GPS for the Soul
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
James C. Denison
Have you ever been lost? Not just mildly displaced or momentarily disoriented, but truly lost? I have.
On one level, it happens to me nearly every day. Janet says I’m directionally challenged–when I come to an intersection, I should decide which way I want to go and then go the other way. Minni prints maps for me to every destination before I leave. Just because I’ve been someplace ten times doesn’t mean I can find it the eleventh.
But I still remember vividly the time I was truly lost. It was the sixth grade. Our class went on an end-of-year field trip to the piney woods of East Texas. Somehow three of us managed to get separated from the rest of the class. Before we knew it, we were completely alone in the forest. We had no idea where we were or what to do next.
We should have stayed in one place and waited for help to find us, but we weren’t nearly that smart. For the rest of the day we wandered through the trees, yelling for help, hungry and thirsty and hot and tired. Late that afternoon, park rangers called by our distraught teacher rescued us.
What if we had a GPS unit, a Global Positioning Satellite device? Of course, when I was in the sixth grade we didn’t even have remote controls for the television yet, but you understand the question. A little box with a reassuring voice to tell us “turn right at the next log” would have been a lifesaver.
What in life has you feeling lost today? What decision is confusing you? What stress is frustrating you? Where are you unsure what to do, where to turn, how to proceed? We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there again. That’s just the nature of life for fallen people on a fallen planet. But the good news is that God has given us a GPS for the soul. Let’s learn how to use it together.
How to be a saint
Paul addresses the letter we call First Corinthians to “the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (1 Corinthians 1:2). “Called to be saints” is how most versions translate the text. When you hear the word “saint,” what comes to mind?
A person of great personal character and pious spirit? “She’s such a saint,” we say when someone does something particularly pious.
Or you might think about a great person of God designated a “saint” by the Catholic Church. For instance, St.Genesius, Bishop of Clermont, is on the Church’s list of saints to be remembered on June 3. He renounced the world for the church back in the seventh century, founding a hospital, church, abbey, and convent. Fearing for his own soul, he made a secret pilgrimage to Rome in 661. His bereaved flock sent messengers to the Vatican, where they found him and convinced him to return. He died in AD 662 and was buried in St. Symphorian’s church at Clermont in France; the congregation is now known as St. Genesius’s church.
That’s impressive. But you and I aren’t likely to renounce the world in order to live in the church or make a secret pilgrimage to Rome anytime soon or have a church named for us when we die.
No sainthood in our future. Except that “saint” is the Bible’s most common title for Christians–all Christians:
“To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7).
“To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia” (2 Corinthians 1:1).
“To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesus 1:1).
“To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi” (Philippians 1:1).
“To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae” (Colossians 1:2, NRSV).
Sixty-one times (by my count), the Lord calls Christians “saints.” This is by far the most common designation for followers of Jesus. “Disciples” is used of the entire church 27 times (by my count); “Christians” only once (Acts 11:26).
“Saints” is always found in the plural. And so every believer is a “saint.” No halos or harps or pilgrimages to Rome required.
The word “saint” translates hagios, meaning “holy one” or “set apart one.” Thus the NIV translates, “called to be holy,” while nearly every other translation renders Paul’s phrase, “called to be saints.” The two are synonyms.
We think of “saints” as the holiest of people, sanctified and pious in every way. We think that we could never be one of them. And yet these Christians in Corinth, called “saints” by Paul in this letter, were fighting and plagued by divisions (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Paul calls them “mere infants in Christ” (3:1) and “arrogant” (4:18). He rebukes them for condoning of sexual immorality (5:1) and suing each other (6:6). Later he tells them to “stop thinking like children” (14:20).
So how can they be “saints”? Because God’s Spirit has made them so. The moment we ask Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, we become the “saints” of God. In that moment you were set apart for him.
He has claim on your life now. You belong to him: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
He is the potter; you are the clay (Isaiah 64:8). He is the head (Ephesus 5:23); we are the body (1 Corinthians 12:27). He has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18); we have none. We belong to him, for he made us, then he bought us. We are his forever.
Note that they are “the church of God in Corinth.” Where we are is not who we are. We are the saints “of” God “in” Dallas. We are not what we have or where we are. Never forget the source of your personal worth.