Who Me a Saint? You Got to Be Kidding!

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-2 (NIV)

What do you think of when you hear the word saint? Perhaps you mind goes to a medallion one might wear around one’s neck with St. Christopher or St. Jude or another saint on it. Perhaps you think of someone especially spiritual, someone who dedicated their entire life to serve God and others—one like St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa. Or you might think of the authors of the four Gospels: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John. Because God personally inspired these writers by the Holy Spirit, many believed that they had a higher, more holy standing than the rest of us.

So when we read the greeting to the church in Ephesus, we might be slightly confused. Is this an exclusive greeting – one directed to the elite, spiritually mature in the church in Ephesus? Or is this an inclusive greeting – directed to all the believers in that church?

Interestingly, Paul opened four other letters in the same way, writing to the “saints” in four other churches. He even addressed the people in Corinth the same way and you won’t find a more messed up bunch of Christian than in Corinth. (The Apostle Paul had to tell these people to quit going to prostitutes at one point of this letter! [1 Corinthians 6:15-18])

So if the Apostle Paul could call these people saints, it must mean something very different than our typical thoughts. If Paul is calling ALL the believers in a church saints, then that means that you and I are saints if we’ve trusted in Jesus! What? Us?! I’ve got to be kidding, right? Well, maybe not…

To grasp what Paul meant by this identification of the believers, it would help to understand what the Greek word is behind it and what it meant to the people to whom he wrote. It turns out that the Greek word translated “saints” was somewhat of a household word to the people in a town like Ephesus—in the Greek it is hagios.

This major Roman city in what is today western Turkey was filled with temples to various pagan gods and goddesses. From the huge Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, to temples and shrines to both Greek and Roman gods, passionate devotees to various gods and goddesses would have filled the city. These devotees often dedicated things as hagios – devoted totally to their god.

For example, if I was a great woodworker and follower of Apollo, I might decide to build a table for his temple. I might use the best materials and then carve intricate designs on into the wood, especially images of Apollo and his story. Then I would load it onto an ox cart, take it over to the temple of Apollo and give the table to the priest in charge. During the exchange, a dedication ceremony would be performed and the table would be declared hagios, set apart for Apollo. The rights of ownership of the table are transferred from me, the woodworker, to the temple and Apollo.

Imagine that a year or so goes by and my daughter is about to be married. My wife says that we could sure use that great table that I took to the temple a while back. She asks if I could go and ask to borrow the table. Guess what? No can do! There are no “takes back” with something that is hagios.

Now, in writing to this church, Paul takes this well-known word, hagios, and applies it to the believers in Jesus. He said that the people who believed in Jesus as their Lord and Savior were the hagios, the set apart ones. They are commissioned, dedicated to Jesus, never to be used for their own purposes anymore.

This is an extreme thought. It is almost offensive to any human being, but especially to Americans. We highly value our freedom, our right to do anything we want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone one else. But, when God calls us saints, or hagios, this hints at this transfer of ownership from me to my god, namely the Lord Jesus Christ.

This strikes to the heart of what we mean when we say “Lord Jesus.” Accordingly, He is our rightful ruler, the one to call the shots for our lives every single day. How did this happen to us? There is an interesting verse in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV):

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you whom you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

When we trusted in Jesus, a whole slew of things happened at once. But one of the things that happened when you and I believed in the cross, when we trusted in the blood of Jesus for salvation, one of the things that happened was that we were bought with that blood. What is clear in this verse is that there was an exchange of ownership. When we turned to Jesus, we became His, never to revert back to our own use ever again.

Another passage focuses in on this change in ownership due to being purchased by the blood of Jesus, Titus 2:13b-14:

Our great God and savior, Jesus Christ… gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.

There is a word above that you may be unfamiliar with – redeem. It means to purchase out of slavery. If someone was a slave in those days, a family member could come and purchase (that is, redeem) the slave back from his/her owner. So Jesus gave Himself, died on the cross, so that He could buy us out of slavery to wickedness (including the “wickedness” of pushing God out of our lives in order to live for self). He did this to purify for Himself a people that belong to Him; a people who can’t wait to do good!

There are two ideas in this verse that should grab us. The first is that Jesus wanted to make “a people that are His very own.” Think about that. Jesus wanted each believer to be His very own, to belong to Him in some special way. If you are a believer, Jesus wanted you on His team. He wanted you to belong to Him in a way that is very personal.

The second thing that should grab us is that He wanted His people to be “eager to do what is good.” This eagerness reminds me of the ball boys and girls in professional tennis meets. These young people crouch at the side of the net watching, waiting, alert to the moment when a ball is hit into the net. Then the ball boy must spring into action, sweeping up the misplayed ball in an instant and exit the court so that no time is wasted in the match. Jesus gave His life so that we could be His people ready to spring into action at the first cue from God’s Holy Spirit.

Why should we respond so eagerly? We are His hagios, His saints, His “set apart ones”. We have been bought with a price, the precious blood of Jesus. We now belong to him, never to be used strictly for our own purposes every again. The job we have? It is now hagios. Our special talents, like music or athletics? They are now hagios. Our homes and cars? They are now hagios. Everything we have and everything we are is now at God’s disposal, to be used any way He wishes. What changes will you now need to make in your life, since this is true?

Revisiting 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 above, we need to see the whole picture. Even though we have a Radical Call (to live as God’s saints), we also have a Radical Empowerment! God’s Spirit lives inside of every believer. He is there to give us all the power we need to live out such a high calling with victory! He will help us to honor God with our bodies!

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