THE POPULAR VIEW
It is generally supposed that a saint is someone who, having led a blameless and pious life and worked a few so-called well authenticated miracles, is then honoured by the Pope (though not until he or she has been dead for many years!). Having been beatified and canonised such an one is then reverently alluded to as Saint Francis or Saint Cecelia etc. It becomes a sort of honorary title. This has everything to do with Roman Catholic tradition and nothing whatsoever to do with the Biblical meaning of the word ‘saint’. Both in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New, the word translated ‘saint’ comes from a root word which means ‘to be made clean’.
God’s view is important! ‘Saint’ is used in scripture to describe those only who have taken decisive action to bring themselves into a different relationship with the Creator from the one they inherited by accident of their birth. For example, the men and women who, after their acceptance of the doctrines preached by the Apostles, were baptised into Christ in obedience to his commandment, are addressed as ‘saints’ in almost all the letters to the churches. Take the following as an example:
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus… grace unto you and peace….” (Ephesians 1:1-2)
It will be found that, throughout the New Testament, this is the sense in which the word ‘saint’ is always used. It describes all those who have taken obedient action and have been baptised into Christ. Saints were to be found living at Jerusalem (Acts 9.13); Lydda (Acts 9.32); Philippi (Philippians 1.1); Colosse (Colossians 1.2); etc.
THE TWO STATES
There are two states in God’s arrangement of things. Because of the sin of Adam, all mankind is born into a state of sin:
“We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin” (Romans 3:9)
This birth ‘in sin’ is man’s misfortune, not his crime, and God has provided a way out of this situation for those who trouble themselves to discover what he requires of them. Although, in the sight of God, “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10), yet Christ, the Son of God, provided by God as a saviour, has said:
“he that believeth (the Gospel) and is baptised shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16)
All individuals are born into the world under the constitution of sin. Just as, by birth, one is born British and is entitled to the privileges or otherwise that this may bring, so, in God’s sight, all are born sinners and are under the condemnation which this brings - that is, death. But a man may decide he no longer wishes to be British and may become an American. He will do this by willingly obeying the conditions the American state has laid down and by swearing allegiance to the new constitution. This is a fair analogy of the process by which a man may be changed from a sinner to become a saint in the sight of God. This he does by baptism into Christ after agreeing to abide by the commandments laid down by Jesus. By baptism, after belief of the truth concerning God’s purpose with man and the earth, a person is constituted a saint.
CLEANNESS BY OBEDIENCE
We can see now how it is that the word ‘saint’ has the root meaning ‘to be made clean’. A man is constituted clean from the natural defilement of sin through a disposition to obey God in the fulfilment of the conditions which bring reconciliation with God. Such a man will still sin, because it is his nature, but God has said that, provided he earnestly strives against the sin that comes so naturally to him, he will, for Christ’s sake, forgive his sin, and look upon him as a righteous man - or a saint. His obedience has brought him into a new relationship with God, which will lead him to God’s kingdom when the time arrives for it to be established on the earth.
THE SAINTS TO INHERIT GOD’S KINGDOM
This will take place at the return of Christ when he will raise from the dead and judge those made responsible to him by the knowledge of God’s truth (see Psalm 50:5). At the judgement seat, a disobedient saint will be rejected and punished along with the sinners (see Acts 24:15-16; John 5:26-29; Daniel 12:2). However, there need be no cause for dejection among the faithful saints of God. There is no reason why any should be rejected who earnestly strive to love the Lord and serve him in faith. They may look forward to the future with more confidence than the sinners of this world, being persuaded that
“the wages of sin is DEATH, but the gift of God is ETERNAL LIFE through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23)
Those who thus attain to eternal life will be exalted as kings and priests to reign with Christ on the earth (Revelation 5.9-10). The prophet Daniel wrote of this time when he saw in vision that
“judgement was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom” of God (Daniel 7.22)
These things are essential elements of “the faith which was once (for all) delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The saints are they who heartily believe the gospel and seek to implicitly obey Christ’s commandments.
You can become one of their number by giving diligent attention to the word of God.