2To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2, NIV)
In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reminds the recipients of the letter that they are “called to be saints.” What did Paul mean by “saints”?
The Greek word (hagios) is traditionally translated as “saint”, but that is not very helpful in our day. We call someone a saint if that person is truly extraordinary. If we say, “Anna is such a saint,” we mean that Anna is someone who acts in a particularly charitable and sacrificial way as she does good for others. In the church, “Saint” can be used as a designation of a rare Christian whose life of service to God and people is truly exceptional. In 2016, for example, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was declared a saint – “canonized” is the official word – by Pope Francis for her unique life of service to the poor and suffering.
But this is not what Paul had in mind when he used the word “hagios.” The basic meaning of this word had to do with things being dedicated or consecrated to God. Hagios is often translated in the Bible as “holy.” Things used in the temple in Jerusalem, for example, were holy in that they were set apart from ordinary usage in order to be used in the worship of God. A person could be hagios if that person was dedicated to God. In the OT, priests were thought of as holy in this sense. But so were all of God’s chosen people. In Exodus 19 God chose Israel to be His “treasured possession out of all the peoples” (v. 5) and to be for God “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (v. 6). Though some of the people would have an uncommon “holy” role as priests, all of God’s people were set apart for God and His purposes. In this sense, all of them were holy. Or, all were saints.
According to Paul, this is also true for believers in Jesus. They were “called to be saints” ( NRSV). A better rendering for today’s English is, “called to be God’s special people.” All Christians, whether teachers, carpenters, realtors, preachers, pastors or missionaries, are set apart by God for God and His purposes.
The fact that the biblical title of “saint” is not only for especially worthy people is abundantly clear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. This church was quite a mess, actually. People were not getting along with each other as they divided up into opposing factions. Some were engaging in prostitution while others were getting drunk at Communion. The Corinthian believers didn’t earn their sainthood by their good works, that’s for sure. Rather, they were “called to be saints” by God on the basis of grace offered through Jesus Christ.
And so it is with us today. If you have embraced the Good News of the Gospel, then you are a saint, or as I should say, you are one of “God’s special people.” You belong to God and are a vital contributor to God’s work in the world because God has called you and set you apart through Christ. That is indeed Good News!
Gracious God, thank you for calling us to be Your saints, Your special people. Help me so I may live out my sainthood for Your purposes and glory.