How does the Bible define a saint? Are Christians saints after they die or while they are still living?
The Word “Saint”
The Greek word for saints is an interesting one. It is the word “hagios” and means “most holy thing” so a saint is a holy person but wait, aren’t all men sinners, even after they are saved? Yes, that’s true but God sees us as having Jesus own righteousness because Christ became sin for us so that when the Father now sees us, He sees us as having the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21). What about those who are saved or justified by faith in the Old Testament? Does God considered them saints too? The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for saint is “chaciyd” which means “faithful, kind, godly,” and “holy one” so we see that the use of the word saint essentially means the same thing in both the Old and New Testament and that is “holy ones.” There is yet another Hebrew word for saint and it is “qadowsh” which again means “sacred, holy, holy one” and “set apart.” When believers are called and saved we are sanctified or “set apart for holy use” which is what sanctified means. So the Bible mentions believers in both the Old and New Testament as saints. Here’s proof.
Ephesians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus”
There you are. Paul calls the believers at Ephesus “saints” because in Christ they are made holy due to Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. But there’s more.
First Corinthians 1:2 “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”
Once again Paul, as is his custom, opens his epistles (letters) with greetings to the saints or the set apart or holy ones. They have no inherent holiness of course but they are made holy by Jesus’ blood that was shed for them on the cross. Want yet more proof?
Colossians 1:2 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”
Paul is not the only one to call Christians saints. So too does the Apostle John but really it is Jesus Christ Who calls them saints because He is the actual author of the Book of Revelation (1:1) and so we turn there to see in 14:12 where it is written “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” There is a theme that is found in all of the New Testament verses where a saint is mentioned and it is almost always associated with those who are in Christ or have faith in Christ. Without Christ, being a saint is impossible. With Christ, it is possible.
The Definition of a Saint
A saint is anyone who has been saved and then they are set apart for holy use. Hebrews 10:10 says “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The context of verse 10 in chapter 10 was about how believers have been “sanctified” by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ shed blood. That is the only way we are made “hagios,” a “most holy thing.” The word used for “sanctified” in Hebrews 10:10 is “hagiazō” which is the verb form of “hagios” and it means “set apart, to be venerated or hallowed (made holy)” so we see that believers are sanctified or made holy and that is what the word “saint” means to be set apart for holy use, to be a holy thing or a person made holy. They are made holy by Christ’s death and shed blood. That is exactly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that we “were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Without this “washing” by Christ’s blood, we could be no more holy than a cow is made sacred by Hindu beliefs. The word “saints” and “sanctified” are used frequently in the New Testament when referring to the body of believers, like in 1 Corinthians 1:2 “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours.” Here Paul uses the term “holy people,” and “to those sanctified” when referring to the church.
You are Saints in the Present
There is no need to await beatification (sainthood achieved) as some believe. It doesn’t take ten or twenty or a hundred years. If you have repented and trusted in Christ, you are a saint of God today, right now! Why would Paul declare to the believers that they were saints at the time that he was writing to them, while they were still alive, if it was only for the dead? It makes no sense for Paul to write to “the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae” or in Corinth, or at Rome if they were dead! There is nothing in the Bible that teaches that someone has to be dead for a certain number of years before they can be referred to as a saint or reach beatification. That is not taught in the Bible.you are a saint today if you have placed your faith in Christ.period!
There are only two kinds of people on earth right now, as the late Adrian Rogers said; there are saints and there are ain’ts. There are none in the middle. There is no fence that anyone can sit on when they are having indecision about whether to be saved or not. You are either saved and have escaped the wrath of God or you are not saved and have the wrath of God still awaiting you on Judgment Day (Rev 20″11-15). You must choose, before you die or before Christ comes back (which could be at any moment) where you will spend eternity. It will be either in the New Jerusalem or the lake of fire. There is no place in between. Are you a saint saved by grace or a sinner destined for hell for all eternity?
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon