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TEXT: Colossians 1:12
SUBJECT: What We Are #2: Saints
Last Sunday morning, we began a topical study called, What We Are, the goal of which is just that: to tell the Lord's People what we really are, and to oppose the identity advertisers, social scientists, doctors and others have given us. Nowadays, most people think of themselves in terms of race, age, sex, health, income, political party, and even what they like to wear. These things color us in some ways, of course, but they don't identify us. You are not an overweight man who believes in Christ. You're a believer in Christ who maybe needs to mix in a salad now and then!
The world does not have the authority to name you. Don't let it! What you are is what Jesus Christ says you are. As the Second Man Adam, only He has the right to give names; the first Adam had the power, but he lost it-and it remained lost-until the One True Man picked it up.
What are the names our Lord has given His People? There are quite a few of them, actually. The one we looked at last week was Disciple or 'follower'. The word makes a tender-hearted squirm. With the hymn writer, we often ask ourselves:
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb?
We want to say, 'Yes I am!' But then we remember the demands of discipleship and how pitifully short we fall of them. This would be deeply depressing to me-if it weren't for that dear, silly man, Peter. If any man had ever 'talked' bigger than he 'lived', it was he. When told he and his friends would all forsake the Lord, Peter crowed-'Lord, if all men forsake, I will not!' Then he did, of course, and a lot worse than the others. James and John, Matthew and Philip, and the others only ran and hid. Peter took an oath, swearing by God's Holy Name, that he did not know Jesus. Was a man like this a disciple?
We'd give him the thumbs down. But a few days after our Lord rose from the dead, He asked Peter about his discipleship. Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me? Three times He asked him this, and Peter, grieved by the number 3 (and what it reminded him of), with tears and a voice choked with emotion, said-
Lord, you know all things;
You know I love you.
A Disciple is often a bad follower of Christ-if not always-but because deep down he is a Disciple, he follows the Lord. This was last week's topic.
The word we'll think about today seems to fit us even worse than 'Disciple', but, unlikely as it sounds, it is what we are. What's that? We are.saints.
The word, 'saint' appears all over the Bible, most notably in the greetings or opening lines, of Paul's letters. Here's a sample:
If you read Paul's letters, you'll see he was not a naïve man. He knew very well none of these people were what they should be, that they were far from perfect, and that, in some cases, they were terribly flawed in doctrine and morals. Yet for some reason or other, he calls them saints.
It's because Paul is a Jewish scholar, steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures and the history of Israel.
Let me explain.
The Hebrew word for 'saint' means 'a holy one'. When we hear this word, we think of good morals: a holy man is honest, hard-working, faithful to his wife, and generous.
This is true, or at least, it ought to be. But-unlikely as it sounds-'saint' is not a moral category. It's a religious one. A holy person or thing is holy because it is dedicated to God.
What's the first thing called 'holy' in the Bible? It's the Sabbath. Genesis 2:3 says-
Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.
To 'sanctify' means 'to make it holy'; to make that day a 'saintly' day. Why? Not because the Sabbath is more honest or thrifty than other days, but because it-unlike the others-was formally given to God-
Six days you shall do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord your God.
This was Israel's first lesson in holiness. Learning to be a saint is hard, time-consuming, and gradual. If you start your toddler on Shakespeare, he'll never learn to read. You start him on picture books and work your way up.
This is just what the Lord does with the Children of Israel. He starts them off with holy things like days and places, foods and clothing, water, oil, and so on. From the object lessons, He works His way up to.a holy people, a nation of saints.
This is what He wanted them to be, and what they said they wanted to be as well. But, of course, they didn't mean it. When God spoke from Sinai, the people promised to hear and do His Word.
Moses may have been thrilled by their commitment, but the Lord was not quite as enthusiastic, Deuteronomy 5:29-
Oh that they had such a heart in them that they would fear me and always keep all my commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!
Like so many professed Christians today, they wanted the privileges of sainthood without the practices. They wanted to be saints so long as they got to do whatever they wanted to do and God never said 'no'. But God said, 'no' to some of their wishes-and ours too. For being a saint doesn't mean being devoted to ourselves, to our plans, and to our wishes, but to the Lord and to His Will for our lives. In a word it means to pray with our Savior-
Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.
