Fast Track To Sainthood

 

The King James Version of the Bible addresses Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as "saints." It does not use the word "saint" of Paul or Peter or Jude or James. The introduction to Romans begins simply by saying, "The Epistle of Paul to the Romans." Were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John "saints," but Paul, Peter, Jude and James were not? What was the motivation behind the use of the word "saint" in these instances? Frankly, I cannot explain it, but it makes absolutely no sense. All of these men were saints of the living God, as are all of his children. If you and I are Christians, we are saints.

 

The confusion surrounding sainthood is inexcusable. I am not sure of the origin of the confusion, but its perpetuation stems from serious misunderstanding and misapplication of the sacred text. The word "saint" comes from the Greek hagios and simply means one who is set apart for the Lord's service. It has nothing to do with sinlessness or miracles or great accomplishments. In other words, there were no perfect saints in early Christianity and there are no perfect saints today. I can go a step further: There will be no perfect saints next year or the year after that. Perfection will belong only to those who are eventually ushered into the eternal kingdom. All of our sins will be forgotten and we shall stand pure and whole in the sight of our God.

 

You may have heard the so-called "talking heads" on television speak of "the fast track to sainthood." That expression will serve as the basis of our lesson today. I know—and I am not boasting—the fast track to sainthood. It is so plainly and powerfully revealed in the Bible that no one should miss it. I shall use the ancient Corinthians as an example of "the fast track to sainthood."

 

The apostle Paul paid an initial visit to Corinth around 50 A. D. What he found at Corinth would rival modern San Francisco or Las Vegas or New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The city was one enormous brothel. Drunkenness, all forms of sexual immorality, idolatry and extortion were rampant in the city. The late Dr. William Barclay's commentary on The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975) says that Corinth was a "byword for evil living. The very word 'corinthianize' (korinthiazesthai), to live like a Corinthian, had become a part of the Greek language, and meant to live with drunken and immoral debauchery. Aelian, the late Greek writer, tells us that if ever a Corinthian was shown upon the stage in a Greek play he was shown drunk" (pp. 2-3).

 

The temple of Aphrodite, the so-called "goddess of love," was located on the famous hill of the Acropolis. One thousand prostitutes walked the streets of Corinth and sold their bodies to the sailors who made visits to the city. The money the prostitutes raised from their devilish trade was poured into the coffers of the pagan temple. In case you might be wondering if that could happen in our nation, let me assure you that it has happened. A group calling itself "the Children of God," founded by David Moses Berg, sent young women out on the streets to seduce men into sexual immorality. They called it "flirty fishing." How absolutely disgusting!

 

Paul asked the Corinthians: "Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor exhortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10). In very simple terms, the people who commit the sins Paul listed and do not repent of them are not going to heaven.

 

I have a very serious question for you to consider. How could fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, drunkards and such people ever be on a fast track to sainthood? I ask you to listen carefully to what Paul said about the people he mentioned in this passage. "And such were some of you (that is, some of the Corinthians had been fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, drunkards and so on): but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11). They were washed when they submitted to the Lord in baptism, just as Paul had done (Acts 22:16). They were justified, that is, declared to be right with God, when they obeyed the Lord.

 

Did you notice that Paul said the Corinthians were "sanctified?" I mentioned a moment ago that the Greek word for "saint" is hagios. That is also the word translated "holy" in reference to the Holy Spirit. The word "sanctified" is from the Greek hagiazo. You do not have to be a student of the Greek language to know that hagios and hagiazo are from the same root word. A saint is one who has been sanctified. Does that mean that those wicked Corinthians had actually become saints? Please listen to Paul's greetings to the church at Corinth. "Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (1 Cor. 1:1-2). Paul used similar language in his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 1:1).

 

I need to say a few words about the expression, "called to be saints." The infinitive "to be" does not appear in the original text. The Corinthians were not called to be saints; they were called saints, that is, they were saints according to their calling. The word "called" is a verbal adjective and describes the kind of saints the Corinthians were. They were called saints. The reason they were called saints is because they were sanctified. But in view of their previous sinful condition, how could they become saints? How could such people be on a fast track to sainthood?

 

The apostle Paul visited the cities of Thessalonica and Athens before he came to Corinth. At Corinth, he "found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla: (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and worked: for by their occupation they were tentmakers." Since Paul was Jewish, he could go into Jewish synagogues. "And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ" (Acts 18:1-5).

 

The word "reasoned" is a translation of the Greek dialegomai from which we get our English word "dialogue." The Greek word can be rendered "discussion," "debating," "disputed" and "preached." A. T. Robertson's great set of books, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1930), sheds further light on the word translated "reasoned." In the active voice, the verb means "to select, distinguish, then to resolve in the mind, to converse, then to teach in the Socratic method of question and answer, but always with the idea of intellectual stimulus" (volume 3, p. 267). Paul did his very best to convince the Jews and the Greeks that Jesus was the Christ.

 

The Jews were very angry with Paul. "They opposed themselves, and blasphemed." Paul knew he could not bring them to faith in Christ. So he shook his raiment, and said unto them, "Your blood be upon your own heads: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles." Please listen to what occurred as a result of Paul's faithful proclamation of the gospel of Christ. "And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:6, 8). When the Corinthians heard the word, believed it and obeyed the Lord in baptism, were they saved, sanctified and justified? What else did they have to do to become saints? We know they were saints because that is the way Paul described them (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1). Did they have to demonstrate that a miracle had been performed in their names? Did the other Christians at Corinth, including Paul, Silas and Timothy, have to vote on them to make them saints?

