What comes to mind when you think of the word “saint”? For many of us, we tend to think of a super spiritual person who seems to be closer to Jesus than the rest of us – the Mother Theresas of the world. Others of you likely think of your grandmother (let’s be honest, our grandmothers really do seem to know Jesus better than the rest of the world). Of, if you have a Roman Catholic background, you may think of certain Christians throughout history who have been canonized as “Saints” by the Catholic Church.
This past Sunday I had the honor of teaching through Acts 9:32-43 at Renovation Church. This passage begins by describing Peter as visiting “the saints who lived in Lydda.” When we read passages such as this one we need to ask good questions; namely, who are the “saints” being visited by Peter? Are these super holy Christians who have been canonized by the early church for their acts of charity and devotion? Are they all the grandmas who seem to know Jesus better than the rest of us? Who are they?
If you continue to read through this passage you will begin to understand that the word “saint” is being used to describe normal and every-day followers of Jesus. Matter of fact, whenever the word “saint” is used in Scripture, it is referring to regular followers of Jesus. One notorious example of this is when Paul writes a letter to the church in Corinth. Corinth was far from being a haven of godliness and holiness; in one case there was a man sleeping with his step-mom and, rather than rebuking him, the church celebrated how tolerant they were (see 1 Cor. 5:1). In addition, as the church gathered to celebrate communion, some of the Christians were actually getting intoxicated by the communion wine (1 Cor. 11:21). This isn’t to mention the division, spiritual abuse, and quarreling going on in the church!
Nevertheless, Paul refers to these very messed-up Christians as “saints” in 1 Corinthians 1:2. The English word “saints” comes from the Greek word hagios. The term literally means to be set apart for the purposes of God. According to the New Testament, sainthood is not something we achieve but instead an identity we receive through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the moment you become a follower of Jesus regardless of how screwed up you are, you have now become a saint.
So… why does this matter?
On September 22nd, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. This executive order instantly changed the identity of all slaves to freedmen in the northern and southern states. Unfortunately, many of these now freedmen continued to live their lives as slaves because the news of the Emancipation Proclamation was kept away from them by their cruel “owners.” Although they were no longer legally enslaved to these former owners, they continued in their slavery because they did not understand that they had received a new identity.
As Union Troops pushed into the southern states, they distributed leaflets and other material to spread the good news that slavery had been demolished through the Emancipation Proclamation. As these former slaves received the good news that their identity had been changed, they were empowered to leave their life of slavery and pursue life with a brand new freedom.
Likewise, I would argue that many Christians today are paralyzed and enslaved by sin because we do not understand our new identity in Christ. Before a person becomes a Christian, the Scriptures describe them as being “enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:15-23). This is what Martin Luther referred to as the bondage of the will. The human will has become so twisted, corrupt, and depraved through sin that humanity has become spiritually dead – unable to even respond to God on our own (Eph. 2:1). Nevertheless, the moment God causes a person to be born again, their identity changes from being an object of God’s wrath, to an object of God’s love; from a child of Satan, to a child of God; from being without hope, to experiencing the fullness of hope; from being enslaved to sin, to experience the glorious freedom made available through Christ.
Unfortunately, we forget our identity in Christ because our minds are assaulted by accusations from the enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). In the same way that the wicked slave owners of the south kept their former slaves from hearing the good news of the Emancipation Proclamation so our even more wicked slave owner seeks to deafen us to the Emancipation Proclamation heralded through the Gospel.
The way we combat these accusations and false identities is to regularly remind ourselves of our true identity in Christ – including the Sainthood that we have received not on the basis of our works but on the basis of Jesus’ perfect work. Neil Anderson, an author, pastor, and professor has helped me understand this concept in a much greater degree. His book “Victory Over the Darkness” is a must-read for every Christian who desires to conquer sinful habits that choke out our spiritual lives. In the book, he has numerous lists that are meant to be read out loud because faith comes through hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).
Below is one of these lists. I want you to honestly read this list out loud so you can hear it being spoken over you. Each of these things are true about you not because of what you have done but because of what Jesus has done for you.
I AM ACCEPTED…
John 1:12 I am God’s child.
John 15:15 As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:1 I have been justified (declared righteous).
1 Corinthians 6:17 I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 I have been bought with a price and I belong to God.
1 Corinthians 12:27 I am a member of Christ’s body.
Ephesians 1:3-8 I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child.
Colossians 1:13-14 I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins.
Colossians 2:9-10 I am complete in Christ.
Hebrews 4:14-16 I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.
I AM SECURE…
Romans 8:1-2 I am free from condemnation.
Romans 8:28 I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances.
Romans 8:31-39 I am free from any condemnation brought against me and I cannot be
separated from the love of God.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 I have been established, anointed and sealed by God.
Colossians 3:1-4 I am hidden with Christ in God.
Philippians 1:6 I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me.
Philippians 3:20 I am a citizen of heaven.
2 Timothy 1:7 I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind.
1 John 5:18 I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me.
I AM SIGNIFICANT…
John 15:5 I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life.
John 15:16 I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit.
1 Corinthians 3:16 I am God’s temple.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 I am a minister of reconciliation for God.
Ephesians 2:6 I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm.
Ephesians 2:10 I am God’s workmanship.
Ephesians 3:12 I may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
Which of the statements above is the most difficult for you to believe? Why? What are some steps you can take or Scripture you can meditate on this week so that you realize your new identity in Christ and experience freedom from the bondage of sin?