and fall underneath is just getting the better of you more and more and more - and you wonder when it's all going to end. You need to see the grace of God afresh.
Church life is difficult at times, and sometimes when there are problems in the church - the way it is in the church of Corinth - the grass can be greener on the other side. If you were in Corinth and you were trying to live the life of the Lord in that little church, I'm sure the temptation to church-swap was very real to you. But the amazing thing is: Paul first and foremost sees this church not in their sin, but sees them as being in Christ. Let's face it tonight: every church has its problems. We've got our problems, the churches down the road have got their problems, but equally every church - if it is the true church, made up not of bricks and mortar, made up not of a denominational connection, but made up of living stones that have been hewn out by the Spirit of God and set in place by Him, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb - they're in Christ! No matter how much sin they're in, they're in Christ! It's hard to think of that, isn't it? But in spite of their sin they were still citizens of heaven.
Secondly, in spite of their sin they were still sanctified in Christ and called to be saints. The second part of verse 2: 'church of God which is at Corinth to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints'. Now 'sanctified', some people tell us, happens to you after you believe six months down the line, a subsequent experience to conversion, and it makes you holy. Now, could you say that these people were holy? Practically, were they holy people? Of course they weren't! But Paul was saying: 'You are sanctified' - positionally he's talking about, they're in Christ. They've been set apart for Christ and to Christ, and they needed many things in their life, but they were set apart for God and for His glory. A better translation of 'called to be saints' is 'saints by calling', that's what he means. You are saints by divine calling, it's not something that you're going to try and attain to, it's not something that is only for dead Christians who did a great thing in their life, and hundreds of years later the church of Rome decides to canonise them and make them into saints - that is rubbish! It's something that is in your life, that is a living reality where you realise that you are a saint, and you've been called to that reality.
Now look down at the Authorised Version, because you will see that 'to be' is in italics, isn't it? Now that means that it's not in the original scriptures, that the translators have put it in so that we can understand what is trying to be said. But you could literally read it 'called saints', called saints! What Paul is saying is: 'You've been sanctified, you've been set apart, you are now called saints - when are you going to live up to your calling?'. This is a favourite phrase and name for Christians that Paul uses, he uses it 60 times or so in all of his letters, and it's talking about what we are positionally in Christ. It's not a matter of good works - oh, I wish I had time, I never do have the time, but sure Hebrews 10 and verse 10 tells us, listen: 'By the which will we are sanctified' - how? By trying your best? By doing good works? - 'through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all'. Verse 14: 'For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified'. We are sanctified by the blood of Christ, that's our position, now that's different than practice and holy living, and living up to the name that we have as saints. But Paul's exhortation is exactly that: if this is what you're called, if this is what you've been made by the grace of God, you've got to live up to your name, you've got to be seen to be set apart! Everything's going for you: Christ has saved you, Christ has given you a new nature, what's stopping you living as saints?
The purpose of being in Christ is to be like Christ - that's what this epistle is all about. Now you're sitting here tonight saying: 'Look, how can I live like Christ? It's hard for me, you don't realise what I'm up against. I'm wrestling against sin daily. I can't get over this temptation', and for somebody like you it's extremely hard to imagine yourself as absolutely pure, spotless, holy, unimpeachable and without blemish, isn't it? Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles that people have getting saved, and even Christians have grappling with in their own life, is resting in the peace and the security and the satisfaction of knowing that you are accepted with God in the Beloved. Presidents don't always act presidentially, diplomats don't always act diplomatically, kings don't always act kingly; but they're still presidents, and they're still diplomats, and they're still kings - Christians don't always act Christlike, but they're still saints, that's wonderful, isn't it? It's amazing! This is the message he's coming to these wicked people with!
