You see them in stained glass, carved into little statues and on decorative candles that end up at the Dollar Store, they are the Saints with a capital S. They are the people throughout history that some denomination has decided is a “saint” and is worthy of a day named after them and a festival in their honor, possibly with binge drinking, binge eating or a carnival involved. Woohoo! Just kidding, of course. Some of the people so enshrined died horrible deaths in the name of Christ, some fought battles to protect kingdoms and some simply gave lots of money to the particular church or leader. The bond they share is that a church decided to honor them as saints, sometimes after elaborate processes and vetting.
In common understanding these folks are the super Christians who believers around the world are taught to look up to, aspire to be and even to pray to as their super Christian status makes them able to somehow help us regular folk with the God. But what if I told you that God has a different definition of a saint and it is spelled out simply and clearly in the Bible to the point that there should be no dispute about His intentions? A definition that includes you if you are a believer in Christ or could include you in a moment if you are not if you simply put your faith in Christ. This blew my mind when I first read it in God’s Word so now I am sharing it with you.
I was inspired to write this post after reading Paul’s address to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 2-3:
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Please note that the words to be in italics indicate that the words were added by the translators of the text which originally reads more accurately, called saints. So the church at Corinth are called saints by the Apostle Paul in the inspired Word of God. But wait, there is more:
Paul similarly addresses the Church at Phillipi in Phillipians 1:1;
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons…”
or just in case you think Paul was being strange or linguistically messy consider Acts 9:32 written by Luke:
32 Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda.
and Luke recording the words of Paul in Acts 26:10:
10 This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11
If you are familiar with the Book of First Corinthians, Paul is writing a letter to a church that is very much blessed by God, they are rich materially and spiritually, but who have been fighting among themselves, squandering the blessings and generally sinning like regular old imperfect Christians do as we walk with Jesus. Paul is writing to correct and rebuke the believers, sometimes quite frankly, and lead them away from the sin that has ensnared them. Yet, under the inspiration of God, Paul addresses them as saints. He goes further and clarifies who should be called saints:
called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. 1 Corinthians 1:2-3.
Read it yourself. Saints by Paul’s definition are all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. If you believe in Jesus, you are a saint. Your uncle or friend who believes and yet struggles with his walk with Jesus is a saint. The single mom who is scraping pennies together to pay the rent and feed her kids and doesn’t have money to give at church is a saint. I am a saint and I have no fear of what any other denomination thinks of my status.
Coming out of a background filled with revering the saints and praying to the saints, particularly when you lost your keys or really wanted to sell your house quickly, it took me multiple readings of this passage for me to believe what I was reading. You mean it is not just those who have some sort of fame and who have miracles ascribed to them? I remain astounded to this day. It is clear that Paul and Luke are addressing the whole church. Every single person who put or will put their faith in Jesus and is saved according to God’s grace is a saint, a called out one, someone who lives a life that is holy as a member of Christ’s body. Like the Corinthians addressed by Paul, we may be messed up saints struggling with our flesh, but we are saints because we belong to Jesus and are therefore made different by the action and goodness of God. It is God in us and His work that makes us a saint, Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith after all, not anything we do and certainly not the approval of any man on this earth.
So why does this matter? Well, according to what seems to be the Bible’s definition, a saint is someone who was a sinner dead in sins and trespasses who is made a saint by the work of God alone and who will always be a saint because God’s power and salvation through Jesus. It is only God who worked and through His unearned favor the title of saint is given. On the other, the church definition, we have a bunch of guys examining the life of a person trying to determine if their works were enough and whether they lived a holy life according to the church and whether there were miracles attributed to them so that they can be called saints. The popularity of the person and whether someone prayed to that person and thinks that God worked as a result are factored in. Which of these options focuses on God and His Glory? Which focuses on the man involved and his outward effort? Simple questions, eh?
It always strikes me how totally contrary the contemporary depiction and understanding of saints is to the Bible’s description and more importantly how that robs from the work of God in our lives.
The Bible sets out qualifications for sainthood very clearly and simply. Are you a member of Jesus’ Body? Yes, you are in saint, welcome! Praise Jesus for His inclusiveness! Any other standard is a testimony to the works of man.