Bigger Grace: The Same Sosthenes?

“Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.” (1 Corinthians 1:1)

We’re trying to wrap our minds around the huge idea of grace this week and starting with Paul’s pen man for his letter to the Christians in Corinth. Scholars guess this might be the same guy – with the same name – who dragged Paul in front of a Roman court in Corinth in Acts 18 trying to get him jailed or killed for converting so many people to Christianity.

grace_350That Sosthenes was the Jewish “synagogue ruler” who had his case thrown out by the Roman judge and then got beat up by an angry Gentile mob of people who hated the Jews. That’s the last we hear of him, lying beaten on the street while Paul goes back to spreading the good news about Jesus.

Then this verse quite a while later. What an amazing story if this is the same guy. It would mean that, like the synagogue leader in Corinth before him, Sosthenes also believed in Jesus, putting all of his hope in the grace and forgiveness of God instead of following the Law – and went to work with the same apostle he tried to get arrested.

God’s grace works like that, converting enemies into family members, granting the highest privileges to the worst of sinners, offering forgiveness in exchange for simple belief. Stay tuned.

Think: Do you know anyone who lived the worst kind of life – even hating God – before finally coming to faith in Christ and the promise of heaven? Does that bother you or excite you?

Pray: Ask God to help you to better understand his grace this week.

Do: Read the whole story of Paul and then Sosthenes in Acts 18:1-17.

Bigger Grace: Changed and Changing

“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:2-3)

We’re calling this week’s devotionals “Bigger Grace” because God’s grace to us sinners is always bigger than we think it is. Just when we start to think we understand how much good he gives to us – and how very little we deserve it – we discover either that we are far less deserving than we thought or his goodness is even more huge.

grace_350Today’s passage says a phenomenal thing: We Christians are both already “sanctified” and also “called to be holy.” That means God has already changed us, made us fundamentally different people than we were before we trusted in Jesus. Our identity and potential to live for Jesus are no longer the same and will never be changed back.

Notice what the God of grace doesn’t say to us: “I’ve given you a chance for a fresh start. Don’t blow it. Prove yourself to me, or I’ll put you back on the road to hell.”

Nope, he says this instead, “I’ve changed you now and for good. You are not the same you. I’ve made you mine. Now live like the person you are – and who you are becoming.”

Think: As a Christian, do you think of yourself as being truly changed in some way, already sanctified? Do you think of yourself as having a mission from God to live a holy life? Why or why not?

Pray: Thank God that you have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and ask him to help you to be holy.

Do: Look up the words grace, sanctified, and holy in a dictionary.

Bigger Grace: In Christ Jesus

“I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:4)

Paul is writing these words to Christians. God gives his grace to those who are in Christ Jesus – and that does not include everyone. God’s grace is the free gift that includes becoming his family and living forever with him – and not apart from him in hell.

grace_350Is that a mean thing to say out loud, that not everyone has God’s saving grace? I don’t think so. In fact, it’s important to say it out loud, and it’s really easy not to. Paul makes clear that God’s grace, the gift of the eternal life we do not deserve because of our sin, is given only “in Christ Jesus.” All who reject faith in Jesus alone to forgive and to save also reject the free grace of God.

And without God’s grace, we will be judged by our works and by our sins – and nobody is good enough to earn eternity with God on that scale.

Think: Does it bother you that God’s saving grace comes only through faith in Jesus or does it make you feel grateful? Is it hard for you to say that you believe that truth to people who don’t? Why or why not?

Pray: If you’re a Christian, thank God for his grace given to you in Christ Jesus.

Do: Write as briefly as possible what it means to be “in Christ Jesus.” How would you describe it to someone in a paragraph or two?

