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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2015-01-04

Text:1 Corinthians 1:1-9

 

The topic of this sermon is ‘Called to Be Saints’. What are saints? Many think that they are deceased people who had attained an exceptional degree of holiness. They are usually depicted in pictures with a bright halo around their heads. Just six weeks ago, the Pope canonized six new saints including two from India. This brings the total number of officially canonized saints to 826. They are recognized as being so close to God that they can ask Him for favours to help the living. They are esteemed as role models for the living, worthy to be venerated publicly with special services held every year or by having churches and shrines built in their honour. 

It is not easy to be canonized as a saint. The process can only begin five years after a person’s death. He must go through 15 stages of inquiry concerning his life, his death and the miracles that are attributed to his intercession. In this process he is designated first as a servant of God, then later decreed to be a venerable servant. He may then be beatified as a blessed servant, before he is finally canonized as a full-fledged saint. Out of about 5,000 candidates, only 17% have officially made the grade thus far. Some have taken about 50 years to become saints but others have taken as long as 600 years. Some have lost their sainthood because it was discovered that the basis for naming them as saints was nothing more than myths and legends. 

Let me tell you this: All that you have just heard is contrary to Scriptures. The Bible teaches that the only One who should ever be venerated and used as our perfect role model is the Lord Jesus Christ. The only One who can intercede for us in heaven is Christ. Christ alone deserves all glory and honour, for He must increase and everyone else must decrease. 

But the Bible does teach about saints. What we want to know then is: How does one become a saint? The answer is that it is God’s call that makes us saints. No church council or pope has the authority to determine who is a saint and who is not. That’s God’s prerogative. The Bible also teaches that every true believer is a saint. Our Scripture text for this sermon will make it clear that all who have turned to Jesus Christ for salvation are saints. 

In v.2 we see that Paul describes the Corinthians he was writing to as “them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” The highlighted words are actually different forms of the same Greek word: The word ‘sanctified’ is the verb form, hagiazo, while the word ‘saints’ is the adjective form, hagios. Their basic meaning is ‘holy’ or ‘set apart’ and they are used extensively in the New Testament to designate all believers. Thus, all of us who believe in Christ are called ‘saints,’ which means that we are holy, we are set apart from others! Now, as we study this passage we will learn what our response to this should be. Firstly, we must… 

1.  Appreciate the Privilege of Being Called Saints (vv.1-3). 

This is a high privilege that we do not deserve. Paul was determined to make this truth clear to the Corinthians. Almost all that he wrote in this epistle deals with wrong doctrine and sinful behaviour. This church was in a very sorry state. It was troubled by serious problems like division, scandalous affairs, pride, and profaning of the Lord’s Supper. Of all the churches that Paul ministered to, none were as problematic as this one. How could such a group of people who were so rife with spiritual and moral problems be called ‘saints’? 

And yet that’s exactly what these believers were, because God called them ‘saints’ even though they did not deserve it. They were holy in God’s sight regardless of their spiritual and moral problems. This does not mean that every single member of that church was a saint. There were probably some in the church who were not true believers, and hence were not saints at all. But those who had truly believed in Christ were saints because they had been sanctified in Christ at the moment they were saved. This sanctification which is mentioned in v.2 refers to the believer’s position in Christ, and it was not their work. It was bestowed on them entirely by God’s grace alone. 

One example is Sosthenes, who is mentioned in v.1 as a co-author of this epistle and a fellow brother. However Sosthenes was formerly not a fellow brother but a persecutor who hated Christ. This is what we know about him from Acts 18:12-17. He was a ringleader of a rioting mob of Jews who tried to harm Paul’s ministry in the church by accusing him before the Roman governor. But his plan backfired when the Roman governor refused to entertain the charges brought against Paul. Sosthenes was beaten up, and nothing more is mentioned about him, until his name appears here in the first verse of Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians. Now he is called ‘our brother’, and thus he is also a saint like Paul and the Corinthians. How can this be? 

Something must have brought about this radical change in Sosthenes. After his plan to disrupt Paul’s ministry in Corinth had failed, he was probably shattered and humiliated. Somehow, God brought him and Paul together, and he repented of his sins and became a Christian. Perhaps he was deeply touched when Paul and the Corinthians forgave him after all the evil things he had done against them. He was gloriously saved despite having persecuted them. And by the time Paul wrote this epistle, he was labouring together with Paul in God’s work. His salvation brings out the wonderful nature of God’s grace – It changes our standing from sinners to saints! 

The pure holiness of Jesus Christ is imputed to everyone who believes in Christ, and that makes us saints in the eyes of God. If there is anyone here who has not believed in Christ yet for salvation, let me say this to you: You can have the privilege of being called a saint today by putting your trust in Christ alone for salvation from sin and eternal death. Come to Him without delay! 

