I Corinthians 5 – Dealing with the Sexually Immoral Among Them

In this chapter Paul deals with another issue the immature Corinthian Christians are dealing with, sexual immorality. We’re familiar with the English word that comes from the Greek for sexual immorality, porneia-πορνεία, from which of course we get the word pornography. In biblical terms the word refers to any extramarital sex, which would obviously include pornography. We think our secular Western culture is obsessed with sex, but it was much worse in ancient pagan cultures because there was no Jewish-Christian cultural influence to keep a check on the most base of human lusts. Especially in a city like Corinth, which was a cosmopolitan port city where sex was a cheap commodity, and one of the reasons Paul’s letter deals with it so extensively. Archaeology has also revealed that much of the “art” work of the ancient Roman empire was pornographic images.

Getting to the point Paul says he can hardly believe it, that there is a sexual immorality among them “that does not even occur among the pagans: A man has his father’s wife.” So this man’s mother is obviously out of the picture, dad gets remarried, and the son starts having sex with his step-mother. We’re not told that the step-mother is part of the church, but the son definitely is. What’s even more shocking and strange, it seems that the Corinthians are proud of it. Paul tells them the proper response, rather, is that they should have gone into mourning and have put out of their fellowship the man who is doing such a thing. In effect, treat it as a death. What this calls for is church discipline, something all too rare in today’s church. Paul says he is with them in spirit, and that he has already passed judgment on this person, so when they are together and the power of Jesus is present they are to

hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Paul is exercising Apostolic authority, even as he still does in his words left to us in our Bibles. This seems kind of harsh, but what exactly is Paul saying. The flesh as Paul uses it, sarx-σάρξ, is our bodies infected by sin. Paul is telling them to put this man outside of the Church, and give him up to his sin, which in biblical terms is often God’s judgment for sin. Notice, though, it isn’t to destroy him, but that he might be saved, and come to a realization of the depth of his sin. Such church discipline isn’t very common nowadays, but maybe boasting about sin in the church isn’t as common either, as some Corinthians were obviously doing.

Paul uses the analogy of yeast leavening a whole batch of dough, and says something very interesting in light of that boasting:

Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

In other words, they need to act like those for whom the Messiah died! The indicative, what has already been accomplished (Christ our righteousness, scanctification, redemption-1:30), drives the imperative, the ought. Leaven (yeast) going back to the Passover symbolizes sin and corruption, and just a little makes its way through a whole batch of dough, or in this case, a church. The point Paul is making is that obedience is imperative if God is going to “pass over” their house, and rescue them from slavery (sin and death). We look to Christ who has taken the punishment of death for us, and we want to obey. As he adds:

Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Paul uses the rest of the chapter to clarify exactly what he meant from a previous letter (which we don’t have) when he told them “not to associate with sexually immoral people.” It seems they got the impression that they were not to associate with non-Christians, but that’s silly because then they would have to “leave this world.” No, they are not to associate with people that call themselves Christians, and yet are sexually immoral or greedy, idolaters or slanderers, drunkards or swindlers. In fact, they are to “not even eat with such people.” We don’t judge people outside the church, but those inside it. If someone claims to be a Christian and yet lives an obviously non-Christian life, let them go practive their non-Christian life somewhere else. He ends the chapter with the command, taken from numerous Old Testament texts, “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

I Corinthians 4 – Paul and his Apostolic Authority

This issue of fan boys fighting about their guy must have been a huge issue in the Corinthian church because this is the fourth chapter dealing with it. Paul wants them to know that they should regard those in leadership who serve them “as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.” They are mere servants, and as such ought not to be the object of people’s boasting. They are simply stewards of what God has chosen to reveal. When Paul refers to mysteries, it’s not things that we can’t know as we might think of it today, but those things that were types and shadows in the Old Testament, that have now been made clear in Christ. It’s not about him, or any other human being, nor does care what anyone thinks of him because God alone is his judge. Knowing we serve before an audience of one is the only way to keep pride humbled.

