Updated: Nov 8, 2019
What comes to mind when you hear the word “saints”? Some really good people that do kind deeds? Most people think of a holy or godly person when they think of a saint. Some people think of saints as being in heaven.
The word “saints” can be found throughout the Bible. In the New American Standard Bible (NASB) it is found 67 times. In the 1984 New International Version (NIV) it is found 68 times. Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) 62 times. English Standard Version (ESV) 81 times. If “saints” occurs so many times, it is important to understand what it means.
The biblical view of the word “saints” may be different than what you think. The original language manuscripts are written in Hebrew and a small amount of Aramaic in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word chaciyd is often translated to “saints” along with another Hebrew word qadowsh. The New Testament was written in Greek and the Greek word hagios is translated to “saints.” All of these transliterated words have the same definition – a saint is someone who is sacred, holy, holy ones, and set apart. Biblically it literally translates to “those who are set apart by God for Himself.” In other words, it means believers who have been declared righteous and holy.
How are we declared righteous and holy?
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV) tells us:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
My ESV study Bible says in the text note for this verse:
This verse is one of the most important in all of Scripture for understanding the meaning of the atonement and justification…. The technical term for this foundational doctrine of the Christian faith is the substitutionary atonement – that Christ has provided the atoning sacrifice as “our” substitute, for the sins of all who believe…. This means that just as God imputed our sin and guilt to Christ so God also imputes the righteousness of Christ – a righteousness that is not our own – to all who believe in Christ. This righteousness belongs to believers because they are “in him”.
Christ’s righteousness becomes ours at the point of our conversion. Therefore believers are regarded by God as righteous and holy. Christians are saints.
I know what you are thinking. You probably know a lot of Christians who don’t act like saints. That is very true. Christians don’t become perfect at the time of conversion. We will never be perfect here on earth. Christians still sin. They are just forgiven for their sin and their eternity is sealed. We do however become new creations as 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us. At the point of conversion, called justification, God starts working on us to become more like Christ. This process is called sanctification which is the transformation of the person. It doesn’t happen overnight. And some people are very slow in their spiritual growth. So yes, you are going to meet some Christians who don’t act very saint-like. Sadly, I've been known to not act saint-like at times.
Being a saint doesn’t refer to a person’s character, but to who they are in Christ. It isn’t the good deeds they do that make someone a saint. It is their state of being. Just as we aren’t saved by any good works we do, but we are saved by grace alone; saints don’t become saints by their good deeds, but by God’s grace.
The apostle Paul frequently refers to believers as saints (37 verses in his epistles in the NASB).
Paul even addresses the messed-up believers at Corinth as saints (1 Corinthians 1:2 and 2 Corinthians 2:1).
Six of Paul's letters to churches are addressed to saints (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians)!
If you are reading from the New Living Translation (NLT) or 2011 New International Version (NIV) you aren’t going to see the word “saints.” It never was in the NLT. The word “saints” was found in the 1984 NIV 68 times. When the scholars revised the NIV in 2011 they removed the word “saints.” The reasoning of the revision board for removing the word “saints” was:
Most people today think of a particularly good person when they hear the word ‟saint,” whereas in the Bible it translates terminology that regularly refers to all believers. Sometimes the context suggests an emphasis on God’s having declared them holy or the process of their becoming more and more holy, so a variety of similar expressions were used depending on the context.
Jerry Bridges in his book, Respectable Sins, (affiliate link) talks about the phrase “conduct unbecoming an officer” and equates it to when Christians sin, the Holy Spirit convicts us, and we should think, “This is conduct unbecoming a saint.” I love that analogy!
Saints are saved people - people whom God has made righteous and holy. A saint can be either a Christian who is alive on earth or one who is already in heaven.
Oh when the Saints go marching in When the Saints go marching in O Lord, I want to be in that number When the Saints go marching in
I want to be in that number. How about you?