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GPS for the soul

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

Have you ever been lost? Not just mildly displaced or momentarily disoriented, but truly lost? I have.

On one level, it happens to me nearly every day. Janet says I’m directionally challenged–when I come to an intersection, I should decide which way I want to go and then go the other way. Minni prints maps for me to every destination before I leave. Just because I’ve been someplace ten times doesn’t mean I can find it the eleventh.

But I still remember vividly the time I was truly lost. It was the sixth grade. Our class went on an end-of-year field trip to the piney woods of East Texas. Somehow three of us managed to get separated from the rest of the class. Before we knew it, we were completely alone in the forest. We had no idea where we were or what to do next.

We should have stayed in one place and waited for help to find us, but we weren’t nearly that smart. For the rest of the day we wandered through the trees, yelling for help, hungry and thirsty and hot and tired. Late that afternoon, park rangers called by our distraught teacher rescued us.

What if we had a GPS unit, a Global Positioning Satellite device? Of course, when I was in the sixth grade we didn’t even have remote controls for the television yet, but you understand the question. A little box with a reassuring voice to tell us “turn right at the next log” would have been a lifesaver.

What in life has you feeling lost today? What decision is confusing you? What stress is frustrating you? Where are you unsure what to do, where to turn, how to proceed? We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there again. That’s just the nature of life for fallen people on a fallen planet. But the good news is that God has given us a GPS for the soul. Let’s learn how to use it together.

How to be a saint

Paul addresses the letter we call First Corinthians to “the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (1 Corinthians 1:2). “Called to be saints” is how most versions translate the text. When you hear the word “saint,” what comes to mind?

A person of great personal character and pious spirit? “She’s such a saint,” we say when someone does something particularly pious.

Or you might think about a great person of God designated a “saint” by the Catholic Church. For instance, St.Genesius, Bishop of Clermont, is on the Church’s list of saints to be remembered on June 3. He renounced the world for the church back in the seventh century, founding a hospital, church, abbey, and convent. Fearing for his own soul, he made a secret pilgrimage to Rome in 661. His bereaved flock sent messengers to the Vatican, where they found him and convinced him to return. He died in AD 662 and was buried in St. Symphorian’s church at Clermont in France; the congregation is now known as St. Genesius’s church.

That’s impressive. But you and I aren’t likely to renounce the world in order to live in the church or make a secret pilgrimage to Rome anytime soon or have a church named for us when we die.

No sainthood in our future. Except that “saint” is the Bible’s most common title for Christians–all Christians:

  • “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7).
  • “To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia” (2 Corinthians 1:1).
  • “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesus 1:1).
  • “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi” (Philippians 1:1).
  • “To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae” (Colossians 1:2, NRSV).

Sixty-one times (by my count), the Lord calls Christians “saints.” This is by far the most common designation for followers of Jesus. “Disciples” is used of the entire church 27 times (by my count); “Christians” only once (Acts 11:26).

“Saints” is always found in the plural. And so every believer is a “saint.” No halos or harps or pilgrimages to Rome required.

The word “saint” translates hagios, meaning “holy one” or “set apart one.” Thus the NIV translates, “called to be holy,” while nearly every other translation renders Paul’s phrase, “called to be saints.” The two are synonyms.

We think of “saints” as the holiest of people, sanctified and pious in every way. We think that we could never be one of them. And yet these Christians in Corinth, called “saints” by Paul in this letter, were fighting and plagued by divisions (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Paul calls them “mere infants in Christ” (3:1) and “arrogant” (4:18). He rebukes them for condoning of sexual immorality (5:1) and suing each other (6:6). Later he tells them to “stop thinking like children” (14:20).

So how can they be “saints”? Because God’s Spirit has made them so. The moment we ask Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, we become the “saints” of God. In that moment you were set apart for him.

He has claim on your life now. You belong to him: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

He is the potter; you are the clay (Isaiah 64:8). He is the head (Ephesus 5:23); we are the body (1 Corinthians 12:27). He has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18); we have none. We belong to him, for he made us, then he bought us. We are his forever.

