Russell Moore – on Corporate Sanctification from the Desiring God National Conference September 2012

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Text 1 Corinthians 4:14- 6:9 The apostle Paul writes, as he is carried by the Spirit to the church at Corinth.

1I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then,be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

Chapter 5  Sexual Immorality Defiles the Church

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival,not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Chapter 6.  Lawsuits Against Believers

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Some notes from the message:

Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

Part of the obstacle you and I face, when it comes to holiness, when it comes to being sanctified is that we don’t know what normal looks like. We live in a fallen universe; we have grown up in a fallen universe. We live, as Isaiah tells us, among a people of unclean lips, even as we are a people of unclean lips. And in the middle of all of that, what can seem to be normal to me can simply be my own pattern of sin. What seems to be regular and the default, simply can be the fact that I am living around people who have similar sorts of slaveries and bondages to sin, and to Satan and to the curse, and to death. And what the Gospel of Jesus Christ does is to break through this bizarre, unusual, unnatural kind of life that we are living, with a new normal that Jesus defines as the kingdom of God.

And this kingdom, Jesus says to His apostles, isn’t just some generic category and it isn’t just something that waits for us in the next thousand or million, or billion years. This kingdom, Jesus says, shows up in the assemblies. At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus speaks of the coming of the kingdom, of the keys of the kingdom. And He says this kingdom is going to advance, this kingdom is going to be invincible, the gates of hell will not stand against it, the powers of Satan will not overcome it and He says this kingdom is going to be seen in the reality that „I will build My church. I will assemble My people together. There is no kingdom, the Bible tells us, where there is not a people, there is no rain, where there is not an empire of those to be reigned over. And Jesus says, „In the middle of this fallen world, you will see what the apostle Paul says to the church at Ephesus is a sign of the manifold wisdom of God. A sign to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. Where God has appointed Jesus to reign and to rule over His church as a head with a body, as a king over a kingdom.

And, while the whole world, the scripture says, lies under the sway of the wicked one, while there is a god of this age, a prince of the power of this air, in these local assemblies and in these gatherings, we see a sign of the reign of Christ. That’s why Paul’s letter here, to the church at Corinth is so significant. He is talking to a group of people who are living out the beginning stages of the reality  that Jesus promised at Caesarea Philippi. The building and the gathering of this church, of this kingdom colony and what is happening here is of absolute significance to our sanctification.

Our problem, typically is that we think of sanctification as primarily an individual thing. How often do I read my Bible? How often do I pray? How often do I meditate on the things of God? How often do I sing and give praise to God? And, all of those things are significant, and all of those things are important. But, we too often neglect that all of that is only true because we are part of the body of Christ, we are part of His church and the theme of this meeting is so critically important: Act the miracle- God’s work AND our work. Not just my work. Not just your work, but, our work in the sanctification process.

I want you to notice several things about what Paul is pointing out here to this church at Corinth.

(1) The role of proclamation

The role of proclamation in the corporate nature of sanctification. Paul writes to this church at Corinth, a church which is troubled, a church that has people within it who are talking, he says, arrogantly. They are talking as if they are already kings. And he says, „I have demonstrated who I am. I have demonstrated the apostleship that I carry, I have demonstrated the commission that I have from the Lord Jesus Christ. I have sent to you Timothy, I have sent to you the word of the Gospel, I have shown you my life. I have given you every reason and every way to imitate it.” „But,” he says, „There are those who are still speaking with arrogance, there are still those who are opposing this kind of apostolic authority”. And he says, „I want to see what they’ve got. I’m going to be coming to you very soon and we will see these people who are talking , if what they have is just talk. Because the kingdom of God is not a matter of just talk. The kingdom of God is a matter of power.”

Now, you look at that, it sounds at first blush as though Paul is threatening some kind of physical encounter. „We’re going to see whether or not you have talk, or you have power.”  As though the apostle Paul is going to show up and say, „Ok, you’ve got your arrogant talk; deal with my heat ray vision. Deal with my levitating power to swoop you out of your chairs and send you out  into the streets.” But, no, no, no, no. Paul says, „I’m going to come to you and come to you with what? With words! With talk, with a spirit of gentleness, or with a spirit of discipline. But he is still dealing with words. The contrast is not between words and a lack of words. It’s between empty, idle, meaningless talk and authority.

I will come to you with power. And what is the power? The power is the proclamation that is coming, bearing the authority and the spirit and the presence of Christ.  He says, „When you’re gathered together in Jesus’ name, in Jesus’ power and my spirit is there with you. As you are reading this letter, there is a power that comes with these words, the kind of power that you see at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus turns to His disciples in Matthew 16 and says, „Who do people say that I am?” That’s a very ‘low threshold’ kind of question. A very non threatening sort of question. „Well some people say John the Baptist, some people say Elijah.” These are just words. They’re going out there and they’re not doing anything. They’re not affecting anything.

