the purpose of God’s wisdom
That no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1:29–31)
The first and primary purpose of the wisdom of God that produces salvation is that He be glorified. No man will ever have a reason to boast before God. Foolish, weak, base man can do nothing for himself; God has done everything. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship” (Eph. 2:8–10).
God also has a purpose for those who are saved. His purpose for His redeemed has many aspects, four of which are mentioned in verse 30. Because they are in Christ Jesus, they receive God’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
First, believers are given God’s wisdom. They not only are saved by God’s wisdom rather than their own but are given God’s wisdom to replace their own. The truly wise of this world are those whose wisdom is not of this world but is from the Lord. Christians can say, without pride or self-boasting, that they have become wise in Jesus Christ. They stand as a testimony for all time that God in His wisdom chose the sinful, the weak, and the unwise in order to make them righteous, strong, and wise. God grants them His wisdom that He might be glorified, that it might be clearly seen that the wisdom Christians have is not their own but is by His power and grace.
Men are saved not by their intelligence, accomplishments, or human wisdom. Those who trust in these will never receive God’s salvation and life and wisdom—because these may be had only by humbly receiving what His Son has done on our behalf on the cross. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6), and, on another occasion, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (8:31–32).
The wisdom received from God through Christ is both instant and progressive. In his next letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). The maker and giver of physical light is also the source and giver of spiritual light. The first thing a believer learns is knowledge of God’s glory.
The glory of God signifies His majesty and His greatness. But in its fullest sense it represents all that God is—all of His attributes, His whole nature, the fullness of His divine being. We come to know personally the creator of the universe and the source of all life and all goodness.
Godly wisdom also has a progressive aspect. The God whom we have come to know through Christ we come to know better as we live by His Spirit. Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers to be given “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him,” that is, of Christ (Eph. 1:17). They already had the initial gift of God’s wisdom, received when they first believed. But the apostle was concerned that they continue to grow in His wisdom and truth (cf. 2 Pet. 3:18).
Wisdom from God also has a future aspect. In this same prayer Paul asks, “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (v. 18). Both “hope” and “inheritance” suggest future fulfillment of wisdom and knowledge. God has given us wisdom, He is now giving us wisdom, and He will ultimately give us wisdom.
The person of the world cannot see or receive God’s wisdom, the wisdom that could show him God Himself, His plan for the world and for His people, and the future eternity that He gives through His Son. And so men live only for the moment, for the now, having no idea where they came from, where they are going, or what they are doing here in the first place. Yet the simplest, most uneducated person who humbly places his life in Christ’s hands is given the truth about all of these things. He knows what all the sages and philosophers of all time have never been able to discover or will ever be able to discover. He has God’s wisdom as one of His Savior’s precious gifts.
Second, believers receive God’s righteousness. They are made right with God and they participate in His righteousness, His rightness. Rightness means to be as something or someone should be—right as opposed to wrong, good as opposed to evil, sinless as opposed to sinful. God is totally righteous because He is totally as He should be. He cannot vary from His rightness. When we trust His Son, He shares His Son’s righteousness with us. “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). When God looks on a Christian He sees His Son and His Son’s righteousness. When a person trusts in Christ, his unrighteousness is exchanged for Christ’s righteousness, “that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). Man has never had any righteousness of his own and can never have any righteousness of his own, that is, which originates in him. The only righteousness he can have is that which God gives him through His Son. It is the only righteousness he needs, because it is perfect righteousness.
Third, believers receive God’s sanctification. In Christ we are set apart, made holy. We are declared righteous in Christ and are made holy in Christ. When we receive Christ’s nature we receive His incorruptible seed, the seed which is not, and cannot be, habitually corrupted by sin. With the flesh still present, we can slip into sin, but only intermittently. As we spiritually mature the frequency of sin decreases. The righteousness that is counted to us judicially also becomes ours in actuality—in holiness, in sanctification. We are given life in the Spirit and we begin to walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8:4–11). We begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) as we are being transformed into Christ’s image (2 Cor. 3:18). Our new nature is “created in Christ Jesus for good works,” for holiness (Eph. 2:10).
