Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine! Paul’s address to the church at Ephesus begins with: “to the saints” – The word saint is an abused word, which is why so many of us are so uncomfortable in using it or allowing others to direct it toward us- secular society has long defined a saint as “one who is a dead sinner, revised and edited (the devil’s dictionary).” Some of us have wistful attitudes about saints that are neither biblical or possible.
Others see saints as a character clause as we call people a saint for exhibiting excellent spirituality- this also covertly implies that not everyone can live up to the challenge of saintliness
In fact this image of saintliness is silliness- sainthood isn’t based on either sinlessness or the perfection of piousness or our ability to do really good works for the Kingdom- We do great harm to the Kingdom by relegating sainthood to a few good people who are canonized relics of previous generations- the Vatican has a group of specialists who meticulously examine dead people in service to the church to see if they have at least two bonified miracles, a vision of Jesus, a life of piety and the continued performance of miracles after you died before you can be known as a saint
I don’t want to create a disputation with the Catholics over the selection of saints- I do want to help us to see what Scripture identifies as a saint- the term is used 62 times in the NT as a descriptor of the position of the believer- The term is never associated with performance- it’s a state of being, not doing- as Erickson said: we are human beings, not human doings
Ephesians 1:1 identifies elements of pure joy that should come from enjoying sainthood:
Singularly Selected Saints –Two words for Will
Paul declared: I am an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God (Ephesians 1:1). The word for will in this context comes from the Greek word thelema, instead of boulema. Thelema speaks of the desire of God. This desire needs to appropriated to be enjoyed through human cooperation. In the human spirit/soul. Boulema is the irrevocable will of God that is immutable (unchanging). It cannot be changed or tampered with. It will happen no matter what.
The boulema of God was enacted when Jesus came into the world to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19) that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. The Father was in the actions and the person of Christ performing this reconciliation. This is the fulcrum or heart of the Christian faith.
God could not and would not be stopped. Through a very sovereign act, God did what needed to be done, accomplishing His work for our benefit through His grace. Jesus the Christ, the God-man revealed who God is and who we are meant to be. 19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him (John 5:19-23).
Jesus came preaching the message of Kingdom, His rule and reign in the world and in us, His ruling and reigning among others through us, and His desire to affect all of life through His people as we walk in thelema. Messiah went to the cross irrevocable will of God, Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death (Acts 2:23). The word for knowledge or council also comes from boulema. This is important as no person could ever stop the power and purpose of the cross.
It was at Calvary where the atoning heart of God was put on complete display. Jesus died in a never to be repeated atoning work for forgiveness, making us right with God. We have been exonerated, freed from guilt and shame. This same will of God raised Jesus from the dead, making Him the resurrected reigning LORD, Emmanuel (God forever with us).
To be found in Christ is to become the recipient of all God has done for us, allowing us to become like Him as we become His post resurrection home, Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19)? We are the temple of the Holy Ghost!
However, we are not His home involuntarily. We become His home though His thelema will. Paul became an Apostle through thelema. His calling, his being set apart, his election were all acts of thelema. The thelema will can be resisted and changed. It is cooperation bound. These two words tell us there is an overarching plan and purpose that cannot change, and we can chose to be a part of it or not. We choose to be chosen.
This has incredible bearing on our position as saints. By His irrevocable will, our salvation has been accomplished. By His cooperative will, we are capable of working in His purposes or not. Your activities in will not make you any more saved or loved by God, but they will make you more capable of enjoying the relationship you have with Him.
We are both chosen and cherished – we are now saints. Those who are chosen are those who are holy. The word saint literally means holy (hagios), set apart, or belonging to God. Holiness is about possession and position. This isn’t an element of superiority or a spiritually elite club. We belong to God and as His possession we are holy because He is holy. To say we are holy could be seen as Him saying, “You belong to me!” Holiness is not an option. It’s a reflection of relational reality.
Because we are holy we can enjoy our status as loved, accepted and forgiven people. It means all that we are, our minds, will, emotions our bodies all belong to God and we are supposed to bring Him glory to Him. The expansion of God’s Kingdom comes through our relationships, our friendships our families, our possessions and our plans.
Paul continues in Ephesians 1 by saying: “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus.” The adjective for faithful is pistos and it can mean either “having faith” or “being faithful.” Saints are recipients and enforcers of faith. Faith is a gift/grace of the Spirit and it is an expected activation within our lives. It’s our job to discover what God wants us to do in His thelema will and do it with joy. This faith is dynamic and is expressed in Romans 1:16-17, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Paul’s expression “by faith” gives us a glimpse into the open secret of enjoying God. You cannot enjoy God or please Him or experience His pleasure in us without faith. It is by faith we are saved, called, forgiven, and it is by faith that our hearts and minds experience His indwelling presence and power. We daily offer Him our faithfulness as we commit our challenges and opportunities to Him. Through faith we trust Him to work in us and through us. Living by faith is exciting!
Ordinary Faith Ordinary Saints
We are called to be naturally supernatural. This means God manifests in the ordinary lives we live supernaturally. Ordinary people are called to serve a extraordinary God. Paul was writing to the saints in Ephesus and Asia Minor. Saints regularly clashed with the secular society and the demonic in this region. Ephesus was the hub of demonic activity. It was sensuous and evil, materialistic and humanistic.
Life was hard. You had to be marked as one who worshipped Caesar to work and cults were attempting to infiltrate your faith community with heresy. Legalism and exotic forms of knowledge tried to mss people up. Revelation 2&3 show us what life was like. So how did they enjoy God?
Christians defined and described enjoyment with a different word than the common Greek culture. They used the word hedone, which is where our word hedonism (the gratification of our desires without restraint) comes from. Christians used the word apolausis, which means we find pleasure that is connected to discovering and doing His will, as we then discover that this satisfies the deepest longing in our hearts and lives. It redirects our energies to the aid of others as we learn to serve them instead of using them, Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).
It is Christ in through Holy Spirit indwelling us that we are empowered to stand for what we believe in and to endure when we are tempted to give in to the pressures of this life as it tries to capture us culturally.
We have been called into sainthood to serve. To be in Christ is to be in ministry. The more we learn to enjoy being saints, the more the LORD’s love, forgiveness and power flows through us to others. Sainthood expresses itself in servanthood.