But, Jesus  turns when Simon Peter, by the Spirit, confesses ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’, Jesus turns to this man and Simon the fisherman and He names him. Now, that is authority. There’s a kind of audacity when Jesus stands and names him speaking, „You are Peter, you are rock.” And what’s even more audacious is it doesn’t seem to be true. It’s not true at all. This is the least rock like person, just a few verses down Jesus is going to name him again, Satan. He’s going to be the one that when Jesus is arrested, leaves. And in the middle of it he says all kinds of stupid things at inappropriate times. But Jesus names him rock. Foundation. Stone. Of My church. And then, what does Jesus by His spirit, and by His word do? He makes him live up to his name.

„Peter, do you love Me? Feed my sheep.” The voice of Jesus sent out and working in the life of Peter, takes a name that seems as ridiculous as naming an elderly barren man father of many nations. But He makes the name true by the power of His transforming word. Paul assumes that the apostolic authority that he carries, that the proclamation of this Spirit inspired word brings with it  the authority of Jesus Himself. When you and I gather together and hear the word of God as it is rightly preached, we are hearing an ambassadorial plea that has been sent down from our Lord Jesus Himself, so that, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 „We are speaking, pleading with you as though Christ Himself were pleading through us be reconciled to God. When you are rightly proclaiming the word of God, there ought to be a northern Galilean accent in there.

People ought to hear a familiar voice that first calls them out of darkness. And, whenever Jesus begins speaking, everywhere that we see Jesus speak, things start happening. Demons start shrieking. They see that their power is being broken. That is what is happening when we gather together and hear the word preached. That’s what happens when we admonish one another and teach one another. That’s what’s happening when we sing and teach one another with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. That’s not just information that  is being downloadedThat’s expository exorcism. The power of Jesus’s voice residing in His church, under the authority of the word of God and reflecting upon the authority of the word of God breaks through those patterns of deception that keep us form seeing the glory of the light of God reflected in the face of Jesus Christ.

It’s not just an information download. It’s not just principles for living. When we teach one another and when we preach to one another, and when we sing to one another, and when we rebuke one another, and when we admonish one another, and when we do so, not on the basis of our own authority, but on the basis of the word of God. There is a power, power pact, wonder working power in that proclamation that creates and forms exactly what Jesus says. This is why the Bible is written to the whole church. The Bible isn’t written in bits and pieces for people in particular life situations. Sometimes that single woman, who has never been married and will never be married, doesn’t sense any calling to be married, can come to our congregation and say, „Eh, I don’t feel comfortable here. Why do I need to be in a sermon on marriage?” Because Ephesians 5 wasn’t just written to the married couples at the church at Ephesus. It’s written to the church at Ephesus, and the church at large because you single woman in this congregation are accountable, not only for your own life for your sanctification, but, to teach and to admonish and to hold accountable those marriages within the church.

Why do I need a sermon series on parenting when I’m an 88 year old man with no children? (Or)  I’ve been widowed for years, there’s no prospect for children out there. Because you are to hold accountable, and to teach and to encourage, and to rebuke the whole church when it comes to parenting. You are a kingdom of priests, under the proclamation of the word of God, that creates and brings about our sanctification and holiness.

(2) The role of discipline

Paul, immediately after he talks about this power, in contrast to the talk about his coming behind his words, starts talking about a situation of scandal. He says, „There is a man in your midst who is unrepentantly sinning against God and the problem is that you’re doing nothing. He begins to speak to them about that kingdom authority, and that kingdom responsibility for discipline. Exactly what Jesus said, when He said at Caesarea Philippi, „I am giving to you the keys of the kingdom.” Now, one of the things that irritates me, when it comes to the way we talk, and when I say ‘we’, I mean me as well as anybody else, we mean church discipline. He’s under church discipline. We mean excommunication. Someone who is under church discipline is someone who has been voted out of the fellowship of the church.

