Bible - General Questions

Who is a Saint? Catholics, Hindus & Muslims all claim to have them...

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Who is a saint according to Scripture?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Roman Catholicism has designated over 10,000 dead people as "special friends of God" who can obtain favors for the living. But did you know that Hinduism, Islam, and voodooism also have "saints"? Who is a saint according to Scripture?

The word "saint" appears over 100 times in the King James Bible. One-third of those occurrences are in the Old Testament, mainly in the Psalms and in Daniel. We find the remainder mainly in Paul's epistles and in Revelation.

Who are the saints, according to Scripture? Before we come to the right answer, let's deal with some of the most common false notions about the definition of a saint. Just as he does in everything else pertaining to authentic Biblical Christianity, Satan has been busy throughout history manufacturing counterfeit "saints." We find them both in paganism and in nominal "Christianity".

Pagan "Saints"

Did you know that Hinduism has its "saints"? Hindus consider the founder of the modern Hari Krishna movement, for example, to be a saint. They often use the term Swami to refer to a saint. Swami means "someone who has achieved higher knowledge and is his own master." It's the same kind of terminology that the Gnostics used to promote their counterfeit of Christianity in the early days of the New Testament church, when they claimed that people needed to possess extra-Biblical "higher knowledge" in order to obtain eternal life.

A form of Islam, called Sufism, also has its "saints". In some Muslim countries there are shrines at the tombs of the Islamic "saints." Muslims observe festival days on the anniversary of a saint's death, and Islam believes that these so-called dead saints can perform miracles on behalf of the living.

Certain kinds of vodooism have people they call "saints", and these people are sometimes worshipped as deities. The Cuban Santeria religion, which blends vodooism and Roman Catholicism, is one such pagan religion.

And of course, Roman Catholicism practices the veneration of "saints". In Roman Catholic terminology it is called the cult of the saints. Rome encourages a level of devotion to so-called saints that can truly be called worship, and in fact Roman Catholic literature speaks of the worship of saints. Roman Catholicism says that these 10,000 (and counting) designated saints are "special friends of God." They can be asked to intercede for those still on earth. In Roman Catholic teaching, a saint can be designated as the patron saint of a particular activity or profession. A saint can be prayed to in order to prevent disasters or heal illnesses.

There are many parallels between the Roman Catholic doctrine of saints and the ancient pagan Greek and Roman belief in a pantheon of many gods who had special powers in specific areas of life. Each one was to be prayed to, and devotion shown to him (or her) through various acts of veneration, in order to gain each god's favor as needed. The Roman Catholic doctrine of sainthood is one of many areas in which the Roman church has blended elements of paganism, both old and new, into its false version of Christianity.

High-church Anglicans also venerate people they designate as saints. They say that these people have achieved sainthood not by believing in Christ, but by their own works.

A Title That Only God in Christ Can Confer

Those are some of the false definitions of a saint. None of them has the slightest support from Scripture. What, then, is the definition of a saint, not according to man's word, but according to God's Word?

We begin, as we always should, with the original languages. The New Testament word for "saints" is the Greek hagiois, meaning "holy ones" or "set-apart ones." The parallel Old Testament word for saint is the Hebrew chacid, which carries a very similar meaning.

Next, we move to the use of those words in context in the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul gives perhaps the most content-packed definition of a saint in his greeting at the beginning of First Corinthians:

"Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:1-3).

A literal rendering of the passage would be, "to the assembly of the called-out ones of God which is at Corinth, those having been set apart as holy ones in Christ Jesus, called holy ones, along with all those in every place who are calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is both theirs and ours." From this passage and related ones, Scripture gives us a complete definition of those who are saints:

  1. The single criterion that qualifies someone for the title of "saint" is saving faith in Jesus Christ. Those who are "called holy ones" ("called saints" or "called to be saints") are those who have been "set apart as holy ones in Christ Jesus." As Hebrews 10:10 tells us, the saints are those who "have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Paul makes the same point in Colossians 1:2, where he speaks of "the saints and faithful brethren in Christ" - more literally, "the holy ones, believing brethren in Christ." This is not a canonization or declaration by some ecclesiastical body based on subjective, man-made criteria. It is not a definition rooted in pagan superstition. It is a God-given identification that is rooted solely in the objective criterion of a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. The saints constitute the membership of the true Church locally. It is the saints who are "the assembly of the called-out ones of God which is at Corinth." Paul is making the point that he is addressing not merely a visible local church, which in all times is a mixture of believers and unbelievers, but the invisible Church which is made up only of those who have been set apart in Christ, i.e., the body of believers. The saints are the true Church, and the true Church is made up of the saints only.
  3. Furthermore, the saints constitute the membership of the true Church universally. The title of "saint" applies to all believers, in all times and in all places. There are two reasons for this.
  • In his Corinthian greeting, Paul emphasizes what we might call the spatial aspect of the definition of a saint. The saints are "all those in every place who are calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" for salvation. They all have the same Lord ("Who is both theirs and ours"). All the saints "in every place" - in every part of the earth as well as those who have already gone on to glory with Christ - are one body in Christ. Paul makes the same declaration about the saints elsewhere: "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Romans 12:4-5). "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).
  • Furthermore, we are on sound Biblical ground when we acknowledge a temporal aspect in the definition of a saint. The saints are not only the believers in every place, but the believers of all time. The Old Testament's use of the companion Hebrew word for saint, from the time of Enoch (as recounted in Jude 14-15, and recalled during the wilderness days of Israel in Deuteronomy 33:2-3), throughout the Psalms (21 times), and in the prophets all the way to the end (Zechariah 14:5), affirms the fact that the saints are not New Testament believers only. The definition of a saint encompasses every believer in Christ, from the very beginning of time to the end.

It is the saints who are the believing brethren, and the believing brethren who are the saints. The saints are those who have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ. No other person has legitimate claim to the title, and no one but God in Christ can confer it.

Are You a Saint?

It is for that reason that Paul finishes his greeting to the Corinthian believers with these words: "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:3). "Grace and peace" is a phrase he employs in his epistles to all the churches - to the saints in every place. Grace is the way in which true salvation comes about - the unmerited favor of God.

And peace is the result. Paul writes in Romans 5:1, "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God." The warfare is over. We have been reconciled to God, declared "not guilty" before Him. And therefore, Paul says in Colossians 3:15, "let the peace of God rule in your hearts." Let it control you. Because you are saved, because you are a saint of God, let the peace of God have control of your heart.

If you are trusting by faith alone, in the Lord Jesus alone, by God's grace alone, for salvation - then the Word of God says that you are a saint. And as a saint, you are qualified to partake in the glorious inheritance of the riches that are in Christ Jesus, both now and in the life to come (Ephesians 1:11, Colossians 1:12). You are going to inherit the new heavens and new earth as your eternal dwelling place with Him, and as a saint of God you have the indwelling Holy Spirit as the down-payment, the guarantee, of that inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5, Ephesians 1:14).

Perhaps as you are reading this you realize that you have never received grace and peace from God. You have never admitted to God that you are a sinner. You have never admitted before God that you cannot save yourself from eternal damnation. You stand, at present, outside the kingdom. You are not qualified to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints. You have never been reconciled to God by receiving the free and gracious gift of salvation that God has made available only through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you have come to understand that you need to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin; if you understand that you need to walk in newness of life in Him; if you understand that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way that you can be qualified to be a partaker of the glorious inheritance that God has for his saints - then I encourage you to not let another moment pass, call upon the Lord right now, and ask Him to save you. And if you are taking that step, we would count it a privilege to help you confirm and more fully understand your new-found faith in Christ. Please don't hesitate to contact us for that help.

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