2) I Am a Saint
Text: Ephesians 1:1-2
If someone asked you how you saw yourself, how would you answer? Last week we looked at all these different ways we tend to see ourselves, from our financial status, our marital status, or our achievements or all sorts of different things. But according to Paul as Christians our primary way of seeing ourselves should be our connection to Jesus Christ, the fact that we are ‘in Christ.’ That truth, that you are in Christ, should define your whole existence. Last week I mentioned that one of the things that flowed out of being ‘in Christ’ is that we are holy. Paul said in verse 4, ‘4 For [God] chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:4)’ If you are ‘in Christ’ then you are holy. But this morning I don’t just want you to see that as a spiritual truth, I want you to see that spiritual truth as defining who you are. Because you are in Christ you are holy, you are a saint. And that’s exactly how Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians. He is writing, ‘1 …To the saints in Ephesus… (Eph 1:1b)’ This morning I want you to realize that in Christ you are a saint. The goal of this sermon is that by the end of it you will be able to say ‘I am a Saint! I am not defined by my sin, I am defined by my Saviour and in him I am a saint, in him I am not condemned by my sin, rather in him I have power over sin.’
1) A Christian is a Saint
So let’s start with this idea that a Christian is a saint.
a) What is a saint?
Firstly, what is a saint? There are all sorts of misunderstandings about what it means to be a saint. So let’s start with its basic meaning. In the Greek the word literally means ‘holy ones.’ The word ‘holy’ means someone or something that is set apart, or is different. It’s used over 600 times in Scripture, 200 of those in the New Testament. In terms of God it refers to the fact that God is pure, that he is perfect. God’s holiness is one of the most common defining characteristics of God. Over and over in Scripture it refers to God as holy. Scott quoted Ps 99, ‘5 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. (Ps 99:5)’ And God’s holiness is attributed to each person of the Trinity. God the Father is holy. Jesus refers to God as the ‘11 …Holy Father… (Jn 17:11b)’ And he commands us to pray ‘9 …Our Father in heaven, hallowed [or holy] be your name. (Mt 6:9b)’ God the Son is holy. Jesus is referred to as, ‘35 …the holy one … (Lk 1:35b)’ And ‘24 …the Holy One of God! (Mk 1:24b; Jn 6:69)’ And God the Spirit is holy. In fact, this is such a characteristic of the Spirit that he is known as the Holy Spirit. So basically a saint is holy, like God is holy. A saint is perfect like God is perfect.
b) Aren’t Christians sinners?
Which raises a problem, we aren’t perfect like God. God is holy, I am unholy. So how can Paul call Christians ‘saints,’ when they are actually ‘sinners?’ As Reformed Christians this can be a real issue for us, because as good Reformed people we all know that what makes us distinctively Reformed is the idea of Total Depravity, that sin influences and affects every part of who we are. A good Reformed person may be tempted to answer the question who am I by saying, I am depraved, I am a sinner. And while Paul talks about how Christians struggle with sin, and even his own struggle with sin, he calls us saints. So are we sinners or saints? Which of those two terms define who we are as Christians?
c) Are saints super-Christians
Which raises another problem: because most of us are aware that we struggle with sin in our lives, we are tempted to think that saints are super-Christians. That’s how Catholics use this term. In Catholicism saints were super-Christians who did amazing things and lived amazing lives. So we tend to think that only some people can be saints, while the rest of us are still sinners. Is that what Paul is talking about here, super Christians? Is that what you’re meant to feel like? Are you meant to wake up in the morning feeling like a saint? Should you be asking people at work to refer to you as saint John, or saint Teresa, or saint Nick, as if you’re more special, more holy than other people?
d) How do you become a saint?
