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TEXT: I Corinthians 1:1-3
SUBJECT: Respectable Sins #1: We Are Saints
Last year we spent several Sunday afternoons studying and discussing Joshua Harris's book, Stop Dating the Church and Fall in Love with the People of God. In spite of its hip title, the book is serious and important, and it caught our attention and made for lively discussion. Well, we're not going back to that book today, but to another of even greater importance. I pray the Lord will use it to stimulate our conversation, and more than that, to-
Provoke [us] unto love and good works.
The book is Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges. The author is an older man who has spent much of his adult with the Navigators working mostly with college students. As the title indicates, the book is about the sins we're all guilty of-and with which, we're way too comfortable. We fear some sins, and if we should ever fall into them, we'd loathe ourselves and repent in dust and ashes. But 'Respectable Sins'? They hardly bother us at all; and sometimes, they're taken for good things rather than what they are: hateful to God.
The format will be the same as before: twenty minutes or so of teaching followed by discussion, and ending no later than 3:00. One last thing: I'm not going to quote from the book very often, and I may take liberties with it from time to time, but because it is such a good book, we're going to follow it pretty closely. Of course, I'll leave some things out, but if you find the teaching useful, I encourage you to buy the book yourself and read along as we go. It retails for $18.99 and I saw it online for about $12.00. Compared to a dull movie and popcorn smothered in fake butter, it seems like a pretty good use of your money!Chapter One is titled, Ordinary Saints.
If you've read I Corinthians, you know the people had 'issues'. They were immature; they were divided; they put up with gross sin in the church; when they disagreed, they sued each other in court; some took part in pagan festivals; the well-off were greedy; the less well-off were resentful; they were show-offs; some were listening to heresy; one was living in incest, and-to top it all off-they thought they were the smartest people in the world!
If you were writing a letter to this church, how would you address them? I might say-
Mike, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, to the immoral and immodest idiots in Corinth-May the curse of God rest on you dirty hypocrites, and may we all learn what not to be from your bad example.
This is what I'd be tempted to say, but Paul wasn't. Knowing their sins far better than I do, and hating the sins worse than I, he called them-
The church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints.
Preachers who go to bad seminaries are taught to 'break the ice' with their hearers by telling a joke at the start of the sermon, or by flattering them with compliments and praise they don't deserve. Paul did not go to a bad seminary: As a Christian, his only teacher was Jesus Christ, and while He was the kindest of all men, He was no flatterer. And neither is Paul.
Everything he says about the Corinthians is true-both the bad and the good. Yes, they had 'issues'-lots of them and big ones too. But for all this, they were also what he said they were-
THE MEANING OF 'SAINTS' AND ITS APPLICATION
How in the world can he call these people 'saints'? He called them that because its what they were. What is a saint? The word itself means 'separated'. In the Greek Old Testament, it is often applied to pots and pans and altars and animals and clothes and tents and buildings and so on. There's no such thing as a moral hat, an honest door knob or a fire that fears the Lord.
These things are 'holy' or 'sanctified' or 'saintly' (if you will) because they are dedicated to God or put into His service.
What's true of fabrics and perfumes and precious metals is also true of ordinary believers. We are not what we ought to be, we're shot through with sins and weakness, and yet we have been chosen by God and set aside for His worship and work. What was said of the Apostles in particular applies to you and me as well. Our Lord said-
You have not chosen Me, I have chosen you that you should bring forth much fruit.
A saint, then, is a Christian, and not only the mature ones, but even the greenest beginner. And everyone in-between. If you're a believer in Christ-even a new one or a weak one or a bad one-you're a saint.
SEPARATED FOR WHOM?
When we say a believer is 'separated', we're likely to ask, Separated from what? This is the wrong question and betrays a kind of legalism. The right one is: Separated for Whom?
The answer is: for God. We are to live for Him, and that's true whether we're praying in church, working at the office, or sitting in front of the TV. Because He is our Maker and Savior, it follows-
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.
Living for God means we have to live lives better than non-criminal or half-way decent. In other words, it means steering clear of murder and rape and treason is not enough; we have to also repent of the sins that are more acceptable than these.
At this point, Jerry Bridges compares the Air Force Academy to most other colleges. The service academies are far more 'intrusive' and 'demanding' than other schools-even very good schools, like Cal and Stanford. If you keep up your grades at Cal, you can do pretty much whatever you want. Nobody's going to tell you to get a haircut, for example, or stay in shape physically, or impose a curfew on you, or say, 'Yes Sir' to you professor. Such things are not required of students, but they are required of cadets.
Christians are not students of God so much, as we are His cadets. We are held to a higher standard than the unsaved. This is both our privilege and our responsibility.
NOT THE END OF THE STORY
If we lived up to our privileges all the time, we'd be wasting our time on Respectable Sins because we'd know there is no such thing. But, of course, we seldom live up to our high calling. In reading the Bible and meditating on the Life of Christ, we see what we ought to be, but then, we have to admit, this is not what we are.
The Christian life is full of conflict. Galatians 5:17 says-
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things you wish.
You've heard the saying: It's easy to quit smoking: I've done it a hundred times. This is doubly true of sin. We've sworn it off time and time again, only to fall back into it. Whether it's lust or laziness, gluttony or bitterness, self-righteousness, self-pity, meanness, overspending-the list goes on and on.
We are saints, but not only saints: we are also sinners. The Christian life is full of conflict, but the conflict is not chiefly between people-husband and wives, parents and kids, labor and management, and so on-but inside each of us.
THE GOOD NEWS
As real and destructive and hateful as sin is, it does not separate us from the love of God, and this means: it does not unsaint us.
We are and remain what Chapter One calls us: Ordinary Saints.
This lays down a challenge. We have to become what we are. We cannot say, 'Since I'm a saint, I don't have to holy'. No, it's the other way around: 'I have to be holy because I am a saint'. This is exactly what the Bible teaches, Ephesians 5:8-
For you were once darkness and now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.
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