There were two brothers, well known around town for their crooked business dealings and underworld connections. They were a mean and cold-blooded as you could imagine. One day one of the brothers died, and the surviving brother wanted to give his dead brother a funeral fit for a king. He called the funeral home and made all the arrangements, then he called the town’s minister and made him an offer, as they say, he couldn’t refuse. He said, “I’ll give you $10,000 to put that new roof on the church if, in eulogizing my brother, you call him a saint.”
The minister agreed. The whole town turned out for the funeral, and the minister began: “The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten thing you can think of. But compared to his brother, he was a saint,” (Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, Robert J. Morgan, 759).
The minister was very clever. Not only did he keep his word to the brother of the deceased, but he quite eloquently described the kind of persons both brothers actually were. The fact is, neither brother was a saint.
When you think of a saint, what comes to mind? You may have a good idea what a saint ain’t. I imagine you’d say a saint ain’t someone who is as mean and cold-blooded as the two brothers. Rather, you’d probably say both were sinners.
A sinner is usually seen as a person who is opposite of a saint. Sinner is bad; saint is good. Sinner is negative; saint is positive. Sinner is not saved; saint is saved.
How does the Bible view these terms? Sin, as defined, is an athletic term meaning, “missing the mark.” Sin is to miss the bullseye of obeying and pleasing God. Moreover, sin is something that everyone does, even the saintliest of saints. Note this verse: “…for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 6:23, New American Standard Bible, NASB).
Sin began when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. When our original parents did not refrain from eating the forbidden fruit, they brought on the curse of sin and death not only to themselves but all generations to come. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned….” And verse 19a adds, “For as through the one man’s disobedience [Adam] , the many were made sinners….”
While we can agree that all are sinners, some might argue that some sinners are worse than others. So, are we less sinners compared to the two brothers? Are there some really bad sinners and some not-so-bad sinners? The reality is, sin is sin and since we’re all sinners, no one is any better than the other (Isaiah 64:6). Like they say, no one is perfect.
But what about Christians? Didn’t Jesus say, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt. 5:48)? Jesus wasn’t saying to be sinless but to be “complete” as far as doing better in both action and attitude. For example, even though it’s natural to love those you are close to and hate your enemies, you can do better than that and—like our heavenly Father— show love to everyone, even your enemies. (Matt. 5:43-48).
Jesus wanted his followers to desire perfection even though we all sin. It’s said that a Christian has not lost the power to sin, but the desire to sin. A believer understands that sin separates one from God. But the believer also accepts the truth that through Christ, one can deal with those sins by asking for forgiveness and reconciliation. This is what makes the difference between sinners and saints.
So, what is a saint? In short, a saint is a forgiven sinner saved by God’s grace through faith. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” The Apostle Paul wrote these words to saints. But who were the saints? To be sure, it has nothing to do with the professional football team, the New Orleans Saints!
Some have the idea that saints are in heaven and can only be canonized by church officials for having achieved a level of holiness worthy of great honor and emulation. Wikipedia states,
“In Anglican, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Oriental Orthodox doctrine, all of their faithful deceased in Heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honor or emulation; official ecclesiastical recognition, and consequently veneration, is given to some saints through the process of canonization in the Catholic Church or glorification in the Eastern Orthodox Church.”
In reference to this doctrine of sainthood, Dr. Alva Huffer commented,
“This view is unscriptural. Veneration and adoration of dead saints began with the rise of the Papal Church, which adapted this practice from the pagan worship of the dead. In the Roman Church today, canonization of saints results from a very carefully regulated process,” (Systematic Theology, 386).
The Biblical teaching is that every believer is a saint, not dead saints officially recognized by ecclesiastical authority as having extraordinary piety. This bring us back to Ephesians when Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith…” He wasn’t writing to dead saints but living saints—the church. In his greeting to the church at Ephesus, he said, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Ephesians 1:1-2). There are many other references to all Christians addressed as saints, regardless of their spiritual qualifications: (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; 13:13; Phil. 1:1; 4:21; Col. 1:2, 4, 26; Heb. 13:24).
Christians are saints because, having recognized they are sinners, they desire to pursue holiness by putting on Christ in their lives. In fact, the New Testament Greek word for “saint” is hagios which is rendered, “set apart for (or by) God, holy, sacred.” All believers in Christ are set apart or sanctified through Christ. When believers enter into Christ through faith, repentance, and baptism, they’re standing on holy ground for God’s glorification and purpose. This doesn’t mean they will no longer sin, but now their lives through Christ provides them with the way to deal with sin by asking God’s forgiveness and growing in his knowledge and grace (Eph. 1:7-8; 2 Pet. 3:18).
Although Christians are sinners their goal, as saints, is to shine the light of Christ in their lives, for the glory of God. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” (Matt. 4:16). Living in the light of Christ is what holy living is all about.
In church with his mother, a small child was fascinated by the stained-glass windows. “Who are those people painted on the windows,” the boy asked.
“Those are saints,” his mother replied. When he went home, he told his father that he had seen the saints in church.
“Who are the saints?” his dad asked.
“Saints are people the light shines through,” the boy said. (Holy Hilarity)
As shining lights, the hope of every saint is based on the future and the goal of every saint is to be prepared for the glorious return of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said to the Thessalonian saints, “…and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints,” (1 Thess. 3:12-13). That is why believers strive to humbly live as servants of God through his power and wisdom with the hope that when Jesus returns they will receive everlasting life (Rom. 6:13, 19, 22).
In contrast to what many believe, the reward of each saint will not be received in heaven at death but from heaven at the resurrection of all the faithful in Christ when he comes again. At death, the deceased returns to the dust from which he is made and he remains unconscious until Jesus comes again to raise the dead (Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 3:19-22; 9:10; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58). Jesus revealed the future for all saints: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done,” (Rev. 22:12). (See also what Paul said to the Thessalonian saints: 1 Thess. 4:16-18.)
The greatest joy for a sinner is to be a saint for the Lord through whom we are sanctified and saved. This is Good News to all saints. Having greeted the saints at Rome (Rom. 1:7), Paul the Apostle offered a blessing that also comforts the saints of today: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Rom. 15:13).
A day will come at his great coming when the saints of the Lord will march to Zion, and then we’ll sing, “Hallelujah! Amen!” (Isaiah 2:3; Rev. 5:8-14) Here’s Audio Adrenalin singing, “Sound of the Saints”: http://youtu.be/zemjJhquxH8
Good News to YOU!