Sunday 26th January 2014Bible Reading: Ephesians 1:1-14
The New Testament uses many different titles to refer to Christians - disciples, followers, believers, brothers and sisters, soldiers, workers and many more. Those of us who have given our lives to Jesus are probably comfortable referring to ourselves by those titles.
One of the most frequent titles Paul uses to refer to Christians is the word saint. In fact he used it at least 60 times. Yet, despite the fact it is used so often, we are wary of referring to ourselves in that way.
The title of ‘saint’ in some circles is reserved for men or women who have been especially recognised as especially devoted to God and who are known for their great holiness and good works. Some believe that there are some Christians who are so exceptional in faith and great deeds that after their deaths we can call upon them to intercede for us and work miracles for us.
Whilst we, who are not in that tradition feel that that is a mistaken approach there is still a lot of misunderstanding about the title saint. We have become reluctant to talk about ourselves as saints because we think that in doing so, we are being too full of ourselves, that we are putting ourselves on a pedestal. We associate sainthood with perfection and we know we are far from perfect so we think that the title can have little to do with us. But, if we are Christians, being a saint has everything to do with us and if we understand it correctly, it is a title that gives us security, reassurance and purpose.
From the frequency with which he uses it and the way in which Paul uses "Saint" in his letters we can take it to simply mean a believer, someone who is a professing Christian.
Whilst we think of only using the word saints to refer to people who are exceptionally flawless in character and deeds Paul uses the title to address any group who are believers. For example he called the believers at Corinth, saints but also called them immature, worldly and quarrelsome.
1. Saints are saved sinners
The word saint simply means “set apart” We have misunderstood that to mean a person who is set above others.
The big problem affecting every human being on the planet is that they have rebellion in their hearts against God, which causes a breaking down of their relationship with Him and results in being set apart “from” Him.
The gospel is that Jesus came to bring us back home to God so that the separation can be over.
Eph 1:7 says, “In him, (that is Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”
The word redemption comes from the slave market. In the NT times people were openly sold into slavery. A slave could be bought back (i.e. redeemed and restored to their family for a price. The slave had no means of paying the redemption price themselves but relied upon the generosity of someone else. We rely upon the generosity of Jesus to pay the redemption price to free us from sin so that we don’t need to be set apart from God any longer. A saint is simply a sinner who has been set free.
The office of sainthood is not gained but given. It’s not what we have done with our lives but what Christ has done for us.
There is now a new life to live. The relationship changes from a person having been set apart from God to being set apart to be with God.But does that mean that saints are people who have simply exchanged one kind of tyranny for another? No of course not.
Ephesians 1:5 gives us the amazing statement that we have been adopted by God, “In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, according to His pleasure and His will.”
We are set apart from sin in order to be set apart to be with God.
2. Saints are people who are sealed by the Spirit
But how do we know that we really now belong to God? How can we be sure that we have the right to call ourselves saints?
Paul tells us we can know it because we are sealed with the Spirit. Saints are people who are sealed by the Spirit.
Ephesians 1:13-14: “And you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession - to the praise of his glory.”
Ephesus was a port trading mostly in timber. The dealers bought the logs at the harbour and put their seal on them. They would not immediately take the wood away with them but leave it to be collected later by a servant who would know which timber they had to take by recognising their master’s seal. In ancient times people who were devoted to a god had a sacred emblem of the cult tattooed on the body. Slaves had their owners seal burned into their flesh.
But Paul says that the mark by which someone shows they belong to Jesus Christ is not a physical but the inward presence of the Holy Spirit.
Whilst Paul’s illustration is connected with ports and cargo but God never sees us as goods and chattels. Our belonging to God is always in the context of loving adoption into His family.
The Bible teaches us that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus to us He encourages us and convicts of the need to surrender our lives to Jesus. When we have made that surrender to the claims of Christ as our Lord then the whole transaction is endorsed by the Holy Spirit coming within us.
It is this that makes us officially Christian.
Romans 8:9: 'If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” You can't be a Christian without the Holy Spirit. He is like a stamp of ownership.
