Upheld and Guiltless

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*Below is the manuscript of a Sermon from 1 Corinthians 1:8-9.*

Paul has spent 5 verses of this letter encouraging the Corinthians believers in various ways, and also subtly, but deliberately I believe, shifting the focus away from a self-impressed church back onto God. They were proud of their gifts, their strength, their skills, their rhetorical ability, and had forgotten who they were before Christ, and who they are in Christ. They forgot the past and forgot the present.

And that Christological amnesia, we could say, that is forgetting who we are in Christ, is a real and constant temptation for us. We forget who we were before Christ, in the past. That is, who we were as needy, sinful, depraved, haters of God that were under the condemnation of God. But we also forget who we are in Christ, in the present: we’re united by the work of the Holy Spirit to the faithful and true Son. And when we forget our union to Christ, then all sorts of sinful behaviors creep in, just like they had in Corinth.

Our Christological amnesia of the past and present makes us vulnerable to all manner of temptation and moral decay.

Let’s read our text together. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, and we’ll be focusing on verses 8 & 9:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tonight we will conclude our study of this theological thanksgiving passage by meditating on what is an especially sweet conclusion for the thanksgiving prayer. Paul concludes the section of thanksgiving by looking to the future. In the preceding verses he addressed what God has done in the past: verse 4 he gave them grace in Jesus Christ; verse 5 he enriched them in Christ in every way; verse 6 he confirmed the testimony of Christ among them.

But God has not only acted in the past, he is also currently acting among the Corinthians. In verse 7 he switches to the present tense: you are not lacking any gift as you wait for the revealing of Christ. Past action of God, and present action of God.

And then in our text for tonight, Paul switches to the future tense in verse 8: “who WILL sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Let’s examine what Paul is doing in verses 8 and 9 by answering a series of questions.

First, what is happening? What is the action for which Paul is thankful to God? The action being done is that God will sustain them. God will sustain the Corinthians, or will confirm the Corinthian believers.

The verb used here is the same one that is used in verse 6, where Paul speaks of the testimony of Christ being confirmed among them. As I mentioned before, this verb takes on a legal, even commercial or financial, flavor by the time Paul is writing. Christ’s testimony is confirmed, guaranteed, strengthened. It is assured. It is binding. Irrevocable. Locked in and without doubt.

Similarly, here Paul is saying that because of the grace of the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart of the Corinthians, they have been united to Christ, and it is Christ who will sustain them. He will guarantee them. He will uphold them.

Paul uses the same language elsewhere in his letters. In 2 Corinthians 1:21, Paul declares that it is God who establishes or confirms us in Christ. And in Colossians 2:7 Paul uses this verb to emphasize that we are rooted and built up in him, firmly established or firmly strengthened in Christ.

Paul is emphasizing here that the Corinthians have security in their faith. God has already enriched them with all the spiritual gifts necessary, but he will also be sure to hold them safe to the very end, to make them steadfast, to preserve them from failing, we could say.

This sustaining to the very end is what theologians call final perseverance, or the perseverance of the saints. This means that all who are born again will be kept by God himself and will persevere as Christians until they enter the grave.

This is taught in many places in scripture. We could look at Jesus’s words in John 6:

39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Everyone who looks upon the Son and believes will have eternal life and will be raised on the last day. No doubt. No contingencies. No plan B. All of those given to the Son by the Father will believe and by believing will be sustained and confirmed until the last day. And Jesus will lose none of them. Nothing that has been given him will be lost.

Jesus isn’t a clumsy savior; he isn’t inept, incompetent, or forgetful. He is a diligent savior. He dotes upon his bride with divine attention and care. Nothing is outside of his vision, nothing is capable of overwhelming him, nothing can overpower him, and nothing can slip past him. Which means that none of his people will be lost.

Or we can look later in John chapter 10:27-30 where Jesus says:

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me,[a] is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Jesus is talking about those that have been given him by the Father. He has given them life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them. No one can pluck them from his hand. Nobody is able to swindle God of his possessions. Nobody is capable of tricking God out of his prize.