We must be very thankful to God for granting us such an awesome privilege as this. This privilege of being called saints surely requires a good response from us: It calls for our utmost diligence. Since we are called saints, let us live as saints. This is the least we can do. We have no debt to pay now because Jesus has paid it all on the cross of Calvary, but we are greatly indebted – indebted to live lives that are increasingly holy, increasingly conformed to the image of Christ (From other passages of Scripture we know that we are now able to do this through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us). 

Let us never forget this: Positional sanctification must be followed with Progressive sanctification. While positional sanctification is a privilege conferred on us by God, progressive sanctification is an ongoing responsibility that we must fulfil with utmost diligence. Make it a point then to remember what a holy calling you have, as this will compel you to live up to your calling as saints in the midst of a sinful world. 

Paul wanted the Corinthians to do this. You see, the city of Corinth was a horrible cesspool of immorality. It was so notorious that the Greeks coined the term ‘to Corinthianize’ which means to practice vile immorality, and a ‘Corinthian girl’ means a prostitute. Corinth was a sin city, perhaps it was the ancient version of Las Vegas. But in the midst of this sin city there stood a church – not a church building but a congregation of believers. 

The Church in Corinth was comprised of ‘called out ones’. This is what the Greek word for ‘church’ in v.2 means – ekklesia literally means ‘the called out ones’. God had called them out of the dark, corrupt life they had been living in Corinth. He had called them out through the preaching of the Gospel and through the Holy Spirit speaking to them within their hearts. 

And having been called out, the Corinthians were sanctified (set apart) for God’s use. This is described in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – “Know ye not 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.” 

Here Paul listed ten kinds of sinners who could not inherit God’s kingdom. This list includes homosexuals, adulterers and others who had abused God’s gift of sex. Then in v.11 he reveals that ‘such were some of you.’ The Corinthians had been like them before, but through salvation they were now called out of such sinful living. They were now washed in the blood of Christ until they were whiter than snow, and they have been sanctified or set apart for God’s use. And so they must never go back to their old sinful life. 

The same thing applies to us. We have been called out of the world. This calling came when we heard the Gospel and were saved. Our lives are now sanctified or set apart for God’s use. Unholy habits, thoughts and behaviour should have no place in our life, as they are inconsistent with who we are in Christ now. We must get them out and keep them out! By doing this we show that we are truly called out of the world and set apart for God’s use. And to be further encouraged to do this let us… 

2. Anticipate the Perfection of Being Made Saints (vv.4-9a) 

This is the second response we should have to being called saints. This calling renders a sustained expectation in us. It is not easy to live up to our calling as saints because we constantly struggle against the flesh and temptations of the world. But while our sanctification is a slow and gradual process, we wait eagerly for the completion of the process. This great expectation is based on one important fact: God never leaves things half done – He always completes any work that He begins. And His work in our lives is no exception. 

It started with God’s grace to us in our past – He saved us from sin, not because of anything good in us, but because of His own love and favour toward us. This is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians in v.4, “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.” If salvation depends on our own response to the Gospel, then there would be no reason for Paul to give thanks to God here. What he says here reveals that it is a gift of God’s grace. This is known as saving grace as it is God’s work of drawing us to Christ and enabling us to trust in Him alone for salvation. If we truly understand what saving grace is, we too would never stop thanking God for it. 

But God’s work doesn’t end there. It continues after saving us, as seen in v.5 – “That in every thing ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge.” This tells us of God’s gifts to us in our present state – He enriches us for service (v.5). Two spiritual gifts are mentioned here – utterance and knowledge. But later in chapter 12 Paul will mention many other spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on the Corinthians. All these gifts are provided for the purpose of equipping them to serve Him by building up one another in the body of Christ. By exercising them well, the church will grow into full maturity and be used of God to accomplish His will on earth. 

As a church we too need to be enriched with God’s gifts in order to be useful to Him. Each of us has a role to play in using our spiritual gifts for service. For this reason, the church theme that has been chosen for 2015 is  “Being Sanctified for Service.” You may notice that the cross in this graphic is actually made up of people – This symbolizes the Church which is the body of Christ. Those who are standing outside the cross may be either people who are called out of the world and drawn to the cross by God’s grace, or people who are going forth to the world to serve Christ after being sanctified and equipped with His gifts for service. May the Lord help us all to be sanctified for service this year.

And as we do this, let us be encouraged by the words of v.8 which tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ “…shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here we can see God’s guarantee of our future – He will confirm us right unto the end (v.8). God’s work is not confined to our past and present. It extends into the far distant future as well, even to the time when Christ will return to take us home to be with Him in glory. Thus we see that all of salvation – past, present and future – is based on God’s work of making us saints. 