Fourth, believers receive God’s redemption. To redeem means to buy back. God by Christ has purchased us from the power of sin. Christ “is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:14). Peter reminds us that we “were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold … but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).
That, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1:31)
Although in Christ we have received God’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, we have no grounds for pride or boasting, because we did not deserve, earn, or produce any of them. Man’s wisdom can produce none of those things. It can only produce pride, misunderstanding, strife, and division. As Jeremiah had written hundreds of years before Paul quoted him, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” “May it never be,” he wrote the Galatians, “that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
the presentation of god’s wisdom
The party spirit in Corinth was the result of philosophy, of human wisdom. The Corinthians were fragmented in their beliefs and in their loyalties, because those were human beliefs and human loyalties. Paul reminded them that when he first came to Corinth and presented the gospel he did not do so with impressive words of human reasoning.
30 We establish a relationship with Jesus Christ as a free, undeserved gift from God; thus we have no grounds for personal boasting. This is precisely what Paul points out in vv. 30–31. God is the One who has placed us “in Christ Jesus.” This phrase (and its variations) occurs frequently throughout Paul’s letters; it is his favorite expression for a Christian. Nothing significant happens to us as believers except that which happens “in Christ.”
In the context of the discussion in 1:18–27 about true and false wisdom, Paul emphasizes that true wisdom can only be found in Christ: He “has become for us wisdom from God.” The te … kai … kai construction that follows suggests that the next three words are epexegetic, i.e., they define further what this wisdom is: “righteousness, holiness and redemption.” True wisdom is to be found only in God’s plan for the redemption of the world accomplished through the cross, whereby we become right with God (cf. Ro 3:21–26) and receive sanctification as a gift from him.
Hagiasmos (“sanctification,” “holiness,” GK 40) is often seen as a process whereby we as believers become increasingly separated from a life of sin and live more and more like Christ. That we should show constant progress in Christian living is undoubtedly true (note Paul’s prayer in 1 Th 5:23, that God would sanctify those in Thessalonica who are already believers). But there is also a sense in which believers have already received sanctification as a package gift from God, in the same sense as they have received “righteousness” (justification) and “redemption” as a divinely bestowed gift (see the use of the perfect tense of hagiazō, GK 39, in 1 Co 6:11). For this we should thank God, and we should use the power of that reality to live as God wants us to live.
30–31 The opening sentences of this paragraph reminded the Corinthians that their own calling, like the cross itself, expresses the “foolishness” of God that is “wiser than human wisdom.” But all of that was said negatively: God was thereby intent on “shaming” and “bringing to an end” human wisdom, so that no mere creature may have grounds for boasting in his presence. Now, by way of contrast, he addresses the Corinthians directly to express positively what God has done in calling them. The sentence is strictly soteriological and corresponds to vv. 26–29 in the same way that v. 24 does to vv. 22–23.
The contrasts themselves, which stand out in the Greek text, are difficult to transfer into English. Literally, Paul says, “but of him30 you are, in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s point is clear: In contrast to the world, you owe your existence to the prior activity of God, which has been effected in history through Christ Jesus. As in the preceding sentence all the emphasis falls on God’s activity,32 activity expressed most vividly in human history “in Christ Jesus.”
The way Paul expresses this divine activity in Christ has had a long history of misinterpretation in the church, related in part to the translation of the KJV (“who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption”)—as though this were a christological statement—and in part to reading it in light of Col. 2:2–3 and Jas. 1:5. Thus Christ is seen as the source of wisdom for Christians, whereby they either come to know God or are enlightened about his ways, in other words, Christ became wisdom for us so that we might thereby become wise. But that is to miss Paul’s point by a wide margin. In keeping with v. 24, he asserts that God made Christ to become true “wisdom” for us36—which is then immediately interpreted in historical-soteriological terms, “that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Thus Paul is not suggesting, as the KJV implies, that Christ has been made these four things for believers. Rather, God has made him to become wisdom—but not of the kind with which the Corinthians are now enamored. True wisdom is to be understood in terms of the three illustrative metaphors, which refer to the saving event of Christ.
