Today’s New Testament lesson (1 Corinthians 1:1-19) puts us at the very beginning of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth; and although it doesn’t give a very flattering impression of my level of patience and attention, I find that I’m often tempted to rush past some of this “introductory” material. After all, these epistles often begin with rather typical expressions of greeting and thanksgiving. So, why not move quickly to the “meat” of the letter?
Well, one reason for slowing down is that small nuggets of big truth that can sometimes be found by those who take the time to look. In today’s reading, for example, Paul indicates that he is writing “to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people” (verse 2; emphasis added).
Now, although our English translation obscures this just a little, that single verse refers twice to “holiness” (“hagios” in the Greek). First, it says that we have been “sanctified” (or “made holy”) in Christ. Significantly, this verb is in the perfect tense, which indicates that it is a “completed” or “perfected” action. The people to whom Paul is writing (and, by extension, we people who are reading what Paul is writing) are already holy — not because of anything we’ve done or through any merit of our own — but because we’re “in Christ” — because His sacrifice cleanses us and gives us right standing with God.
However, even though we already are holy, that’s not the end of the story. We are also “called to be His holy people.” We are summoned to cooperate with Christ in “becoming” or “manifesting” the holiness that He has already bestowed.
And all of this, of course, brings us to the “gift” of Lent — the liturgical season in which we now find ourselves. So often, holiness eludes us: sometimes because we knowingly and willingly choose to disobey God’s will; but sometimes because we have been distracted, fooled, and overwhelmed by a culture that tricks us into believing we’re doing the right thing when in actuality we’re wandering far from the way of Jesus. And so, we need a chance to “reorient” ourselves:
- to dig deeply into God’s Word, so that we can be reminded of who we really are;
- to “give up” or “step back from” some of the world’s distractions, so that we can see more clearly the truth about our lives;
- to search our hearts humbly and honestly, so that we — with God’s help — can identify the attitudes, habits, and sins that are keeping us from holiness; and perhaps most of all…
- to confess our lack of holiness to God, so that He can cleanse us and renew the holiness that we have already been given in Christ.
Do we truly understand who we are today? If we’ve put our faith in Christ, then we are sanctified in a way that can’t be taken from us, because it doesn’t depend on us. Let us, therefore, become who we are — as we anticipate the “magnificent defeat” that gave us victory over sin and death.