Thirdly, in spite of their sin they were still members of the body. He says: 'with all that', verse 2, 'in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours'. You're not an individual, everybody saved is sanctified in Christ - it's not just the Iron Hall that's sanctified in Christ, we know that. It's not just the fundamentalists, or the premillennialists - do I have an 'Amen'? No, I don't?! All in Christ - Paul didn't agree with these ones, did he, on everything? We mightn't agree with some people on everything, or anything, but if they're saved by the grace of God they're still saints. We're united in a body, it's nothing to do with a particular persuasion, it's nothing to do with what you are as an individual, it's nothing to do with the party that you belong to, or the faction or the political movement or the theological doctrine that you hold, it's because you're in Christ.
We've got to move on. Fourthly, in spite of their sin they were still recipients of God's grace. I'll tell you, my heart has been warmed today - verses 3 and 4: 'Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always' - every time I get a chance, it means - 'on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ'. Do you know the grace of God is wonderful? It has past benefits, it has present benefits, it has future benefits - and they're all found in this passage. The past benefits are here: the grace of God which was given to you - not as the Authorised 'which is', the Greek is 'which was given to you and confirmed in you'. The Greek tense literally means, it's in the aorist tense, an action completed at a particular definite moment in time - grace! You don't work for it, you're not going to get it some day and qualify for it, it's been given to you at conversion!
What's grace? It's favour, unmerited, unrepayable - it doesn't need to be repaid again to God, He doesn't expect it to be repaid again, and in fact you cannot repay it again. Let me tell you this, maybe there's somebody in this gathering tonight and they have never really known the joy of the grace of God, the unmerited favour, not of works lest any man should boast. Let me tell you tonight that the grace of God cannot coexist with three things: one, guilt, it cannot coexist with guilt. God is not up there saying: 'One false move, my boy, and I'm finished with you'. If you're in Christ that's not the way God works. He's not up there in heaven, He's not saying 'I'll save you only if you try never to sin again, if your life weighs up to it'. Let me tell you what the word of God says and what God is saying from His heart: 'if you're justified by faith', Romans 5, 'you have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience'. It is the grace of God that we stand in, and you've got to accept the reality of the joy of God's forgiveness and enjoy it and rest in it!
Grace cannot coexist with obligation: 'Right, He's saved me and now I have to try and repay Him'. That's not grace, you can't repay the grace of God - it's not a loan, it's a gift! It's free for the taking, and of course we serve God with all our heart, and we owe a great deal of love toward Him in service, but it's not through trying to repay it's because we belong to Him, it's because we have a new nature. We're children and we're trying to obey and please our heavenly Father! Thirdly it cannot coexist with human merit. You know, there are a lot of people, poor Roman Catholic people, people in the cults, people in many religions that are trying to work their way to God, and they believe that it is through human merit that they will get to heaven. Grace cannot coexist with human merit. Some people believe you only get grace when you're good enough! How can that be? The Scriptures teach that our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in the sight of God! The good things that we try to do don't impress God. How does that type of mentality of salvation weigh up with the tax collectors and the drunkards and the sinners and the demoniacs and the prostitutes that the Lord Jesus went about preaching good news to and forgiving their sins? It doesn't weigh up! The thief on the cross hadn't that privilege that perhaps you want to have! What about the Corinthians, the ones Paul is extending the grace of God to? Think about it...
We sit down and we watch the television and the news and we see starving people in Africa, we see poor people in Afghanistan, we see people losing their homes through floods in Vietnam and in Asia. We say: 'How come I'm so comfortable? How come I'm so happy? How come we don't get any of this in our country?'. When you ponder it for a moment, do you suddenly go 'Oh, eureka, I deserve it and they don't!'? Is that the way it is? No, it's not the way it is. We don't deserve anything, and that is what the grace of God is: that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
We've got to move on, we've so much to get through. Spiritually gifted, also in spite of their sin, verses 5, 6 and 7. This is present grace, God lavishes on them a provision, everything they needed! This phrase 'not lacking any spiritual gift' could also mean 'you are not deficient in the exercise of your spiritual gifts'. It's not that they had them and they weren't using them, boy were they using them - to excess, that was one of the problems causing chaos in the church! But they had things, spiritual gifts, that God had given to them - he lists speech and knowledge. They had been endowed with eloquence, flowery preaching; they had been given the teaching of Paul and Apollos and other great preachers; they had great knowledge given to them - but still they were disobedient, but Paul didn't ignore the fact that God had blessed them richly.
