"Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send you greetings."
Paul, the Apostle of Grace
As we know from Paul’s letters, one of his favorite words was grace...and rightly so. Jesus, himself, introduced Paul to the word grace, impacting his life forever. But did you know that another favorite word of Paul is the word saints? It has something to do with Jesus too!
When writing letters to the churches, Paul often addressed his letters in this way: “To the saints in…” Then, throughout the letters, he referred to believers in Jesus as saints.
Why does Paul call believers saints?
Why doesn’t he, as so often we hear within our churches and from pastors, call those he is writing his letters to “sinners saved by grace”?
What people are called over and over again will get into their hearts and minds. People will begin to behave in a way that is consistent with what they believe about themselves. What people believe about themselves is often influenced by the words of others.
Paul understood the power of his words. He knew, by consistently calling believers saints, which was their true identity in Christ, they would begin to see themselves as saints, and their feelings about themselves and their behavior would begin to match who they really were in Christ. Paul was careful not to determine people’s identity by their behavior, but by their belief in Jesus.
So, in its biblical context, what is a saint?
I say biblical context because so often, in Protestant and Catholic churches, the word saint is tied to someone's behavior. In Protestant churches, the word saint is used as a term of endearment to describe elderly people who have died. Someone may say, “He was such a saint” or “She was a dear saint.”
In Catholic churches, a group of people investigates the lives of certain Catholics to determine if their behavior meets the standards of being called a saint. If they meet the standards, the term saint is bestowed upon them.
In both of these groups, they use the word saint in connection to a person’s moral and spiritual conduct during their lives on earth. Yet their use of the word saint is biblically incorrect.
In one way, they are right. The word saint should be connected to a person’s behavior. But not any of ours. That person...Jesus.
Jesus is the only person who ever lived who deserved to be called a saint. The word saint means holy one. He was the only Holy One who ever lived. Jesus, during his earthly life, was holy, pure, moral, loving, kind, good...the list goes on and on. There was no sin in him at all. He was perfectly pure, inside and out.
None of us can say that. We know ourselves, inside and out. But we know, in and of ourselves, there is nothing saintly about us.
In Romans 3:10-20, Paul says, "...there are none righteous, no not one." He goes on to list the immorality of mankind. Eventually, in Romans 5:8, he groups us all together as sinners...unholy ones.
In Romans 5:8, Paul says,
“But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Notice in this verse the Holy One, the Sinless One, Jesus, died for the unholy ones, the sinners, us...the human race. If we could behave ourselves into being saints, then we do not need Jesus’ death. We do not make ourselves holy. Other people can’t declare us holy. Only God can make and declare us holy. It is through Jesus that we have been made holy. And it is through Jesus that God declares us holy.
Hebrews 10:10 says,
“And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
“That will”, in the above verse, is referring to the new covenant or new testament, where Jesus shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins, making us holy once for all. Jesus spoke of this will, covenant, or testament (same Greek word for all three) when he said in Matthew 26:28,
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
In Luke 22:20, Jesus said,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Jesus poured his blood out to make us holy. The will of God was that through the blood of Jesus we would be made holy...once for all. That is what Jesus did...he made us holy.
Hebrews 10:9-10 says,
“Then he [Jesus] said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your [God’s] will.’ He [God] sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
God’s will was to make us holy. The first, which is the covenant of law that God has set aside, shows us how unholy we are. The second, which is the new covenant of grace that God has now established, makes us holy through the blood of Jesus.
The purpose of the book of Hebrews was to convince the religious reader that adherence to religious laws, rituals, and rules can’t make a person holy. They can't cleanse a person's sinful heart. They can't forgive a person's sin. According to the author of Hebrews, to attempt to make oneself holy in these ways was to trample underfoot the blood of Jesus. Jesus suffered to make us holy.
Hebrews 13:12 says, “And so Jesus also suffered...to make the people holy through his own blood.”
According to Hebrews, to seek to make ourselves holy through our own behavior, as if we could, or to measure others' holiness according to their behavior, is to undervalue the blood of Jesus and to overvalue our own or others’ behavior.
The good news of the new covenant of grace, which God established in the blood of Jesus, is that by faith in what Jesus has done for us, we are made holy, once for all, and called holy by God. This means that God sees you as one who has been completely cleansed and forgiven eternally of all your sins. He sees you as not guilty but innocent in his sight (Acts 15:9; Ephesians 1:6-8; Hebrews 1:3; 8:12-13; 9:12-14; 10:1-18).
When Paul writes letters, he is writing to those who are under the new covenant of grace. He writes to the holy ones in Christ, or to the saints in Christ. He writes to those who have come to faith in Jesus, whom the blood of Jesus has made holy.
This is why Paul consistently referred to believers as saints. He wanted to establish in their hearts and minds what God has established through the new covenant of grace, which is their new identity...holy ones, saints. Through the blood of Jesus, they had become holy ones. They had become saints.
In his letters, to address these believers as “sinners saved by grace” would be failure by Paul to understand and communicate the truth of the new covenant, while diminishing the blood of Jesus and its power to change a person’s identity.
Were we sinners? Yes.
Were we saved by grace? Yes.
But now, our identity is not “a sinner saved by grace.” We are now, through the establishment of the new covenant of grace by the will of God and the blood of Jesus, holy ones. We are now saints.
This is a difficulty truth to wrap our minds around.
We know ourselves.
We know our struggles.
We know our sins.
Normally, we label or identify ourselves according to what we know about ourselves. Thus, how we label ourselves changes from day to day. One day we may feel like a saint and the other day like a sinner. Yet on both days, we are determining our identity based upon our behavior rather than by the blood of Jesus.
Not only do we label ourselves according to our behavior, but we feel God does also. One day we feel he sees us as a saint, delighting in us, and on another day we feel he sees us as a sinner, disgusted with us.
The good news of the new covenant of grace, which God established through the blood of Jesus, is that every day he calls us and sees us as saints...holy ones...those who have been made holy by the blood of Jesus, those who have been eternally cleansed and forgiven through the blood of Jesus.
Paul, in the opening remarks of his letter to the Philippians, wrote “To the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi.” In his closing remarks, he writes “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.”
In this blog, I am greeting and writing to the saints in Christ Jesus, wherever you may live. I am writing to those who live under God’s new covenant of grace, to those who have been made holy by the blood of Jesus, to those whose sins have been eternally cleansed and forgiven by the blood of Jesus. I am writing to the saints.
Now we know why one of Paul’s favorite words was saints.
To read Brad's other teachings on Philippians, click below.