We are ALL under church discipline! Discipline is simply not excommunication. As a matter of fact, excommunication is actually the end of church discipline. I have now been handed over to Satan. Discipline is just not in scripture that final phase of the lack of repentance. Discipline is every step along the way, starting with the definition of who’s who.  He says, „There is sexual immorality among you. Who’s you? The church of God at Corinth, called out and sanctified by the spirit and by the blood of Christ. It is the authority that Jesus has given to His church dependent and derivative upon His word to mark out and to identify who are those who are qualified to be called brother and called sister, based upon the criteria of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

When the church baptizes and marks out its boundaries. When the church receives into its membership, into its structure of accountability, that church is defining the boundaries of discipline. This is not the world, out there in the chaotic anarchy that is the rule of Satan. This is the church. This is where Jesus, right now is actively ruling. And we, on the basis of what Jesus has said to us declare, „You are my brother. You are my sister. You have been received by Christ.” Now, I don’t have personal authority to define that. And we don’t have individual, congregational authority to define that. The king of the kingdom has defined who are those who are received by God. We, when we speak rightly and when we speak on the basis of what Jesus has given us, we are declaring in the voice of Jesus, „You are one of the brothers. You are one of the sisters.” That is a powerful, powerful responsibility.

Your vote on receiving a new member into your congregation is more significant in the long term than for your vote for who will be the next president of the United States. When the congregation says, „We receive you as brother,” and when the congregation refuses to deal with an issue that would seem to show a lack of repentance, that congregation is speaking for Jesus in a place that congregation has no authority and no mandate to speak. You see these empty suit, toothy preachers on CNN, who get on talking about this very light and fluffy Gospel, who start to become very nervous when the host says, „Well, what about Moslems, and what about HIndus, and what about atheists, do they go to hell?” You see that guy, the grin starts to get frozen, and he starts to get really uncomfortable and he says, „Well, for me I think Jesus is the best way and…” there’s just a reluctance to say what the scripture has said so clearly about the way of salvation through Jesus Christ.

It’s easy for us to look at that and say, „That’s pathetic,” and yet, that’s what many of us do. We have people in our congregations, that we are saying, by the fact that we list them as brother and sister, and we treat them as brother and sister without a life of faith and of gathering together and of repenting of sin. We are saying, „Jesus says you are our brother,” when you have no warrant to say that. You might as well go door to door, simply saying to everyone who opens the door, „I’ll see you in heaven.” The membership of the church and the accountability of the church is the discipline of the church.

Now, you only have the authority in the church to discipline where Jesus has given that authority in His word. We don’t discipline one another and excommunicate one another  because we disagree over home schooling and public schooling, or whether we ought to celebrate Halloween. But where the scripture says this is a lack of repentance and a lack of obedience. And Jesus says, „Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. What Paul says happens is not just when that unrepentant person, going through all that process of „Be reconciled, repent. Be reconciled. Repent.”  When that person refuses  to repent and that church hands that person over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that is not just clearing out a membership roll. That is not punishing that person and saying: We don’t want your kind around here. That is the voice of Jesus saying, „I am turning you over to the power of Satan. If he turns,” Jesus says, „you have received your brother.” Why? „My sheep hear My voice  and they follow Me.”  Only difference between Peter weeping in the arms of Jesus and Judas tangled up in his own intestines in a potter’s field is the kind of repentance the voice of Jesus brings

Acting the Miracle Together: Corporate Dynamics in Christian Sanctification – Desiring God Conference 2012

The discipline of the congregation spurs us to holiness, not only because we deal with lack of repentance and lack of faith among us, but also because this discipline and this accountability changes us. Notice what Paul says, „You ought to be mourning. You ought to be crying. You are arrogant that you don’t even notice this. And why don’t you notice this? Because you don’t know where you are.” He says, ‘I don’t want you to be with the swindlers, and the sexually immoral people, and I’m not talking about those out in the world. I’m not trying to have some premature rapture here.” He says, „I am talking about those within the accountability of the church.”

We tend to get that completely reversed. „Let’s express our outrage with everything that’s going on out there!” And we ignore what is happening among us. The discipline and the accountability of the church changes your affections, it changes your mission, it changes the way you see people and it drives you towards holiness, and it drives you toward love. Why? Because the presence of Jesus is in your midst by His word and by His spirit.

(3) The economy of the church

Paul also talks about the economy of the church, the structure and the life that is being lived within the church. He says, „Your problem is not only that you are tolerating this kind of behavior, the problem is also that you’re fighting with one another, and you’re struggling with one another and you’re doing it by taking one another to court. He says, „This ought to shame you. You ought to be embarrassed about this.

These bickerings and these divisions that are between you and they ought to shame you even more so that you are taking it to those that have no standing in the church. Why? Because the gifts that Jesus is giving to the body are not simply, or means at all simply of personal self actualization. They are given for the building up of the body  and they are a sign of spiritual warfare. Jesus has taken captivity captive. When Jesus gifts His church, He is prepping His church, He is staffing up His church for a future kingdom that is to come.

We have all these spiritual gifts inventories. We spend so much time worrying: What’s my spiritual gift? I’m not saying those things are not of some value. But, the main issue is not whether or not you know what your spiritual gift is. It’s whether or not, in the life of the church your spiritual gift is operative and functioning and building up the body of Christ. It’s not your gift. It belongs to the body.

