Saints: Who Are They?

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes only certain people as saints, and as a rule, only after they are dead. Eastern Orthodox recognize anyone in heaven as a saint, whether recognized on earth or not. Anglicans recognize a similar belief to the Eastern Orthodox, but most protestant denominations recognize anyone who is truly a Christian as a saint. The questions are: Who are the saints? What does it mean to be a saint? I don’t know of anyone who has left a church over this issue, nevertheless it is one of the many doctrines where one church teaches one thing and another teaches the opposite.

Biblical Basis

There are no verses that say that someone must have a number of miracles attributed to them, or any other actions like that in order to be a saint.

In the Bible the books of Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and Ephesians all start that they are written to the “saints”, and defines a saint as one who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus. Romans 1:7 reads, “to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.“

Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, even them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours:1Co 1:1-2

Here we have an explanation of the word as “saints” is explained to be those that are sanctified in Christ Jesus. The word “saint” comes from the Greek word “hagios” which means holy. Sanctification means to made holy, which is what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.iÂ

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus:Eph 1:1(WEB)

Holiness refers more to what God has done for us than what we have done. Romans 15:16 says Paul recognized his mission in these words, “that I should be a servant of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

Halos on pictures give the impression that saints are people with some special aura. Rather, saints are people dedicated to God.

The words sanctified and saint have the same root. In other words, a saint is made a saint when a person becomes sanctified or dedicated to the purposes of God. Sanctification literally means set apart for a special purpose, in this case, God’s purposes. Being holy doesn’t mean being a “goody two shoes”, abstaining from candy, relaxing, or even sex or alcohol, although there are certainly godly directives on how to live our lives in these and every area of life. Being holy means doing those things that God thinks are important and following those guidelines that God directs.

So how do we live this holiness, this sanctification? Paul writes that the marriage bed is undefiled, but that we should flee fornication, so we only have sexual relations within marriage. He writes that we shouldn’t get drunk with wine which is excessive, but be filled with the holy spirit. So we only drink moderately, if at all. He writes that we should be loving, tenderhearted, forgiving, and kind. We don’t steal, lie, cheat, gossip, or be bitter. He writes that we should be moderate in everything. Following all these guidelines is part of our holiness, part of being saints.

Look at this section in Ephesians 4 which talks about the lifestyle we are set apart to live:

25. Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.
26. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
27. neither give place to the devil.
28 . Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need.
29. Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear.
30. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption.
31. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice:
32. and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.

Theses verses, and many like them describe the life we are set apart to live. The fact that we fall short sometimes of these guiding verses does not change that we are saints because we are called to live this life.


Gianna Beretta Molla was canonized recently by the Catholic church. Dying in childbirth, the church decided her life was a “hymn to life”. She loved life, fashion, opera, and was a medical doctor.

Holiness, simplicity, fidelity to marriage and family life were cited as reasons for granting her sainthood. But the significant event was that despite knowing the potential for death in giving birth she chose to give birth.

Congratulations to Gianna for her courage and love. She is depicted as a person who gave her life to Christ even to the point of dying when she believed the Lord would have her do that rather than give up the life in her womb.
But Gianna doesn’t need to be canonized. She was a saint when she gave her life to Christ. And there are many such women saints alive today.

The flaw in saying that only some dead people who can be investigated to show good works can be called saints is that it detracts from the Gospel message. It sets up a class system, those who are good enough to be called saints, and those who are not. I heard some Catholics celebrating that Gianna had been canonized that because she was a “regular person” as opposed to a pope or even a priest. There was hope for “regular people.” Since Gianna as a regular person was given this recognition maybe they could make it to sainthood.

This practice of canonization violates basic teachings from Paul’s epistles that we have been sanctified, that we have been made holy, made saints. More that a hope that at some future time we might become saints, Christ has called you, and when you accepted him, you were made a saint.

What is a Saint

We are made saints when we accept Him as Lord and are sanctified in Christ Jesus. Lets look at the first chapter of Ephesians which gives a lot of insight about what it means to be a saint:

Look at the powerful language in the first chapter of Ephesians:

1. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus:
(In that first verse he describes the believer as saints.)
2. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As saints we have access to the grace and peace of God.
3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ;
(As saints we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.)
4. even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without blemish before him in love;
(By accepting Christ and following him we live an incredible life. Because of what Christ has accomplished we are holy, blemish free in his sight. How incredible.)
5. having predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his desire,
(In accepting Christ we become God’s children.)
6. to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely bestowed favor on us in the Beloved,
(As God’s children we saints are beneficiaries of God’s freely given favor.)
7. in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
(God’s favor includes redemption from all sin, being forgiven, which is great grace in our lives.)
8. which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence,
(As saints God abounds to us wisdom and good sense. Wisdom is knowing what to do in a given situation. Prudence is likewise having a good head on our shoulders.)
9. making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him
10. to an administration of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth, in him;
11. in whom also we were assigned an inheritance, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will;
(We have a spiritual inheritance.)
12. to the end that we should be to the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ:
13. in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,–in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
(When we believe, when we are made saints, we are sealed with a holy spirit that is a token, a proof of the inheritance that is future for all of us, that we will be partakers of eternity with Christ, joint-heirs with Christ in an incredible future that lasts for eternity.)
14. who is a pledge of our inheritance, to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.
(What we have now is little compared to the redemption that is to come when Jesus returns.)
15. For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which you have toward all the saints,
16. don’t cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers,
17. that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him;
(Paul prays for us to have a great knowledge and understanding of what we have as saints.)
18. having the eyes of your hearts{TR reads “understanding” instead of “hearts”} enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
(Paul prays that we can fully understand our hope, that Christ will meet us in the air, that we shall be with him forever, that our bodies will be changed, that we will know even as we are known, that it will be glorious.)
19. and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might
(He prays that we understand the power we have now as saints.)
20. which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places,
(That power that we have access to is the same that raised Jesus from the dead.)
21. far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.
(That power that we have is the same that put Jesus at the right hand of God.)
22. He put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly,
Our Lord is ruler of All.
23. which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (As the body of Christ, we saints are part of Christ Jesus, we are his body. The vision of it is incredible.)

Summary and Conclusion

A doctrine that says that we aren’t saints takes us away from this vision we have just read in Ephesians chapter one.
If you have accepted Christ as Lord, if you believe that God has risen him from the dead, you are a saint. Believe it, and act like it. Experience the fullness of the Christian life.

Nevertheless, this is an issue that Christians can’t agree on. Many believe that only miracle working special people are saints while others believe that saints are believers; imperfect, but set aside for God’s purposes.

i. 1 Cor 1:30 reads, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption:”

(c) copyright Mark W. Smith, All rights reserved.

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