“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all her every place called in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours,” (I Corinthians 1:2).
Most often these days we think of the term, “the church,” as a building , or we may think of it as a single group of people who gather together every Sunday to worship together, as in, “MapleRidge Church.” It is true that in Scripture groups of believers gathered together in each locale, which is why Paul says in the verse above, “the church of God which is at Corinth.”
But there is a larger definition of the church that I love because it broadens my family in Christ greatly. There’s a parallelism in this verse that more accurately describes the church: “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Although at that moment Paul was addressing a portion of the church that was located in Corinth, the broader definition of the church is, “those sanctified in Christ Jesus” — from anywhere and everywhere!
Another term that is used often — and in this verse specifically— is “saints.” A saint is someone who is “sacred,” “sanctified,” “holy,” (i.e, set apart), or “consecrated.” Any individual anywhere who has come to faith in Jesus Christ is part of the church. Jesus specifically called it His church (i.e., His body/group of people sanctified/set apart solely for Him):
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18).
In Ephesians it explains how Jesus has set us — His church — apart for Himself:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish,” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Two things here:
First of all, Jesus will present us to Himself holy and without blemish. This happens by an act of God at the moment of our coming to God in repentance.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” (II Corinthians 5:21).
When Jesus died, He took our sin on Himself. When we accept that amazing exchange personally, the truth is that we take on His righteous, holy, blameless standing before God. God looks at us — His people who comprise the church — and sees nothing but the righteousness of Jesus who is pure and holy. Isn’t that astounding? This is known as positional sanctification. Our position is immediately righteous before God.
But secondly, practically speaking, we don’t cease to sin the moment we get saved. Drat! Rather, we must learn to walk righteously before God in the here-and-now. Slowly but surely we become more like Jesus. How? By immersing ourselves in His Word. Which is why Jesus prayed for us like this:
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth,” (John 17:17).
This is why Paul said in Ephesians 5, above, that Jesus sanctifies and cleanses us, “with the washing of water by the word.” Make sense? This continued growth toward Christ-likeness is called progressive sanctification.
How has the church, as a whole, been able to stand against fiery trials, persecution, martyrdom, discrimination, torture and more through the centuries? Definitely by God’s grace. But part of His grace has come as His people have immersed themselves in God’s Word and allowed it to transform them more and more in their sanctification process. God’s Spirit uses His Word in this process, and our conviction of truth grows stronger and more absolute, allowing us to withstand the onslaught that comes against us in this world.
Today I challenge you as part of God’s church, His people set aside for Himself, to daily immerse yourself in His Word so He can work in you the sanctification that will strengthen you spiritually and continually lead you more into the likeness of Jesus. He needs His church spiritually strong for the battles we fight as we head toward Home.