To the Saints
July 29, 2018
The word “saint” is a word that many of us may know very well. But it is not a word that many of us use very much. Sure, there is the celebration of Saint Patty’s Day. There are cities such as Saint Louis and San Francisco (Spanish for Saint Francis). There is the football team of the New Orleans Saints. And there are many schools and churches that have the word “saint” in their names. But I venture to guess that most of us in this room didn’t grow up Catholic, that most of us are, hopefully, Bears fans, that most of us have no plans to run for mayor of Saint Louis or San Francisco, and that most of us are not critically devoted every March 17 to see a river turn bright green. So with that guess, I think I can safely say that the word “saint” and the idea of saints is not a big deal in our lives.
But that is most unfortunate, because God calls us saints.
This morning we are looking at the greeting or salutation of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. And Paul addressed this letter to the saints who were in Ephesus.
Ephesus was a major city located off the western coast of what is now modern day Turkey. It was a city of wealth and learning and cosmopolitan life. But it was also a city that was sinful and lost. Ephesus was fascinated by magic and occult practices. They had a massive temple for the worship of the goddess Artemis. And they loved their money (#Acts19). There were no saints in Ephesus. Only sinners.
But God brought Paul to Ephesus. God brought the gospel of Christ to the Ephesians. Many people were saved in that city. And they became saints. Paul used this word very intentionally. It was a beautiful word that described who believers were in Ephesus. And it is a beautiful word that describes who we are here at Highland and who we are as the church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What is the definition of a saint? What does the word mean? A saint is someone who is set apart by God, and someone who believes in Jesus. A saint is someone who is lifted out of sin and death, and someone who has faith in the Lord. A saint is someone who is chosen by grace to be holy, and someone who trusts in the person and work of the Savior. A saint is someone who is loved by God, and someone who is united with Christ. And that is all there is to it. That is the definition of the word “saint.”
This is amazing. This means that anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is called a saint. You are not a saint if you have an exceptional degree of holiness. You are not a saint if you are super close to God. You are not a saint if you get some kind of special recognition or elevation or veneration. You are not a saint if you are just simply nice - “Oh, isn’t she a saint?”
The title and name and designation of “saint” belongs to anyone who has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Any person in the church who professes faith in Jesus is fully and truly a saint. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Christian for 50 years or 50 seconds. You are a saint. It doesn’t matter if you are the Apostle Paul who traveled the world declaring the gospel of Christ of the thief on the cross who did not. You are a saint. It doesn’t matter if you are an elder sitting in a session meeting or a second grader sitting in a Vacation Bible School. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. It doesn’t matter if you have gone to seminar or have not gone to seminary. It doesn’t matter if you can sing or not. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert toward visitors. It doesn’t matter how much you give or serve. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are a saint before God. You are all saints before God. You are all set apart, holy and chosen by God. You are all loved by God.
This is also amazing because this means that we are not called sinners. Many people think or assume that it is good and proper to call believers “sinners.” Many pastors often say to their congregations, “We are sinners.” Many members often say to themselves, “I am such a sinner.” This is very popular in churches today.
Now, it is true that believers sin. It is true that we struggle with sin as we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We are already forgiven of all of our sins and made a new creation. But we are not yet without sin; we are not yet made perfect. We are indeed poor in spirit.
But it is very, very interesting that the Bible does not use the word “sinner” to describe a believer in Christ. And while people say “Never say never,” I can go so far as to confidently tell you this morning that the Bible never uses the word “sinner” to describe who we are in Christ. In 1 Timothy 1:15, the Apostle Paul does call himself a sinner: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” But Paul was only being hyper poetic here in order to highlight the amazing grace and mercy of God. And Paul was using that term for himself, not for anyone else in the church. And in James 4:8, the Apostle James does momentarily address certain people as sinners: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” But James was addressing non-believers who think they are believers and calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. The Bible never uses the word “sinner” to describe a believer in Christ.
Brothers and sisters, God does not call you a sinner. God calls you a saint. Your identity has changed. Romans 5:8 is true, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You were indeed a sinner before you had faith in Christ. But that was then. That was your old identity. This is now. This is your new identity. God does not call you a sinner anymore. God calls you a saint. You are now a saint.
Brothers and sisters, saints, it is true that you struggle with sin. But the sins that you do, they do not define who you are. I therefore respectfully disagree with Batman. In 2005, he said, “It is not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” But in the kingdom of God, we declare, “It is not what I do that defines me, but who I am before God.” “It is not my sins that define me, but what God declares about me.”
Dear saints, your relationship with sin has changed. Your relationship with sin has changed in such a decisive way that it is inappropriate to be called a sinner. You are not condemned for your sins. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). There is no more punishment for us. There is no more guilt for us. There is no more wrath for us. Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins. You are no longer controlled by your sin. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). We are no longer obligated to obey our sinful desires and impulses. The power of sin has been broken. Your relationship with sin has changed forever.
Dear saints of God, the modern and the postmodern zeitgeist would have us think that we define who we are. The Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ would have us think that God defines who we are. So be encouraged. What matters most is what God says of you. This is profound. If a father tells his little daugther that she is worthless, then he can shape her identity for life. But if that girl grows up and believes in Jesus, and if her heavenly Father tells her that she is a saint who is loved by the king of kings, then her identity can be changed forever. We are not called sinners. We are called saints.
Brothers and sisters who are saints in Christ, Paul did not open his letter to the Ephesians by saying, “To the sinners who are in Ephesus.” Paul opened his letter to the Ephesians by saying, “To the saints who are in Ephesus.” And in so many of his letters that we have in the Bible, Paul addresses his readers as saints. Even to the church in Corinth, who struggled with so many issues and gave Paul so much heartache and pain. Paul wrote two letters to them. Guess how he started each of them. The beginning of 1 Corinthians reads, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints….” And the beginning of 2 Corinthians reads, “To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints….” Praise the Lord! He does not call his bride as she deserves. He calls his bride as he desires. And he calls us saints.
Saints, stop calling yourself a sinner. Stop the false humility when you say things like, “I’m such a sinner.” Stop rejecting your God-given identity.
Brothers and sisters, start calling yourself a saint. Do not take this overly literally. It would be amusing to address each other as saints. “Hey, pass me the ball Saint Joey!” “Do we have any updates from the History Team? Saint Aaron, Saint Jean, Saint Mina or Saint Tim?” “No, I’m sorry Saint Hyun Suh, we do not have ice cream today.” “Happy birthday, Saint Jamie!” Do not take this overly literally. But do not take this the other way as well. Let us really consider ourselves saints. Let us really consider each other as saints. God has given to us a letter of salvation. A letter that was stamped and sealed by his love and his promise. A letter that was crafted with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. A letter written to the saints. A letter written to us.