Who are the saints?

In Ephesians 4:12, Paul begins to explain the purpose for which Christ has given the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers to the church. He says it is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.” Before we can tackle what it means to equip others for the work of the ministry, we need to understand Paul’s use of the word saints. What does he mean by this term? Well, according to the website www.catholicbible101.com, “The saints…lived exemplary lives, giving up the temporary pleasures of earth for the eternal joy of Heaven. Their lives were marked by a sincere wish to imitate the life of Christ.” To most people, the word “saint” refers only to those whom the Roman Catholic church has “canonized,” and declared to be most holy and worthy of honor and imitation. However, that is not how the NT writers, especially Paul, used the term.

In Romans 1:1, Paul introduces himself as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God,” and he continues on in v.2-6 to describe the nature of the gospel which God had given him to preach. Then in v.7 he makes this statement about the recipients of his letter: “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” Could Paul really be saying that all those who are in Rome, who are beloved of God, are saints by virtue of a divine calling? That is exactly what he says.

Consider also 1 Corinthians 1 in which Paul says that he is writing 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” (v.2). Again, Paul clearly speaks of living Christians – those who call on the name of the Lord – as saints by virtue of a divine calling. Then later in chapter 1 he says this about the calling of God: “you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD’” (v.26-31).

I have included this lengthier portion because it gives us a great look at what the NT actually means when it speaks of “saints.” William Hendriksen puts it well when he says, “A saint, then, is a person whose guilt has been blotted out on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, and who, consequently, by means of the power of the indwelling Spirit, strives to live to God’s glory.” Are you a saint, then? Has the guilt of your sins been removed by the Spirit of God on behalf of Jesus Christ? Has the Holy Spirit made his dwelling within you, so that by his power you are striving to please God? If not, then why won’t you turn to Christ today and cry out for mercy until he makes you a saint?

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