Saint: What does it mean to be one?
As it is with so many things of the Bible, there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about this. What is a saint? How does someone become one?
The words saint, sanctify, sanctification, sanctuary, and holy all come from the same root word in the Greek text of Scripture. The noun HAGIASMOS is translated holiness and sanctification. The verb of this word is HAGIAZO and is translated sanctify, hallow, and let be holy. The adjective HAGIOS is translated holy and saint. HAGION is the neuter form of the adjective translated sanctuary, holiest, holiest of all, and holy place.
The basic meaning of saint is to do with one who is set apart unto God and from evil. In two places [Romans 1:7 & 1 Corinthians 1:2] the Authorized Version of the Bible gives the false impression that believers were called to be saints. The “to be” part is not found in the original text. The people spoken of were already saints because they were believers who had accepted the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the sole basis for their salvation. Statements in the context clearly indicate this.
7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. [Emphasis added]
1 Corinthians 1:2
2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s: [Emphasis added]
Again, these people weren’t called “to be” saints. They already were! The term saints is the most frequently used title for Christians in the Bible. Christian is the transliteration of a Greek word that was first used for believers in the ancient city of Antioch.
26bAnd the disciples [MATHETES = students] were called Christians [CHRISTIANOS = Christians] first in Antioch. [Emphasis added]
The words saint, sanctified, and sanctification do not imply sinlessness. All people sin. No exceptions! You’ve never met a Christian who didn’t sin. Certainly, some sin more or less than others, but all are sinners.
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; [Emphasis added]
Again, saint and the words related just mean to be set apart. If these words implied sinlessness, the Corinthian church along with all the others could not have qualified because in reading Paul’s letters to them you can hardly name a sin for which they were not guilty. What these words do mean is to do with the people they represent being set apart from others as God’s people. They were all beneficiaries of God’s grace for salvation.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Emphasis added]
No one has ever been saved because they somehow stopped sinning. Please note Paul’s words to the very sinful Corinthian church.
1 Corinthians 1:2-4
2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s:
3 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; [Emphasis added]
Even the great apostle Paul acknowledges his own sinfulness as a mature believer.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me [he had only a desire not to sin]; but how to perform that which is good I find not. [Emphasis added]
In other words, despite his best efforts, he could not completely stop sinning.
Altogether this tells us that if you’ve accepted by faith God’s provision for your salvation, you are a saint. You have been sanctified at least in the sense that of all the people in the world you are one who is set apart as one of God’s people. This is sometimes called positional sanctification. As believers mature spiritually in their thinking, they become set apart and different from unsaved unbelievers in their thinking. This is sometimes called experiential sanctification. By growing in their knowledge of God’s Word and the life He would have them to live, they take on new norms and standards by which they conduct their lives. But even if growth and maturity don’t become a reality, a person is still a saint. That’s a status they’ll always have, even if they don’t think or act like one should as a believer. Again, the Corinthian church described in Scripture would be a perfect example of this because it is difficult to find a sin for which these people were not guilty. In many ways they thought and acted just like unbelievers.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
He then points out some evidence of their carnality.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? [Emphasis added]
To say that they were ones who “walk as men” is to say they were living like unbelievers. By their manner of life no one would be able to tell that they were saints.