So far he’s applied all of the teaching in these chapters to him and Apollos, but it all applies to his readers, and us as well. He wants to teach them the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” The word written in Greek (graphó-γράφω) specifically refers to Scripture, and that alone is our authoritative guide for all of life. If we get this, he says, we “will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.” We don’t have to speculate what “written” means specifically in this context because he tells us:

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

How utterly different is such a mindset than that of the world, of those who not only go beyond what is written, but don’t care at all about what is written. This is the place from which true humility can spring, knowing that everything we are and have has been graciously given to us. Boasting, then, in anything we are or have, or in what anyone else is or has, is ridiculous. So stop it!

Then Paul pulls out the sarcasm weapon. They think one Apostle over another is so great. Well, they have no idea what it really means to be an Apostle, and it isn’t all fun and games. Far from being kings or anything so exalted, it seems to Paul that God has “put apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena.” They have been made a spectacle, and here is some of the sarcasm:

10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!

And then he writes of some of suffering apostles endure, and his conclusion is that they “have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world—right up to this moment.” And this is what they want to follow and boast about? This is what is so great that it causes dissensions and quarreling among them?

Paul isn’t writing to shame them, he says, but to warn them as his “dear children” because in Christ he became their father through the gospel. Then he tells them something that should be kind of scary for any Christian leader: “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” He is going to send Timothy to them, who he says “will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” That’s walking the talk, and talking the walk, and what is required not just of apostles or leaders, but everyone sold out to the gospel. Remember, this is not moral perfection. Why when there is this kind of talk our minds go right to morality? Not that that isn’t important or even critical, but as Paul points out in Romans 7, we are not and can’t be perfect. What Paul is talking about is his way of life “in Christ Jesus.” As he says earlier in this letter, Christ and him crucified, that’s all he knew among them. The “way of life” is first and foremost about the gospel!

He ends this chapter, and the subject, by confirming that he will be coming back to them. Some arrogant among them act as if he’s never coming back, but he is, and as we know, does. He challenges the arrogant, that when he comes to prove that not only are they big talkers, but if they have any power:

20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

This is called apostolic authority, and it is real. Critics for a couple hundred years have claimed that the growth and content of Christianity was driven by the Christian “community.” The needs of the community built on the kernel of events that happened around Jesus, and before you know it, we have Christianity! But totally contrary to this, the Christian message was closely guarded, in its content and growth, by apostolic authority from the very beginning, and it is obvious from the way Paul is addressing this Christian community that they got that. That authority is now in our Bibles, and it is awesome!

I Corinthians 3:10-23 – No More Boasting About Men!

Paul uses the next set of verses to further explain building and reward, but it’s difficult to understand exactly what he means. First he says he built the foundation (of the church in Corinth), and someone else is building on it, “But each one should be careful how he builds.” There is only one foundation, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and Paul already laid that, but how someone builds on that foundation is critically important. He likens the kind of building being done by comparing it either to “gold, silver, costly stones,” or “wood, hay, or straw.” One commentator thought that Paul likely has in mind the building of the temple, which at the time he’s writing in the early 50s was still standing, and it seemed invincible. Compare that with a structure built with the other material, and there is no comparison. The building of God’s true house, his people, very much depends, Paul is saying, on the builders.

The builder’s work, Paul says, “will be shown for what it is, because the day will bring it to light.” In other words, the quality of the work will become perfectly clear to all. In fact, he says the work and the builder will be tested, using some stark words to illustrate the nature of this testing:

It will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

What in the world is Paul talking about? Remember the context is the leadership of the Corinthian church, and Paul wants them to know that whoever takes up the mantel of leadership isn’t doing it lightly. There are eternal consequences to this work. Fire and it’s heat is something that metaphorically tests and either strengthens or destroys. Think of lighting a match to wood, hey, or straw, and soon there is nothing left. Build with costly and enduring materials, and the building will endure the test. And what might this test be? It has to be life lived in a fallen world among fallen people, the challenge of dealing with sinners, be they saved or not. Then Paul throws in these very heavy words:

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

Paul is asking this rhetorical question as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world, but in the context of the ancient world this question is almost incomprehensible. To the Jew it was essentially blasphemous. God’s dwelling was in the temple in Jerusalem, in the Holy of Holies, where if any man entered, but the high priest, and that only one time a year, he would be instantly struck dead. Jews knew perfectly well that no building could contain God, the Creator of the universe, but the temple is where he choose to be among his people. How could this God be inside a person. Absurd! And for the Gentile pagan it was equally absurd. None of the gods would ever condescend to come and live inside a human being. To the Greek mind, matter itself was corrupt and something to be escaped, so why would God want anything to do with it.

