1 CORINTHIANS 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

“Called to be saints” is a phrase that Paul used time and again when he addressed the various congregations under his care. A saint is literally a holy person, one who strands apart from the usual preoccupations and daily compromises that diminish the divine image in the rest of us.

There are, however, two very different schools of interpretation when it comes to the fuller definition of what it means to be a saint. The first, what we might call the monastic paradigm, sees the saint as a person who necessarily withdraws from the world in order to cultivate and protect the purity at the heart of this vocation. Typically the retreatant will live either in utter solitude or else in a convent with others of a similar bent.

The second school, which is also the one with roots in the New Testament and the gospel of Jesus, holds to the missionary paradigm. Here the saint cultivates more of an inner transcendence, but with a compelling desire to assist in the awakening and salvation of others.

Interestingly enough, Buddhism has these same two distinctions, with the Arhat being the saint who withdraws, and the Bodhisattva the one who dedicates him- or herself to the liberation of all sentient beings.

The New Testament (that is, Paul’s) concept of a saint is inseparably tied to the Bible’s broader concern for the world, as something worthy of redemption and not to be renounced or abandoned. Simply put, the saint is one who answers the divine call by taking on God’s purpose as his or her own, a purpose that has human liberation, genuine community, global peace, and planetary well-being as its ultimate aims.

                                                                                               

What does it mean to be “sanctified in Christ Jesus”? We can see that the word is related to those of “saint” and “holy” (sanctus). A first pass reveals it to mean “being made holy.”

In the Bible, something (most often a person or object) is made holy by means of a special ritual that separates it from the backfield of the ordinary, purifies it by water or blood (the life-power), links it into a symbol system of sacred values, and thereby empowers it with the higher purpose of that system to which it now belongs.

Must as the consecration of the bread for holy communion ritually removes the loaf from the realm of the ordinary and imbues it with a sacred meaning associated with Jesus’ body and death, so is one sanctified in Christ Jesus by detaching from the world and identifying with him.

For Paul, this is an ongoing process for the Christian. As long as we are in the flesh we will be given new opportunities to rise above our selfish impulses, leap beyond our fears, and sacrifice ourselves (the word literally means “to make holy”) on the cross of love.

It isn’t as if joining a church is the end-point of a Christian’s journey; it’s only a beginning! Identification with Jesus the Christ means following him into the world, reaching for those in pain and need who are at the end of their hope, and losing ourselves completely in the holy purpose of a love that never fails and knows no limits.

For the task ahead God has bestowed every good and beneficial gift.

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