Positional Truth; 1 Corinthians 1:4
As Paul looks at this congregation of Corinthians in light of all of their problems, foul-ups, divisions, argumentativeness and sexual immorality, the first thing out of his mouth after he gets past the salutation is verse 4: "I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus." We need to take some time to look at the structure here because this helps us to understand what we should be thanking God for. Scripture tells us in Ephesians 4 that we ought to give thanks for all things, and in 1 Thessalonians to give thanks in all things. Notice that when Paul thanks the Lord here he doesn't thank Him for the screwed-up Corinthians and their multiple problems. Thanksgiving is not focusing on the problem but on the God who provides the solution behind the problem.
He begins with the verb EUCHARISTO [e)uxaristw] in the present active indicative, which indicates a durative action. This is something that he is doing at the present time but it also has a retroactive emphasis in that he has been thanking God. It always indicates that this is something that began with his arrival in Corinth with the first convert, and he has begun to thank God because of what happened at the instant of salvation for that particular individual and what they received. Point of application: We need to recognize that gratitude is the barometer of our spiritual life and it indicates our orientation to grace. To be grateful we have to understand what God's grace is and how it is manifested in our own life. The English word "thank" we use so frequently in a superficial manner, and often it just comes out of our mouth because we have been well trained and have been taught to say thank you for various things, and yet there is no real heart-felt gratitude at the time, it is just a rather superficial comment. But what we find in the Scriptures is that thanks is much more than a simple superficial response. In the Old Testament it is often a translation of the Hebrew word todah which also means to praise, so thanksgiving and the praise of God were seen as being related to one another.
When Paul says, I thank my God always, this indicates the continuous state of mind of a mature believer as he is always looking at what God is doing in a situation and not focusing on the circumstance. He is not thanking God for all their problems, he thanking God for who God is and what He has provided. "Concerning you" is usually a construction in the Greek where it uses the preposition PERI [peri] which is equivalent to the preposition HUPER [u(per]. HUPER plus the genitive indicates substitution, as does PERI. These two prepositions are substitutionary prepositions, and here when it is talking about prayer it emphasises intercessory prayer. Paul is indicating intercessory prayer here that is emphasizing substitution. He is giving thanks concerning them or as a substitute for them. Then the phrase, "for the grace of God which was given you." Here we have another Greek preposition, EPI [e)pi], which has causal emphasis. It is not a strong cause but it is the sense of "in reference to." He is going to pray because of the grace of God, so his focus is on God's grace. That is what he is giving thanks for. Thanksgiving, again, is grace oriented and has to do with what God has supplied for us even in the midst of difficulty. The more we understand and appreciate the grace of God and the dimensions of the grace of God the more we are moved to gratitude. Grace always emphasizes God's benevolence and not our merit.
Paul here is not talking about pre-salvation grace or about salvation grace, he is talking about the grace package that God gives at the instant of salvation to every single believer: "which was given you in Christ Jesus." Irrespective of how good they are or what they have done God gives a grace package to every single believer that includes everything that we need potentially to live the Christian life. Here we have the aorist passive participle of DIDOMI [didomi]. The aorist tense is a culminative aorist, which indicates that everything has been completed and it was all given at some time in the past. The aorist tense indicates past action and the passive voice indicates that this is something that the subject of the verb receives and did not give himself. So again it emphasizes grace, that grace is based on who God is and what He decides to give, and it is not based on who and what we are. This is a key verb an when we see it we should always think in terms of God's grace and benevolence. "Which was given to you" is a dative of advantage, it is given for their advantage so that they can advance to spiritual maturity. "In Christ Jesus" is the key phrase in this section, the Greek preposition EN [e)n] plus the dative of sphere, or dative of association more specifically. It indicates the doctrine of positional truth.
