. . . you are a saint!
Eventually, the true Christian gospel gets down to a division between those who trust in Jesus and those who do not. We can say all kinds of things about the love God has for the unbeliever and the constant invitation for the unbeliever to come to Jesus, but we have to acknowledge that there is such a thing as an unbeliever. Today we hear more and more talk about universalism and a focus on the fact that God loves all people, but in that love God has allowed a choice. Not all people will choose the salvation God offers.
Sometimes in Scripture that distinction is said to be between saints and sinners. Sinners, consistently in Scripture, refers to those who “remain in their sins” and apart from Jesus. Saints, consistently in Scripture, refers to those who are sanctified, made holy, by their association with God through Jesus. There is no middle ground between these two in Scripture. They are primarily collective terms, meaning that they rarely used to refer to a single person.
However, some churches have chosen to designate only certain individuals as saints, certain believers whose walk or ministry has been outstanding in some way. Because that was the popular thinking for a long time, many people of our day have been trained not to think of themselves as saints, even though they have come to Christ. They still think of themselves as sinners when they compare their lives to the ones designated as saints.
Add to that the fact that many churches focus their message on behavioral change, rather than on a clear message of who the believer is in Christ. As long as a person is called a sinner in church, and the focus of the sermon is consistently against the sin of the believer, it is almost impossible for a person to see himself as a saint. After all, a saint wouldn’t do all the bad things I do. Right?
Because of the distinction in Scripture and in common use, we tend to think that saint is a direct opposite of sinner. That gets us into trouble when we think that a sinner is a sinner because of what he does. The opposite would then be stated as: a saint is a saint because of what he does. That’s how these words have come to be used. But that’s wrong.
A sinner is a person who remains in his sin—positionally. He continues to be in a state of sin, or a citizen of the realm of sin, or under the control or authority of sin. It’s more like saying someone is a New Yorker, rather than saying someone is a writer. A writer is someone who writes, but a New Yorker is someone who lives in New York. A sinner is not simply someone who sins, but is rather someone who continues to dwell in sin.
That’s why the word saint is used in Scripture, instead of something like “good worker.” To be a saint is to be sanctified, to be holy. That’s what it means. It refers to something that has happened in the person’s life by the work of Jesus. It does not refer to the work of the person.
So I can say without hesitation that you are a saint if you have come to Jesus. He has washed away your sins, taken you out of the realm of sin, and has made you holy. That’s what a saint is—and it all hinges on what He has done for you.
One of the new goals of your life in Christ should be to avoid sin, to avoid doing things that tie you to that realm of sin Jesus from which Jesus rescued you. But your success or failure in that goal does not affect your standing in Christ. You are a saint because of His obedience and faithfulness, not yours.
And that’s good news!