Subject: How the Bible defines a Saint
1Corinthians 1:2 “To those who are set apart in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…”
September 4th was the 19th anniversary of the death of Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. It was also the day that over 120,000 people – both the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the homeless – gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome to celebrate a very special honor posthumously bestowed upon her.
Speaking at the Vatican, Pope Francis said that “after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa (aka Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu) of Calcutta to be a saint, and we enroll her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole church.”
The deafening applause began while he was speaking, making it difficult to even hear him. Mother Teresa was so admired by so many, regardless of their religious beliefs. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “unending work and compassion for the poor”. She died in 1997 at the age of 87.
But to be venerated by the Catholic Church as a saint – this is a very exclusive group. The number is estimated to be somewhere between 800 and 2,500 total in history. As our verse this week tells us, a saint is someone who has been “set apart” in Jesus Christ. So God “sets” a saint “apart” from everyone else.
But what exactly is a saint, and who sets the requirements to be one? Since the term is used in the Bible 80 times (20 times in the Old Testament, 60 times in the New), let’s see what God’s Word has to say. In his article ‘On the Road to Sainthood’, Dr. Michael Milton, founder of the outreach ministry ‘Faith for Living’, lays out the Bible’s four criteria anyone must meet to join Mother Teresa as a saint “set apart” to God:
Criterion #1 = Saints are created by God, not men: “Saints are believers in Christ who have been called to be saints. Romans 1:7 speaks of God calling the believers in Rome to be saints. So, you cannot make yourself a saint with good works. In fact, sainthood has nothing to do with good works, but with the supernatural activity of God. He calls people to this life. In a word, God makes saints, we don’t.”
Criterion #2 = Saints are children of God: “Paul says saints are members of the “household of God.” To put it another way, all human beings who have been regenerated by God through the preaching of the Word of God concerning Jesus and His work of redemption, and thus look to God in Christ by faith, are justified by Almighty God (declared “right with God”), and then, by the Spirit, made to be His children. That is what household means. All believers are saints and all saints are sons and daughters of their Abba Father.”
Criterion #3 = Saints are not confined to a church: “Saints are believers who transcend localities and therefore denominational or ecclesiastical communities. Paul again writes about God calling the believers in Corinth to be saints (our verse this week), but then says that they have been “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Corinthians 1:2).”
Criterion #4 = Saints can be created from the worst men and women: “The Apostle Paul… lived a life which seems so radically different from anything we would associate with the word “saint.” Yet the grace of God applied the redeeming work of Jesus—His life lived for us, His blood atoning death for our sins on the cross—to our lives, and we believed and were put right with God and brought into His family. God changes our legacy from sinners to saint. It is not our doing. It is all His.”
So, “saint” is anyone one who is set apart FROM the world and their former life, and then set apart TO the will of God. All 60 times in the New Testament it means “anyone who is a true believer in Jesus Christ”. So you do not require a Pope to turn you into a saint. If you have placed your life under the control of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are a saint.
This is a very liberating truth – one that does “set you free”. You as a follower of Jesus Christ only have to ignore mens’ opinions and listen to what God says. And then you must claim it.