Who are the saints?
We are all as useful to God
in his service
Nowadays, if asked to name a saint, you might say Mother Teresa. She spent her entire life caring for the poor and outcasts of Calcutta, showing the love of God in her concern for those in need.
Going back through the centuries, we might be able to name Saint George or Saint Augustine—or, going back further to New Testament times, we might mention St Peter or St Paul. We regard these as extraordinary people, and we certainly wouldn’t number ourselves among them...
It comes as a bit of a shock, then, to find the New Testament referring to ordinary church members as saints! Paul’s letters to the Romans, Colossians, Corinthians and Ephesians are addressed to the churches there and the saints that are in them. For example, Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus (now in ruins, in present-day Turkey): ‘To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus…’.
The word ‘saint’ has its root meaning in the idea of separation: separated in a special way to God; set aside for him. In French, ‘saint’ means holy. But if you read Ephesians (NT), you’ll see that there was a lot wrong with the lives of the people there. Among them were liars, thieves, lustful and angry people, people who were coarse in their language.
That’s quite a list, but—and it is a big but!—these people had experienced a change of life through meeting with Jesus. They hadn’t met him in any physical way, but through the teaching of Paul—which is still an inspiration for us today. The Ephesians were indeed saints: they had understood that through Jesus their sins could be washed away, and they could start a new way of life. They weren’t there yet, but they were on a journey, just as we all are.
It didn’t mean that they became perfect in thought, word and deed. As you will see from this letter, there were wrong attitudes between husbands and wives; familiar clashes between parents and children; and even employers and employees came under correction and instruction. They all still had a lot to learn, and their lives needed changing in many ways.
But the greatest necessary change had taken place, because they believed in Jesus Christ and wanted to live in ways that were pleasing to him. There were a lot of adjustments that still needed to be made, and they were on a steep learning curve. But the basic union with Jesus was there.
So it is with us and Jesus. We begin our own journey by hearing about him; then we come to accept that he loves us, and died to forgive our sins; finally, we commit our lives to him.
Just as, in marriage, husband and wife are separated or set apart for each other in a unique relationship, the same is true for the Christian and Jesus. Because of this union with Jesus, every Christian is called to be holy, to be set apart, to try and live holy lives; in Christ, we are all called to be saints.
Pray: Lord God, deep in my heart I don’t feel like a saint. But your power to change people means I can be counted alongside all those who have been called saints throughout the centuries! Thank you for loving me and valuing me this much. Help me to live a life which reflects your love. Amen.
Look up a Bible passage in Daniel (OT) which foretells of Jesus’ coming kingdom, and mentions the saints
Look up how your prayers are represented in Revelation (NT)
Watch a music video clip from the movie Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black
Watch the music video for the song Sanctify by Delirious
See a list at Wikipedia of canonised saints (Note that the Anglican Communion recognises pre-reformation saints)
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