There are very few Biblical doctrines for which Satan has not created a perversion or two. And very often he uses the same name or title to further confound the inattentive. For example, most people – even good Christians – have a weak perception of last week’s subject – “disciples of Christ.” There is even a denomination called “The Disciples of Christ” which came about with the 1831 merger of several Presbyterian congregations and the early Campbellites. According to Wikipedia, the primary tenant of the “Disciples of Christ” is to deny all doctrinal statements. They are thoroughly interdenominational and were among the charter members of the World and National Council of Churches. Jim Jones, the People’s Temple and the infamous Jonestown were a part of the “Disciples of Christ” denomination. Are the Disciples of Christ truly disciples of Christ? Satan likes to copy – and then corrupt – just about everything Jehovah ever does. And our subject for this week is no exception.
God’s people are “saints” – and they should behave as such. But if you asked the first ten people you met on the street for a definition of “a saint” – you’ll not get a Biblical answer. The average person will tell you that saints are especially good people – almost sinless, if not actually so. Most would humbly demure that they themselves are not saints, but they once knew a saint or two. Others will tell you that saints reside in Heaven. The Roman Catholic will say that saints are people who have been officially “beatified” or “canonized” by the Pope or by some prominent bishop. Many people believe that saints are to be revered, worshiped and besought in prayer, because we need them to help us through life.
More importantly, we need to know what God says about “saints.” My opinion, your neighbor’s opinion and the Pope’s opinion doesn’t matter. I’m not going to dazzle you with new revelation, in fact I’ll probably have to struggle to keep your attention. But I am reasonably sure that, unless you’ve been taught by someone other than me, you will learn one or two things which, as saints yourselves, you ought to know but had not considered before.
But first, we must review our understanding and definition of the term.
There are primarily three words translated “saints” in our Bibles – two Hebrew and one Greek. The most prominent Hebrew word is translated only three ways – “saint,” “”holy” and “holy one.” The one Greek word, “hagios,” is translated with the same three words 98.7% of the time – more than 225 times. The less common Hebrew word is rendered in order “holy,” “merciful,” “godly” and “good.” In other words – the Greek word, and most common Hebrew word, are NOT calling saints “good” people. However, the lesser Hebrew word does say that saints are “merciful” and “good.”
So point number one is this – generally speaking “saint” does not refer to personal character. More precisely, it is speaking about a very special relationship with God. In both the Hebrew and Greek, a saint is someone who has been consecrated to Jehovah. In both languages the root meaning of the word speaks of something which is “set apart” to God. A “saint” is created through “sanctification.” He is someone who has been set apart by God and to God. What is the meaning of I Peter 3:15 when it says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”? “Sanctify” – “hagiosmos” means “to set apart” the Lord God in your heart. Make Him as special as He deserves to be – He is not just another friend in your Facebook account. The Lord Jesus once made an interesting comment while in prayer to His Heavenly Father. John 17:19 – “For the sake of those whom I came to save, I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified …” Christ separated and consecrated Himself to the task of redemption in order that we who are sinners might be made saints of God. Saints are people who belong to God through the work of Christ. As such, the character of those people ought to be godly. But godliness or sinlessness is not the meaning of either “saint” or of “sanctification.”
With that in mind, we aren’t surprised to find that it is not just people who are called “saints,” “holy ones” or just “holy.” God has an innumerable company of angels which are sometimes called “saints” – separated ones. In addition to Old Testament verses, in speaking of the second coming in Matthew 25 the Lord says – “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” The word “holy” – “holy angels” is “hagios” usually translated “saints” and meaning “separated ones.” God’s angels are separated and consecrated to God – as opposed to the angels of Satan. Similarly, the Hebrew word translated “saint” is often applied to the Tabernacle, the Temple, God’s altar and other things which have been set apart for the service of the Lord. But in most of those cases, the word is simply translated “holy.”
Laying aside other holy things and beings, our concerns are about ourselves as the saints of the Lord.
In the Word of God, the people of God are often called “saints.” But how does something become sanctified unto God, or how does someone become a saint? The simple answer is – through “sanctification” or if I may – through – “saint-ification.” In one sense there is only One who can accomplish this glorious work – the Holy One Himself. I Peter 1 sounds surprisingly similar to our opening scripture from Psalm 37. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the SPIRIT, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” The word “sanctification” is “hagiosmos” – “saint-ification.” How is sanctification accomplished? Peter says that it is through the Holy Spirit of God. Then he goes on – as did David – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” God’s saints are kept sanctified by the power of God through faith unto the ultimate end of salvation. And that is in spite of the prosperity of the wicked and their persecution of God’s people. “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
There are many scriptures which speak about God’s work of sanctification. Romans 15:16 speaks of saved Gentiles – sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Our scripture from last week – I Corinthians 1:30 reminds us that Christ Jesus is our sanctification. He is the holiness and separation in which the saint stands before God. And Christ is the means of that sanctification. Paul praised God for the saints in Thessalonica, saying, “We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” Paul even characterized the carnal saints in Corinth saying, “but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” How does a wicked, reprobate like me, become a saint in the sight of God – by the grace of God received in God’s salvation.