Jesus, however, changed all this, radically, drastically, completely. Jews of all people should have gotten this (many did, obviously) because God laid down hints all throughout the Old Testament, not least in Isaiah 7, where we learn of a sign the Lord will give, the virgin will bear a child and call him Immanuel (God with us). Now, God by his Spirit can live in us because by Jesus’ work we have been made clean, as hard as that is to believe sometimes. The word destroy (phtheiró-φθείρω) has a specific meaning, and it’s not as we might first think a physical destruction, as in death. Properly it means waste away, corrupt (deteriorate); (figuratively) to cause or experience moral deterioration – i.e. decomposition (break-down), due to the corrupting influence of sin. If some leader allows or causes such to be brought in among God’s people, God himself will give him up to the same. God’s judgment is often giving people up to the desires of their sinful hearts.

Paul then circles back to man’s wisdom verses God’s, and he again encourages them to embrace what is foolish in the world, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (v. 19) And he gets back to the point of his entire lecture (from 1:10 on), “So then, no more boasting about men!” Why? Other than everything he’s said to this point,

All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

The point? Human distinctions are senseless. Paul is saying, big picture, people, big picture! And the biggest picture is Christ himself. He’s going to have lots more to say about all this in the next chapter.

I Corinthians 3:1-9 – How to Heal Divisions in the Church

Paul mentioned in the first chapter that there were divisions in the church at Corinth, and now he brings down the hammer. He has just explained that true wisdom comes from God’s Spirit alone, and that without that we can’t understand the things of God. He said the spiritual man makes judgments about all things, and now he tells the Corinthians they are not spiritual at all, but worldly, and “mere infants in Christ.” Ouch! He could only give them milk because they were and still are not, as he writes, ready for “solid food.” How does he know this? Because there is jealousy and quarreling among them, creating factions, one following Paul, another Apollos, another Peter. That is the way “mere men” act, not those who have “the mind of Christ.”

Ministers of the gospel are only a servants through whom God works. They are means God uses to his end of transforming lives by the gospel. One may plant, another may water, but it is God who makes things grow:

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

In philosophical terms, God is the primary cause, and we the secondary. Without the primary cause causing, the secondary cause is worthless. It can accomplish nothing of itself. Unfortunately it’s easy for human beings to get this mixed up, thus the Corinthians think Paul or Apollos is the thing, when they are simply conduits of God’s grace. This is applicable to all material reality as well. Trees or flowers or fish or animals or babies don’t grow of themselves, as if the power of life was inherent in material reality (naturalism), without God’s animating all things with his life, and by his power. Or take anything human beings do. Solomon says this in Psalm 127:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.

There must be builders and guards, and they must do their job well, but ultimately without the Lord there is nothing but emptiness. We are a hundred percent responsible for our lives and what we do with them, but as Paul says in Acts 17, God gives all men life and breath and everything else. There is something radically egalitarian about all this, and cause for great humility. We are all servants of the Lord, and one another. No wonder Christianity turned the world upside down. There had never been, or has been, anything like it. Yet God doesn’t treat all human labor, even in the gospel as equal:

The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

The Greek does not have the word purpose. Reading it in English I would have thought Paul maybe used the word telos. But the Greek just says the planter and waterer are one. That’s it. I think Paul may be saying that we are not to distinguish workers by what they do in the building of this kingdom because we are all united by the same thing, which from previous verses is the mind of Christ, the Spirit of God. He is the animating principle of it all, so why do we distinguish people by their human efforts.

