Treasure: I am a Saint
I can already hear my friends when they read the title of this article: ‘Buddy…you are a lot of things…but saint? I don’t think so!’ Trust me…I understand this thought, and if THEY wrote this article I’d be thinking the same thing (on one level) about them!
But the truth is that every Christian is a saint. This is why Paul often begins his writings to a local church by saying something like ‘To the saints who are in Ephesus’ (Ephesians 1:1). Every believer is called by God to be a saint. It is a state or status into which God brings every believer. This truth isn’t a recognition of a status we’ve achieved but rather something God has called us to. So, my friends, I am a saint!
In Scripture, a saint is someone who is sanctified, someone who is set apart. The word is related to the word ‘sanctify’ and ‘sanctification,’ and it means someone who has been set apart for God. This is what Paul was talking about in Titus 2:14: “Christ, who gave himself for us…to purify for himself a people for his own possession.” To be a Christian is to be a saint: to be called by God to be set apart to be Christ’s own possession. A Christian is ‘not his / her own’ (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Jerry Bridges says:
“The name on the title to [the Christian’s] life is no longer the name he is known by. The titleholder to the life of every Christian is Jesus Christ. This is what it means for Christ to be Lord…Our whole outlook on life should be colored by the fact that, as saints, we no longer belong to ourselves but to him.”
(The title and much of the material for this article come from a chapter in his book Who am I? Identity in Christ. I commend the whole book!)
This is an aspect of the gospel. When we are saved we are ‘set apart’ by the Holy Spirit.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 says, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1:1-2 says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
Both Paul and Peter are describing the sanctifying work of the Spirit. This is the work the Spirit does in applying the gospel to our lives. It is this work of setting us apart for Christ that is why we believe the truth of the gospel and trust in Christ as our Savior.
- Ephesians 2:1,4 – We were dead in sins, but he made us alive in Christ
- Acts 26:18 – We were under the power of Satan, but he rescued us.
- Colossians 1:13 – We were in the domain of darkness, but he delivered us.
- 2 Corinthians 4:4-5 – Our minds were blinded by Satan, but he opened them to the truth.
There is no salvation apart from this work of the Spirit ‘uniting us’ to Christ. We are ‘in Christ’ because God the Holy Spirit powerfully works in us to unite us to Christ as our representative before God and the source of our new spiritual life. We don’t simply change from a description of ‘sinner’ to ‘saint.’ Our hearts are radically and powerfully changed.
This raises the question my friends asked when they saw the title of my article! In one sense they are certainly wise to remind me that I am no ‘saint,’ if saint means that in this life I never sin! So, it’s important to distinguish between the sanctifying work of the Spirit that sets us apart for Christ when we are saved and what is often called ‘progressive sanctification.’ Mr. Bridges says:
“The definitive point-in-time sanctification that makes us ‘saints’ is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. We contribute nothing to his divine almighty action. In this sanctification we are all equally sanctified…progressive sanctification involves our utmost effort, though that effort must be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This sanctification varies in degree from one believer to another, and…will never be completed in this life.”
Trying to distinguish between ‘point-in-time sanctification’ and ‘progressive sanctification’ may sound unimportant or even confusing! But, for what it’s worth, I’ve increasingly become convinced of how vital it is that Christians make this distinction clear. I would say that as someone who teaches Scripture and serves as a pastor that I haven’t done a thorough job of this myself (which is one of the reasons I wanted to write this article). I also recognize how much love and gratitude for what Christ has done for me has motivated me to pursue spiritual growth. So, I want to insure that I hold up the idea of being a saint to our church—to remind us that we are Christ’s own possession by the grace of God. I want to remember how much he has forgiven me and that I am a saint! I am set apart for him. This motivates me to live a life worthy of the calling I have received.
Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore [that is, because of the gospel taught in Romans 1-11], brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
What a motivation! This is why we want to give our entire lives to him on a daily basis: in view of the mercies of God. Because of Christ, we are saints, and because of his love and mercy toward us, we love him and desire to glorify him in all that we do. We have been delivered from the power of Satan, freed from the domain of darkness, and we see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. The Holy Spirit has set us apart to be Christ’s possession!
I am a saint.