This means that every sinner whom the Lord has saved is a saint – a soul separated unto God by Christ. There are dozens of scriptures in Acts and the Epistles which call the redeemed – “saints.” And as we move through Acts and more deeply into the New Testament we find the term “disciple” used less and less – while “saint” is used more and more. While time doesn’t permit us to examine all of them, we will read a few. If you take out your concordance and finish reading all of them, you will not find a single verse which suggests that “saints” are some sort of special Christians. Saints are not more holy than any other sinner saved by grace. The term is not confined to the Apostles, ministers, missionaries or deacons. Every child of God is a saint of God – an even children of God who are children are saints of the Lord. Saints do not become saints by the approval of the Pope or through any man on earth. When Ananias was arguing with the Lord about ministering to newly saved Saul of Tarsus, he said, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” Ananias didn’t call the believers in Jerusalem “disciples,” although that would have been appropriate. He didn’t call them “brethren” or “believers” or “church members” – he called them “saints” – all of them. Remember that Saul did not discriminate when it came to his persecution – men, women and children were among his victims – and as believers in Christ, they were all “saints.”
Many of Paul’s letters began in much the same way as Romans did – “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 1:2 – ” Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord…” How does someone become a saint? It is a part of the call of God, and it is accomplished in Christ Jesus. In Ephesians Paul spoke of the saints many times. In chapter 1, he prayed that “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” In chapter 2, he said, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God…”\sect plain In chapter 3, again he prayed, that they might “be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height,” and to know the love of God. I was surprised to see how many times the Bible groups saints together, speaking about “ALL the saints.” Isn’t Romans 8:27 an heart-warming verse – “And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Jude reminds us that the faith of God was delivered “unto the saints.” I’ll leave it to you to read the other scriptures which call Christians – God’s “saints.”
It seems to me that one of the greatest, and perhaps most neglected, of God’s blessings in saving wicked sinners like us is our sanctification – our “sainthood.” We are forever set apart unto God – consecrated by the Holy Spirit Himself. Among other things, it is a part of the assurance of our future glorification and eternal life. And it is a part of CHRIST’S ultimate glorification as well. I Thessalonians 1:10 – Christ shall eventually “come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.”
Despite being saints, there is no Christian on earth who is perfect.
That is not my opinion, but rather it is somewhat declared by the Lord himself. Ephesians 4:1 – “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men… And he gave some, apostles; & some, prophets; & some, evangelists; & some, pastors & teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” God’s people on earth may be “saints” as to their position in Christ, but that does not make them sinless, truly godly or perfect. And while thus far this evening we may have been rejoicing in God’s grace, I think that it is safe to say that we still have a long way to go before anyone should call us “Saint so-and-so.”
And here is one of the new bits of information which came to me in my study this week. The word “saints” (plural) can be found 62 times in the Bible, but the word “saint” is found only once. And even then the implication is not to a single saint, but generically to all saints. Philippians 4:21 – “Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. All the saints salute you.” I am not sure that we have any Biblical right to call anyone “Saint David,” “Saint Joseph,” or “Saint John.” While it may not be absolutely incorrect, I’m not sure that we aren’t taking too much on ourselves if we should every take up the habit of calling the brethren “saint-so-and-so.” Number one – we have no Biblical precedent to do so. And then there is the obvious fact that no saint on earth is as saintly as he ought to be. The word is very special – its implication reaches right into Heaven itself. Not until the day that we are glorified and we take up residence beside our Redeemer, will we have any right to call ourselves as individuals – “saints.”
Most theology books talk about two kinds of sanctification – positional and practical. Those books properly talk about us as “saints” in Christ, and then they exhort us to live more like saints. I have no problem with the exhortation – in fact that is what I’d like to do this evening. But I’m not sure that we will ever be true saints as long as we remain in the flesh. I’m not sure that there is any anyone who has attained “practical sanctification.”
In the scripture we see exhortations to live up to what – and who – we are in Christ. But the very reason those exhortations exist is because of our failure at being saintly. Paul exhorted the saints in Ephesus to behave like saints – to live as though they were sanctified. In Ephesians 5 the Apostle listed some horrible sins, but with them some which are a little more common. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” What do saints do? According to Revelation 14:12 saints, “keep the commandment of God and the faith of Jesus.”
Every stab of jealousy; every hint of dissatisfaction; every momentary fit of anger – is out of place in the heart of a saint. Every shabby act of worship; every selfish prayer; critical thought against the Word of God – brings shame to the glorious title which the Lord has given to us. Every unloving act; every faithless act; every instance of unfaithfulness – is unworthy of the “saint of God.” Even a moment of pride proves that we’re not really saintly. Every time that we have refused God’s leadership; every tiny act of rebellion; every broken promise – should negate this blessed gift of God. Should any one of us be called “saints” if it was not the Lord who did so? Thankfully, this sanctification is created and maintained by the omnipotent God, not us.
Yes, the Christian is a “saints” because it is God who has separated us unto Himself. But are we worthy of that title? Even if we listen to Paul and Moses, David and John, and we strive with all our might to live like saints, who will even come close to success? God’s people ought to be saints, and in one very important way we are – God has said so. But in the practical realm we are still as far from being saints as we were the day before we were saved. Praise God for saving grace, keeping grace and on-going grace.