Yet in some way the Lord will reward the workers based on what they do and have done. We have no idea if Paul is referring to temporal or spiritual rewards, in this life or the next, but the point is God isn’t indifferent to our efforts. The further point is that we are doing these things to an ultimate audience of One, and if we get that right we’ll never have to worry about pride, of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought.

We are co-workers with God. The Greek word for co-worker is the Greek word from which we get Synergy (sunergos-συνεργός), which can be defined in English as: the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. Those who are ministering the gospel, professionally or not, have the synergistic power of God with them as together they build his kingdom. That is exciting to contemplate, and means our efforts are never in vain.

I Corinthians 2:10-16 – The Spirit of God and the things Spiritually Discerned

Paul has just said that what God has prepared for us, those that love him, is inconceivable, humanly speaking, but that God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The reason:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

All of our spiritual knowledge is revealed to us by God’s Spirit. We can’t know any of it of our own intellectual capabilities or reason. And God’s deep things are infinitely profound. I’ve realized, especially since writing my way through the Bible these almost six years, that the deeper you go the deeper it gets, and that there is no bottom! Infinitude works that way. It’s astounding that the profound truths never stop coming, like many facets of a diamond that make one marvel in ways we never thought before. It makes sense, Paul says, that these revealed things of God are only known by God’s Spirit, just as a man’s thoughts are only known by that man. So we cannot discover God’s thoughts, they must be revealed. This is what all philosophy and religion gets wrong, thinking human beings have the ability to figure God out apart from revelation. Christians know that is impossible:

12 We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.

This is important. It is not just knowledge that God has revealed, but God himself! We don’t receive knowledge about God, but God himself by his Spirit, and knowledge flows from that. The implications of what Paul is saying is that humanity lives in one of two mutually exclusive places, and the spirit or Spirit that informs one or the other. There is only one reason people don’t get the gospel: God has not revealed it to them by his Spirit, so it is not possible for them to understand it. This takes all the pressure off of our evangelism and apologetics. People will be enslaved to the spirit of the world unless God determines otherwise. Our words are the secondary cause, and we must never confuse them with the primary cause, God who may allow them to understand through us. He says it even more clearly a couple verses later:

14 The natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The natural state we find ourselves in without God leaves us with the complete inability to accept, welcome, or receive the things of God. Not only can we not understand them, but they are folly, absurdity, and foolishness to us, ridiculous! Sin does this to man because in this natural, spiritually dead state he is an enemy of God. Enemies aren’t inclined to understand their foe. When anyone does understand and accept, we know why, and it has nothing to do with any natural ability they have to do that. Their natural ability is all the other way, rejection. It’s very comforting to know it had nothing to do with me, that I didn’t figure it out because I know a good deal when I see it.

He next says the spiritual man “makes judgments about all things,” but is himself “not subject to any man’s judgment,” specifically to examine, investigate, question. The contrast is still with the natural man who is unable to spiritually discern. I think Paul is broadly speaking of wisdom, and the truly spiritual person is better able to be discerning, to judge what is appropriate and what isn’t. We’ll see that he’s setting up his readers in Corinth to show them that they are not at all spiritually discerning, but that they should be because, as he ends the chapter, “But we have the mind of Christ.” He just quoted a verse from Isaiah about nobody being able to know the mind of the Lord, and then uses this phrase the mind of Christ. The mind (nous-νοῦς) is the God-given capacity of each person to think (reason); the mind; mental capacity to exercise reflective thinking, and we as Christians possess this ability, this mind, of Christ. But as we’ll see, this doesn’t mean we always use it. The point is that we can and we ought to.

Think about it. We have it, the mind of Christ, much more accessible to us than the Corinthians did. We, like them, have his Spirit in us, but we also have this book, the Bible easily accessible to all of us. The word, the logos, Christ, in our hands. Not so the Corinthians, who had the Old Testament read to them during their gatherings, but nothing they could personally own, like us, and have access to anytime, anywhere. Put negatively, we have no excuse not to have this mind; put positively, how exciting we have it at our fingertips all the time! Let us have and seek his mind all the time.


