The struggle is real. Martin Luther knew this. In 1535, Luther, a German professor of theology coined a phrase that many believers have found helpful to describe an ongoing struggle that every disciple of Jesus faces throughout their entire life.
This pithy Latin phrase is found in Luther’s commentary on Galatians,[i] where he says that true Christians are “simul justus et peccator.”
You can see the struggle.
While a believer is declared righteous, blameless, morally perfect in God’s sight as their true identity in the gospel, our original human corruption called the flesh, or sin nature, remains.
Therefore, the primary struggle in this life is two-fold. On one hand, we struggle to subdue our remaining sin nature. On the other hand, we struggle to believe that because we still struggle with sin that we can really be positionally righteous as our true identity in Christ.
What Luther’s phrase is intended to convey is that we are deeply flawed and dearly loved – at the same time.
This is the story of the Christian life. This is the message of First Corinthians.
As we begin our journey through this letter, we find that it was written by…
In verse 1, Paul identifies himself as the author. This is the Paul formerly known as Saul, the notorious Pharisee who at one time was the chief persecutor of Christians. He knew what it was to be deeply flawed.
Out of that that flawed condition he experienced a dramatic conversion, going from persecuting the church to becoming the most well-known preacher in the church. More than merely a preacher he was commissioned by Jesus to serve as an Apostle, a role in the early church that game him a unique authority to represent and speak for Jesus.
In the same way that an ambassador has the authority to represent his or her nation’s interest in a foreign land, an apostle in the kingdom of God was empowered with the authority of the King.
The implication for us is straightforward.
When Paul or the other apostles speak, we are to receive their teaching not as the words of mere men, but as the very words of God. As such, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are authoritative. What the text says, God says.
The Bible is clear about the depth of our flaws. Yet it is also unequivocal about the depth, height, width and breadth of God’s love for his people in Christ. Deeply flawed. Dearly loved. Thus, the struggle.
It was Paul’s struggle. It is our struggle.
And it was a struggle for the original recipients of this letter. In verse 2 Paul indicates that the recipients are the members in the church at Corinth, which was…
Corinth was a wealthy port city that connected the southern peninsula of Greece to the mainland at a narrow isthmus through which all Greeks would have to travel from north to south.
As a port city, Corinth was cosmopolitan, multicultural, and drew many visitors—many of whom would be looking for a good time. And they would find it in Corinth, a city described by Cicero as being “illustrious for wantonness.”[ii] Synonyms for wantonness include depravity, debauchery, and shamelessness. Corinth was so licentious that “to Corinthianize” became a term used for living a promiscuous life.
This is the city where Paul preached the gospel in the late 40s and early 50s A.D. It would be like the apostle showing up in Vegas to start a new church. You can imagine his financial support team wondering how the message about Jesus could possibly impact such a culture.
If you have flown on an Airbus A380 then you have traveled on the world’s largest passenger jet. A double-deck, wide body airliner, it weighs over 1.2 million pounds upon take-off. That is 1.2 million pounds of steel, plastic, and people, none of which are known to float or fly or hover. How does so much weight lift off from the ground with the ability to travel in mid air for almost 10,000 miles? The answer: four massive Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines… and prayer. 😊
Paul knew that the gospel message is the power of God. Just like Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines can create the propulsion to lift 1.2 million pounds of steels off the ground, so can God do the impossible to bring life out of death in such a licentious culture.
Do you see what this means for us?
A church existing in Corinth should convince us that there is no one who is unreachable or unsavable. There is no cultural context that is too far gone for the power of the gospel to transform. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for anyone who believes.[iii]
This may be why Paul begins this letter with such…
When something is centric is it central. It is the most important object around which everything else revolves and depends. For example, our solar system is heliocentric. The Earth and other planets revolve around the sun. If our sun were to go out, life would cease on earth. For Paul, Christ is the centric—he is central—he is the sun upon whom we depend for spiritual life.
We see this Christo-centricity in verses 2-9, where in his greeting to the Corinthians, Paul mentions Jesus nine times—nine times in eight verses, which is not an accident, but is quite purposeful, because as the many Corinthian flaws come to light in the coming chapters, in order to face and own these flaws with gospel courage, they will need to be fully convinced that their identity is not in their merits or demerits, but in the mercy of God to them in Christ.
