1 Corinthians 10:12
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
Some churches call him “Saint Paul,” ranking him right alongside Saint Peter, Saint Thomas, Saint John, and many others whom the church has canonized. The church fathers long ago noticed a difference between these “saints” and most other believers in Christ. They mark them as “saints” because of their apparent holiness, the efficacy of their teaching, the ongoing measure of their faith, and even the healings and miracles associated with their lives or deaths. Ironically, I see something else in all these people whom those churches designate as “saints”: humility and an acknowledgment that they are NOT perfectly holy. I think “Saint” Paul said it best:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Paul knew that whatever “perfection” he may have only existed in Christ Jesus, his Lord and Savior. The best Paul or any of us could hope for was to press on, to allow ourselves to be perfected by Jesus.
Look at the arc of the life of another “saint”: Simon Peter. In Peter, we see a man being perfected BY Christ before he starts being perfected IN Christ. All along his journey, Peter thought he had it all together, and then we was shown just how small his faith was. Even after Peter had seen the risen Savior a third time, Jesus questioned Peter’s love and faith. (John 21:14:19) And as we see in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, Peter still had some growing to do in his own virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. (2 Peter 1:5-7) Even the “saints” needed to be perfected throughout their lifetimes.
Of course, the New Testament doesn’t use the word we translate as “saint” the same way the churches sometimes use it. That Greek word is άγιος (“hagios”), and it means someone who is sacred, physically pure, morally blameless, ceremonially consecrated, or holy. It is a word that was used to designate ALL believers in Christ.
13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
We who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, are ALL sealed by the Holy Spirit, all set aside BY His will and FOR His will. (Ephesians 2:10) In short, we are ALL “saints.” That being said, we must therefore beware lest we fall into temptation and depart from our holy calling in Christ Jesus.
As Paul discussed in chapter 10 of First Corinthians, the Israelites were set aside for God’s will, liberated from Egypt and baptized through Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, and they possessed the constant presence of the Spirit of God in a pillar of cloud and fire. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4) And yet they allowed themselves to be led astray by nostalgia and lust. They harkened back to “better” days when they weren’t under God’s holy calling, and so they grumbled and complained, they slipped and slid from their calling, and they even refused to enter the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:1-4) Despite the fact that God struck them again and again to discipline them, they still rebelled against His will and His blessing for them. Ultimately, God gave them over to death, leaving their bodies scattered in the wilderness while the next generation grew up in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 10:5) Here was a people who had been redeemed from slavery by God Himself, a people set apart from the rest of the world as God’s children, a people who had been promised immeasurable blessings, and yet because of their insolence and unrepentance, over a million of God’s chosen people were given over to death instead of life. Yes, they were not perfect, but worse yet, they did not ALLOW themselves to BE perfected.
1 Corinthians 10:6-11
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”
8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell;
9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents;
10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
The Israelites fell into grievous sins: idolatry, sexual immorality, rebellion against their Lord, and constant complaining and resistance against their calling. Does that sound familiar? Do we not today, even within God’s holy church, have false idols, allow and practice sexual immorality, rebel against the Word of God, and resist His will for us as true saints?
1 Corinthians 11:27-32
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
We are a church that expects holiness from our leaders–bishops, pastors, deacons, elders–and yet we do not practice holiness ourselves! We come to the Lord’s table with dirty hands because our hearts are dirty, and we sully the body and the blood of Christ with our unrepentance and doubt. We eat the manna and drink the water of God, and yet we grumble that He has called us to depart from our slavery. We refuse to leave behind our lives of selfish pride, our lives of half-hearted faith, our lives of self-serving lusts and temptations. We judge others for their unrighteousness and set standards of holiness in those we call “saints” without ever realizing that the name “saint” is meant for ALL of us, that we are ALL called to live lives of being perfected in Christ Jesus.
And so Paul says to us all, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” He says that to remind us that we stand only because the Holy Spirit of God props us up from within. We stand only because Jesus Christ Himself stands with us before the holy throne of God. We stand only because God Himself has given us the grace to do so. And the moment we grieve the Spirit, defy Christ, dishonor God’s grace, then we bring judgment on ourselves just as the Israelites did. Do we want to have our bodies scattered in the wilderness rather than rising again with Christ? Do we want to constantly be disciplined and yet ignore the calling of God in Christ? Do we not want to be perfected at all?
That is the calling we have: to be perfected in Jesus Christ. None of us–not even the so-called “saints”–has attained or ever will attain to perfection without Jesus Christ. Jesus is the ONLY way to peace with God, given by the Father to save the world and bring us to His glory. (John 14:6, John 3:16)
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
We cannot continue on our own path and still expect to possess the richest blessing, eternal life. We cannot continue in our idolatry, sexual immorality, rebellion, and doubt, and still expect that God will keep extending more grace. We cannot think we might live just as we once lived, living as if we never renewed in our minds, never repented of our sins, never were regenerated by the Holy Spirit, never were reborn in Christ. We must instead examine ourselves constantly, repenting every day, allowing the great mercies of God–which are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23)–to wash us clean and prepare us for His will for us each day.
I am not saying I have it all together, no more so than Paul or Peter ever did. But I do press onward, setting my eyes on the great joy that is found in Christ Jesus my Lord. I do my best to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord my God. (Micah 6:8) I repent my sin and I resist the devil, knowing that I will overcome because He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
Let us all therefore take heed lest we fall. Let us examine ourselves to see if we are standing in Christ Jesus. Let us work together for the holiness of all, returning to God’s holy calling for our lives. Let us build each other up through rebuke, correction, and instruction in doctrine and righteousness. And let us all humbly acknowledge our need for being perfected in Christ, so that we may live up to the one honored name we may have in this lifetime: saint.
Lord God of heaven and earth, You have called me to holy purpose and life, so that I may live and breathe and find meaning through You, the one immovable and eternal thing in and beyond this world. You have called me to be holy as You are holy. Therefore, Father, please, perfect me. Break my heart of its sinful ways so that I can truly repent, create in me a clean heart purified to Your purpose. Guide me, shape me, fill me, so that I am not lost in the desert but found in You, my Savior and my God. Amen.