The Reverend Jeremiah Wright has stirred a lot of controversy with some of his inflammatory remarks about the good old U. S. A. When confronted with these statements by his former pastor and mentor, Senator Obama complained that these remarks were snippets of sermons taken out of the context of decades of preaching. So, the media was challenged to put them back in their contexts and listen to them again. They did, and everyone, including the senator, was appalled! They sounded even more hateful when heard in context.
Senator Obama, however, understood something that every student of Scripture should know, namely, that words must be understood in their particular context. This rule of hermeneutics (the principles of interpretation) was very important for a recent message I preached on Christ as our sanctification. The text was 1 Corinthians 1:30, "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (ESV).
What does it mean that Christ is our sanctification? According to many theology books and in popular Christianese, sanctification is a process of becoming more holy or Christlike in our conduct, a process that will not be completed in this life. If we come to this text with this definition in mind, then we come away understanding that Christ is the source of our spiritual growth and maturity. There are passages of Scripture that teach this. But is this what Paul intends in 1 Corinthians 1:30? A great place to begin is to look at the near context of this verse. Just begin with chapter 1. In verse 2 the church of God that is in Corinth is called "those sanctified in Christ Jesus." The word sanctified is in the perfect tense, which in Greek denotes a state resulting from a completed action. In other words, the Corinthian believers were already sanctified and now enjoy a state of sanctification. This is further indicated by the very next phrase in verse 2, "called saints." "Saints" means "holy ones" or "the people who belong to God as a treasured possession" (see Exod. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:6).
With this understanding of sanctification, how might we understand Paul's statement in verse 30 that Christ is our sanctification? Perhaps, that Christ is the One whose sacrifice removes the offense that keeps us from God thereby giving us a new position in the presence of God. Out of this new position flows a life increasingly more consistent with a holy God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Paul's point is not about a gradual process, but about a new position. In Christ you are a treasured possession of God!!
If you are interested in the New Testament teaching on sanctification check out David Peterson's book, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness, IVP.
If you are interested in understanding words in context start with D. A. Carson's, Exegetical Fallacies (chapter 1).