And this work rests on a sure foundation which is: God’s Faithfulness! As verse 9 tells us, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” You may remember that this was the main point in last Sunday’s message: God is faithful! This faithfulness of God does two wonderful things for us… 

Firstly, it results in His comprehensive provision for us as mentioned in v.5 – “That in every thing ye are enriched by Him.” As a loving Father, God spares no effort to provide everything that we need for our spiritual development. He does not withhold anything that can help us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. After all, God did not withhold His only begotten Son from us. How shall He not also give us everything that we need in order to be like Him? God’s faithfulness also ensures that we will not lack anything at all for our spiritual life. This is expressed in v.7– “so that ye come behind in no gift…” Through His provision we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). 

Besides this, the faithfulness of God also raises us to complete perfection in Christ. We see this at the end of v.8 – “…that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When God has completed His work of sanctifying us, we will be His greatest masterpiece. This means that the best is yet to be! As Ephesians 5:27 tells us, Christ will “…present to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” This glorious result is guaranteed. 

I am sure that Paul himself must have been greatly encouraged by this hope to keep on ministering to the Corinthians. We had seen earlier on that of all the churches he planted, this was the church which gave him the most problems. If not for the assurance he had of God’s faithfulness working in them, Paul would probably have given up on them in utter despair. God’s faithfulness assured him that all his labour was not in vain. 

Let God’s faithfulness motivate us now to press on in our service. No matter how difficult things may become for us this year, and no matter how discouraging our circumstances may be, let us keep serving the Lord well, (whether we serve Him in the Sunday School, or in evangelism, discipleship, missions or in our fellowships and NBCs) for we have the greatest confidence that our faithful Lord will ensure the outcome of our service and that our labour is not in vain. And at the end of the day, He alone will receive all glory and adulation for transforming sinners into saints. This brings us now to our third and final response to being called as saints: 

3. Adulate the Person who Calls Us and Makes Us Saints (vv.2b,9b). 

That person is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. To adulate Him is to give Him our fullest attention and admiration. Christ is obviously the central person and primary focus of all that Paul wrote in this passage, as His name is mentioned no less than nine times in its nine verses. This is quite extraordinary, not found anywhere else in Paul’s writing, and there must be a reason for it: Through this constant repetition, the Corinthians were being told how important it is to keep their focus on Christ for their sanctification. 

All the problems in their church – whether it was their division into rival factions, or their toleration of immorality, or their abuse of certain spiritual gifts – all these can be traced to one thing: Their failure to maintain their focus on Christ. Let us not make the same mistake. What we should do now as we begin the New Year is to focus our thoughts fully on Christ, and resolve to make Christ the very centre of our life and of our service. 

We should do this in three ways: The first is with utter dependence on Him. Such dependence can be seen in the latter part of verse 2 where believers are described as “…all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ.” This is one characteristic that distinguishes all true believers – They always call upon the name of Christ in prayer. They are utterly dependent on Him for everything. 

By way of application, we must depend on Christ at all times through prayer. It would be a great mistake to think that we can do anything without Him, for Jesus Himself has said in John 15:5 –“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.” Let us resolve to live each day of this year with utter dependence on Christ. We need Him more than anything else! This makes attendance of our church prayer meeting so crucial. It is the time when we call upon the name of Christ together. If we want to see God working in us and through us, then we must be a praying church. 

The second way to make Christ the centre of our life is with unconditional submission to Him. This is the outcome of the Lordship of Christ as mentioned at the end of v.2 (“…Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”) Christ’s Lordship was actually the basis of Paul’s authority in rebuking and correcting the Corinthians. For example, when Paul begins to address the problem of divisions in the church he wrote –  “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…” (v.10) This means that Christ Himself was speaking to them through Paul and they must submit to Him because He is their Lord. This applies not only to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians but also to all the rest of the Bible. Every word of Scripture carries the full authority of our Lord Himself and we must readily obey. 

By way of application, let us resolve to read His Word regularly throughout the year with a heart that is ready to obey Him fully. There is no better way for us to be sanctified for service than to let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us and work His will through us. 

We now come to the third way to make Christ the centre of our life. This is found in v.9 – “…ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ.” From this we now understand that the call we received from God when we were saved is not just a call to be saints. It is a call to unhindered fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ in a permanent, inseparable relationship. 

It is certainly very comforting to know that we are called to fellowship with Christ, who loves us and has promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us. Whenever we go through any trial we know that Jesus is always with us and that He is the dearest friend we can ever have. But fellowship implies more than friendship. The word ‘fellowship’ here is translated from a Greek word which means sharing things in common – in this case, sharing the interests and concerns of Christ, sharing the joys and victories of Christ. Being in fellowship with Christ means participating and partnering with Christ in His work. 

This precious fellowship is expressed very well by Paul in Galatians 2:20 –  “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Let us reflect deeply on this today – reflect on it until we willingly and joyfully resolve to live our life for Christ and with Christ. It is only through this that Christ will be formed in us, and then we will truly become the saints that God has called us to be.

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25