Bigger Grace: Evidence

“For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.” (1 Corinthians 1:5-6)

How do you know if you are “in Christ” and have received the grace of God? How do you know for sure that you are forgiven and settled into a permanent place in God’s family with a changing heart and a future home in heaven?

grace_350Paul told the Corinthian Christians that he had seen the evidence of it in their lives, specifically in the spiritual gifts he had seen them put into practice. Every Christian receives – by God’s grace – God’s Spirit as a comforter, guide, and source of power, among other things. You and I, too, should notice a change in our attitudes and abilities because of the Spirit with us.

In addition to that, we have God’s unbreakable promise that those who trust in Christ have received God’s grace. Listen to Romans 8:1:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

And Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Think: Do you ever have a hard time being convinced that God has forgiven and saved you by his grace through your faith in Jesus? Have you seen evidence of God working through you? Do you believe that he keeps his promises?

Pray: Thank God that everyone who is in Christ because we’ve put our trust in him alone can be confident that we have been forgiven and saved by God’s grace.

Do: Read Romans 8 and notice all the good gifts God gives to us as his children.

Bigger Grace: Fully Equipped

“Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” (1 Corinthians 1:7)

We make a big deal about God’s grace in saving us from hell and the gift of eternal life. And we should! None of us could ever earn either of those things. Jesus paid the price, but we’re the ones who receive God’s riches forever.

grace_350But God’s grace also provides for us on this side of heaven, right now, today. Paul wanted to make sure the Christians in Corinth understood that they weren’t missing any spiritual gifts they needed to do what God wanted from them right now. All the pieces were in place – not because they had earned them but because God is good.

Peter put it this way: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

Think: Do you sometimes forget that God has already given you everything you need to serve him and other Christians? Do you sometimes forget that all of your talents, abilities – and spiritual gifts – are God’s grace gifts to you so you can do what he asks of you?

Pray: Thank God that you have been given everything you need to live the life he’s called you to.

Do: Check out more from 2 Peter 1:3-9.

Bigger Grace: Strong to the End

“He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:8)

What an overwhelming and powerful promise this is – especially when you think about the letter that followed these words. Paul knew he was about to tell these Christians all kinds of things they were doing wrong both as individuals and as a church.

grace_350They had chosen sides on several big issues and were bitterly divided. They were not making good use of the power of the Holy Spirit; they didn’t understand the difference between worldly wisdom and true, biblical wisdom. They allowed for all kinds of sexual immorality, and they were suing each other in secular courts. On almost every issue, they cared more about their own rights than about doing what was best for each other.

Still, Paul writes these words. He wasn’t about to tell them, “God is going to give up on you if you don’t change your ways.” That wouldn’t be grace. He was going to tell them, “Because God will not give up on you, you have the power to live as the new people you are in Christ. God won’t quit, and God doesn’t fail – even when it comes to making his rebellious children like Jesus.”

Think: Most Christians get that we cannot save ourselves, but sometimes we think we can make ourselves holy and Christlike in our own strength. What’s wrong with that idea?

Pray: If you’re a Christian, thank God that he will keep you strong to the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do: Read the most famous definition of love – God’s love for us and the love he wants us to give to each other – in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

Bigger Grace: God is Faithful

“He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

Did you ever pick teams for a football or basketball game or something? If you’re the one doing the picking – and you really care about winning the game – you pick the strongest players you can get first, right? You know you’ll get stuck with a few weaker players, and you’ll have to figure out how to keep them from making you lose.

grace_350Way too many people think God works the same way, that he stands in heaven picking those he wants on his “team” (in “fellowship with his Son”) based on how good or strong we are, but that’s exactly backwards.

God looks for people weak enough to know they can never do anything to earn a spot on God’s team – and then he gives us a spot and makes us strong enough to do exactly what he wants done.

God wants people who need him to be faithful, not people who are strong enough on their own to be perfectly faithful to him.

Think: Do you sometimes feel like you’re always trying to earn God’s approval by being strong or good or faithful? What’s wrong with that idea?

Pray: Thank God that he called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ and that he is faithful.

Do: Read what Paul wrote about our weakness and God’s strength in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.