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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 6:11 Washed, sanctified, justified

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 17, 2023

11 And some of you were those things. 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.

Here Paul sets his finger on the Corinthians: Some of you were those things! The same failure as a congregation (broken into factions instead of a unified whole) was their failure in their marriages, broken apart and with the open, running sores of sexual sins, fornication, prostitution, and more for all to see. You were those things!

After having their sins exposed, one after another, they are left helpless. This is the work of the law in our hearts, and the goal of the law is to touch the heart about sin: “We know that the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14). If the law only told me not to use the members of my body to sin, then I might think that if I have never physically committed adultery (that is, used my own body for adultery), then I am innocent of adultery, and that if I have never physically murdered with my own hands, then I am innocent of murder. But Jesus teaches something very different: “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28), and “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21). So if I keep my body from sinning, but allow my thoughts to run wild with temptations, I am still a sinner. So when we preach the law, we preach to the heart, about temptations and sinful desires. Then the sinner is left to drop to his knees and say, “I am not the way God wants me to be. I have sinned. My life must change, for ‘men who never change their ways have no fear of God.’ I shall have to become a different person.” For through the law we become conscious of sin (Romans 3:20). Then, when the sinful Adam in us is stabbed and killed by the law, the new man is called by the gospel, enlightened by the gospel message, reborn and renewed in faith, turned back to God (converted), declared not guilty of his sins, and joined together with God.

Here, Paul uses the simple series: “washed, sanctified, justified.” It’s clear that by “washed” he means the cleansing bath of baptism, through which our sins were washed from us according to the command of God. Baptism is for “the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Baptism need not be repeated again and again, as if its effects might wear off, or as if my baptism is spoiled every time I sin. We surely do not see the apostles or anyone else getting baptized more than once just as we do not see any Old Testament believers getting circumcised more than once.

Here, “sanctified” is used in its saving sense. We also use the word “sanctify” in the sense of our response to salvation, and we do this because the Bible uses the word in both ways. But here Paul is talking about how we are saved, not how we say thank you to God for being saved. At its root this word means “to make holy.” Before we can do anything holy, we are set apart for holiness and made holy by God. He says, “I am the LORD who makes you holy” (Exodus 31:13; Leviticus 20:8; Ezekiel 20:12). He makes us holy through the blood of Christ, not by things we do, nor by having us be “really, really sorry” for what we have done. It is not about our actions, but about Christ’s actions, that we are made right with God. Our righteousness only comes to us through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9).

Paul concludes his gospel message by saying that the Corinthians were also justified. This is a courtroom word. But it is not a common way of talking. Oftentimes when we talk about “justifying,” we are talking about making a pretty good excuse for acting the way we have acted. This is justifying myself. But this is never what God means. When God talks about justifying us, he means that he has declared us to be not guilty, exactly as a judge in a human court would say, “Not guilty.” It is a legal declaration from God on our behalf.

Martin Luther explained this beautiful teaching by applying how it applies to the smallest little children: “Infants who have no works are saved by faith alone, and therefore faith alone justifies. If the power of God can do this in one person it can do it in all, because it’s not the power of the infant but the power of faith. Nor is it the weakness of the infant that does it, otherwise that weakness would in itself be a merit or be equivalent to one. We’d like to defy our Lord God with our works. We’d like to become righteous through them. But he won’t allow it.”

The solution to sin’s trouble is the same for us as it was for the Corinthians. We were washed, sanctified, and justified by God in the name of Jesus Christ. This washing, saving, and being declared legally not guilty of our sins came from outside of us.

The struggle against these sins would continue in each Corinthian heart just as it continues in each of our hearts. Am I sinless? Not in my body, nor in my mind, but I am sinless in Christ. I have been forgiven, and my sin has been set aside forever. This came from God, but it came out of his compassion, for our sakes, on account of Jesus alone. “When I was in great need, he saved me” (Psalm 116:6). There is no greater need than our sinfulness. There is no greater gift than our salvation.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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