Jeff S. Smith

Solid Food


Sainthood

 


Introduction

Just a few years ago, the Catholic nun known by the clerical title of Mother Teresa passed away. Because she led a life of self-sacrifice and human service, many began to express their hope that the Roman Catholic church might one day declare her to be a saint. Evidently, in the judgment of the world, she was not quite a saint in life.

The Catholic church has given the world a fundamental misunderstanding about sainthood and set it aside as a clerical award earned by works. The Bible makes no distinction between sainthood and simple discipleship. You can become a saint in life, but not in death.

In this lesson, we will examine the Roman practice of venerating certain individuals to their version of "sainthood" and then look at what the Bible has to say in response. The solution may surprise you: You too can be a saint!

The Catholic Practice

Its origin is not apostolic. A Catholic Internet site reports this:

No proof is given for these claims, Biblical or extrabiblical. In any event, the word of God gives no indication that men like James and Stephen were so enshrined in the early church‹no command, no example, no inference anywhere. The Catholic site continues:

Again no evidence is offered to prove the contentions, but we see clearly the modern process used by the Catholic church is 900 years too late to be Biblical.

The first step is a decision on "veneration," whether or not a dead Catholic is worthy of respect and imitation in life and practice:

But the Bible does not reserve this respect for dead Christians, but implores us to note all those who walk justly and imitate them (Phil. 3:17, 1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1, Heb. 6:11-12).

The next step is called "beatification" and requires evidence that at least one miracle has accompanied the life of the candidate (unless he was martyred):

Sadly though, the age of miracles ceased when the word of God was fully revealed about 1900 years ago (1 Cor. 13:8-12). The Bible implores the living to make intercession through prayer, but never attributes that power to the dead (1 Tim. 2:1); this would come dangerously close to making the saint another mediator between man and God (1 Tim. 2:5).

The last step is termed "canonization" and requires yet another miracle (even in the case of martyrs):

Why does it take the Pope to recognize what God has done? The Bible tells us that we can tell a tree by its fruits, a saint by his life (Gal. 5:22-26).

Finally we are reminded that the Pope's decision is "infallible and irrevocable."6 No saint can become "uncanonized" and no decision can ever be deemed mistaken. But the church admits it has made many mistakes in canonizing:

The Roman Catholic church venerates hundreds of saints, regionally or internationally. The web site concludes: "So while every person who is canonized is a saint, not every holy person has been canonized. You have probably known many 'saints' in your life, and you are called by God to be one yourself." There may be saints that the Pope does not know about and you may even meet one. Because of the necessity of actual supernatural events, that is really impossible by the Catholic definition of saint. But by Bible definition, you will meet saints and you must be one to be saved.

All True Christians Are Saints

The words "saint" and "saints" appear nearly 60 times in New Testament. Every occurrence is from the Greek word hagios (agioV) which Thayer defines as "set apart for God, to be, as it were, exclusively his." He comments further:

This definition of "saint" and its usage in the Bible is not limited to election by merit and reputation as it is in Catholicism. Instead, it is wholly dependent upon the election according to grace which brings all the redeemed into Christ. Simply put, all genuine Christians are saints and there are no "unsainted" Christians.

Consider the address of Paul's letter sent to the original congregation in Rome (Rom. 1:7). He writes to all the beloved of God in Rome and says they were all called to be saints. The only limitation placed upon sainthood here is that one must be beloved and called by God; II Thess. 2:13 calls all the brethren in Christ beloved of the Lord and Rom. 8:30 bestows the privilege calling upon all who are justified in Jesus. We see that sainthood is a broad term, encompassing more than a select group who have earned canonization, but also includes all those who are beloved of God and called to be justified; the Bible describes no special classes of super saints.

Romans 8:27 tells us the spirit makes intercession "for" saints. Saints need intercession made for them. If they are all in heaven with God (as many believe), why?

Several passages speak of supplying the physical and spiritual needs of the saints. If they are in heaven, what physical need do they yet have (Rom. 12:13)? Paul was on his way to Jerusalem as he wrote this "to minister to the saints" (15:25).

Indeed every passage that mentions saints will confirm that there are saints living on earth and that the decree of the Pope is not necessary to announce one's sainthood. Most people do not understand this, believing the saints to be a select group of men and women who earned their canonization by martyrdom or miracle. Most people reserve the term "saint" for extraordinarily good and kind people. But the Bible makes it plain that a saint is a Christian, a person called to the gospel and justified by his faith when he obeys it (1 Cor. 6:11, Rom. 8:30 and James 2:24).

Sanctification is the Key

The word saint represents a person who has been sanctified and all Christians must be sanctified (1 Cor. 1:2). The word "sanctify" is from the Greek word "hagiazo" (agiazo), defined by Thayer as "to separate from things profane and dedicate to God ... to purify internally by reformation of soul."9  He comments further: "In general, Christians are called "agiasmenoi," as those who, freed from the impurity of wickedness, have been brought near to God by their faith and sanctity." The simple definition of sanctify is "to set apart"; a saint is one whom God has set apart from the world.

Jesus's prayer in the garden reveals the standard for declaring saints (John 17:17-19). God's word of truth would set the redeemed apart from the world. There is a distinction between the spiritual and the worldly that can be witnessed without miracles or martyrdom. It is when a man rejects the way of the world to answer the gospel call (2 Thess. 2:13-14). Through contacting his blood in obedient faith, one is sanctified (Heb. 13:12, 9:13-14, 2:10-11).

The church universal then is composed of sanctified immersed people (Eph. 5:25-27). The Greek word for church, "ekklesia" (ekklhsia), means literally "the called-out." The church is literally composed of sanctified people, or saints!

A sanctified life is one set apart from the popular course of the world in general, to indulge sinful appetites. The English word "sanctified" comes from the same Greek word, "hagios," (agioV) as "holy." That is the kind of life enjoined upon the redeemed, the saints of God on earth and in the church of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13-16, 2:9). A saint lives a holy life (Eph. 1:4, Titus 1:8, 1 Peter 3:5, 2 Peter 1:21). He may be in the world, but he is not of the world (Rom. 12:1-2, 1 Peter 4:1-4). Sainthood requires being set apart from sinful pursuits (1 Thess. 4:3).

Conclusion

You too can be a saint! While some try to narrow the term to fit only a select few who have earned special consideration by martyrdom or alleged miracles, the Bible grants all the redeemed in Christ the honor of sainthood.

Footnotes

  1. Roman Catholic Internet Site: http://www.catholic.org/saints/faq.html.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Thayer, Joseph, "Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament," p. 6.
  9. Ibid.


e-mail this author at jssmith@texas.net

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