Slaves, Saints, and Sojourners (2)
Slaves, Saints, and Sojourners (2)
In a previous meditation on Philippians 1:1-2, I looked at the significance for us in being called “slaves” of Jesus Christ. But there is more. Following his standard practice, Paul also addresses this letter to “the saints” in Christ at Philippi. As you know, “saints” is a precious word that has been sorely perverted. For many people it conjures up images of a painfully thin, sad-faced monastic sort of soul who looks like he’s been sucking on a lemon. As someone once said, a “saint” is a man or woman who lives in constant fear and dread that someone, somewhere is actually having fun! What a tragic distortion of such a glorious descriptive word.
I hope most of you are aware that the word translated “saints” was used primarily to describe people set apart or separated unto God. A “saint” is someone consecrated by God’s grace to be a unique and treasured possession. If I could put it as simply as possible, to say that a Christian is a “saint” is to declare that he/she is possessed by God and especially designed for his purposes and praise.
The OT background for this terminology is found in Exodus 19:6, which is then restated in 1 Peter 2:9 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The focus is more on separation than sanctity (although the former should always lead to the latter). It has in view more one’s position than purity.
It is important to know that the word "saint" (as with the word "priest") is always found in the plural in the NT, with but once exception (Philippians 4:21; but even there, Paul refers to "every" saint!). This does not bode well for the “solitary saint,” the “Lone-Ranger Christian” so often seen in our highly individualized western way of looking at the faith.
Sadly, the Roman Catholic Church has hijacked this word and used it in a profoundly unbiblical way. The process by which a person is declared a “saint” by Rome is called canonization. It used to be that this could only occur five years after the person died, but that requirement was dropped in 1999. To achieve the exalted status of a saint calls for a lengthy and detailed process. A bishop of the church must investigate the candidate’s life to determine if there is evidence of “heroic virtue.” This information is then sent to the Vatican where a panel of theologians and cardinals evaluate it. The next step is called beatification, which comes only if it can be shown that the person is responsible for at least two posthumous miracles, that is to say, miracles that occurred because of and in the name of that individual following their death.
No, No, a thousand times No! Every child who has been born again and trusts and treasures Jesus as Lord and Savior is now and forever will be a “saint” of the Most High God. The same applies to every man and woman, out of every tongue, tribe, and nation. One becomes a “saint” by virtue of God’s action for us through Christ, not because of our deeds or works or miracles. So listen closely folks: it’s Saint Sam writing to you!
Now, is it true that this status, this position, this privilege of being set apart and consecrated unto God ought to lead to purity of life and obedience and holiness and a daily existence that reflects and is consistent with biblical morality? Absolutely. By all means, Yes. But though we still be selfish and stubborn and soiled by sin, we are still, by God’s gracious act in and through Christ Jesus, saints!
Make no mistake: we are saints “in Christ Jesus.” That is to say, our status as “saints” is not due to anything we have done or merited. It is because we have been taken hold of by God’s grace and placed in spiritual union with Jesus, set apart for his service and his praise that we are called “saints”.
He is the air we breathe, the food that sustains us, the drink that refreshes us, the power that energizes us, the foundation for all we are and the goal to which we are moving.
This, dear Christian friend, is your identity! You are a “slave” of Jesus Christ. You are a “saint” in Jesus Christ. And finally, you are a sojourner on this earth. But more on that in another post.