Mark D. Roberts

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In my last post I explained that every Christian, regardless of the quality of his or her discipleship, is a saint, a person set apart by God for His purposes. Each and every believer in Jesus is a member of God’s holy people. But what does this mean? And what does it imply?
From the very beginning of creation, God intended to form a people with whom to have intimate fellowship. According to Genesis 1, God created the man and the woman in His image, telling them to “multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). In other words, they were to make babies, who will make babies, etc., so that the earth would someday be filled with a people for God.
When God called Abram (later called Abraham) to leave all that was familiar to him, God promised that he would “become the father of a great nation” (Gen 12:2). Indeed, “All the families of the earth will be blessed through [Abram]” (Gen 12:3). God set him apart, not only so that he would be special to God, but also so that through Abram a nation would formed that would be special to God. Abram was a saint in order to become the father of a saintly people.
After the descendants of Abraham fell into captivity in Egypt, God set them free through the leadership of Moses. When Israel’s freedom was finally secured, God revealed to Moses His plans for His people:

Give these instructions to the descendants of Jacob, the people of Israel: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I brought you to myself and carried you on eagle’s wings. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the nations of the earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” (Exodus 19:3-6)

God chose Israel to be His own special treasure, His prized possession. The Israelites were to be a “holy nation,” or, one could say, a “saintly nation,” a nation set apart by God for His unique purpose in the world.
Centuries later the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to a bunch of Christians scattered throughout the land we know as Turkey. Peter described their specialness as believers in Jesus by borrowing God’s language to the Israelites in Exodus 19:

And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ . . . . You are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet 2:5, 9).

When we believe in Jesus, we are joined to the people of God, God’s holy nation. We serve as “holy priests,” offering sacrifices of service to God and telling others about God’s all-surpassing goodness.
As saints, therefore, we are set apart from the world and yoked to the community of saints, to the church of Jesus Christ formed by the Holy Spirit. Paul underlines this point in his address to the Corinthians:

To the assembly of God that is in Corinth, to those who have been set apart in Christ Jesus, to those who are called “saints,” along with all of those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord and their Lord (1 Cor 1:2).

As Christians we share sainthood with other believers everywhere. It would be accurate to say, therefore, that a Christian saint is a person set apart from the world, by God through Jesus Christ, to be a member of God’s special people and to serve God in a special way in the world.
The Olympic games provide an apt analogy for the biblical concept of sainthood. The athletes who gather for the Olympics every few years are special people, set apart by their individual nations for the purpose of competition. When they arrive at the city that is hosting the games, the athletes are not allowed to mix with the crowds who come to watch the competition. On the contrary, they are sequestered within the Olympic village, a fortress that keeps the athletes in and the others out. They are literally kept apart from the masses so that they can focus on their particular sport. If we were to speak in biblical languages, we might refer to the Olympians as “saints,” people set apart for something special. They live “holy” lives in order to fulfill their unique, “holy” purpose. Yet they do not live in isolation, but in a community of others who have been set apart for a similar purpose. And they don’t compete as individuals, but as members of a national team. They are saints together with other athletes. (The picture to the right is from the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.)
We who believe in Jesus Christ have also been set apart from common folk and dedicated to a specific purpose, though, as we’ll see, we are not separated from the world because the world is the arena in which our competition occurs. We fulfill our purpose in fellowship with other saints who share our identity and calling. We live out our sainthood by serving God in the world, by extended His love and justice throughout creation.

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