The metaphors themselves lack what we might ordinarily consider logical sequence (i.e., “redemption” brings about our “righteousness” [= right standing with God], followed by “holiness”). But that misses Paul’s present concern. These are not three different steps in the saving process; they are rather three different metaphors for the same event (our salvation that was effected in Christ), each taken from a different sphere and each emphasizing a different aspect of the one reality (cf. 6:11). The fact that he uses nouns to describe this event, rather than verbs, is dictated by the fact that they stand in apposition to the noun “wisdom.”
This is the first appearance of “righteousness” (= “justification”) in Paul. As a result of the later “Judaizing” controversy in Galatia it becomes the dominant metaphor. But the usage here and in 6:11 suggests two things: (1) It was already a common metaphor for Paul to express the saving work of Christ; and (2) it functioned in this period as one among other metaphors to connote the rich breadth of that work. “Righteousness,” therefore, is not so much an ethical term here as it is forensic, and highlights the believer’s undeserved stance of right standing before God, despite his/her guilt from having broken his law. We have already met the term “holiness” in 1:2. This is a “religious” metaphor, and in this kind of list it moves us into the ethical sphere. It is a recurring motif in 1 and 2 Thessalonians and is picked up again in 6:11. The term “redemption” is a metaphor from slavery, and had a rich history among the Jews to express their own deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. The emphasis is more on the deliverance of captives unto freedom than it is on the concept of “ransom” by payment; in Pauline usage (e.g., Rom. 3:24; Col. 1:14) it usually refers to deliverance from the bondage of sin.
Thus there is “wisdom” with God, to be sure. But it is of another kind from what the Corinthians currently delight in and squabble over. Wisdom does not have to do with “getting smart,” nor with status or rhetoric. God’s wisdom—the real thing—has to do with salvation through Christ Jesus. In a community where “wisdom” was part of a higher spirituality divorced from ethical consequences, Paul says that God has made Christ to become “wisdom” for us all right, but that means he has made him to become for us the one who redeems from sin and leads to holiness—ethical behavior that is consonant with the gospel. All of this is made clear by the final purpose clause of v. 31. Just as the ultimate goal in God’s choosing the “foolish things” of the world was to eradicate human boasting in his presence, so on the positive side the final goal of the work of Christ was to make possible the one true ground for boasting: “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” With other grounds for confidence now swept aside by the “divine contradiction,” we are left with the ultimate “risk”—to trust God with our lives, and thus to “boast” in him.
The OT citation is from Jer. 9:24, but as usual in Paul it has been adapted to the present context. In place of the “in this” of Jeremiah, which points ahead to the clause that follows (“that he understands and knows me”), Paul has substituted “in the Lord,” which of course is close to Jeremiah’s overall sense, if not his precise intent. “The Lord” in this adaptation refers to Christ, especially to the work of Christ in our behalf spelled out in v. 30. Thus human boasting is eliminated by God himself in favor of boasting in Christ’s redemptive work, wherein alone one has favor with God.
The conclusion of this paragraph, “no human boasting” but rather “boasting in Christ” through whom God has effected salvation for us, continues (rightly) to play a significant role in the church. All of this is quite in keeping with the grand cadences of Romans and Galatians, with which the Protestant tradition is so familiar. Unfortunately, the means (the cross as the divine scandal) and the evidence (God’s choice of the lowly) for this conclusion do not always get the same hearing. It is not that God cannot, or will not, save the affluent. But for Paul the glory of the gospel does not lie there; rather, it lies in his mercy toward the very people whom most of the affluent tend to write off—the foolish, the weak, the despised. Such people do not fit well into the “suburban captivity of the church.” This paragraph must serve as a continual warning against our remaking into our own more comfortable images God’s distinctly revealed priorities of mercy for the helpless—as part of the evidence that his ways are not ours.
