“To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 1:1)
Bible Reading: Ephesians1:1-2
How striking is the word “saints”! Many people associate it with super-Christians who have been canonised by the Roman Catholic Church, people whose above-ordinary lives gave them special merit before God.
That, however, is not the way the apostle Paul uses it when addressing Christians in Ephesus (and elsewhere). He uses it, rather, with the Old Testament in mind. There, God’s chosen people were called a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), that is, a nation set apart by God for himself. The New Testament word “saints” comes from a Greek word that is connected with the terms holy and sanctify. It always carries the idea of being special on account of being set apart to God. The thought of moral purity is also contained within it.
What precious thoughts are suggested by these things! For one, to be “set apart” to God means that we are distinguished from others who are not in this position. As believers. we are distinguished from others not simply because we believe what they do not, but because we have been called out, or set apart from them to be God’s special people.
Jesus made this plain when he spoke of his disciples as being not “of the world,” but called out of it (John 15:19; 17:14). As those in this position, we don’t pattern our life on the world, nor love its ways (1 John 2:15, 16). Instead, we live to the glory of God and seek to shake off the dust of the world. We are not in ourselves superior to others, but we are different. We have been purchased by Christ to be “his own possession, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
That points to a second thought arising from this idea, namely, that we are not only set apart from others but set apart to another – in this case, to God, or Jesus. Our lives are to be dedicated to the Lord and are to reflect the burning holiness that belongs to God himself (1 Peter 1:15). In all of our attempts to identify with the world to win the world, we must never become like the world.
The obligation to keep ourselves undefiled is another thought embedded in the word “saint”. In the Old Testament, that which was “holy” could be profaned, or defiled, and rendered no longer fit for holy purposes – at least, not without purification. We should also keep this in mind. As God’s saints, or set-apart ones, we must always keep ourselves from being polluted by that which is unclean in God’s sight.
There is no room for arrogance in having such a title. We are not set apart unto God by our goodness or choice, but solely by God’s grace. That should make us humble as well as holy. Our unworthiness to be called God’s special people should make us all the more concerned to live as such.
- Is there value in reminding ourselves of the fact that in God’s eyes, we are “saints”?
- What effect does this idea have on you?
– Andrew Young, from Grace Presbyterian Church, New Zealand