What is the biblical definition of a saint?
IT’S WORTH CONSIDERING
Many of Paul’s letters are addressed to the “saints.” This seems strange to those who have been taught that a saint is one who has been awarded that title by his or her “above and beyond” behavior. Paul, however, uses it to describe the recipients of his letters—those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Why would he call them saints? Let’s take a look.
Under the old dispensation, the Israelites were called “saints” to denote separation. They were considered separated from other nations and consecrated to God. In the New Testament, the word is applied to believers not merely as externally consecrated but as:
- those who have been reconciled to God, and
- those who have been inwardly purified.
The Greek word from which we get the word “saint” signifies “to cleanse,” either from guilt by a propitiatory sacrifice, as in Hebrews 2:11 and 9:10, 14, or from inward pollution, and also “to consecrate.” Saints, therefore, are those who are cleansed by the blood of Christ and by the renewing of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, they are separated from the world and consecrated to God.
The word holy is closely related to saint. In the Greek, it is ἁγίοις (hagios), most commonly meaning “sacred” and is used to denote things set apart and dedicated for God’s purpose. The writers of the New Testament did more than record the Words of God under Holy Spirit inspiration. In using the common language of the day, Greek, they took common Greek words and gave them new meanings. These selected words would help transmit the newness of the gospel message, especially the new life believers in Jesus Christ would experience. In the pagan world of the Romans and Greeks the word for holy had the religious connotation of being “set apart” or “devoted to the gods.” It commonly referred to a priest or a temple, but it was also used to refer to a prostitute.
AS I SEE IT
There’s a good reason why these two words, saint and holy, are so similar. The words “saint, sanctify, sanctification, hallow, holy, holiness” in the New Testament are all translations of the same Greek root a[gi. Why the lesson in Greek? So we can understand the implication of being called a saint. We have been called to holiness. We’re not expected to simply be thankful our sins have been forgiven. We’re expected to respond with a pursuit of holiness. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, this is not only possible, but expected. It’s why He chose us:
…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4).
Believers in Paul’s day were expected to be set apart from the culture. They were to reflect the new meanings that had been given to words like holy. In the common usage, the word had no connection to “moral purity.” As saints, they were to be living representatives of a new lifestyle that would surely stand out. They had been called to such a role.
Believers today are no different. If we claim to be “disciples of Jesus Christ,” we are expected to live up to our calling as saints. God wants to “show off” His transformational powers through our lives. When we act in a manner contrary to our calling, we rob God of His glory. It’s worth considering as we live out the rest of our days.
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ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
What did the mother turkey say to her disobedient children?
“If your father could see you now, he’d turn over in his gravy.”
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