To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.1 Cor. 1:2
In the religious tradition that I grew up in, a saint is a deceased person whose earthly life of sacrifice and devotion to God are officially recognized by the church and his or her name is venerated. You might imagine, then, how surprised I was when I first learned the biblical teaching that every Christian is already a saint. I’ll be honest, it took a little while for this glorious truth to sink in. Perhaps this is new news to you as well. But this is foundational to understanding our true identity.
The above Scripture highlights this truth: We are saints by calling. The word saints comes from the Greek word meaning “holy ones.” It means to be set apart unto God. Christians don’t become saints through some super-religious monastic lifestyle or climbing the ladder of a religious hierarchy. We are “called to be saints.” It’s our position before God from the moment of conversion onward. The apostle says we have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Sanctified is also from the root word meaning to be holy, or set apart to God. Like the believers at Corinth, however, we don’t always behave like saints. Sadly, at times, we may appear to think and act more like the world around us than the God who saves us. Therefore, the challenge that lies before every Christian is to put into practice what we already are in Christ.
You, too, are a saint. You have been sanctified; you have been set apart by God for his particular use. In setting you apart to himself, God willed that you should be a living reflection of his holiness. You have been called to live as one of his holy ones, but in a world that is not always friendly toward those who follow Christ. Be encouraged to know that Jesus prayed about this very problem: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15-17). He prayed for your sanctification, then, and prays for you now (see Heb. 7:25).
Your sanctification is threefold. First, it is positional in that it refers to God calling you to himself (Gal. 1:6). Second, it is progressive in that it refers to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit empowering your daily battle against indwelling sin, conforming you to the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10). Third, your sanctification is ultimate in that it refers to the day your standing and present state become one, being completely sanctified (glorified) on that day in glory (1 John 3:2). According to Scripture, imparting his holiness to you is part of God’s purpose in saving you: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3), and “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”(5:23).
Jesus called you out of the world, to live in the world, but without being of the world. The Spirit will accomplish this sanctifying work through the Word, which Jesus says “is truth” (John 17:17). But, take heart, today’s verse also reassures you that you are not alone in this calling. You are part of a community of saints; you are a saint “together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2) who are called out of the world, but left in the world as a light and testimony to the sanctifying power of the gospel.
Reflect. According to the way Jesus prayed in John 17:17, the primary instrument the Spirit uses to sanctify you is the Word of God. What priority does Scripture currently occupy in your daily and weekly schedule?
Pray. Take a few minutes to thank God for calling you to himself through the gospel, and providing you with his Scriptures in your own language.
Act. Commit John 17:17 to memory: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Is there a brother or sister in Christ whom you could encourage with the truth you learned today?