To All the Saints

A film was produced a while back about Joan of Arc, the second patron of France. My daughter became interested in her and did some research. Living from 1412-1431, Joan of Arc became famous for her faith, visions, national loyalty, military heroism, and execution. In 1920 she was canonized–declared a “saint”.[1]

The papal act of canonization is said to confer seven honors, including the authorization of invoking the saint’s name in prayer. Since the Reformation, however, evangelical Christians have reexamined the Biblical definition of “saint” and invoke only the name of Jesus, our mediator, in prayer (1 Tim. 2:5). Intending no disrespect for those in the past who have been given this ecclesiastical title, we do well to consider the New Testament teaching on the subject of

What is a saint? Who are saints? What privileges and responsibilities are conferred upon them? The Greek word translated as “saint” is “hagios” occurring over 200 times in the New Testament. Often translated “holy,” it has the basic meaning of being set apart from what is common and unclean to what is Godly and pure. “Hagios” is used to affirm the holiness of God–the Father (Luke 1:49), the Son, and the Spirit (Luke 1:35). People and things are identified as “holy” in so far as they are consecrated to God. “Holy” is used of the tabernacle as God’s sacred dwelling place (Heb. 9:2,3,24,25;10:19). When “saint” or “holy” is used of people, it designates them as ones who have been redeemed by God through grace and set apart for His purposes. Since believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they are described as a holy temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16,17), a holy priesthood, and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:5,9).

Instead of constituting a special category of Christians, the Bible designates all true believers in Christ as “saints.” This seems shocking at first, since we as believers too often fail to manifest saintly character, attitudes, actions, and words. In spite of this gap between standing (one’s position in Christ) and state (one’s quality of experience), Paul addresses his readers as “saints.” For example, although the Corinthian church had numerous ethical and spiritual problems, the epistle begins, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called [to be] saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2).

How could sinners be welcomed by a holy God as forgiven–as saints? Only by the infinite price the Lord Jesus paid on Calvary: “By that will [God’s will] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once [for all]” (Heb. 10:10). This gracious position of being set apart for God is not a license to sin; far from it. We are saved by grace to walk according to our new nature as God’s workmanship, doing the good works He has equipped us to do (Eph. 2:10).

Our spiritual identity as “holy ones” refers to the sanctification of our spirit, which is now the dwelling place of God. Through this “positional sanctification” we have become partakers of His divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). In Christian discipleship God renews our minds to view our spiritual identity as He does. We are to cooperate with His Holy Spirit who is transforming our mind, will, and values. As we mature in “progressive sanctification,” we demonstrate actions and words which reflect our holy status. “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).

An essential resource in sanctification is the Word of God. Christ prayed for His people, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17; Cf. Eph. 5:26). We are not passive in this process; we are called to set our minds on things above (Col. 3:1-3) and yield our will to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). This will bring joy to God and to us. This consecration will make us more usable to Him: “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter [impure things], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).

F. B. Meyer wrote of the need for believers to be set apart for ministry:

“We can never realize these divine ideals of service merely by an external obedience. We must be constrained by a holy love to our Lord and to one another. What a despair these ideals would be apart from the Holy Spirit. That holy love comes from Him.” [2]

Have you come to trust in Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? If so, then your spiritual identity is that of “saint”! This is not an issue of pride, but is based on Scripture, rooted in grace, and filled with privileges and responsibilities.

How can we live more saintly lives as believers? The secret is to stay focused on our Sanctifier. We need to personalize Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And we should claim this promise of the next verse: “He who calls you is faithful who also will do it.”

So, when you hear the the title “saints”, don’t think first of church history or football in New Orleans! Instead, affirm your identity in Christ and let His light shine in and through you. Let’s pray with the poet:

“Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee;
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”[3]


2nd edition, 2015

[1] C.G. Thorne Jr, “Joan of Arc” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J.D. Douglas (Zondervan).

[2] F. B. Meyer, Our Daily Walk, p.58.

[3] Frances Ridley Havergal, “Take My Life and Let it Be.”

Grace Notes (c) 1999, by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non commercial use. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.


Honorable Mention

The Lie of Forgiveness, by Danny Niceley. Danny is a GFI alumnus who just published this book on the finished work of Christ and living by grace. Check out the details at his site: finish-line.org

Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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