Israel did not live up to its calling; they failed to be saints for two reasons: (1) they were sinners by birth and choice, and (2) The Law could not change them.
THE NEW COVENANT
If God's wish to have saints in the world is to be fulfilled, He's got to provide a better Word than the Law and a Mediator better than Moses. To the thoughtful Israelites back then, the hopes must have struck them as incredible. What could be better than the Law? Who could be greater than Moses?
This was a mystery, hidden from the Lord's People for many long years. Then God solved it. The only thing better than the Law is the Gospel and the only Man greater than Moses is Christ!
Through His Gospel, Jesus Christ makes real sinners into real saints. By going to the cross, He won the forgiveness of our sins; by rising from the dead, He gave us an advocate in heaven; by pouring out His Spirit, He enables us to hate evil and love good; by giving us His Word and Church, He gives us the directions for holiness and people to help us follow them.
Believers in Christ are saints, therefore, not because we try harder than others, but because Jesus gave Himself wholly to God, so that He might give us to His Father as well. This is just what the Bible teaches, John 17:19-
For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
Several times today I have said, 'sainthood is not about being good', and I stand by what I have said. But don't misunderstand me; while holiness is not the same as morality, holiness results in morality. Being a saint means you're not allowed to do some things. Saints fall into the same sins as other people do, of course, but we're not allowed to-and when we do, we have to repent of them.
Can a saint commit adultery? Can he cheat on his income taxes? Can he hit his wife? Can he drink too much, get hooked on drugs, hold a grudge, or tell a long string of lies?
Yes he can. What he cannot do is say these ways of life are all right and make no effort to turn away from them. Outwardly, the only thing that separates a true saint from a false one is getting out of sin, Proverbs 24:16 draws a razor-sharp picture of the two-
For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity.
This is not legalism; it's sainthood; it's dedication to the Lord which has to include a separation from sin, Psalm 97:10-
You who love the Lord,
Mostly, though, sainthood is not about what you don't do; it's about what you do. What's that? In a word, you love. You love God; you love His people; you love your neighbor; you love your enemy. This is what sainthood is, it's being holy-
For I, the Lord your God, am holy.
Whatever else the holiness of God includes, we know the first thing is love, I John 4:16--
God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God dwells in him
If being a saint is fraught with of responsibilities, the privileges greatly outweigh them.
To put it crudely, what do you get from being a saint? For one thing, you get God! The saints are His Peculiar People, His Special Treasure; in a word, His. This is not a poor compensation.
There's more. Belonging to God, and being like Him is some small ways, also means you get the opportunity to bless others. If you surveyed a high school class tomorrow morning, 'What do you most want out of life?' I guarantee you the answer would be 'happiness'. If you watch TV, read magazines, and talk to people, you might think the gods of this age are money, sex, youth, thinness, celebrity, or power. I think these are more like the angels of our age. The god is Happiness.
If you polled a class 150 years ago, Happiness would come up, I'm sure, but a more likely answer would be 'Useful'. I know this because I read old books and letter, nearly all of which have young people aspiring to usefulness. They wanted to make a contribution; they wanted to do something useful for their family or country or cause or for God.
Not everything in the old days was better. But this was. While many who are not saints carry blessings to the people around them, saints are best qualified to do it. For we can do more than make a living or defend our country or discover a cure; we can bring the Grace of God and the Rule of Christ into the world. By being saints.
An easy death is a third blessing of sainthood. By 'easy' I don't necessarily mean quick or painless; I mean a death unclouded by the fears of the unknown and of God's wrath. Psalm 116:15 is very dear to me; I put it on my late mother's funeral card-
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.
You're going to die-there's no question about that. But will you die as a saint? Will your death be dear to the Lord? Or will it be a catastrophe to you and your family, and a heartache to the Lord?
Finally, being a saint adds to the beauty of the world and your enjoyment thereof. Isn't there a verse or two that speak of the beauty of holiness? This is what the Lord wanted in Aaron's garments, in the Tabernacle, in other sacred things way back when. But they were always secondary to Him. The beauty He loves most is the kind that most resembles Him, and that is the beauty of the saints.
Thank God He has called us saints (nobody else would!). Now, let us become what we are.
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