Romans 1:1-17; Colossians 1:15-23
“You’re a saint!” they exclaim. And it feels nice to be called that. Though obviously we bat away the compliment. Because we know it’s mock praise for a minor act of kindness. We know they don’t really think of us as a saint. You see in most people’s understanding saints are unapproachable, austere and long-dead individuals. They’re not real people, not down-to-earth folk.
But the Apostle Paul thought of saints very differently. When he wrote his letters to the churches he commonly called whole congregations “saints” (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians).
“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.” (Romans 1:7)
The italics you can see in this verse are original to the KJV. They convey that the translators have added words which are not based on any underlying Greek words. They have supplied the verb “to be” here, even though there is no such verb in Paul’s original statement. More literally Paul says that the Romans are “called saints.” That is their status. That is a declaration that stands over them. God calls them saints – not in the future but right now.
See how Paul puts it more straightforwardly in Ephesians:
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus.” (Ephesians 1:1)
Here were ordinary Christians, some of them well-bred, but most of them not (1 Corinthians 1:26). Some of them cultured, some of them not (Romans 1:14). Some of them Jews, some of them Gentiles (Romans 1:16). All of them were sinners (Romans 3:23). Nonetheless, all of them, through faith in Jesus, are called “saints.” And we, if we have trusted Christ, can call ourselves “saints.” I’m well within my rights to introduce myself as “St Glen.” My business card can read “Glen Scrivener: Saint.” And so can yours if you’re a Christian.
But what does it mean? Well the word literally means “holy ones.” Saints are special ones, devoted ones, set apart ones. And yet, there’s nothing in our natural circumstance that would warrant the label. There’s nothing in our genes, nothing in our grooming, nothing even in our behaviour that makes us saintly. But, here is the central message of Saint Paul: unholy ones like you and me are declared to be holy, not because of our saintly deeds, but purely through the work of the Holy One, Jesus. As Paul says in his letter to the Colossians:
“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.” (Colossians 1:21-22)
Let me ask you a question: How does God see you?
We tend to think the answer to that lies on a sliding scale. Sometimes we imagine that God views us as relatively good and sometimes as relatively bad. We think of our status with God as something like a dimmer switch, always fluctuating according to our performance.
Yet Paul says differently. He says our status with God is like an ordinary light switch. It’s either on or off. In verse 21 we see the off position. Three descriptions: alienated, enemies and wicked. Nothing saintly about us!
What changes? Us? Do we embark on a little holiness project to turn things around? No. Here’s what changes things. Christ works reconciliation between us and God. He comes as peacemaker. He takes our side, takes our flesh and puts our unholy humanity to death. Rising up by the power of the Holy Spirit, He is presented to the Father in a glorified humanity. When we, by that same Holy Spirit, are united to Jesus by faith, we too are presented to the Father in Christ. And now, how does God see us? Well Paul gives us another three descriptions, and how different they are: “holy, unblameable and unreproveable.”
Not just blameless but unblameable. Not just without reproof, but unreproveable. God does not see us according to our unholiness. He sees us in Jesus and says to us – “you are holy.”
Sainthood is not conferred by the church but by God. Sainthood is not earned by us, but worked on our behalf by Christ. And sainthood is not the preserve of monks and nuns. Sainthood is the status of the Christian – every Christian.
Forget dimmer-switch Christianity, if you belong to Jesus the light has been switched on. The decisive change has happened. You are not climbing a saintliness ladder. You are not walking a holiness tightrope. Whatever the world calls you, God calls you “holy, unblameable and unreproveable.”
You’re not just saintly. You might not even be saintly. But here’s God’s verdict, without a hint of irony or reserve, He says: “You’re a saint!”
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