Tag Archives: Christian doctrine

1 Corinthians 1:1-17

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 – Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 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: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Paul opens the epistle by greeting the church and telling them that they are “not lacking in any spiritual gift.” I believe we should see ourselves in the same way. We are not fundamentally deficient in anything spiritual. Maturing as believers is about focus of attention, perspective on life, and experience that comes from seeing how God works in our circumstances. But to develop in these areas, it is important that we appreciate the spiritual nature that God has given us and have the confidence to live from that nature, knowing that God will work with it so that our lives evolve according to His will, as opposed to thinking that we are problematic people who need some intervention to live as God intended.

Paul then says that Christ will strengthen believers to the end, so that they may be blameless on the day of the Lord Jesus Christ (probably referencing the day of Christ’s return when believers are resurrected or converted to immortality). This is a bit of a difficult passage, given that I do not seem to hear that believers reach the end of their lives in a state of total perfection. My interpretation of this would be that God will work with us so that, by the end of our lives, we accomplished everything He intended for us to accomplish. Despite never becoming perfect in our earthly lives, we end our earthly lives blameless in the sense that, if there is some ideal that we failed to fully attain, God justifies the life we lived. The fact that we accomplished the good works that we did, despite personal issues, is a testimony to God’s grace and transformative power which will operate throughout the universe in the coming ages after Christ’s return.

Moving on in the chapter, Paul writes, 

 

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).

 

We need to consider what is the ultimate cause of quarrels among believers. I do not think we are as worried about each other’s beliefs as we may think we are. The real concern has to do with character. Believers tend to worry about whether other believers are responsible or properly focused on God. Individual believers have their own ideas about what doctrines (or which teachers) promote these values, and this becomes the basis for sectarianism.

The solution to this issue ultimately lies in the preceding verses, which taught that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift, and that it is God who makes us blameless. On the basis of this teaching, we should be able to trust in each other’s character, as long as there is evidence that a believer regards morality.

When we trust that our core nature is of God’s design, and that He has a sovereign plan to accomplish all that He set out to do with us, we do not have to obsess over the details of other believers’ faith. God will work things out with them.

Now, I do realize that some well-meaning believers teach things that are hard to justify Biblically, and some of these teachings can be hurtful. Paul’s writing does not forbid us to speak against such teaching. However, even in these cases, we can still be of “one mind” with those we disagree with, in the sense of respecting each other as new creations in Christ and participants in God’s plan. And I believe that if this respect is truly held, teachings that are particularly hurtful will be dropped eventually.

 

The next post will address the rest of Chapter 1.

Being a Real Christian – Part 4

In Romans Chapters 3-5, Paul discusses how justification is by faith rather than works. The concept of salvation by faith is mentioned many times in the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s writing and the Gospel of John. But the question which arises from this concept is, are works or obedience still required of us? Are we free to do whatever we want to?

As much as different Christian sects have tried to streamline answers to this question, I actually find that the New Testament gives at least two different perspectives. First, let’s look at how the Apostle James approaches this dilemma.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works” (James 2:14-22).

I think James is saying that faith can only exist when you are acting in obedience to God. He uses the obedience of Abraham to illustrate this. The point is not that you can “earn” your salvation by doing certain works. Rather, the idea is that you are saved by faith, but you have to follow God’s commandments in order for that faith to be genuine faith. But it is important to consider exactly what the faith that James speaks of entails. In James’s epistle, the only references to Christ are on two occasions when James refers to Jesus as Lord. Thus, the “faith” that James refers to, which is dead without works, seems to simply be a claim of faith in the Divinity of Christ. Contrast that with Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in which the whole epistle is centered on what Christ accomplished for humanity through His death and resurrection. Thus, Paul’s references to “faith” encompass a lot more than James’s references to faith alone.

Getting back to the question of, if we’re justified by faith, does it matter what we do, take a look at Paul’s answer to that question in Romans.

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:1-11).

This is quite a different perspective from what James wrote. James’s answer had a very practical nature, highlighting the obedience of Abraham and Rahab to show that in order to have true faith you must do works in obedience to God.

In contrast to that practical explanation, Paul’s explanation is rather mystical, speaking of being joined with Christ in His death and resurrection and thus dying to sin and being raised to a new life where sin cannot dominate us. It is a very transformative message, and what Paul says is that we should consider ourselves to be vivified with Christ and free from sin’s dominion. What Paul implies in Chapters 7 and 8 is that believing in this transformation, rather than self-motivation to change one’s ways, is necessary to truly experiencing freedom from sin’s power. The next article takes a look at this in more detail.

Ashamed?

Romans 1:16-17 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

When Paul says that he is “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” I assume that there must be a real reason why someone would feel ashamed to be preaching the true Gospel. In 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul had to remind Timothy to not be ashamed of the Gospel. The word “Gospel” may seem like a mysterious word, but the practical meaning is “good news.” The New Living Translation (a respected, slightly-paraphrased Bible translation) renders it that way. Why would somebody be ashamed of preaching good news?

The particular word “ashamed” is significant. It’s one thing to be afraid to preach the gospel due to fear of persecution. It’s one thing to feel embarrassed or awkward preaching the gospel because it makes you look weird. But, ashamed?

The primary definition for ashamed from the World English Dictionary is “overcome with shame, guilt, or remorse.” So, to be ashamed to preach the Gospel is not to be afraid of persecution or simply feel socially awkward, but to potentially feel guilty for preaching it, or to feel like you are a bad person for preaching it.

If the Gospel really is “Good News,” would it seem too good to be true for many people, and therefore seems irresponsible? Could it make you feel like you are giving a false hope? Could it make you feel naïve about the dangers of evil and sin? Or, could the Gospel make you feel like you are unjustifiably condemning other people?

Whatever the cause of shame is, Paul says that we should not let it bother us. But here’s where things get tricky: sometimes people may feel guilt because what they are preaching is false doctrine and the Holy Spirit is convicting them of that. But even the true Gospel can apparently produce feelings of shame if it is not properly framed in one’s mind. So, the challenge is distinguishing the Holy Spirit’s conviction from the feelings coming from our own minds. This is a lifelong challenge, and I invite you to share your experiences and feelings about the Gospel and how you relate to Paul’s statement in the Scripture above.