Who are the Saints?

This final lesson in the series compares the Biblical description of a saint to popular misconceptions of who and what this person should be.
Class by:

We have reviewed the role and qualifications of each appointed position in the church, and have also focused on the special role of women in ministry. I have left the role of "saint" for this last chapter because the word saint is a generic term that refers to all Christians.


Like the other roles we have been talking about, the word helps define what a "saint" is. When I was a child growing up in the Catholic Church I used to think that a saint was an extremely religious clergyman, or a person who could do miracles or through whom miracles had been done.

A good example of this was Brother André who was a kind of deacon in the Catholic Church in the 1920's, and who served as a doorkeeper in one of the seminary for boys located in Montreal, Quebec where I grew up. He was a kind and religious man who was well known in Catholic religious circles at the time.

After his death, people claimed that miraculous healings occurred when they prayed on behalf of the sick using his name. As a result, a huge cathedral and shrine were built across the street from the seminary where he lived and worked. It was called St. Joseph's Oratory in honor of the earthly father of Jesus, but it was really a testament to Brother André's life and work.

Each year hundreds of thousands of people visit his tomb located in the cathedral itself, and tour the museum showing where he lived and worked. There is even a glass case containing his actual heart on exhibit! The Roman Catholic Church canonized (officially made him a saint) in 2010. He is now Saint André.

If we live long enough we will probably see the same thing happen to Mother Teresa (for the moment she is referred to as "blessed" Mother Teresa, one step lower than sainthood). A person needs two miracles credited to them (i.e. a miracle done by her or attributed to her through prayer). As of the writing of this book she only has one miracle credited to her.

These were the kind of people that the Catholic Church pointed to as "saints." They were special individuals of extreme piety through whom miraculous works were performed. They were quite rare, and only named as saints after decades of investigation by Catholic Church officials.

If we look at the Bible however, we see that the word saint means something quite different. In the Old Testament the word referred to something that was pronounced clean ceremonially or morally. In other words, it was the word used to refer to the thing (sacrifice), place (sanctuary), or person (saint) as clean or pure. Something was impure, and because of some pronouncement or action by God, it was made pure. When it became pure, this is the word that was used to refer to it. A good example of its use is in Leviticus 10:10:

10and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean

In the New Testament part of the Bible the word in the original Greek language meant the same thing as it did in the Old Testament part of the Bible: someone holy, pure or morally upright. In the New Testament it was usually used in the plural form, and it always referred to believers or those who were members of the church.

For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.
- Romans 15:26

Note that the only distinction was that they were poor, not that they could do miracles.

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
- II Corinthians 1:2

In this passage Paul says four things, but he is referring to the same people. This is like when you say your dad is your mom's only husband, the father of your brother, brother of your uncle and coach of the soccer team; four different things about the same person.

Paul talks to these men and women in Corinth and refers to them in four different ways. Ways that help define what and who a saint really is.

They were the church of God at Corinth.

The word church means "the called out." It was a political term at one time referring to those who were "called out" to be the elders of the city or leaders of a tribe. Jesus used this term to refer to His followers as a group. They were the "called out" by God, called out of the world by the gospel.

They were sanctified in Christ Jesus.

The word sanctified means to make holy or to purify. It is the action of taking something and purifying it in some manner. Jesus is the one who sanctifies or purifies His disciples. It is through Him that they go from being impure and unacceptable to being pure, holy and clean (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

They were saints by calling.

The term "saints" refers to their condition now that they have been washed and purified. They did not do this on their own, by their own strength or goodness. They were called to become this way when they obeyed the gospel (repented and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins, Acts 2:37-38). The day Jesus washed away their sins in baptism they became saints (purified, clean, sanctified).

They were united by faith in Christ.

Every person called out by the gospel and washed clean in baptism is a saint, a member of the church and part of the worldwide body of believers who call upon Jesus for salvation. Saints are not holy hermits who do miracles, the term refers to any person who has been washed clean of their sins in baptism, and consequently belongs to Christ's church.

Responsibilities of Saints

Elders, deacons and preachers have certain roles within the church, and the Bible makes special provisions for women and their role in ministry. However, every saint has a particular role to play in the church regardless of age, education, talent or level of maturity. Each saint has two main responsibilities:

1. All saints are to be faithful

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
- Revelation 2:10

Jesus tells the saints at Smyrna that if they are faithful until death they will receive the crown of life.

Someone says, "What are my responsibilities?" I say, "You have to make the effort to be faithful." Being faithful for a lifetime requires effort.

  • Hearing and obeying the word.
  • Resisting temptation over and over again. Trying even after we fail.
  • Faithful to the church in worship and service.
  • Faithful in our complete trust that God can and will save us even when we are completely discouraged.

We may not be elders, deacons or preachers, but as saints we are responsible, "to work out your salvation in fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

2. All saints are to be holy

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;
- I Peter 1:15

Holy means separate, different, dedicated. You buy a wedding dress and it is a holy thing because this particular dress has been set-aside for a particular day and purpose.

Saints are holy and set aside by God for a particular day and a particular purpose. The purpose is to glorify and honor Him. The purpose of a Christian's life is to live in such a way that his or her life brings honor to God. What is done, said, thought, accomplished, or tried brings honor to God in some way.

The "day" that saints have been set aside for is the "day" when Jesus returns. On that day the great wedding between Christ and His church will take place. The greatest honor saints bring to God is that they will honor and receive Christ on the day He returns. When He came the first time He was rejected and crucified by His own people. When He comes a second time His people will be ready and joyful at his coming.

In a practical sense holiness often requires us to go against the grain in this life, and that becomes hard work. For example:

  • Honoring God through regular worship each week goes against the grain of leisure activities, overtime at work and inconvenience.
  • Honoring God through purity goes against the grain of bad language, sexually explicit movies and books, temptation to being involved sexually outside of marriage.
  • Honoring God through giving goes against the grain of materialism, selfishness, worldliness and longing for the goods of this world. We want to keep our money for ourselves, giving it to God to use for the poor or to preach the gospel to people we don't know seems foolish.

Going back to the example of the wedding dress: the value of the bride's dress is not only its design and cloth but the fact that all of this effort and expense has been exclusively devoted to one single wearing of this dress on one single day.

What makes the life of the saint holy is that he only has one life, and it is exclusively devoted to God in preparation for that day when Jesus comes.


Most people in our society define themselves by what they do: accountant, in the military, homemaker, etc. Who they are is defined by what they do. As Christians we approach this issue in the opposite way: what we do is defined by who we are. We are saints, and that status influences everything we do.

As I wrap up this series, two questions need to be answered by everyone:

  1. Are we saints? You cannot become a saint by performing miracles or doing good. You can only become a saint by being washed clean of sin in the waters of Jesus' baptism (Acts 22:16).
  2. Are we acting like saints? If someone were examining your life would they say that faithfulness and holiness were the main qualities of it? When Jesus comes for His saints, this is what He will be looking for in order to identify them (II Peter 3:10-14).

My hope and prayer is that every reader of this book will honestly answer these two questions, and if the answer is no to either one of these, then please do what is necessary to become a saint of God, or be renewed in holy and faithful living.

God bless you.

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss the use of the word saint as used in the Old and New Testaments.
  2. From the text associated with this lesson, what qualified someone to be designated as a saint? (Romans 15:26; II Corinthians 1:2)
  3. From the text associated with this lesson, what are the responsibilities of saints? Answers will vary but look for the following concepts. All saints are to be:
    1. Faithful (Revelation 2:10)
    2. Holy (I Peter 1:15)
  4. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?