Who Is a Saint?

by Spiros Zodhiates

"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 theirs and ours" (1 Cor. 1:2).

A person who is "sanctified in Christ" is like the water spider, which is a very peculiar insect. The water spider lives at the bottom of muddy pools and has the distinctive power of ascending to the surface of the pool and there surrounding itself with a tiny globule of air. Thus enveloped it descends to the sludge and ooze at the bottom of the pool and remains there, unsullied by its environment until the air is exhausted. Then it rises again to the surface and the process is repeated.

We also are peculiar to the environment in which we live. Similarly, it is possible to be a saint in Corinth or in whatever unfavorable environment where we are right now. Although we must live in the world, the indwelling Christ can provide us with an enveloping shield. And this shield may be compared to that specially-processed glass which enables a person to see from the inside out but prevents others from seeing from the outside in. We who are sanctified in Christ in "Corinth" are supposed to look on the outside world and affect it for Christ, but not allow the outside world to affect us.

Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about the word "saint" is that it can only refer to a dead person who is honored by the living because of his or her pure and exemplary life. To the writers of the New Testament, being a saint was a way of life effected by Christ in man while he is living in an environment that is filthy and opposed to Christ. Saints are not persons who are isolated from the world, but those who are laboring for Christ in the world.

A devout Frenchman truthfully said, "Beware of a religion which substitutes itself for everything. That makes monks. Seek a religion which penetrates everything. That makes Christians." Just as the chlorophyll of the green trees is needed so that it may be acted upon by the sun to absorb from the dirty atmosphere the carbon dioxide that poisons us, so the believer in Christ needs the Holy Spirit to purify his environment.

In the Gospels, the followers of the Lord Jesus are called disciples. A disciple is a scholar, a learner. In Acts they are called believers, which indicates a more intimate relationship than that of discipleship. A disciple may listen to and receive the teachings of a master and yet have little personal relation with him. However Christ demands not only knowledge about Him but also belief in Him. Today believers in Christ are known as "Christians." The term "Christian" occurs only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28, and 1 Pet. 4:16); unlike today, this term was used by the enemies of the faith, not by fellow-believers. During this time no Christian churches or Christian assemblies existed-only churches of the faithful or of the elect, or still more frequently, assemblies of the saints.

Do you realize that you have no place in a Christian church unless you are a saint? Are you one? Would you feel out of place if I were to stand behind the pulpit of your congregation and call you "an assembly of saints"? My words would probably provoke a smile or an expression of surprise. And, if you were to call me a "saint" to my face, it would give me an uneasy feeling, and I would wonder what I had been doing to deserve such an exalted title.

We cannot think of a saint as doing business on the floor of the stock exchange, or contesting for a seat on the town council, or campaigning for the presidency, or even standing behind a counter to serve customers. Even less can we think of him as a shrewd businessman buying in the cheapest and selling in the most expensive market. Such things have become incongruous to us. A saint and a successful businessman, a saint and an alert politician, a saint and a woman shopping for the best bargains for her household-it is hard for us to associate the two.

We imagine that the saint must be altogether or more than half out of this world, and sometimes half out of his mind. We think of a saint as a person far above ordinary affairs, with his or her eyes so constantly fixed on heaven as to be sublimely indifferent to what goes on below, as "a being so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good."

We do not call the members of our Christian churches "saints" now. One branch of the church does not declare anyone a saint until that person has been dead for at least fifty years. But the people whom Paul was addressing in sinful Corinth were alive. They had believed in Christ as a result of his preaching to them. When they believed, they constituted a separate group in the world, the "called-out" ones, the Church, the ekklesía, the saints. But they stayed in Corinth and continued to work there.

As Joseph A. Vance said of saintliness, "its face [is often] weather-beaten, and its shoulders bowed with burden-carrying. Preoccupation with his daily task leaves the saint little time for posing. The real saint is so busy doing the duty set him by his Lord that the devil has no chance to lure him into thinking ‘What a great saint am I'"

Are you sheltered, curled up and content by your world's warm fire?

Then I say your soul is in danger.

The sons of Light, they are down with God in the mire, God in the manger.

So rouse you from your perilous ease; to your sword and your shield!

Your ease is that of the cattle!

Hark, hark, where the bugles are

calling: out to some field!

Out to some battle!

From A Richer Life for You in Christ (First Corinthians 1)