Note that they are “the church of God in Corinth.” Where we are is not who we are. We are the saints “of” God “in” Dallas. We are not what we have or where we are. Never forget the source of your personal worth.

Know that you are the child of God, bought with the blood of your Savior and Lord. Understand that you are not your own–you belong to him. You are set apart for him. You are his.

How to become a saint

So we are the “saints” of God living in Dallas. What does that fact have to do with our need for direction and purpose today? How is sainthood a GPS for our souls?

Examine our text again: we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.” We have already been “sanctified” or set apart for God, made the saints of God. And yet we are “called to be holy,” called to become saints, called to grow into our status as the saints of God. In one sense, all of us are saints. In another sense, none of us are, yet.

The journey from A to B, from being saints to becoming saints, is God’s purpose for our lives. Becoming the saints we are called to be is north on his compass for our lives. Getting us there is the work of the Holy Spirit, the GPS who will guide our souls. How does the process work? How does the journey unfold?

First, decide that you want to be holy, set apart completely for God, his in every way.

This is the commandment of Scripture: “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:15-16). God’s purpose is that we be “conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

God is all about making us like Jesus–making us holy, completely and unconditionally his. Decide that you want that. Make holiness the north on your compass. Choose this definition of success. The first step to being holy is wanting to be.

Next, position yourself to be made holy by the Holy Spirit of God. You and I cannot achieve holiness in our strength and resolve. We are fallen people on a fallen planet. Only the Spirit of God can sanctify us. But we must be near his voice to hear him. We must be yielded in his hands to be molded by them. We must listen to the GPS before it can guide us home.

Jesus prayed for his disciples that God would “sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible is God preaching. It is the truth which must guide and mold our lives. Said bluntly, if you’re not meeting God in his word each day, you have no chance to fulfill his purpose for your life. You cannot get somewhere you’ve never been without a map drawn by those who have been there.

Time alone with God in prayer enables the Spirit to make us like Christ, sanctifying us as the holy children of God. Why do you suppose that even the sinless Son of God had to get up a great while before day, go to a solitary place and pray (Mark 1:35)? Why did he pray late at night, and sometimes all night? Why did he pray in private and in public?

Because even he needed the connection with his Father which comes only in prayer. Said bluntly, if you’re not meeting God every morning and through the day in prayer, you have no chance to fulfill his purpose for your life. Prayer positions us to be shaped and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the only One who can make us holy.

Through Scripture and prayer, the Spirit will speak to our hearts and guide us as a GPS for our souls. But we must turn the unit on, and listen to what it says.

Third, reject all that rejects God: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

Sexual immorality grieves the Holy Spirit. The epidemic of pornography on the Internet is a tool of Satan. Movies and television shows which endorse sexual sin are instruments of the enemy. Simply put, all sexual relationships outside of marriage are wrong. Not because God is a cosmic killjoy, but because he knows that sexual sin destroys his children. It separates us from our Father and his holy purpose for our lives, and plagues us with guilt.

If I want holiness above all else, and am willing to submit myself every day to God in Scripture and prayer, the Spirit will enable me to refuse what refuses God.

Relational immorality grieves the Holy Spirit as well. If I “wrong my brother,” I wrong my Lord. You cannot say you love me if you mistreat my sons. Slander and gossip keep us from holiness. Using others to get what we want dishonors our Lord and grieves his Spirit. To be holy, I must refuse what refuses God. To get home, I must stay out of the ditches along the way.

Conclusion

What happens when we choose holiness as our goal and purpose, when we submit to the GPS of the Spirit in Scripture and prayer, when we refuse the ditches which would wreck us along the way?

Every day has purpose. Every decision has direction. We become all that God made us to become. We experience the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control which are the fruit of his Spirit in charge of our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). There’s nothing like a day spent in the purpose and passion of God. There’s no joy like the joy he gives. His GPS really does work. But we must turn it on this morning.