1:30 / Here, Paul again addresses the Corinthians directly. This new sentence informs them of what they should already know, but apparently have forgotten—that it is by God’s own work that they have been established in Christ Jesus. The Corinthians have whatever life they now live only as a result of God’s work in and through Christ, not by means of their own efforts. Thus, by God’s own actions Christ Jesus has become wisdom—unlike that of the world—to and for the Corinthians. Jesus Christ informs the Corinthians of who God is and how God relates to humanity. Paul explains Christ as wisdom from God in an explanatory phrase (the niv casts his argument well), that is, [Christ Jesus is] our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Thus, Paul’s focus is on God’s saving work in Christ; he is not elaborating abstract christology here. As God unsettles the world’s wisdom in Christ and eliminates the possibility of humans laying claims on God’s grace, God demonstrates a peculiar power that sets people (by God’s choice) right with God (righteousness), sets people apart for God’s purposes and service (holiness—as in sanctification, not a status but an identity in terms of devotion to God’s intentions), and delivers people from estrangement from God for devotion to and a relationship with God. The description of salvation that Paul offers here is not strictly sequential; rather, he refers to facets of the gem of grace. At most, Paul’s observations may mean that humans are redeemed as God’s work in Christ Jesus sets them right and sets them apart.
30. But because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who has become wisdom from God for us: righteousness, and holiness, and redemption.
- “But because of him.” Paul comes to the heart of the matter by reminding the Corinthians of their salvation in Christ. They are believers, not unbelievers. For this reason, he begins the verse with an adversative particle that is translated “but.” He points to God as the author of salvation. God sent his Son to save his people, to cleanse them from sin, and to bring them into his glorious fellowship. Paul can rightly say “because of him,” for God is the cause of man’s being in Christ Jesus.
- “You are in Christ Jesus.” The phrase in Christ Jesus or in Christ appears many times in Paul’s epistles. To be in Christ means to have intimate fellowship with him and with all other believers who are united with him. In other words, union with Christ is a privilege and at the same time an obligation to live a life that is dedicated to him.
- “Who has become wisdom from God for us.” Some translators, among whom are many commentators, understand the four nouns wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption to be the sequence that Paul intended. Another translator considers the clause a parenthetical comment, so that the main sentence reads: “From [God] you are through Christ Jesus (who has been made into wisdom for us by God) righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” He places the parenthetical clause in apposition to Christ Jesus.81 Still others assert that the concept wisdom is explained by the nouns righteousness, holiness, and redemption.
A few remarks about these translations are in order. The grammar in the Greek text makes it difficult to coordinate the four words wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption. The text seems to suggest that the word wisdom should be explained by the other three nouns (compare the analogous triad washed, sanctified, and justified in 6:11). Because we are in Christ, all four nouns relate first to him and then to us (see the translation of NEB and REB). This point is evident even when the term wisdom is interpreted in apposition to Christ Jesus. With respect to the four nouns, we conclude that “[wisdom] stands by itself, with the other three attached by way of definition.”
Wisdom has its origin in God, who causes it to dwell in Christ Jesus. In turn, through Christ Jesus we have become recipients of this wisdom. Through our union with Christ, we possess spiritual wisdom to know God and to appropriate his work for our salvation. The clause “who has become wisdom from God for us” reflects the saving work Christ has performed on our behalf: in Christ we have righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Paul writes that Christ is wisdom for us. He begins verse 30 with the pronoun you, which refers to the Corinthians. But when he mentions wisdom in respect to salvation he changes the pronoun to the first person plural us to include himself.
- “Righteousness, and holiness, and redemption.” In Christ we are made right with God. In another place, Paul teaches that God made Christ the One who bears our sin, so that we might become God’s righteousness in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21; see Rom. 10:4; Phil. 3:9). Righteousness is a single act but holiness is the result or effect of an act; righteousness is an external act by which a person is declared righteous in Christ; holiness is an internal state attained through the indwelling presence of the Spirit in the believer.
Paul uses the word redemption in the list of the three explanatory nouns. These nouns are not presented in a doctrinal sequence, do not appear again as a triad in the same form, and are not explained in the context of the passage. Redemption perhaps appears last in the sequence because it “is the first gift of Christ to be begun in us, and the last to be brought to completion.” Christ Jesus offered himself on Calvary’s cross for our redemption (Rom. 3:24–25).
