When I say the word “saint”, who do you think of? Moses. Abraham. The Apostle Paul. Perhaps your grandma or grandpa in heaven. But what about you?
Looking in the mirror this morning, you were looking at a saint. Maybe no one has ever accused you of that. Maybe you’ve never seen yourself as a saint. You’ve done some terrible things. You’ve said some terrible things. You are aware of the aweful things your mind is capable of thinking.
You are in good company. Moses was a murderer. Abraham a liar and the Apostle Paul was a murderer too.
At the beginning of this service we confessed that we are disobedient sinners, that we have done what is evil and failed to do what is good, that we deserve eternal punishment. So to think of ourselves as saints would be a little arrogant, wouldn’t it?
It was common for first century Christians to call each other saints, and Luther argued that this practice should be retained. Luther said: “When Christians call themselves holy after Christ, this is not arrogance; it is honoring and praising God. For thereby we do not praise the malodorous holiness of our own works but His Baptism, Word, grace, and Spirit, which we do not have of ourselves; He gave them to us.”
Because Jesus sacrificed his life for me, I am forgiven. Because Jesus shed his blood for me, my sins have been washed away. Because Jesus lived a holy life in my place, I am a saint. And so are you.
On this Saints Triumphant Sunday we honor all those believers who have died and gone to heaven, but we also recognize that this world (and this church) is filled with saints. In fact, the words of Jesus recorded in John 5 will lead us to see that…EVERY CHRISTIAN IS A S.A.I.N.T. I. Saved by faith, not by works. II. Alive, physically and spiritually. III. Innocent in spite of the evidence. IV. Not complacent. V. Triumphant
A saint is not someone who is strumming a harp on his/her own personal cloud. Saints are not people who always do everything right and never do anything wrong.
Saints are sinners. Sinners make mistakes. They can make bad decisions. Saints have their own unique quirks and idiosyncrasies. Saints have all sorts of problems in this life, but they also have something else, something much more important. Saints have saving faith.
Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (24). To avoid eternal condemnation, you don’t have to be perfect. To be considered a saint, you don’t have to do anything…except believe. And even that, even our faith in God is a gift of God.
“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). We are saved by faith, not by works. We are saved not because of anything we do for God, but because of everything God has done for us. By faith in Him we are holy. Because of him we are saints.
If this sounds too simple, too easy, or too good to be true, Jesus tells us more. The fact that we are alive is proof of our saintly status. Jesus explains: “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”
Since Jesus makes it clear that this time “has come” already, these words cannot be a reference to the Last Day. No God speaks to us through his Word. Through his Word we have heard his voice. Whenever the water of baptism is poured, wherever the Word of God is sown, the Holy Spirit speaks to us.
Even if you don’t feel saved, even if you have doubts, even if you are teetering on the brink of despair, you are a Saint. Just the fact that there is a spiritual battle going on inside of you is a sure sign that there is spiritual life.
Once, you were dead, but now you are alive. Not just because the heart is still beating. Not just because the lungs are still breathing. We are saints because the Word of God is living and active, and it has created a living and active faith in our hearts.
The word, “saint,” literally means “holy one.” And perhaps that is why many of us are reluctant to think of ourselves as saints. We know how unholy we can be. We know that we are far from perfect. In spite of that, in spite of strong evidence to the contrary, we have been declared innocent in the eyes of God.
Actually, that doesn’t sound fair. If the wages of sin is death, then every one of us deserves to die. If the Lord kept a record of sins, then not one of us could stand. How could we possibly be innocent? What judge in his right mind would ever declare us innocent?
The One God has appointed to be the judge of all is also the Son he gave to be the Savior of all. Jesus didn’t ignore the evidence. He destroyed it. He carried the sins of the world to the cross and buried them in the tomb. He paid the ultimate price to give us the ultimate prize. And now when the Lord looks at us, he doesn’t see convicted sinners. He sees saints. He sees people like you and me who have been declared “innocent/not guilty” by a gracious God.
We are free because Jesus has set us free. We are holy because God has made us holy. The debt has been paid in full. Our eternal future is secure, but we need to be careful that our appreciation doesn’t turn into apathy. We need to be on guard against spiritual laziness: “Jesus has done everything for me, so what I do doesn’t matter. I can do whatever I want. In fact, I don’t have to do anything at all.”
Now, a saint is many things. A saint is saved by faith. A saint is spiritually alive. A saint is innocent in spite of the evidence. But Jesus’ words make it very clear that a saint is NOT complacent: “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (28,29).
Who are those who have done good? Aren’t we saved by grace alone and not by works? The Bible says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Anyone, Christian or non-Christian, can do something nice for his neighbor, but only a believer can do something that truly pleases God. And so a good work is not something we do to get in God’s good graces. Good works are the evidence of God’s grace in our lives.
A young girl who was sightseeing with her mother at a cathedral was intrigued by how the sunlight was shining through the beautiful stained glass windows. When she asked who the figures in the windows represented, her mother said: “Those are the saints.” A look of understanding came over the girl’s face as she replied: “Now I know what saints are. They are people who let the light shine through.”
That’s a good definition for a saint. Saints don’t sit around staring up into the sky waiting for Jesus to return. Saints want to thank and praise God for the gift of eternal life. Saints are eager to serve God in this life. Saints depend on Jesus, the Light of the World, for everything, and they strive to let the love of Christ shine through them in everything they do.
On Saints Triumphant Day, we remember all the Christians who have gone before us. Our loved one have fought the good fight. They have finished the race. They have kept the faith. And now they are, in a word, triumphant.
But they aren’t the only ones. We are triumphant saints. Even though the fight is fierce, even though the warfare is long (CW 551:5), the war itself is over. Death has been swallowed up in victory (I Corinthians 15:54). We know that the serpent’s head has been crushed forever (Genesis 3:15). We know that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
S.A.I.N.T. Every Christian is a saint. What is a saint? A saint is…
S – aved by faith, not by works
A – live, physically and spiritually
I – nnocent in spite of the evidence
N – ot complacent
T – riumphant.