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In Christ Jesus
2. The Epistles to the Corinthians
by Arthur T. Pierson
In the first epistle, the first chapter and the second verse, we first meet the phrase which we seek: "Sanctified in Christ Jesus," and, according to the rule that has been found to be true, this proves upon examination to furnish us with the keynote of both of these epistles.
This thought is further amplified in the thirtieth verse of the same chapter, where, as from an exalted mountain peak, we seem to scan the whole horizon of our salvation and of the work of Christ. We are there taught that, being "in Christ Jesus," we find Him made, of God, "unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." But, in these epistles, sanctification in Christ Jesus is as prominent as justification in Christ Jesus has been found to be in the Epistle to the Romans. In the latter, the death of Christ was made the most prominent; here, it is our life in Him and His life in us. There, our thoughts were directed mainly to His cross and passion; but here, it is to His Spirit, as bestowed upon the believer and dwelling in him.
Or, to speak more accurately and carefully, the thought of the apostle Paul begins, in the epistles to the Corinthians, where, as we might say, it ends in the Epistle to the Romans. In the latter epistle we follow Christ through His death and burial to His resurrection, when He comes forth from the grave endowed with the Spirit of life. But the epistles to the Corinthians start -- may we not say? -- from His inbreathing of the Spirit into His disciples on the day of His resurrection and the subsequent induement of the disciples with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. We might compare the two epistles thus:
Romans: Justified in Christ Jesus by His blood.And, through both of the epistles to the Corinthians, the golden thread of connection is thus our union with Christ by the indwelling and inworking of His Holy Spirit.
In First Corinthians (6:17) is the brief but grand statement which illuminates and illustrates both of these letters: "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit."
Corinthians: Sanctified in Christ Jesus by His Spirit.
In this language we have represented the highest conceivable unity. The stones of the building may be removed; the branch may be cut off from the vine, and the limb severed from the body; the sheep may wander from the shepherd, the child from the father; the bride may be divorced from the bridegroom; but you can not divide spirit asunder. Therefore, when we are told that "he that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit," we have the highest possible representation of unity -- a unity which nothing can dissolve.
In the First Epistle to the Corinthians this unity with the Lord Jesus is exhibited as involving especially the following privileges and duties:
This analysis is not, of course, exhaustive, but it serves, so far as we have carried it, to communicate to us how truly all the thoughts of these epistles revolve about the phrase we are considering, and the thought which it embodies.
- A new knowledge of God, or insight into divine things (2:1-16).
- A new indwelling of God, we becoming His temple and hence a new possession
of us by God (3:16).
- A new possession in God as our portion (3:21-23).
- A new stewardship in God, with corresponding obligation (4:1-2).
- A new separation unto God as His holy abode (6:11-20).
- A new sanctity even in secular toil, as a calling in which we abide with
- A new subjection, even of the body, to His glory (9:27).
- A new communion with God (10:16-17).
- A new service to God, made possible by communion with Him (12).
- A new dominion of love as the controlling power (13).
- A new holiness and decorum in public assemblies (14).
- A new victory over death and the grave (15).
To resume: Christ is here represented as the sphere of sanctification and personal holiness. Being in Him, we have in Him unity with God by the Holy Spirit, which Spirit becomes the new element or atmosphere of that life of which Christ is the sphere. We have thus a new knowledge of God and a new indwelling of God in us; we thus possess God and are possessed by Him, separate and subject unto Him, so that even our bodies partake of His life and immortality. As Romans deals largely with what we are by our entrance into God, in Corinthians we are confronted with what we are by God's entrance into us. There, it was the new sphere of life; here, it is the new atmosphere of life. There, we in Him; here, He in us.
In Second Corinthians, the same great thought is further expanded and enlarged. Take, for instance, the first chapter, from the twentieth to the twenty-second verses, where we are taught that in Him we are established, anointed, sealed, and have the earnest or foretaste of our future inheritance. The dominant thought here is the privilege we have in and through Christ. Paul makes very emphatic and prominent our transformation into His image (3:18); our new creation in Christ Jesus (5:17); our separation unto Him (6:14--7:1); our unselfish liberality as the fruit of our union with Him (chapters 8 and 9); our abundance of revelation in Him (chapter 12), etc.
Here, again, we have attempted no exhaustive analysis, but have only sought to hint at the contents of the epistle, or draw the outline of this wonderful range of thought.
In these two epistles, then, we have Christ as the sphere of our holiness, and privilege in Him; we have in Him everything else, and the very anticipation of heaven itself. We have conformity to His likeness, cleansing from sin, power over sin, fellowship with God, and revelations of the bliss of paradise, even while upon earth.
If, in these two epistles, any thought overtops the rest, it is that of the new creation in Christ Jesus (chapter 5:17), where the word "creature" should undoubtedly be rendered "creation." Compare Galatians 6:15. The parallel passage is in Revelation 21:5, where God says: "Behold, I make all things new." Here that is true of the individual which is there to be realized of the whole creation. We enter into Christ Jesus, and we have in Him the entrance into a new world, ourselves becoming a part of that new creation.
A careful comparison of Second Corinthians (6:17-7:1) with the twenty-first chapter of Revelation (verses 3-5) will show how closely these two passages correspond.
Here, also, we see how and why Christ becomes to us the sphere of new power in becoming the sphere of new life. A sphere contains an atmosphere, and that atmosphere may be quite different from that which is outside; it may have different qualities, and be capable of supporting life in a far higher degree. So, what we could not do, outside of Christ, becomes both natural and possible in Him, because we have new appetites, desires, and affinities. The old passions, habits, bondage, are displaced by a new life, capacity, and freedom.