Regarding this text, John Murray wrote in his little book called Redemption Accomplished and Applied,

“The guarantee of infallible preservation is that the persons given to the son are in the Son’s hand and though given to the son they are still mysteriously in the Father’s hand. From the hand of neither can anyone snatch them. This is the heritage of those who are given by the Father” (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI: 1955, page 160).

Jesus can speak both of us being in the Father’s hand and of being given to the Son because both are true. The fullness of God, the entirety of the godhead, all three persons are involved in our being kept safe until the day of redemption.

The Father infallibly and perfectly elects those who would believe. He predestines them for life eternal through the sacrifice of the son.

Those whom the father elects are given to the son to be the bride of his possession. These are the ones who’s salvation is purchased on the cross and who’s redemption is certain, securing the ground of their perseverance.

Those whom the Father elects and gives to the son, and whom the Son dies to redeem, are then effectually called into salvation through the work of the holy spirit. The Spirit is sent to unite the elect to the Son, and a fruit of that effectual calling and union is belief.

This is what Paul is describing in Romans 8, another passage that beautifully explains the hope we can have of our being upheld by Christ.

Hear again the words of Paul in Romans 8:28-30, where he describes the chain of salvation:

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

The called ones are called by God according to His purpose. His purpose is prior to our calling. And he goes on to say that those whom he knew beforehand were also predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son.

Those whom are predestined are called. And those whom are called are also justified. And those whom are justified are also glorified.

Everyone who is a believer, is so because they have been foreknown and predestined. A believer is a believer because he or she has been called and justified. And if they have been called and justified, they will be glorified.

There is no possibility of failure in God’s plan and purpose. He won’t predestine and call, but not complete the mission. It’s impossible to conceive of God’s predestining purposes to be defeated. That’s an impossibility in Paul’s theology. Not even an Arminian will say that.

Further, He can’t effectually unite someone to Christ, grant them justification, and then let them fall away. None of my sheep will be lost. No one can snatch them out of my father’s hands.

We need to realize what is at stake if we deny this doctrine. If saints may fall away and be finally lost, then the called and the justified may fall away and be lost. But that is exactly what Paul is arguing against in Romans 8: those whom God calls and justified he will also glorify, which is the final event in our being conformed to the image of God’s own son. The denial of perseverance of the saints contradicts the explicit force and plain reading of Paul’s teaching.

But even more than that, the denial of what Paul teaches about the perseverance of the saints in 1 Corinthians 1, Romans 8, what Jesus teaches in John 6 and 10, and many other passages radically impacts our Christian life. If you truly believe that your being held in justification is on the basis of YOUR performance, you’ll inevitably end up in one of two dangerous places.

You’ll either be a nervous wreck, full of anxious worry about your performance. You’ll be analyzing and analyzing, checking your heart constantly for sin, constantly worried you have some sort of unconfessed and unrepented sin that will condemn you on the last day, even though you tried your best. You’ll never have peace, never have true comfort, never have confident assurance, because you can never truly know that you will make it. You can hope. You can pray. But you can’t rest.

The other alternative if you deny the preservation of the saints, is that you live a life of self-deception and pride. You look at yourself and have a confidence based on your own performance and faith that you will make it just fine. But to do that is to do exactly what Paul is undercutting in 1 Corinthians 1. Paul takes great care to remove from the Corinthians any possibility of them boasting in self, and replace it instead with confidence in Christ.

And that’s what were called to do instead. To trust that it is Christ who saved us, on the basis of grace and grace alone, and that grace is multifaceted. It includes not merely foreknowledge and predestination. Not only election and effectual calling. Not only union with Christ and faith. But it includes the promise that Christ will finish a good work that he has begun. The father doesn’t give to the son a people for the son to drop and lose. He gives to the Son a bride, whom the son cherishes, and cherishes to the degree that he is willing to lay down his own life for her.

