- [1 Cor 1:2] Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
- [1 Cor 1:30] But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
- [1 Cor 3:3] For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
- [1 Cor 5:1] It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.
- [1 Cor 5:2] And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
Look at the first two verses above and compare them to the last three. Do you notice a difference? Paul is writing to the Christians at Corinth, a city infamous for its low morals. The last three verses reveal the low spiritual condition of the Corinthians. But they are called ‘saints’ in the first verse. People talk about Saint Peter or Saint John or Saint Paul, but Paul said that the carnal, proud, envious, pugnacious, immoral Corinthians were saints too. How can this be? The second verse listed above explains that it was in Christ that they were righteous and sanctified (made saints). Positionally they were saints; conditionally they had many unholy characteristics.
It is imperative to recognize the difference between the believer’s position and condition. There is much ignorance about this in the Church today, resulting in considerable confusion. Our position in Christ is perfect, His own righteousness having been imputed to us. Our condition is quite another matter; our behavior is often far from perfect. God accepts us on the basis of our position in Christ, but He patiently, relentlessly, works in us to bring our condition into conformance with our position.
God’s purpose is to conform us all into the image of the Lord Jesus. Way back in Genesis He said, [Gen 1:26] ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’. He has never wavered from that purpose. Much later Paul wrote: [Rom 8:29] ‘For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son’.
Before we can make much progress as to our spiritual condition, we need to understand what God has done for us by placing us in Christ; how we stand before Him perfect, in all the righteousness of the Lord Jesus. That puts us into an assured place of rest and confidence in which we can trust Him to make us more and more like the Lord Jesus. That is why Paul always discussed the spiritual position of those he wrote to before he talked about improving their behavior.
At the moment we trust the Lord Jesus to save us, while still in our imperfect condition, we have a perfect position. The apostle Paul’s position in Christ was no better than that of the weakest, most ignorant Christian that is truly born again. The righteousness of both is based on the Lord Jesus and His cross. Both are judicially perfect before God, because both are in Christ, and they are accepted in the Beloved (Eph 1:6). For further study go to The Believer's Standing and State.
One final word of caution concerning a misinterpretation of positional theology, or an over-emphasis to the point of neglect of other aspects of the Word of God. Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle makes this point in his great book, ‘Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire’:
Positional theology is good as far as it goes, such as “I am God’s child regardless of how I feel at the moment.” But if we stretch this idea to make statements such as “I am categorically Spirit-filled for the rest of my life,” we deceive ourselves.
Eph 5:18 tells us to be continually being filled with the Spirit. Knowing the facts of our position in Christ will give us faith and provide an incentive to seek the Lord through prayer and an obedient life, but is no substitute.