Even though Paul referred to Christ’s followers as saints, at least in western cultures we shy away from using the word. It is only used by those in high church traditions for those historic figures whom the Church deemed worthy of special recognition. Yet, Paul uses the term for every follower of Christ. Now, please do not get me wrong. I do not advocate that we start using the term – that would be weird. However, I do think it is advantageous to unearth why Paul used the term.
What does the word “saint” or “holy one” mean? Its meaning is usually described as “being set apart”; but, could its meaning be a bit richer than this? To begin to answer this let’s look at an incident in Jesus’ life.
In the last part of Mark Chapter 1 we see a leper come to Jesus. The leper said: “If you want to, you can make me clean.” We read that Jesus was immediately filled with compassion. In response to the leper’s request Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said, “I want to. Be clean!”
In the Old Testament when someone touched a leper, they became unclean. Yet, contrary to this OT expectation, when Jesus touched the leper, the leper became clean. In this we discover who Jesus is. He is the One who makes the unclean clean.
John the Apostle recognized this dimension about Jesus and said in 1 Jn 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Yet, in his choice of words for believers in Jesus Paul highlights this truth – that after the cross Jesus took cleansing to a higher level. Jesus doesn’t just make the unclean clean; he makes the unclean holy.
This is why Paul uses the word “saints” (or “holy ones”) when he writes to Jesus’ followers. The Holy One does not just touch us – making us clean – he comes to live in each and every one of us – making us holy.
I can’t even begin to fathom what all this implies. I simply put it out there for us to meditate on as we go through our week. I pray that as we go through this week – may He fill us with a deeper sense of His presence with us, a deeper sense of his life within us, and a deeper revelation of what all this means for us personally. And may we discover what this means as we go into the world, into His world, as his holy representatives…