Summary: God has called us to be saints and to live lives of holiness.
There’s a story about two brothers who had terrorized the small town where they lived for decades. They were unfaithful to their wives, abusive to their children, and dishonest in business. They were loud, boisterous and just plain rude to nearly everyone. One day, out of the clear blue, the younger brother died. The older brother went to the preacher of the local church and said, "Preacher, I’d like you to conduct my brother’s funeral. And it’s important to me that during the service, you say my brother was a saint."
The preacher said, "I can’t do that. We both know he was far from that."
The older brother pulled out his checkbook and said, "Preacher, I’m prepared to give $100,000 to your church. All I’m asking is that you publicly state that my brother was a saint."
On the day of the funeral, the preacher began his sermon this way. "Everyone here knows that the deceased was a wicked man, a womanizer, and a drunk. He terrorized his employees and cheated on his taxes." The preacher paused for a second and then continued, "But as evil and sinful as this man was, compared to his older brother, he was a saint!"
This morning, I want to speak to an audience of people who are called to be saints. In Romans 1:7, Paul said he was addressing the Roman letter to “all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.”
In I Corinthians 1:2, Paul addressed the Corinthian letter to “the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.”
In fact, the term “saint” must have been Paul’s favorite word for describing Christians because he used it about 60 times in his letters, which is especially surprising when you realize that he never once called them Christians. And yet “saint” is not a word we use much in the church today. I’ve never heard anyone in this congregation say, “Yeah, my wife and I are having a few saints over to our house for dinner tomorrow night” or “My insurance agent is a saint.”
But it certainly would be appropriate to say that. Because a saint, as the term is used in the New Testament, is not a specially pious Christian who has died and has been canonized by an ecclesiastical council -- St. Peter, St. Augustine, St. Patrick. The Greek word translated “saint” is “hagios”, “set apart one” or “holy one”. And according to scripture, every Christian -- whether well-known or unknown, leader or follower -- every Christian is a saint. In the biblical sense, the most obscure Christian is just as much a saint as the apostle Paul.
And so if you’re a Christian here this morning, then you’ve been called to be a saint. I want to talk a little bit about what that means to us.
As I’ve already suggested, the Greek word for “saint” is very closely connected with the Greek word for “holy”, and that’s not a word we like to use much either.
I think maybe the reason is that the word brings with it some negative images. We hear people talk about those who have a "holier than thou" kind of attitude, and so to claim to be holy doesn’t seem to be something we want to do. Also, the word seems to suggest to us a glowing halo over someone’s head and so we don’t really think of ourselves as being "holy".
Later on in the lesson I want to go into some detail about what it means to be holy, but for now let me just suggest to you that being holy simply means growing in our knowledge of God’s Word and our obedience to it. That involves adding those qualities that make us more like Christ, and getting rid of those qualities that are ungodly.
When we understand that, I don’t think there is any way for us to over-emphasize the importance of holiness in a Christian’s life. I like this quote from John MacArthur who said:
"God’s desire for His children here on earth is purity of life. It is impossible to study Scripture attentively and not be overwhelmingly convinced that God seeks above all else for His people to be holy and that He is grieved by sin of any kind...Because God is so concerned for the holiness of His people, they should be equally concerned. The church cannot preach and teach a message it does not live and have any integrity before God, or even before the world. Yet in many churches where there is no tolerance for sin in principle there is much tolerance for it in practice. And when preaching becomes separated from living, it becomes separated both from integrity and from spiritual and moral effectiveness. It promotes hypocrisy instead of holiness." (John MacArthur, Commentary on Matthew 16-23, pp. 123-124).