Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. It is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption—in order that, as it is written: Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1 Cor 1:26-31).
Paul was being frank. They had to admit it. Among the early Christians, only a few were wise, powerful, or noble. Christians mostly came from the back alleys, slave galleys, and lower rungs of ancient society, gathered from among the nobodies—the foolish, weak, insignificant, and despised. There were always exceptions, of course, but Christians didn’t usually come from elite society.
And that was no accident. Calling the outcasts was God’s plan all along. Notice how Paul says, “God has chosen” three times? God didn’t settle for the least and the lost but chose weak people for a reason, namely, so that “no one may boast in His presence.” The Lord chose insignificant people so that His Son would be of utmost significance to us.
Pay close attention to v 30:
It is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption…
Jesus became something for us. When you are “in Christ,” what He is becomes true of you. In explaining what this means, Evan Hopkins, the great theologian of Keswick, said:
“Justification is something more than pardon. It is not merely the remission of our sins through the sacrifice of Christ; it is our complete identification with Him as the Lord our Righteousness, so that we are regarded as absolutely just in Him” (Hopkins, Way of Deliverance, p. 13, emphasis added).
We are identified with Him. These are deep waters. It changes everything. As some readers may know, I’ve spent several years slowly writing a book about the atonement. It’s been such a slow process because writing requires slowly thinking through the ins and outs of the doctrine, trying to see the Scriptures with “fresh” eyes, apart from all the traditions and assumptions I’ve been taught. I’m not trying to write a book that is faithful to a particular theologian or tradition. I’m only interested in what Scripture has to reveal about it. Along the way, I’ve made some progress (at least, it seems like progress) in identifying key assumptions that rarely get questioned.
For example, many theologians assume the benefits of the atonement come as a package that you either get all at once or not at all. Is that a good assumption? It wasn’t the case with the Levitical sacrifices, which had different benefits for different people under different conditions. Does the cross function like that, too, or did Christ change things?
Another big assumption is the widespread acceptance of the legal principle of double jeopardy. That idea says it is unjust for someone to be tried or punished twice for the same crime. That idea was written into the Fifth Amendment and expressed in movies such as Double Indemnity, and theologians have treated it as though it were a Biblical axiom. But is it? Maybe not (cf. Matt 18:21-35; and see here).
Another assumption is approaching the different benefits of the cross in a quasi-scientific way, as different steps in the saving process, each of which “fixes” a different problem caused by sin. But is that what Paul meant, or did he use different terms as metaphors to describe the one event of salvation in Christ? (cf. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 90).
But most of all, I’ve become deeply interested in the kind of thing that Paul says in this passage: that Christ becomes our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. In other words, the benefits are not abstract things that I receive from God apart from Christ—I receive Christ. He is those things for me. As Evan Hopkins wrote, “Christ is the Treasury of Holiness—the Fountain of life, the Emporium of all purity, and joy, and power” (p. 14, emphasis original). Since I don’t build those qualities through my own efforts, there’s no room for boasting here except in the glory of Jesus Himself.
When God gives you salvation, He gives you Jesus.
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.