I Corinthians 2:1-10 – God’s Wisdom from Before Time Began Revealed to Us

Paul continues a theme he began in the first chapter, the contrast of human wisdom with God’s wisdom. He also says, again, that it was not with fancy words that he came to them, but with a simple message:

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.

First of all, Paul was capable of very fancy words, and powerful rhetoric that could persuade kings (see his speeches in Acts, or his arguments in Romans), and he used them. He’s not saying that he dumbed down the message, but rather that everything is about “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That is the center, the beginning, and the end of the message. If we’re talking or thinking about Christianity, it must always come back to that. He said in chapter 1 (v. 17) that he didn’t come to them with “words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” He came, as he says in the same verse, to “preach the gospel.”

The centrality of the gospel is what holds all Christians and Christianity together. It’s not what we think about the gospel, our theories about the nature of justification or sanctification, election or eschatology, baptism, or church government. Those things, and more, all divide us. It’s not that those things are unimportant, or even not critically important, only that they are not of ultimate importance. What is, is Jesus Christ and him crucified, the gospel, the good news, that Jesus died, and was raised again, for us! It is trusting in that historical fact, that it is for us, that it reconciles and makes us right before God, that is the thing.

Verse 3, his admitting to weakness and fear, is hard to square with the confident and assured Paul we read about in Acts and his letters. Clearly he puts this in a context of contrast. Again he says in the following words it wasn’t with “wise and persuasive words” that he preached, “but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” Given Corinth was a bustling and cosmopolitan Greek city of its time, all public debate rested on wise and persuasive words. Rhetoric was highly valued exactly because it could persuade, but Paul is pointing to something more powerful and more real than mere human words, so he is at pains to make sure they understand he’s a weak vessel, that is isn’t he himself that is making this happen, but God’s power. We have two explanations for transformed hearts, human words or God’s power. God uses the former, but the transforming is all of the latter. 

Next he talks about a “message of wisdom,” and the “mature” that understand it. The word for mature (teleios-τέλειος) is a derivative of one of my favorite Greek words, telos, end or purpose. It means (consummated) from going through the necessary stages to reach the endgoal, i.e., developed into a consummating completion by fulfilling the necessary process (spiritual journey). This wisdom can’t come from this age or its rulers, “who are coming to nothing.” We need to keep this in mind as we see the rich and powerful of our age strutting on the stage as if they could escape the nothing. Their “wisdom” is ultimately death, but the wisdom of God is a mystery that has been hidden, but that he “destined for our glory before time began.” A mystery in Scripture isn’t something unknowable as we tend to use it, but something that can only be known when it is revealed by God. Before he created this material world, the whole plan, for us, for our glory, was set in stone. We can trust it because it was his plan all along, and his plan included our response, so it was never to be up to us just so God could be “fair.” Fair would have been justly sentencing us all to hell.

He also says the rulers of this age didn’t get this, or they wouldn’t have “crucified the Lord of Glory.” Many critical scholars claim that the early church didn’t see Jesus as divine, but here a mere 20 years after the resurrection, Paul in no uncertain terms declares Jesus is no mere mortal. But they couldn’t get it because God has to reveal it, and he chose not to reveal it to them so they would crucify the Lord, for our glory, that for which we were destined from eternity. Then he quotes, “it is written,” from Isaiah 64, and I’ll quote it in the KJV because it is so much more poetic in 17th century English:

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit

In other less poetic words, this gospel revealed to us by God’s Spirit is incomprehensible to natural, sinful, human beings. They can’t see or hear it, their hearts are hardened against it. But if God reveals it to us, we will see and hear because our hearts will be transformed by it! Every conversion is monergistic, a result of God’s sovereign power in the soul of man. Just as Jesus opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf without their permission, so God reveals himself to us these things which he has prepared for us.

