Is the believer essentially a saint or sinner? If he is a ‘saint’, why is he still struggling with sin?
We're living today in a corrupt world that’s not much different from the ancient city of Corinth. And the people who make up the church today face similar struggles with sin as the Corinthian believers.
Perhaps we face even greater struggles with sin, what with porn and the powerful negative influence of movies and the Internet. A lady pastor, who was dining in a restaurant, was aghast when she overheard a churchgoer boasting about his sexual exploits with a lady friend from his cell group.
Paul addressed the believers in Corinth as people who were “called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1: 2). But, later, he told them he could not address them as spiritual men but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1).
Carnality was evident in their lives because they were divisive and factious (1 Corinthians 3: 3-4). They were also sexually immoral; they even practised incest (1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:11).
While Paul recognised the fact they were saints in the making, he was firm in rebuking them for their sins. He reminded them the immoral will not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6: 9-10).
He even threatened to expel those who committed serious sexual sins, such as incest, from the church (1 Corinthians 5: 5, 11, 13). Evidently, Paul did not want any rotten apple to spoil the rest within the barrel.
The reputation of Corinth for its immorality is legend. In fact, the word ‘to corinthianise’ means to ‘live an immoral life’. So even though they were believers, they were still very much a ‘work in progress’.
The moment one believes in Christ and decides to make Him Lord as well as Saviour, one becomes a new creation: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
But, in reality, we are still not perfect.
So how do we move from carnality to “sainthood”?
The Christian walk is a moment-by-moment experience whereby we are given the choice whether to serve the spirit or flesh — as opposed to a ‘once and for all’ experience of victory.
Whereas conversion is an experience at a particular point in time, walking in victory is an ongoing process which requires a daily, even a moment-by-moment, dying to self.
As long as we choose to walk by the spirit 1, die to self 2, lay our selfish desires at the foot of the cross, we will win the battle against the flesh: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5).
That said, as we mature in the faith, victory will become more and more typical of our daily experience.
The answer to the original question is this: We were once incorrigible sinners but now we have become saints. Saints in the making, to be exact, as the sinful nature still has to be dealt with daily.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
1 By choosing to ‘walk by the Spirit’, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). What are some of the practical steps involved? Draw near to God; be exposed to people and situations where God is glorified; pray in the Spirit; listen to uplifting messages; worship God; fellowship with other believers.
2 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). According to Christ: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
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