Sunday, August 21, 2011

Those Who Call Upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ

1 Cor 1:2 To the church (assembly) of God which is in Corinth, to those consecrated and purified and made holy in Christ Jesus, [who are] selected and called to be saints (God's people), together with all those who in any place call upon and give honor to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: AMP
Corinth must have seemed an unlikely location for a church. It is true that it was a major trading port and, in many ways, the gateway to the world. But Corinth was also a popular center for pagan worship, and the city was so well known for immorality that elsewhere it was considered an insult to call someone a Corinthian. One of the city's most famous tourist attractions was the temple of Aphrodite, which was served by a thousand religious prostitutes. These cult prostitutes performed acts of sexual immorality with those who came to the temple to worship.

But despite these conditions, a lively church developed in Corinth. However, it was a church with problems that reflected its surroundings. Some of its members continued to frequent the pagan temples and join in their feasts. Others practiced sexual immorality of all kinds, including one notorious case that was so tolerated by the church's members that they actually boasted about it to others (1 Cor 5:2). This "free spirit" mentality also affected the Corinthians' worship and threatened to turn services into chaos.

In view of this, it is somewhat surprising to hear Paul use the language of holiness to describe the Corinthian Christians. He referred to them as those who had been "sanctified in Christ Jesus" and notes that they were "called to be holy." More precisely, he uses the term "holy ones" or "saints" to refer to them.

Throughout church history, it hasn't been uncommon for people to speak in glowing terms of the saints, even when it wasn't deserved. For example, the grave of a popular Welsh saint was being excavated during the renovation of the chapel dedicated in his honor, but the unearthed skeleton proved to be that of a pregnant woman. When an anthropologist pointed this out to the monk in charge of the project, he seemed unbothered by it. "The saint was a very remarkable man," he explained.

For centuries, Christian tradition has portrayed the saints as superhuman beings. But this is certainly not the impression we get of the believers at Corinth. If this was a church full of saints, it was a church very much like our own. The Corinthians were troubled by theological controversy and split by divided loyalties. While many of its members were tremendously gifted, they were also very ordinary. There were no gaunt-cheeked saints sporting halos in this crowd!

The two terms Paul used to characterize the Corinthian believers are related. The term sanctify is really a verbal form of the word holy. This is also true of the English term, which comes from sanctus, the Latin word for holy. Throughout the Bible, when something was sanctified, it was set apart for special use. That which is set apart for God's use becomes "holy." For example, the seventh day of the week was "sanctified," in the sense that it was set apart by God as being distinct from the other days of the week (Gen 2:3). And the firstborn of Israel were set apart for God's use (Ex 13:2).

It is our relationship with Jesus that sets us apart as Christians. The Bible says that we are sanctified when we "call upon the name" of Jesus Christ. This is true in several respects. We call upon Him for salvation (Acts 2:21; 9:14). We have been baptized in the name of Christ (1 Cor 1:13). When we pray, we make our requests in the authority of His name (John 15:16). In fact, there is a sense in which every action of the believer is done in the name of Christ: "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col 3:17).

But calling on the name of Jesus is not a form of word magic. It does not mean that something supernatural happens whenever the Christian speaks the name of Jesus. The seven sons of the Jewish chief priest Sceva made this mistake when they attempted to use Jesus' name as a charm for casting out demons. They had seen the apostle Paul exercise authority over the demonic powers in Jesus' name and attempted to imitate him. They invoked His name by saying, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." The results were disastrous. Instead of leaving the victim, the evil spirit answered them, saying, "Jesus I know and I know about Paul, but who are you?" The next thing that the sons of Sceva knew, the demon-possessed man had overpowered all seven of them and given them such a beating that they fled from the scene naked and bleeding (Acts 19:13-16).

When we call upon the name of the Lord, we recognize Christ's work. Those who call upon the name of Jesus do so because: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). We also recognize Christ's authority when we call upon His name. The New Testament term for "Lord" is "Kurios," which implies authority to rule. So to say that Jesus is Lord recognizes His right to govern our lives. But even more importantly, when we call upon the name of the Lord, we recognize Christ's deity. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Kurios is used most often as a title for God. Those who say that Jesus is Lord recognize that He is God incarnate. He is worthy of worship.

We may be surprised to hear Paul describe the Corinthians as "saints," but they are not unique. Whether in a city like Corinth, known for its wickedness, or in a small town whose horizon is spotted with steeples, all those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ as Lord are saints.

Lord Jesus, I recognize Your power to save and Your authority over my life. I offer You my worship, along with all the other saints who call upon Your name. Amen.
Thanks to John Koessler for allowing us to publish his

John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the
Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of ten books and numerous articles. He also serves as a contributing editor for the Moody Bible Institute publication Today in the Word, where you can read his monthly “Theology Matters” column. You can contact John via email at or by phone at (312) 329-4077.

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