Now you remember from last week, I hope, that there were people running around believing that they were the elect - the only ones that had the knowledge of God. It was the seeds of Gnosticism, people who were believing that they had a special light of God from heaven and they knew a little bit more. They were going around like prophets revealing things to people. There were the Sophists, Sophia, who believed in wisdom and flowery speech - not so much the content of what you were saying, but the way you were saying it was what was important to them. Here you have those two things: speech and knowledge, but Paul is making a bit of sarcasm, and he's saying that the grace of God has given all of you speech and knowledge! Not just these high and mighty people that are claiming to be over you all in the church, but everybody in the church has been given the speech necessary - the word is actually 'logos', the word of God that was with God in the beginning. Everybody has been given in the church 'gnosis', that's the word that we get Gnosticism from, it's not just a select few but everybody has been given it - you don't need a guru, you don't need a modern-day prophet or a priest, all you need is Jesus Christ and to be one of His children and you've got everything you need.
They had spiritual gifts, and verse 6 tells us that that was proof of their testimony. I would have been running here with both feet in my mouth and saying: 'You don't have a testimony', Paul says that they had miraculous spiritual gifts that proved they had a testimony. Sixthly they were awaiting Christ's return. The Greek literally means, if you look at verses 7 to 9, they wait with eager anticipation and with activity. They were revelling in the gifts that they had, and Paul later on tells them that what they have today is nothing compared to what they're going to get one day. Do you remember it? Tongues shall cease, remember that passage? 'Tongues shall cease, then that which is perfect shall come; you see through a glass darkly now, but then you shall see face-to-face'.
In spite of their sin they were eternally secure. Verse 6 mentions the word 'confirmed': 'Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you', it's the same word in verse 8, 'Who shall also confirm you'. It is absolutely definite, it's a legal term in the Greek language which is a guarantee that settles a transaction. God is saying through Paul: 'God has settled the contract of your salvation'. Can I ask you tonight: if God has told you in His word how to get saved, if He tells you it's through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone, and He tells you that after you're saved He will perpetually cleanse you in the precious blood of His Son - will He abandon you? Will He let you go? Will He go back on His promise? Never! Why? Verse 9: 'God is faithful'.
This is imputed righteousness, and how often Paul mentions in this book and in his epistles the phrase 'in Christ'. Look how many times he mentions Christ in this first chapter, what's his argument? It's all about Christ, it's not about you Corinthians, even the awful life that you're living - it's about the grace of God unto salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that, eighthly, he is confident of their perfection. Imagine! He's telling these people: 'One day God is going to have you presented before Him absolutely blameless, unimpeachable, faultless!'. For those He predestined, He called; and those He called, He justified; those He justified, He glorified - and that's all at the one and the same time, you can't separate them. If you are justified, my friend, there's a day coming when you will be glorified. He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.
I'm finished. How can he be so optimistic? I'll tell you how he can be so optimistic: because he is confident in the faithfulness and the grace of God. Friends, do you know what we need? We need to get our eyes off our human frailty, and we need to get our eyes onto the faithfulness of our heavenly Father.
Let me finish with this story, if you have to go you can go. Some people will say: 'But is that not a licence to sin?'. There was a pastor out on the golf course on one occasion - too many of them are out too often! But he was out there anyway, and he got a phone call on his mobile and it was a police officer to say that his young son was down in the prison jail and he needed to be bailed out. He thought it was a joke and he took some of his pastoral staff with him from the golfing green, down to the place, and what embarrassment he had when he saw it was his own son. One of the first things that those pastoral friends said to that son was: 'How could you do that when you know who your father is?'. If he was feeling guilty, that made him feel all the more guilty. What is Paul saying in these first few verses? 'This is who your Father is, how can you do it?'.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Grace Greater Than Their Sin" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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