Paul says, „Is there nobody wise enough among you to decide these disputes? Paul says, ‘The problem is, when you go to the outside,” which doesn’t have to be in a formal law court, you can do that in the court of public opinion on the internet. „When you go to those who have no standing within the church, you are already defeated.” Why? Don’t you know that you will judge angels? Don’t you know that you will rule the world?

Jesus gifts the church because He is showing you in little things. He is training you in little areas of authority to rule over many things. „To rule and to reign with Me,” He says. Your life within the body of the church is just an internship for the eschaton. Why are these people bickering and fighting with one another? Why do they think that their agenda matters so much? It is because they are not looking to their next trillion years. They think this, and this only is where I am going to be able to carry out my little place of power and my little place of authority and so, I don’t care about anything beyond that. Paul says, „You are going to judge angels, you are going to rule over the entire universe and when you come together and you argue and you bicker and when you go out to the pagan world and say, „We need you to help us to discern God’s good from evil, right from wrong,” you are declaring the incompetence of Jesus to rule over his kingdom within His church. (42:50)

Paul says, ‘You have the mind of Christ. You have everything that is necessary for godliness and within this congregation, part of the way that Jesus sanctifies you is by putting you together with people where you are exercising wisdom and you are exercising gifts and you are being trained in some way for a greater and more majestic responsibility later on.

So, who cares right now if somebody has defrauded you? Why not rather be defrauded for the sake of the mission that  you have waiting for you? You’re sanctified as you are giving and as you are serving for the upbuilding of the body because you see the big picture of what’s happening.

Often the kinds of squabbles and bickerings that we have over worship and particularly over music have everything to do with what the apostle is talking about here. I assume that the issue is my personal sanctification in the now. What does it take to speak to me, so I can close my eyes and pretend like it’s me and Jesus in the congregation and have a foretaste of heaven? The problem is that is NOT a foretaste of heaven. It’s not just you and Jesus. It turns out you don’t come to the garden alone (as in the song), which is a disappointment for me…(pun intended) You are teaching one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. You are doing warfare with one another against the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. And you are preparing yourselves, through the worship of God’s people for a new era and a new creation. You are giving yourself over for the new sanctification of someone else.

(4) The corporate aspect of testimony

He says,”Don’t you know the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? The arena culture that God has called us to in our sanctification is an arena that is much bigger than a sports stadium or a political convention. He says, „Remember who you are, don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The power of Christ together breaks through deception of the Satanic powers. The way it’s easy for me to identify your sin, but in my case, there are always reasons. I don’t see it, I am guarded against it. „Do you not know that the unrighteous..” and he lists out what that means: the swindlers, the adulterers, the fornicators, the homosexuals, the thieves will not inherit the kingdom of God. He breaks the deception that is said form the very beginning, „You will not surely die.”

But, that is not the only power that the word given to the church breaks. It beaks that other power of Satan, which is accusation. Not only- „Don’t you know the unrighteous won’t inherit the kingdom of God,” but, it makes the division here, not between the swindlers, the idolaters, the sexual immoral and the regular people. No, no, no, no, no. It’s between the swindlers, the idolaters, the fornicators, the homosexuals, and the swindlers, the fornicators, the adulterers, the homosexuals who have been crucified. „Such were some of you, but you were washed, you were cleansed, you were forgiven.” Being together in the fellowship of the church and  learning to bear with one another’s sins and repentances, and grievances, and weak points, points me to the reality of my own standing before God. Not as some neutral, normal person, but, as a sinner who deserves to hear only, „Depart from Me you worker of iniquity.” Such were some of you, but, the blood of Jesus cleanses.

The gathering of the church together is a sign to the principalities not that this is a sinless people, but that this is a sinless people who can no longer bear accusation because of the reign of Jesus through through His crucifixion and through His resurrection from the dead.

We don’t come together as those who are former sinners. We don’t come together as those who are regular people, or as people who have a difference with the people out there in the world, we come together as the crucified. And when we join in worship, we are joining with an already existing worship service in the heavenly places. We’re just a satellite campus. What we need to remember is that every single Lord’s Day when we gather together we are joining, by the eyes of faith, with a number that no man can number- A church that is awesome, as an army with banners. We are part of a huge, global ,transgenerational movement: the old, restful, and resurrected. And we stand there with them, confessing: „We were lost, but You were slain, and with your blood, You have purchased a church that has the power to transform, that has the power to recalibrate, and that has the power to rebuke.” Because that is the voice of Christ and it gives us a way out of our self sufficiency. If Jesus is able to build this church and the gates of hell cannot stop it, then Jesus is gonna build His church.

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