The important thing to remember during those days of spiritual difficulty and genuine struggle against sin is that one is not striving to become a saint. That person is already a saint because God has marked him for his own and therefore has brought him to salvation. That discouraged and beaten down Christian can look back to his position as one who is holy, and he can look up to God in hope that such deliverance from sin’s assaults will come— some of it in this life, and all of it in the life to come.
It can sometimes be revealing to notice how certain terms or expressions from the Bible take on a different meaning once they find their way into the secular world, or even into other branches of world Christianity. The term “saint” is a good example. In a religious context, it can bring to mind a large room filled with images or icons, perhaps also the aroma and thick smoke of incense. One might as a young child associate the term with the rather uncomfortable feeling of being in a place where the last thing one would ever want to do there is to make a sound, for fear of retribution.
In a secular vein, it might evoke the idea of someone who bears up under extremely disagreeable situations. One who labors for years in a difficult marriage, or who puts up with the rude or inappropriate behavior of a supervisor is sometimes said to be a “saint” for sticking it out so long, when the average person would have bailed out years ago. Another more general use, which actually on the surface level is not far away from a biblical application, describes one who is willing to do anything, at anytime, for anyone.
The Biblical Concept
The biblical Hebrew and Greek terms have to do with the idea of separation or consecration. Saints are “holy ones” who have been set apart by God for a particular purpose or function. Even objects could be considered holy when they were used strictly for service to the Lord, for example the articles used in the tabernacle. So a basin that looked like any other basin could nevertheless be called holy because it was not used for a common purpose around the home, but for the worship of God.
In a similar way, the same is true for the people of God. A saint is not a person whose makeup is different from anyone else. You cannot tell they are a saint by looking at them. They are not walking around carrying a sign or wearing a button that tells everyone around them who they really are. Nevertheless, such people are holy ones, consecrated by God for his glory. In addition, it is not that people get the designation “saint” because they are used by God in a special way, distinct from most other Christians. Rather, every Christian, no matter who he is, where he comes from, or what his work is in the world, is a saint because God has saved him from his sins and has therefore set him apart to honor God in his life.
Three Aspects of Sanctification
Usually when we hear the word “sanctification” we have a specific definition in mind. However, Scripture actually talks about sanctification in three ways.