To clearly apprehend all this wonderful truth and freely enter into this privilege, is the ideal condition of a disciple. The idea of a new creation suggests to us also the kindred idea of a new adaptation, or affinity for God, on the part of the believer. Every form of animal existence, and even of vegetable existence, demands what we call its appropriate element; that is, a sphere of life with conditions which are necessary to its development, and even to its very subsistence and existence. We call the air the element of the bird, because the air and the bird are manifestly made for each other. We call the water the element of the fish for the same reason of mutual adaptation. The bird cannot live in the water, and the fish cannot live in the air. We observe that the bird has a breathing apparatus adapted to the atmosphere, and the fish has a breathing apparatus adapted to the water. If either were to exchange places with the other, there must be corresponding changes in its physical structure and adaptation; the bird, to live in the water, must have gills instead of lungs, and the fish to live in the air must have lungs instead of gills. So the bird's wings must change to fins and the fish's fins must change to wings. In fact, there would have to be changes in the whole structure, which it would be possible only for the Creator to effect.
How wonderfully analogous to the case of the disciple! In order to enter into Christ Jesus and to exist in the new atmosphere which we find in this new sphere of life, that atmosphere must become our element; and there must be changes, which correspond to structural changes, which must take place in our very mental and moral constitution. As it were, the lungs must change to gills, or the gills to lungs. This is what we call the new birth, or regeneration. So far as we are concerned, the act by which we enter into Christ is the act of repentance and faith, repentance being the leaving of the old sphere of life behind us, and faith being the entrance into the new sphere. But there must be a divine act, corresponding to our human act -- an act of regeneration on God's part, corresponding to the act of appropriation on our part; otherwise, even if it were possible for us to enter into the new sphere, we should find ourselves unable to live or abide in it. This is the mystery of the new birth.
If any man be in Christ, he is by necessity a new creation. He must be born from above, born again, born of the Spirit, enabled to breathe the new atmosphere and live in the new element. Whether the human act or the divine act has the precedence, we are neither concerned to inquire, nor are we capable to determine. There is a profound mystery about the whole subject upon which the Word of God sheds no decisive light; but the paradox is not a contradiction, nor does the mystery involve an absurdity. It is sufficient for us to know that we shall never enter into Christ save by our own consent, and to know with equal certainty that we shall never enter into Christ without God's new creative act.
Here we must leave the mystery, while we bless God for the privilege.
It will be seen by any thoughtful student of the Holy Scriptures how grand and important is the truth which thus meets us in these two epistles to the Corinthians. The indwelling of God in Christ is the full, final, and most complete argument for, and exhibition of, that doctrine of separation, which runs from Genesis to Revelation, throughout the entire Scripture. We may say that there are at least seven stages in the development of this doctrine:
There are two ways in which a man shows himself to be the owner of a house: First, by purchase; second, by occupation. He buys the dwelling, and then he enters into it and lives in it. And these are the two ways in which God is represented as making the believer His special dwelling-place: First, you are bought with a price; second, the Spirit of God dwells in you. There can be no separation more unmistakable than this. We have been purchased by redeeming blood for the habitation of God through the Spirit, and through the Spirit God actually does indwell in every true believer.
- Separation by covenant, as when Abraham was called out from his country
and his kindred ( see Genesis 12:1-7).
- Separation by divine fellowship, so exquisitely presented in Exodus
(33:14-16) . Moses represents the fact that God's presence goes with His people
as the one fact that separates himself and the people from all the others that
are upon the face of the earth.
- Separation by ordinances. See Leviticus 20:24-26 where three times God
addresses His people as a separated people, and makes the ceremonial
distinction and difference between clean and unclean beasts, fowls and
reptiles, to be the outward sign of this separation.
- Separation by vow, as in the case of the Nazarite, in the sixth chapter of
Numbers, where four conditions are made prominent:
- The suppression of appetite
- Indifference to public custom
- Absolute withdrawal from death or corruption
- Supreme loyalty to God over all human kindred.
- Separation by
obedience as presented in the entire book of Deuteronomy ( compare chapter 7).
- Separation by wedlock or espousal. See Jeremiah 3:14: "I am married unto
you." Compare Ezekiel 16. Compare also Ephesians 5:25-33, where this doctrine
of the divine espousal of His people in Christ is expanded and applied.
- But, when we come to the epistles of the Corinthians, we have the last and
greatest of all the modes of separation: The indwelling of God in the believer by the Holy Ghost, which makes man God's habitation, temple, holy of holies!
Such indwelling of God should insure the holiness of the believer. Walter Scott wrote of a certain acquaintance: "I cannot tolerate that man; and it seems to me as if I hated him for things not only past and present, but for some future offense which is as yet in the womb of fate." The Holy Ghost's inhabitation should leave no possibility of actual sinning nor room even for the thought of sin. And where is such cleanness of soul to come from, apart from Christ? "By no political alchemy," Herbert Spencer tells us, "can you get golden conduct out of leaden instincts." The power to set the heart right, to renew the springs of action, comes from Christ through the Holy Spirit.
We thus reach the second stage of our journey through these paths of God's truth. And we here find Jesus Christ our Lord presented as the sphere of the believer's holy living -- his sanctification as well as justification, his higher salvation from sin as well as from sin's penalty. Salvation is not by character, but it is not independent of character. Heaven is not and cannot be the home of saved souls, if it be not also the abode of sanctified souls. God could have nothing less than a clean house where He lives. Nothing defiled or defiling can enter there; and He, whom the Epistle to the Romans shows as the secret of our entrance into a justified state, is here revealed to us as inbreathing the very Spirit and life of God, whereby we are made partakers of the divine nature, and thereby possible partakers of the divine bliss.
This page Copyright © 1999 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: http://www.peterwade.com/.
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