“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:”
to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus,
This phrase does not say that God will make us holy when we live a spiritual life. “Sanctified” in this phrase is a forensic term indicating our positional rights with God.
The term is plural, implying that “sanctified” refers to individuals and not the church as a whole. Every believer is sanctified in the sphere of Christ Jesus. There are no exceptions. God places each and every believer positionally in the same status quo Jesus has before the Father. It makes no difference whether they are spiritual or carnal; they all hold the same status of sanctification. The believer receives this status because of the person and work of Christ and not because of his merit. Every Christian is set apart for God’s purpose and use. It is trust in the death of Christ on the cross that sanctifies us.
He 10:10, By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The grammar of “are sanctified” strongly asserts positional rather than experiential truth. The tense means that the Corinthians were sanctified at a point in the past, with the results continuing unto the present. That point in the past is the point of salvation. That is, their sanctification was permanent. Their sanctification was a fixed state. Then the voice grammar (passive) carries the idea that God did the sanctifying at one point in the past, with the results continuing to the present. The Corinthian church had a determined state; they were once and for all set apart unto God. God does this based on the past work of Christ on the cross. The cross is the objective ground of our sanctification.
All of these carnal Christians at Corinth hold the same status that Jesus has before God. Every believer is equal to every other believer when it comes to positional truth. The Corinthians were in union with Christ in His status. We cannot experience positional truth; it is a status that God gives at the point of salvation and continues into eternity. It is not progressive but complete at salvation. We cannot improve our status or positional relation to God because it is based on the work of Christ and not our work. We receive it entirely and permanently at the moment of salvation. We know it solely by scripture. God did this by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Co 12:13; Eph 1:4-5). The Holy Spirit enters us into union with Christ.
The Corinthian church was the most carnal in the New Testament, yet God set them apart in the sphere of Christ Jesus. They came to church stoned, were rivals with each other, gossips, maligners, jealousy, and practiced licentious behavior. That church was corrupt yet positionally perfect before God. This is an irony of grace. A President of the United States may not represent the presidency properly, but nevertheless, he is still the President.
Every church has a physical address and a spiritual address. The physical address is the geographical location of the church. The spiritual address is our position “in Christ Jesus.”
The status of the believer rests on a personal relationship to Jesus Christ – “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” That is, God sanctifies us because of our union with Christ.
called to be saints,
The words “holy,” “saint,” “sanctify,” and “holiness” derive from the word sanctification. They come from the same root – set apart. A “saint” is a sanctified or set apart one.
Literally, this phrase reads “called saints.” It is a timeless term (verbal adjective), meaning that God called the Corinthians “saints” in eternity past. The word “saints” is from the same root as “sanctified” in the previous phrase. Both terms mean set apart. Saints are set apart unto God, especially as members of His family. A “saint” in this sense is not a pious or godly person. They are set apart unto God for His purposes. The basic idea is separation. Christians are different and are not the run-of-the-mill people because they uniquely belong to God.
Instead of rebuking the Corinthians for their sin up front, Paul reminds them of their prerogatives and position in Christ.
It is possible to be a saint but not saintly.
There are three kinds of sanctification: positional, progressive, or experiential, and ultimate sanctification. Positional sanctification is our union with Christ (1 Co 1:2, 30; 6:11; He 10:10-14). Progressive sanctification is a series of experiences of being filled with the Spirit and applying principles of scripture to experience (Jn 17:17; Ep 5:26; 1 Th 5). Ultimate sanctification is when we receive our resurrection body minus sin capacity (1 Jn 3:1,2; Php 3:21; Ro 8:29).
Sanctification does not imply sinlessness. Saints are not those with perfect holiness. It is not sinless perfection. We can never be good enough to be sanctified. Sanctification is an act of God; it is not our actions or works. God sets us apart unto Himself.