Can a Church Declare You a Saint?

To some observers, it might seem like the equivalent of the gold watch traditionally presented to retiring corporate employees: Pope Francis has recently confirmed that one of his predecessors, the late Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978, will be formally recognized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church sometime in 2018.

Such designations are generally given to those to whom two miracles—for instance, verified medical cures for which there is no physical explanation—can be attributed. Catholic faithful believe such "saints" are already in heaven, interceding with God for the requests of believers on Earth.

Most of the twentieth century predecessors of Francis have been canonized. Speaking with a group of priests in Rome during a private meeting, Francis jokingly said that he and his immediate predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, now "are on the waiting list" for sainthood.

While it's certainly the privilege of any religious group to have its own ceremonies and customs, it's also reasonable to ask if they are in line with Scripture. Is there precedent in the New Testament for setting apart an individual believer as some sort of special intercessor before God?

The Bible's word for "saint" comes from the Greek word hagios (pronounced "hag'-ee-os"), which means "most holy thing, a saint," according to Thayer's Greek Lexicon. In the New Testament, saints are often referred to in the plural as a group of Christian believers. In Acts 9:13, responding to Jesus' command that he go help the newly converted Saul of Tarsus, Ananias said, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem" (NKJV).

That same Saul, now Paul, an apostle of the Christ whose followers he persecuted, would greet the believers at Corinth this way: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (1 Corinthians 1:2 NKJV).

Are saints "special" people who must be "recognized" by a church authority? The Bible says otherwise: Every person who believes in Christ is a saint, and congregations of believers are all saints. What's more, we're considered saints while we're living, without having to wait for death or for some process by which our sainthood is confirmed.

That's good news, but it also carries responsibility: Those who are believers must live like believers. Paul, who observed a culture in direct rebellion to God's law, wrote this to the brethren at Ephesus: "Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints" (Ephesians 5:3 NASB). Paul believed there was right and wrong behavior for those who considered themselves saints—that is, as members of the church.

Sainthood isn't something that arrives after this life. It isn't something earned by good deeds or even miraculous happenings. Instead, being a saint is what each and every person called to a life of service in Jesus Christ—and that includes every believer reading these words—happens to be. Our challenge is to live in a way that expresses that saintly designation. That doesn't mean being "holier-than-thou," but rather by doing good for those with whom we live—at home, at school, at work, and, yes, every time we gather together for worship or study.

We do good not for the purpose of earning salvation or some title, but rather because God so loved us that He sent Jesus to die for us and we, in turn, have accepted the gift of salvation. Pastor Doug's video presentation, "A Faith That Really Works," offers a great introduction to what living as a saint means. It's more possible than you might imagine! Click here to watch.

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