He loves her and died for her, and he continues to serve her by washing her with the water of the Word. He grants her continued faith and repentance. He grants her continued growth in holiness and he washes her of every spot and wrinkle of sin. And he takes great care to see her sustained and cared for until the very end. He will not abandon her before the great wedding day. He is working, even now, even through this sermon and thousands like it around the globe, to keep her and sustain her to the very end.

Take comfort dear saints in the knowledge that Christ is a faithful husband, and will not let his bride down. God will not justify you today and reject you tomorrow. His word is sure, his atonement is complete, and his redemption is confirmed. You will be sustained until the end.

When you are struck with the fiery darts of doubt, and Satan tells you again that you are unfit to be called a Christian because you have sinned again, remind yourself of this truth: that God will hold you in Christ until the end. He will sustain you. It’s not the strength of your grip on Christ that keeps you afloat. It’s that Christ has his grip on you.

The object of your faith, that is Christ, is the determining quality of your faith. It’s not your strength of faith, it’s not how perfectly you walk in his law, it’s not how much bible you know or how many great gains you make in holiness. It is Christ and your union to him that keeps you in the faith. That was true for Corinth and it is true for us.

Let us never fall for the great lie that we’re doing all right, and that we’ve got it all under control. Each of us, even possessing the greatest of theological precision or of spiritual gifting, can fall into that trap. We forget that even our possessing faith this very instant is but an evidence of grace and fruit of Christ’s ongoing work of holding onto us by his Holy Spirit.

We need Christ every moment to hold us faithful, and every moment he does is but another testimony to his grace and faithfulness in our lives.

Praise God that we have such an attentive and faithful redeemer who will sustain us to the very end, confirm us in faith, and guarantee our salvation through the ongoing work he does in our hearts to keep us. GOD will sustain us until the end.

But our next question to answer is this: in what way will we be kept in the end? It is not enough that we be kept around for the day of the Lord if we are unsure of our condition when we arrive at that day.

The good news that Paul reminds Corinth of is their guiltlessness on that day. They will be guiltless, verse 8: he “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It wouldn’t be good news at all for us to merely say that Christ will sustain us in mere existence until the day of the Lord. He’ll do that for unbelievers, but that’s not good news for them. What makes it good news for us is that we will be held guiltless on that day.

Paul uses the language of “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which is an explicitly Christological use of language that is found throughout the bible: the day of the Lord. I won’t chase down the references tonight, but you can find references to the end-times day of the Lord in Joel 2 and 3, in Amos 5, and other places.

God is likewise called judge in multiple old testament passages. In Genesis 18 Abraham asks, “Shall the judge of all the earth not do what is right?” God is judge, even before the law is ever given on Mount Sinai to Moses. God is judge and has been ever since the first angelic being fell.  Psalm 82 says that God calls all the other judges into his courtroom; he puts all the earthly judges in the dock. He’s the great judge of the judges. And Psalm 94 refers to God as the judge of the entire earth. Nobody is outside of God’s jurisdiction, and no one will escape his scales of justice.

But the new testament gives us even greater clarity on what this judge and what the day of judgment will look like. Paul in many places doesn’t merely speak of the day of the Lord, but specifically of the day of Jesus Christ, or the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s because the new testament teaches us that the Father has given the responsibility of judgment to the Son.

Back in John 5 Jesus teaches us that, “the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” Christ is given the authority to judge by the Father. Nobody can now claim that the Father is being unfair by judging mankind, that God can’t be a fair judge of man. Now the son of man, the God-man himself, is judging mankind. It is His day.

Paul says similarly in 2 Timothy 4 that Jesus Christ is the judge of the living and dead. Paul continues the same idea in Acts 17 in his speech at Mars Hill. Peter says the same thing in Acts 10:42, when he speaks of Jesus Christ as, “the one ordained by God to be the judge of the living and dead.” The son is specifically given the responsibility of judging.

