By Tom Claibourne
Saint. A lofty word. An intimidating word. A misunderstood word. A word that conjures images of giants of the faith who lived centuries ago, or of a pious, seemingly sinless person who has been a faithful Christian for many decades.
We read inspirational accounts of Augustine of Hippo or Frances of Assisi and casually accept the title of “Saint” being attached to their names. One of my old King James Version Bibles identifies the first four writers of the New Testament as St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John. For some reason Peter did not receive the same lofty recognition in the headings over his two epistles. Sainthood can be a bit confusing.
You may have seen a report a few months ago that told of the May 13, 2017 canonization of two young Portuguese shepherd children as saints. One hundred years previous, Francisco (9) and Jacinta (7) Marto claimed to have received several visions from the Virgin Mary along with their young cousin in the town of Fatima (which became a major pilgrimage site as a result).
Francisco died in 1919, and his sister in 1920, both casualties of the great European influenza epidemic. Pope Frances traveled to Fatima in May to officially proclaim the siblings to be Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta. Child saints! Is there really such a thing?
Actually, there is, as I can humbly attest. I personally became a saint on July 14, 1968 when I was just 11 years old. Sadly no one then or now has seemed anxious to address me by my proper title, “Saint Thomas of Hillsboro.” Nevertheless, I refuse to relinquish my God-ordained status as a saint.
In the New Testament the Greek word hagios is translated “saint” when used as a noun and “holy” when used as an adjective (i.e. holy temple, holy priesthood, holy angels, etc.). Most often the word occurs in the plural and is translated interchangeably as “saints,” “God’s people” or “those sanctified.”
All God’s people are saints who have been sanctified and made holy through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. Holy ones. This sainthood is not a grand, personal attainment, but a state into which God calls us through his grace. A person either is a saint or is not.
The evening I submitted my life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ through trusting faith, sincere repentance, and the burial of my old life in baptism, I instantly became a saint. Holy. A child saint who is now a much older saint.
The root meaning of hagios is the idea of being separate or set apart, much like the Old Testament Hebrew word qadash. God is holy. He is separate from his creation and separate from sin. He is distinct and transcendent. Therefore, when anything is set apart and consecrated to God, it is considered holy and should be treated as such.
The Apostle Peter, our fellow saint, explains the practical implications of our sainthood, while quoting from Leviticus: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
Be What You Are
We are to be holy because God is holy. But we are also to be holy because we are holy, having been designated as such by God. Thus, God calls us to live a holy lifestyle (2 Timothy 1:9) each day in our thoughts, words, and actions, because God has already bestowed sainthood upon us through his grace. We truly are “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (1 Corinthians 1:2). It is a matter of transformation. A journey to true holiness.
We were made holy (past tense) through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ, and continue to be sanctified (present tense) and made more Christlike through his indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11) and the cleansing influence of his holy Word (Psalm 119:11).
Holiness is a lifelong process of living out the status God has already given us.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).
God redeemed us through his Son so he can reform us to be like his Son. Holy. Sanctified.
Let’s joyfully live like the saints we are.
Tom Claibourne serves with many other saints at Bethlehem Church of Christ near Winchester, Ohio.