Paul writes to a troubled church in Corinth: And this is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Paul had just listed what some of the people were - sexually immoral, homosexuals, male prostitutes, thieves, drunks, slanders and swindlers. What is incredible about this passage is how Paul pastors his people. If you have just been reminded of your past sins- which all too often affect your present struggles and failures- what is it that you need to hear?
First, you need to hear what has changed. Paul did not mess up on the order of salvation when he put washed first, sanctified second and justified last - he was ministering to hurting people, not writing a systematic theology. What would bring maximum joy, amazement and peace to their hearts as they struggle? He had just listed who they once were and now he says to them first - you, who were stained with sin, have been washed. Exactly what we need to hear first: that the dirt of the past has been thoroughly washed away. Further, you have been sanctified: to be made holy in the sight of God. We read in the Old Testament God's people were call to be holy while in the New Testament, God's people are holy. They are made a member of God's people. Finally, they are justified: declared righteous in the sight of God. They have a right standing with God through Jesus - alone.
Second, you need to hear it again and again, in different ways. This is also the value of Paul's pastoral verse. He did not just say - you were justified - period. Rather, Paul lingers as he expresses God's blessing to the people - he stays a while. You are washed - think about it - amazing - but that is not all - you are sanctified - yes, we linger there but we are not done - you are justified in the only name that is worthy, the Lord Jesus Christ. Is that not rich?
Struggle with sin? Guilt? You have been washed, sanctified and justified. What is more amazing? Can money buy this rich treasure? How many people live with supressed guilt and dissatisfaction with earth's so called treasures? Here lies the answer.
Finally, this verse shows us how to minister to others. Paul is writing to a struggling people and what does he do? Reminding them of their sin, he lingers on the grace and mercy of God. Imagine the Corinthians' reaction - if this is what has happened and who I am, I want to live more for Jesus! Not out of guilt but love and thankfulness. And by the Spirit, I have the power.
Paul, the pastor, comforts the hurting and teaches the church how to minister to those who once were - but are no longer.