1:30. To dispel any pride remaining in the Corinthians, Paul reminded them why they believed the gospel. It was not because they were wise or powerful enough to receive salvation. It was because of God that they were in Christ Jesus. God himself is the ultimate force behind the salvation of those who believe. Although salvation is “by grace through faith,” even faith itself is “a gift from God” (Eph. 2:8–9). No credit belongs to the humans who have come to Christ. All credit belongs to God.
Paul described salvation in poignant terms. He said that believers are in Christ. This phrase describes the saving relationship that all believers have with Christ. Believers are joined to him in baptism and become members of his body. For this reason, the judgment that Christ bore on the cross applies to all who are in him. Moreover, believers share in his resurrection life both now and in the final resurrection of their bodies (Rom. 6:3–8). Paul emphasized this unity in Christ to reconcile the divided factions of the Corinthian church.
Because of believers’ union with Christ, Christ has become wisdom from God to them. This union with Christ should make believers value Christ as the greatest wisdom of all. The Corinthians needed to stop following the wisdom of the world and to recognize that Christ embodies divine wisdom.
Finally, the apostle delineated the nature of this wisdom that believers identify with Christ. He is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Christ bore the sins of his people on the cross so they might receive his right standing before God (Rom. 10:4; Phil. 3:9). In Paul’s vocabulary “holiness” or “sanctification” often describes the purity which should characterize the daily lifestyles of believers (Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Thess. 4:3–4, 7; 1 Tim. 2:15). The Corinthians had seen their practical lives changed by the power of the gospel of Christ. He had become the source of their holiness.
Christ also purchased believers with the price of his own blood (Rom. 3:24–25). All believers have been “bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). Paul reminded the Corinthians that Christ had become the most important thing in their lives. They owed to him every dimension of their salvation.
1:30 Verse 30 emphasizes even further that all we are and have comes from Him—not from philosophy, and that there is therefore no room for human glory. First of all, Christ became for us wisdom. He is the wisdom of God (v. 24), the One whom God’s wisdom chose as the way of salvation. When we have Him we have a positional wisdom that guarantees our full salvation. Secondly, He is our righteousness. Through faith in Him we are reckoned righteous by a holy God. Thirdly, He is our sanctification. In ourselves we have nothing in the way of personal holiness, but in Him we are positionally sanctified, and by His power we are transformed from one degree of sanctification to another. Finally, He is our redemption, and this doubtless speaks of redemption in its final aspect when the Lord will come and take us home to be with Himself, and when we shall be redeemed—spirit, soul, and body.
Traill delineated the truth sharply:
Wisdom out[side] of Christ is damning folly—righteousness out[side] of Christ is guilt and condemnation—sanctification out[side] of Christ is filth and sin—redemption out[side] of Christ is bondage and slavery.
A. T. Pierson relates verse 30 to the life and ministry of our Lord:
His deeds and His words and His practices, these show Him as the wisdom of God. Then come His death, burial, and resurrection: these have to do with our righteousness. Then His forty days’ walk among men, His ascension up on high, the gift of the Spirit, and His session at the right hand of God, have to do with our sanctification. Then His coming again, which has to do with our redemption.
1:29–30. God chose this method so that no flesh should glory in His presence. God in His wisdom takes away from all of humankind every occasion of boasting, which includes the boasting of the believers in Corinth who were reveling in people and their spiritual gifts. Instead of boasting, Paul reminds the believers that God is the source of their life in Christ, who became for them wisdom from God (Col 2:2–3) as opposed to the wisdom from men. The three terms—righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption—explain what Paul means by wisdom from God. Christ is the source of righteousness. God declares the believer righteous (Gal 3:6; Rom 1:17; 3:21; 4:3). Christ is also the source of sanctification. Much of the book of 1 Corinthians speaks of the need for holiness among the Corinthians (progressive sanctification). However, here sanctification is probably used in a forensic sense much like the term righteousness. The immediate context seems to substantiate this usage (cf. 1 Cor 1:2). Also Christ is the source of redemption for the believer. This particular term (apolutrōsis) means “to be set free” or “ransomed as a slave” (Rom 3:24). All three of these terms define what occurs at salvation.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 52–54). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 272–273). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 84–88). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (pp. 48–49). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 64–65). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 24–25). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1751). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Hunt, D. L. (2010). The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (pp. 716–717). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.