The presence of the Holy Spirit is what makes us authentic, real saints and not merely people who try to practice a religious code of ethics.
The Bible promises us that we can know that we belong to God.
Romans 8:16: “The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
When the Holy Spirit comes to live within us the character of Jesus starts to be evident. There is a family likeness. Our lives start to resemble His.
3. Saints are people who are set apart for service
The word “saints” is from the Greek word hagios, which means “holy” or “sacred” or “set apart”.
Saints are also people who “set apart” for God’s service.
All religions have sacred places, sacred rituals, sacred vessels with which to perform those rituals. The point is about a thing being sacred is that it must not be used for anything else at all, otherwise it’s sacredness or holiness is lost and it has to be consecrated all over again.
A tennis racket is not sacred because it is only used for tennis or a hoover because it is only used for cleaning carpets. Things are called sacred only if they have to do with the worship and service of God because God Himself is sacred. God is totally unlike anything or anyone else, not only in power but in His purity and goodness.
When we become rescued sinners who are adopted into God’s family, the desire is placed within us by the Holy Spirit to be totally dedicated to God and useful to Him. It is important we get the order right.
We are not called to strive to be increasingly useful to God so that one day we might earn the title saint. You can never be a saint until you’ve recognised that you are a sinner.
2 Timothy 2:20-21 “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself form the latter he will be an instrument for noble purposes made holy and useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
The simple message of these verses is that all of us are called to be of use to God in His household.
A pastor called Kyle Hite writes,
“Each of us in some ways carries this haunting feeling inside of us that we are worthless. Each of us at some point in our lives looks around at the competence of people in this world and compare ourselves to those around us and say there is no way that I could do that. We regularly wrestle not with whether or not God has work to be done but whether or not God is right in asking us to do it.”
Paul is not suggesting that God only wants to use the multi-talented, the superior intelligent or the good looking superhero but we do need to be dedicated and clean.
Most of us have some special dishes that we use only for special occasions. On other days we use our everyday plates, cups, saucers and glasses. But there are some vessels in our house that we wouldn’t use to serve food to our guests at all.
We wouldn’t give our guests the dog bowl or the cats dish to eat from? It would be unthinkable for us to serve soup from our children’s potty.
Paul’s argument is that just as you wouldn’t use such vessels to offer food to a guest, neither should it enter our heads to serve God with lives that are not completely cleansed and dedicated to Him for His use.
We need to consecrate our lives to Him entirely.
In practical terms, that means that we decide to live purposefully to glorify God in all aspects of our lives.
It means we will do our job for His glory. We will relate to our family for His glory. We will worship for His glory. We will work in the Corps and in the community for His glory. We consecrate ourselves for Him and His glory.
That’s our part but God has His part.
When we consecrate ourselves to God entirely, the Holy Spirit will come to fill us entirely, setting us apart and empowering us to live the life we have committed to living.
We cannot be a useful vessel for God on our own.
We need the Spirit to give us the motivation and the ability to live for Him. He cleanses us, making us vessels fit for noble purposes.
We will always be sinners saved by grace but that is not all we are.
The Bible now states that those who are in Christ are now saints.
If we think, that all we are is sinners, then that is how we will act but if know we are already saints then we will live our lives from the security of knowing that we belong to God, that He has already chosen us to serve Him and He will provide the cleansing power to fulfil that calling, despite all our brokenness and flawed humanity.
There is a large stained glass window in Winchester Cathedral which was has an interesting history.
At the time of the Reformation, the Roundheads stormed into the Cathedral, destroying the religious symbols. They wrecked the stained glass window depicting saints. The immediate response could have been to sweep up the broken fragments of glass and throw them away but instead the people picked up the pieces and leaded the shattered glass fragments back in the window frame. However they made no attempt to put them back as they had been. Rather they put them back just as they found them and now, 400 years later, the sun shines through the same beautiful colours but of very mixed up saints.
This is really a parable because all of us have failed God in many ways. We’re sinners who have been rescued and brought back and in many ways we are still all a bit mixed up but nevertheless when cleansed and connected together in Christ, His light can still shine through us to a dark world.