Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
In several inspired epistles the apostle Paul is moved to address folks, even whole congregations, as “saints.” He does that, for example, in I Corinthians. There it is, I Corinthians 1:1-3: “Paul … unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called…saints.”
Now this title “saints” we should ponder presently. Ponder for grace life. Maybe not for the church’s canonization of you, or dogs being named after you, or for folks seeking your help from heaven. But for Father furthering your saintliness—making for grace life saints.
First then, it’s yours. The title “saints,” that is. Paul writes, God through him, to a Corinthian congregation in the first century A.D. He calls them saints. And if he and He can call them saints, I believe a young Grace Life person of the church today, and even Rev. Dick, can be called a saint.
For consider that Corinthian congregation. The two epistles to it are not full of praise. They aren’t even faint praise. But they might cause you to faint. That Grecian group appears anything but saintly. In fact, I Corinthians reads like a letter to a church gone wild, or perhaps never tamed. The gospel declares and establishes the unity of the body of Christ; Corinthians is a classic study of a church divided (I Cor. 1). God calls for praise of His own name; the Corinthians were glorying in their gifts (I Cor. 12, 14). The fruit of the Spirit is love; the Corinthians must hear that song (I Cor. 13) and start dancing to it and stop taking their brethren to courts and suing for $253 million (I Cor. 6). Christ’s Elders are to stand for His own holiness; Corinth’s were slackers (I Cor. 5). The preaching of the gospel is the power and wisdom of God; the Corinthians were acting as powerless fools, inclining their itching ears, some of them, to Greek philosophy (which denied the resurrection, I Cor. 15), following the urgings of Aphrodite (Corinthian goddess of love), many of them (I Cor. 6:15-20). The Christian religion is marked by holy spirituality; Paul rebukes the Corinthians for never having gotten off the ground (I Cor. 3).
And that, therefore, means even you, Grace Life reader!
Not, of course, because you are any better than those crazy mixed up Corinthians. You might have thought I was going to say that. I don’t know why. But you might have. The reason, however, is because you are just like them. And therefore there is hope. For it is, after all, folks like sinners God makes saints.
To be sure, it is to be hoped that from many/most/all of the extremities of Corinthian sinfulness many/most/all of you have been kept. But to be sure, you are, after all, possessed of a Corinthian nature, and capable of Corinthian evil, and showing sometimes and sometimes often just how capable you are. And even that you are excellent in evil and in the evil of hiding it!
What’s worse, you’ve had the whole New Testament, and godly parents, and the preaching of the gospel, most of you, since you had ears. And godly traditions, and a glorious heritage of the faith. The Corinthians did not. You do. But you deny it.
Now isn’t that something? Now isn’t thatshameful?! You are glad when the sermon’s over. And more glad listening to country. She’s stuck up. He acts more like Samson (at his macho worst) than a saint. You get an “A” in Essentials and in beer drinking. Godzilla among us may know more about putting a ball through a hoop than positive godliness—and we cheer more readily two points than true piety. Some who call themselves Christian among us might think (?!) it their liberty to fellowship and frolic with unbelievers in chatrooms. We seem to have no problem with the 21st century American-Corinthian fashion of dressing down (to loin cloths) at the beach and trying to dress up an ugly woman who is also mad (known in pages past as Modern American Dating). And the sin is often not so overt. But just as God-denying and despicable. All of us, for example, are so full of care, wondering so much about the future, about relationships, about our calling, about our worth, about what other people think or might think, and about accumulating stuff that, and therefore, we constantly take the good Lord’s name in vain. As if God’s existence as the heavenly Father of Grace Life people were the construct of a creed. As ifspiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus were not our chief joy. As ifHis grace were so uncommon that it was there only for us to argue with Arminians about, and not for us to live godly by, and to believe in its sufficiency, and to take comfort in even in our evil day….
What wretched sinners we!
Corinthians then. You now. Saints!
And real saints at that! The kind who are really “holy ones,” or, as Paul says, who are “sanctified,” and that in virtue of their being “in Christ Jesus” (I Cor. 1:2), in fellowship with Him (I Cor. 1:9). The kind to whom “grace and peace” have come, and do come (I Cor. 1:3).
This means pure. This means you saints are purified from sin’s dirt. This means freed from sin’s dominion as well as from its defilement. This sainthood is a purity of everything about us: of heart, mind, soul, and body, for as the Corinthians so are “ye” (and not just a part of ye, or even a part of thou) saints. This, this sainthood, is holiness and renewal after the image of God. It is being now the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is being now set aside by God, as saintly Levite-priests of old, for service not only in, but as the temple of God (I Cor. 6:19). This means separated or called out of the world and the world’s corruption, even as the “church” is called “called out” ones. Saints.
In our world…
Called-out saints, separated-from-the-wicked-world saints, and yet in the world are ye saints. The saints to whom Paul wrote were not, after all, in heaven. They were in Corinth. And their address was not the monastery of Corinth, or the nunnery. Rather, it was in Corinth—right in it. And so are we—not of the world, but in it. Here we are, saints on the corner of Lake Michigan Drive and 8th Ave. Here you young people are, in class at the university. On-the-beach saints. Playing-volleyball saints. Working-to-pay-tuition saints. Even in-church-worshipping saints. But look! There are the mothers-in-the-kitchen saints, and being saints right there, and father saints helping. Saints painting. Saints plastering. Saints preaching. Saints in Corinth. Saints in Grand Rapids. Saints everywhere— sainted to be the saint-lights of the world.
But now, think of that! Corinthians were saints in their city, their century. We are in ours. What an amazing thing! For America may have George Washington as a father, but her mothers are many—Corinth, and Canaan, and Sodom, and Gomorrah, to name a few. Mother Corinth, given over to her gods and especially to the goddess of pleasure and sex, Aphrodite—how proud she would be of her daughter! Sex sex sex…everywhere! In the city. In the country. In the suburb. On the TV. In the ads. On the internet. At the checkout counter. In the clothing departments. Selling cars. Seducing souls. Deluding young people, middle age people, and the viagra old. Destroying marriages and homes. But more. Not just sex dirt. All kinds of pleasuremadness dirt. And philosophy dirt. And postmodern dirt. Leaving the nation without principles or purpose. Luring the church to apostasy. Slouching even saints toward Sodom. And here we are in the middle of that…lured, slouching…yet saints!
Must be a praise to grace. Must be gospel here. God in Bethlehem’s manger. The saint. The blood of God’s Son shed for sinners. You God’s child in this world. Saint child. Sinful. Struggling. Bleeding on God’s behalf. Saint…
Listen to that, fellow sinner. Not to a devil declaring to you just your sin and unworthiness and just the hopelessness of your attempts to be more saintly. Listen to God’s Word: saints. That is listening to and believing the Word Jesus, and God’s Word grace. That is believing what God says. That is giving glory to the God who is faithful. And who, because He has called you unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, shall also confirm you unto the end…saint!
And calling upon Jesus.