Just like a woman often takes the name of her husband to represent their union, or oneness, to be “in Christ” is a union in which we not only take his name, but also are given his own righteousness—his moral merit becomes our moral merit. This is what it means to be “sanctified in Christ,” the phrase Paul uses in verse 2.[iv]
By the way, being called a “saint” is not a designation of moral super-star attainment but of a positional, spiritual status. It is not a title we earn but one we receive as a gift through union with Jesus. As our bridegroom, what is his becomes ours. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. What belongs to the bridegroom now belongs to the bride as well. His identity as holy, hagios, is our identity as holy—as “saints.”
Do you see the application for us?
The only way we will have the courage to look at the depth of our sin is to look to Christ as the one in whom we have been positionally sanctified. Yes, our flesh is still flawed, but who we are in Christ has been declared perfectly holy and blameless.
When I believe this, I have the courage to face my flaws and rejoice in the convicting and correcting work of the Spirit in my life. And when I can see others through the lens of their positional holiness, I give them the same courage. This is what Paul is doing for them.
Conviction of sin is no longer something to resist but now becomes something to embrace.
I am now willing to admit to being hard-hearted and proud—a pride that has led to congregational divisiveness rather than encouragement of those in leadership. This is exactly what happened in Corinth.
Being dearly loved enables me to look at the deep flaws of sexual immorality in my life, and to own my part in interpersonal conflict. I can look at the problems in my marriage as the lack of love starts with my hard heartedness… and I can admit that I possess some theological ideas that need to be corrected in light of the Scripture.
These are all issues Paul will address throughout 1 Corinthians, showing us that the topics in this letter are as relevant today as they were then.
This is why Paul goes to lengths to convince us that in spite of deep flaws, true believers are dearly loved in Christ.
This is reflected in the salutation in verse 3 where Paul proclaims, “grace to you and peace from God the Father,” where God is not preoccupied with their flaws. As verse 4 states, they have received grace in Christ Jesus. Even though verses 5-7 note that they have been given spiritual gifts that confirm the presence and power of God among them, their status as believers is not something they have achieved or earned. Even their spiritual gifts are gifts of grace—a grace that God himself will sustain until the end of their lives.
This is the Christocentric promise of…
As recipients of salvation from sin, Paul declares in verses 8 that those who have called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ are not only saved by grace but will be “sustained” by grace until the return of Jesus.
The flaws are frustrating, but not final. In the end, we who look to Jesus as our sin-bearer will be blameless and guiltless. The verdict of heaven will ring out not only as innocent, but that we are righteous and dearly loved.
We know this not by looking to ourselves but to God who Paul says in verse 9 “is faithful.” He who called us into the fellowship of knowing and being know by Jesus will never let us go.
If you have old VHS tapes from the 80s and 90s, it would be a good idea to have them transferred to a digital format before it is too late. VHS recorded video by magnetizing sound and images to strips of tape, this the phrase tape recorder. The problem is that over time, the tape slowly loses its magnetic properties.
Experts estimate that the average VHS tape recording will last about 20 years before it begins to degrade and eventually go blank.
You may have noticed that there are a number of companies who have recognized this need and will complete the digital transfer process for you… for a fee.
The question is: how much to do you love these now flawed videos? How much is it worth to restore and preserve them?
Do you see the connection?
We are like those VHS tapes—deeply flawed by sin, but dearly loved by God, who has valued our restoration and preservation so highly that he was willing to pay the price required by having all of our flawed tape—the total record of our sin removed and placed upon Jesus so that through his blood, our flaws would be removed and his moral beauty, his perfect righteousness could restore us and prepare us for the glory and joy of eternal life in the presence of our risen Savior.
In Colossians 1:13-14, Paul wrote,“13 [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Would you like to be restored and preserved like that?
[i] Specifically, Galatians 3:6.
[ii] Pulpit Commentary – 1C: Cicero describes the city as “illustrious for wantonness, opulence, and the study of philosophy.”
[iii] When this message is proclaimed there is a supernatural power at work to bring the spiritually dead to life, where the Spirit enables the formerly deaf to hear and blind to see so that we are able to respond to the message with faith. This was true in Corinth and it is true in Dahlonega.
[iv] The words saint and sanctified are the noun and verb form of the same Greek root word, hagios, which means holy, pure, blameless, clean… fully forgiven.