So at the very beginning of the introduction to this epistle Paul doesn't start off and say, Oh it is too bad you have these divisions, let's figure out what the personality problems are, let's try to get everybody together. He says we are going to start with who and what we are in Jesus Christ—positional truth. That is the foundation for being able to understand how to handle the problem. When Paul is going to address the marriage problem, the morality problem, the behaviour problems in Corinth he doesn't start way down the line somewhere with some sort of superficial application. He starts at the starting point which is understanding who we are in Jesus Christ as believers. If we don't understand that then it doesn't matter how much practical material is given on marriage, on finances, on relationships or anything else, it is not going to do any good because it is all going to be the result of the works of the flesh. You have to start where God starts, not where stupid people start. Human viewpoint is never going to produce any level of spiritual growth, you have to start with doctrine. One thing we have to understand here in the construction EN plus the dative of association is that we learn a couple of principles. The first is that what God gives or provides for every believer He graciously gives because of association with Christ. These blessings are ours in Christ, that is why they are ours: because of our association with Christ. God does not give them apart from Christ. So the believer has to be in Christ or in association with Christ, which occurs at the instant of salvation, in order to have the manifold blessing. It is not based on who we are or what we do or do not do, it is based on who God is (His essence) and on what Christ did at the cross. The other principle that we have to pay attention to is to be careful when giving thanks what we are giving thanks for is something that is the work of God and not something that is just the normal operation of human experience.
The doctrine of positional truth
1) Positional truth has to do with our legal standing before God. That is why it is called positional. Therefore the term positional truth is equivalent to the term positional sanctification. Positional truth is the foundational reality for the spiritual life. Positional truth is defined as uniting the believer with Christ in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. So there is a legal uniting of the believer with Christ at the instant of salvation. There is an identification of the believer with Christ's death, and because of that identification we are dead to the sin nature. It is still there but is no longer the tyrant it was before. The burial and resurrection have to do with the fact that we are given new life in Christ and new abilities and potentialities in Christ. The ascension is important because that is when Christ was accepted in heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father. So we are accepted by God at the instant of salvation based not on who and what we are but on who and what Jesus Christ is. That is our starting point.
2) The mechanics of how positional truth is accomplished is by the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. There are two spheres of relationship that we talk about in the spiritual life. There are eternal realities and there are temporal realities. The eternal realities are what under gird the temporal realities of our spiritual life. In order top understand the temporal realities we have to understand the eternal realities. At the moment of salvation we are baptized by the Holy Spirit which means that we are placed in Christ, we are identified with Him in His death, burial and resurrection.
3) Positional truth guarantees the believer's eternal security—Romans 8:38, 39 NASB "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." This is our positional truth which guarantees that we have eternal security and that we can never lose our salvation. You can't lose what you never worked for to begin with. It is a free gift and God does not take back His gift.
4) Positional truth belongs to all categories of believers—reversionists, immature believers, spiritually mature believers and carnal believers. It is the ultimate reality that under girds everything in the spiritual life. There is noth9ng that you or I can do that can reverse what happened at the point of salvation with regard to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. People who say that you can lose your salvation are in effect saying that you can be baptized by the Holy Spirit, identified with Christ, and then lose it, then get it back, and then lose it. It shows that they don't have a clue what baptism by the Holy Spirit means or what identification with Christ means.
5) Positional truth qualifies the believer to live with God forever because the believer's sins have been paid for and at the instant of salvation he is given the perfect righteousness of Christ and eternal life—1 John 5:11, 12; 2 Corinthians 5:21.
6) Positional truth creates a new creature in Christ—2 Corinthians 5:17.
7) Positional truth is the basis for spiritual growth. It is the production of divine good as the result of spiritual growth, and it is a pattern of life that is compatible with royalty. We are now members of the royal family of God, we are royal priests, and the basis for that new life comes by our position in Christ—Ephesians 2:10. We now have freedom from enslavement to the sin nature so that we can truly choose not to sin. That was impossible prior to salvation. Even the good deeds that unbelievers do flows from the sin nature, there is no nature within them that can produce anything other than that which is tainted by sin.
8) Positional truth, then, is the basis for grace blessing. It is our position in Christ that is why we are blessed by grace, not anything that we do. It is the association with Christ that is the basis for all grace blessing after salvation—Ephesians 1:3-6.