Let me mention one more thing about this judgment on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. That day will not be God looking at our good works and looking at our bad works and weighing both of them to determine whether we were good enough to enter heaven. That’s not it at all. That’s what the world thinks will happen, and not unsurprisingly, most people think that their pretty good people and that God will let them into heaven.

No. The day of judgment will instead be the public declaration of our position relative to Christ. That is, God in Christ will proclaim to the whole of creation the redemptive status of each of us. And the judgment will be simple. Did you die in Christ or not? If you died in Christ, believing in him, upheld by him, then you will be proclaimed as guiltless on the day of judgment.

No accusation, no past sin, no dark secret, no forgotten fault can possibly over-ride the verdict of guiltless that each believer will be given on that day. God will look at each of us, see us as sparkling and guiltless because of the sacrifice that the son made on our behalf, and because of the acceptable sacrifice made by Jesus for his people, we will be told “well done, you may enter into the joy of paradise for all eternity.”

But, for those that die outside of Christ, the day of judgment will be but the first step in an eternity of misery and pain. Rather than having a savior to intercede on your behalf, and the Holy Spirit advocating for you, you are alone on the dock. You will be called to account for every single sinful desire and action you’ve ever had. And your prosecutor will not be a man who merely looks at the outside, but will be God who looks at the heart. His all-seeing eyes will gaze into the sinful crevices of your soul that you didn’t even know existed. He sees the sinful thoughts, the murderous motives, the covetous desires that linger deep in your soul. And he will bring each one of them to light.

And because you have no sufficient savior, you will stand exposed before his justice. He will declare your verdict to be GUILTY, and will dole out judgement according to your works. He is a Holy and righteous God, which means he necessarily must and will punish sin.

As Paul reminds us in verse 9, God is faithful, which works for the benefit of the believers, but for the unbelievers, God’s faithfulness is manifested in the full and righteous fury he will unleash upon those that remained hardened in their sin and rejecting the offer of the Son.

Don’t cling to your sin one more day. Today can be the day of your salvation, and you can have the blessings of salvation that have been described to you from scripture this very night. Don’t wait on this offer, because the day of the Lord could be today. We’re not promised tomorrow, and this offer is only given for a short time. Flee from the wrath to come and fly into Christ where you can receive a refuge and shield from the terror that will be unleashed upon the unbelieving on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And if you come to Christ, and trust in him, and receive him as the faithful savior that he is, then you will have the benefits described in this glorious passage of thanksgiving. God is faithful, Paul says, which means that if you come to him, he will surely grant you the benefits of salvation, including perseverance and security in faith, and being declared guiltless on the day of judgment.

Come to him today, and receive these blessings, on of which is being called into the fellowship of His son, which is what Paul closes his thanksgiving with. One final reminder that the blessings of salvation are not merely legal and transactional. They are relational.

We’re saved not merely by the commercial transaction of the son purchasing a redemption at a great cost, though he did do that. We’re reminded that we’ve been personally called into fellowship, communion, koinonia, with the Son.

Elsewhere Paul will even use the language of being adopted. We’re treated as God’s own family. Whatever the Son has earned, we share in that. Whatever graces the Son has merited, whatever access, whatever joys, whatever rewards, we get to share.

  • We get to taste of the glory of being declared blameless on the last day
  • We get to have our good works rewarded because of the work of mediation that Christ does on our behalf
  • We get to have eternal access to God in heaven
  • We get to enjoy a world remade and free from the scars of sin
  • We get to experience life in bodies that are unshackled from the chains of mortality and decay
  • We get to see again our brothers and sisters who died before us in the faith
  • We get to testify to others the faithfulness of Christ in our lives, from beginning to end
  • And we get to enjoy the company of our great bridegroom without end

In conclusion, each of these benefits our ours, not because of our own strength; not because we had such great understanding and insight; not because we served with more faithfulness than the next guy; but because of the faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus.

Christ was faithful, and because he was faithful, we taste of the rewards according to his marvelous grace. And for that Paul was thankful. May we be thankful as well.


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