Summary: The benefit and necessity of being a part of the life of the church.
I believe in the communion of the saints. The words sound strange, and you may ask, “Who are the saints?” Are they the ones we see in some churches that are made of plaster standing on little shelves around the walls? Are they the ones whose image people wear around their neck or put on the dashboards of their cars? And who says they are saints? Is there some kind of vote taken? If someone is especially holy, or has done some great sacrificial act, does that make them a saint?
That is the thinking of some, but actually that is not the biblical idea of a saint. We have so misused the word that we would cringe if someone called us a saint. But the Bible tells us that we are all called to be saints. If you have come to Christ for forgiveness and newness of life then, in spite of your imperfections, you are in the family of the forgiven, and you are a saint. Saints are mentioned 60 times in the New Testament, and each time this term applies to ordinary Christians who have turned their lives over to Jesus Christ, and who are living for him in their own imperfect way. The Greek term for saint is hagios and comes from the word meaning “to be holy”. In biblical use when something was holy it meant that it was “set aside” for a special purpose. Objects in the temple were said to be holy, but a candle stick is not a moral being. These objects were holy because they were set apart exclusively for God’s use and purposes. We are saints, not when we reach perfection, but when our lives have been set apart for God to be used exclusively for his purposes.
Saints are not plaster images of people we venerate from the past. Saints are not perfect, sinless people. Saints are some of the people you are sitting next to right now — people with faults, people who have sinned, but repented of that sin and have committed themselves to grow in their ability to live for God and love him. They are limited by their faults, but empowered by the Spirit of God whom they have invited to live within them.
There are no plaster saints. Even the men and women whose images we see were people like you and me. They had their own problems and besetting sins. All you have to do to prove that to yourself is to read some of their autobiographies. Their awareness of their personal sins and shortcomings was very real. They had no delusions about being too good to be true or too holy to touch. They were very real people who agonized over their imperfections like you and I do. They would have been as difficult to live with as you and I are sometimes. But they loved God and were passionate about serving him.
The greatest people I have known have been the people who were very aware of their own sins and shortcomings. I have personally never been impressed by people who give the impression that they have reached some spiritual height that few, if any, have reached. They somehow give the hidden message that they are a cut above the rest and, if not perfect, very nearly there. I have actually known people who said they no longer sin. But the people who are unaware of their faults are the ones with the greatest faults of all and, ironically, those who most grieve over their faults are those with the fewest. These are the real saints.
Jesus told the story of two men who came to the temple to pray. Luke tells it this way: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9-14).
The moral man did not realize his need of forgiveness and was therefore not a saint. The sinner who saw his shame and admitted his need for forgiveness became a saint. Still today there are those who come to God with the attitude that God should be congratulated on how lucky he is that they are now on his side. Others come with a sense of unworthiness knowing that they will never reach perfection, but with the help of God’s Holy Spirit they will give themselves completely to him. There is a difference between being smug and being a saint. Those who are saints do not feel that they are. The people closest to perfection never realize they are.