 

Paul's two letters to the church at Corinth prove conclusively that the Corinthians were saints—living, breathing, working—saints. A few passages from these letters should demonstrate that truth. Paul asked the church: "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters" (1 Cor. 6:1-2)? The Corinthian Christians were already saints. And no more than three or four years had passed since they had obeyed the gospel. They did not have to wait to be saints. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous in their giving. "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, even to you must do...I beseech you, brethren, (you know the house of Stepanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and they that addicted themselves to the saints)" (1 Cor. 16:1, 15). Can there be any doubt that Paul was discussing living saints—members of the body of Christ?

 

Two chapters in 2 Corinthians—8 and 9—are the two greatest New Testament passages on giving. Paul commended the generosity of the Christians in Macedonia. "For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints" (2 Cor. 8:3-4). Were the Macedonians ministering to dead people or to living people? Paul adds: "For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write unto you....For the administration of this service not only supplies the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God" (2 Cor. 9:1, 12). Paul assured the Corinthians: "All the saints salute you" (2 Cor. 13:13).

 

Let us return to the question I raised a few minutes ago. In view of the wickedness of the Corinthians, how could they become saints? Luke explains in words nobody should misunderstand. "And many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:8). The Corinthians heard the word Paul preached. We cannot be sure of all the points Paul made in his sermon, but we know he convinced them that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 18:5-6). I would like to challenge you to search the book of Acts to learn about the absolute necessity of hearing the word. The book of Acts does not record a single conversion where there was no preaching. Luke records what occurred on Pentecost. "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do" (Acts 2:37)? At the house of Cornelius, "Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation, he who fears God, and works righteousness, is accepted of him" (Acts 10:34-35).

 

We can understand from the cases of conversions in Acts why Paul told the Romans: "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). If you have a desire to be forgiven of your alien sins and become a saint of the most high God, you must hear the word since the word of God is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). That was the apostle Peter's reason for telling his readers: "Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, that lives and abides forever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away: but the word of the Lord endures for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Pet. 1:22-25). There is no possibility of becoming a saint until one hears and obeys the word.

 

Honest hearts will believe the word when they examine the evidence. Tragically, Calvinistic teachers have confused the plan of salvation by preaching faith alone. But there is no possibility of pleasing God without faith (Heb. 11:6). It is absolutely amazing to me how anyone can preach or accept the doctrine of faith alone when the Bible has so much to say about obedience. I have just read to you what the apostle Peter taught. "Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth" (1 Pet. 1:22). Can we purify our souls if we fail to obey the truth? And what was Peter's message at the house of Cornelius? "He who fears God, and works righteousness, is accepted of him" (Acts 10:35). Did the apostle Peter actually mean, "works righteousness?" If we have to work righteousness, we are not saved by faith alone. The apostle John stressed that same truth.  "Little children, let no man deceive you: he who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous...In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever does not do righteousness is not of God, neither he who does not love his brother" (John 3:7, 10).

 

One step in working righteousness or in obeying the truth is being baptized for the remission of sins. Please remember that the Corinthians heard, believed and were baptized. Is that when they washed away their sins, just as Saul had done (Acts 22:16)? Paul said the Corinthians had been washed, sanctified and justified. I shall take a short time to summarize what baptism does for alien sinners.

 

We know when the Ephesians obeyed the gospel. Paul had made one visit to Ephesus, but had to leave because of a previous appointment. When he returned, he found some disciples. He asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit since they believed. They said they did not know there was a Holy Spirit. He then asked them unto what they were baptized. They told him they were baptized unto John's baptism. "Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him who should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:1-5).

 

When the Ephesians were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, were they on a fast track to sainthood? In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul commended the members of the church for their faith in the Lord Jesus, and their love unto all the saints (Eph. 1:15). He commanded the Ephesians: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints" (Eph. 5:3). Is there the slightest doubt in your mind that the Ephesian Christians were saints—not at some distant future—but right then?

 

Paul and Silas met with a group of Jewish women by the side of the river Gangites at Philippi. Among the women who were worshipping on that occasion was a woman named Lydia of the city of Thyatira. She heard the word of the Lord and was baptized.  Other members of her household were also baptized into Christ. Later in the same city, Paul and Silas taught the Philippian jailer the truth of God's word. They baptized the Philippian jailer and members of his household. These two groups were charter members of that good church at Philippi.

 

But were they saints just because they had become Christians—members of the body of Christ? Did they have to wait for someone to vote on them to make them saints? Paul addressed his letter to the "saints in Christ Jesus who are Philippi" (Phil. 1:1). Paul urged the Philippians: "Salute every saint in Christ Jesus." He then assured the Philippians: "The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints salute you, chiefly they who are of Caesar's household" (Phil. 4:21-22). Would it not be rather difficult for "dead" saints to salute living saints?

Neither the book of Acts nor any other biblical source informs us of the facts surrounding the conversion of the Colossians. We do not know who did the original preaching at Colosse, but some commentators speculate that it may have been Epaphras, one of Paul's companions. But we know how they became Christians. Paul says they were "buried with him in baptism," wherein also they were risen with him "through the faith of the operation of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). The truth is: The Colossians became Christians in exactly the same way that the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Thessalonians and all other first century Christians did. After all, God only has one plan of salvation.

 

Were the living Colossians saints or did they have to wait a few years after their death to become saints? When they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and were baptized into Christ, they were saints immediately. In his introduction to Colossians, Paul wrote: "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colosse....We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love that you have to all the saints" (Col. 1:2-4).

 

If you want to be on a fast track to sainthood, believe and obey the gospel today.

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334