I Corinthians 1:30,31 – He is Our Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption

In the previous verses, Paul compared God and man’s wisdom, how much greater the former is than the latter, and how man considers God’s wisdom foolish, even ridiculous. The beauty, and wisdom, of the cross is that it renders all merely human wisdom futile. God also chose the foolish and weak things of this world, “so that no one may boast before him.” I discussed how we and the entire physical universe are completely dependent on him, but that even more profound is our dependence on God in Christ spiritually. The penultimate verse of the chapter tell us just how dependent we are:

 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Notice it is not because of us that we are in Christ. There is only one reason, and it is not our decision, our choosing, or our will, but because of God! If it were, if any teensy weensy part of it were because of us, then we would have the right to boast. Sorry Arminians and semi-Pelagians, there is no way around it. Our decision, choosing, and will are part of the salvation promise, but only in response to the sovereign supernatural power of God’s Holy Spirit turning our heart of spiritually dead stone, to a beating spiritual heart of living flesh. So what is the nature of our total and absolute spiritual dependence on God in Christ?

First, no matter what we do or don’t do, we can never be more acceptable to God than in Christ. We can never be more righteous, holy, or redeemed based on our efforts, or lack thereof. For some people this is problematic. They go from this fact of spiritual reality revealed to us in Scripture to . . . What, you mean, what I do or don’t do doesn’t matter? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation. Of course it does! The fruit of receiving these spiritual gifts is that our heart is transformed and we long to please God; we’re just not very good at it, so we need given to us what is impossible for us to attain; perfect righteousness. We can have absolute confidence that God is always well disposed toward us in Christ, always, because he gives us freely what he requires. We repent of our sin because we no longer have to earn his acceptance, and we are mighty grateful for it. Let’s briefly look at this wisdom from God given to us in Christ:

  • Righteousness (dikaiosuné-δικαιοσύνη): properly, judicial approval (the verdict of approval) – As Paul says in Romans 3:21, this is “the righteousness of God” himself that “comes through faith in Jesus Christ.” Jesus is himself our approval, righteousness, before God. This is legally rooted in the character of the Triune God, and we can trust him for it because of that. That kinda takes the pressure off, and the load off our backs. It would crush us even if we tried, and too many do and are. We don’t have to earn God’s acceptance, so we should stop trying. We are already accepted in Christ, fully, completely, totally.
  • Holiness (or sanctification) (hagiasmos-hagiasmos): sanctification (the process of advancing in holiness); used of the believer being progressively transformed by the Lord into His likeness (similarity of nature) – The NIV translates this as holiness, but most other translations use the literal sanctification, which is more accurate to Paul’s meaning. Just as Jesus is himself our justification, we are made right before God (see the previous bullet point) because of his life, death, and resurrection, so are we made progressively more holy, sanctified, also because of what he did. Whatever feeble progress we make in the Christian life to become more like Jesus is all of God; we can depend on him for our sanctification every bit as much as we can trust in him for our justification. It’s a package deal! Our failures, a daily occurrence for saved sinful humans, only serve to drive us to depend on Christ ever more passionately as our sanctification. It is he, not us, who is our sanctification.
  • Redemption (apolutrósis-ἀπολύτρωσις): properly, redemption – literally, “buying back from, re-purchasing (winning back) what was previously forfeited (lost) – And God doesn’t do returns! The wisdom and power of God in the cross is that in Christ he purchased us, his people he came to save. There was a transaction! It wasn’t a possible transaction, or it would not have been a true redemption, one thing of value, Christ, actually for another thing of value, us! I’m not sure why this is so difficult for most Christians to accept, but sadly it is. Revelation 5:9 says exactly this, that Jesus was slain, and with his blood “purchased for God,” literally bought, us.

Wow! No wonder the gospel is good news! Very good news. In the last verse of the chapter Paul says God’s wisdom worked our salvation out this way, that God himself in Christ is our Savior, for a reason:

31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The quote comes from Jeremiah 9, a passage where the Lord tells of the judgment to come upon all those who are “uncircumcised in heart.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Paul picked this specific passage to highlight the wisdom of God in salvation. Either he saves us, fully, completely, totally, or he must judge and condemn us. For his people he came to save, Christ is our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, our all in all, everything we need to be right before God, now and forever.