Have you noticed that reading the Bible often means that we finds words and concepts presented to us that run completely different from the way we usually think or even hear those who are followers of Christ, speak in day to day life? Every time I run upon the word “Saint” in the Bible I’m amazed that it is never used in the sense we normally think of it today. Notice a couple of examples. “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16). “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (I Corinthians 1:2).
If you listen to people talking today, if anyone mentions the word “saints” at all, it will likely be to say that either they aren’t a saint or that someone whom they know that is a devoted follower of Christ isn’t a saint. The other extreme will be to listen to the news or read in some magazine about someone being declared a saint by the Roman Catholic church. Sometimes it will be that some person is being considered for sainthood and it will be a person that lived long ago, usually whom no one alive really ever knew. Now it is obvious in reading the Bible that saints were people alive and well at the time they were writing and that it referred to anyone who was a Christian. There isn’t a single church ever mentioned in the Bible that had more problems in it than the church in Corinth yet the letter started with referring to them as saints in Christ. There isn’t even a hint of the notion of the church or some human determining that someone is or isn’t a saint. It was simply used of those who had devoted their lives to Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.
The word translated “saint” is the same word translated “holy”. It means to be set apart particularly for God’s use. Think of the different things in Scripture that are referred to as holy. Jerusalem was called the “Holy City”, both Israel and the church are called “A holy nation”, and the Sabbath was a “holy day.” The fact Israel and the church were called a holy nation didn’t mean about either one that they were perfect or that there were no problems or flaws in them. It meant that they were set apart for God and his service. A saint is one that has been sanctified or set apart for God’s use in life. Later in I Corinthians Paul will say, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Just as the sinner is washed and justified by the Lord and by the Holy Spirit they are sanctified or made to be saints by the Lord and by the Holy Spirit. So, every person who is a disciple of Christ is a saint. Some are weak. Some are strong. Some are struggling. Most have problems and challenges in their life. But sainthood is bestowed on the person when they are washed and justified. Certainly their holiness will grow as they get stronger in their faith and commitment to Christ. But the 10 or 12 year old that gives their life to Christ becomes a saint then and there.
Focus on the statement to the Ephesian church again. Paul told them because he had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints he didn’t ever stop giving thanks for them and remembering them in his prayers. We would surely all agree that it is absolutely imperative that one have faith in the Lord Jesus to be right with God. “Without faith it is impossible to please him. He who comes to God must believe that he is and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus even said if one didn’t believe that he was the Christ, the messiah then we were not one of his. So, it is not a surprise that Paul would say that his hearing about their faith in the Lord led to him praying and giving thanks for them on a regular basis.
But he added that it was hearing of their love for all the saints that led to such prayers as well. Jesus said to the apostles in John 13:34-35 that it was by the love disciples had for each other that the world would know that they were his. It is interesting that John 13 begins by pointing out that Jesus “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the very end.” So when he said to the disciples that they were to love one another as he loved them it means that even when we fail, struggle and mess up royally, we are to keep on loving each other just as Jesus kept on loving his own even in their failings. Jesus demonstrated that love when at the last supper with those disciples he laid aside his outer garments and wrapped a towel around him and began washing the feet of his disciples. Love won’t quit and love serves instead of just waiting to be served.
If everyone that is washed and justified in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of our God also is sanctified or becomes a saint and we are to love all the saints, then our challenge is huge. As a follower of Christ I’m not just to love the saints that look like me, are of the same race as me, go to the same church as me, or believe everything just like me. Remember how many problems were in the Corinthian church whom God referred to as saints in Christ. They were divided, immature, fussing, taking one another to court, immoral, had huge marriage problems, had worship problems and wars, and even had members who denied the resurrection from the dead. Yet they were saints in Christ Jesus.
Let’s face it, one of the reasons the world has a hard time taking the message of Christ seriously is the failure of those followers to love one another. Love for God should have the effect of drawing all the people who love him closer to him and to each other. How in the world do we think we can get closer to God and still hold each other at a distance?