In calling us saints is Paul suggesting that you need to be holy like God is holy? Is Paul suggesting that to be a saint you have to stop sinning? Or that we need to become super-Christians? What are the prerequisites for becoming a saint? In the Catholic tradition it’s a rather long and complicated process which includes dying, you have to be dead to be a saint, you also have to be really nice, and if people pray to you, you have to do miracles, and then you can become a saint and people can name buildings after you. But according to Paul it’s much simpler than that. According to Paul all it takes is to be in Christ. If you are in Christ, then you are a saint. If you are in Christ, then you are holy. But surely it can’t be that simple. The Bible talks over and over about how we are sinful, how we are sinners, who deserve God’s condemnation and wrath. But that’s exactly why we need to make that distinction, ‘in Christ.’ It is only those who are in Christ who are saints. If you’re not in Christ than you’re defined by your sin, you’re a sinner. But when you meet Jesus, when you believe in him, or trust him, everything changes. Paul writes, ‘17 …if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17)’ If you are in Christ you suddenly, instantly, are transformed from sinner to saint. Without Christ – sinner, in Christ – saint! If you are in Christ, you’re a new creation with a new identity, and that identity is ‘holy,’ ‘saint.’ The truth is that you will still sin sometimes, but in Christ you are a saint all of the time. Sin is something we all still struggle with but it no longer defines who we are. As a sinner, you have a dark past, but as a saint, you have a bright future in Christ.
You have to believe this – in Christ you are holy, in Christ you are no longer defined by your sin, you are defined by Jesus and in him you are a saint. Elsewhere Paul talks about Christians as ‘2 …those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, [or called saints] together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… (1 Cor 1:2b)’ In Christ we have been sanctified, we have been declared holy, and that’s true for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense ‘saint’ is your new legal standing before God in Christ. Because of Jesus God sees you as holy. That’s what theologians refer to as justification, how God treats us ‘just as if we had never sinned,’ how God treats us as saints. I want to encourage you to stop looking at your sin and start looking at your Saviour. Stop seeing yourself as a sinner, and start seeing yourself as a saint. Is that how you see yourself? Can you say ‘In Christ I am a saint’? Because if you are a Christian, if you are ‘in Christ’, then that’s exactly how God sees you.
2) Saints feel Godly Sorrow over Sin
But, as I’ve mentioned, the biggest problem with seeing yourself as a saint is the fact that you are all too aware you are a sinner. So how should a saint see their sin? I’m not sure if you’ve ever read Paul’s first letter to the church of God in Corinth, but in this letter Paul deals with the sin in the lives of the saints there, and he does so with a fine toothed comb. And he gets a report back about how he ‘8 …caused them sorrow… (2 Cor 7:8a)’ Confronting the saints in Corinth with their sin caused them sorrow. Our sin should make saints sorrowful. But it’s absolutely essential we understand what sort of sorrow sin produces, because there are two kinds of sorrow – worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 7, ‘8 I do not regret it [making you sorrowful] 9 …because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended... 10 [and] godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor 7:8-10)’ This morning I want to make it crystal clear the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Because according to Paul saints should feel only godly sorrow over their sin. I’ve created two columns in your notes so you can write down the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. So here goes!
Firstly, Godly sorrow comes from God, while worldly sorrow comes from Satan. That’s important for us to know, because one sorrow will bear the character of God, while the other will reflect the character of Satan. Secondly, godly sorrow leads to repentance, while worldly sorrow leads to regret. The Bible tells us that God desires ‘9 …everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet 3:9c)’ But Satan doesn’t want you to repent he just wants you to feel bad about your sin, he wants you be filled with remorse and guilt and shame, the last thing he wants is that you find forgiveness and freedom and hope. Thirdly, godly sorrow results in rejoicing, while worldly sorrow results in recrimination. When God makes us sorrowful over our sin we are reminded that he gives us grace and that we find peace in Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul starts his letter to the Ephesians with ‘2 Grace and peace to you in God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 1:2)’ But that’s the last thing Satan wants us to find, in fact, the Bible calls him the Accuser, because that’s what he does, he accuses us of our sin, he reminds us of the so many ways we are unworthy and undeserving. Fourthly, godly sorrow makes us want to change, while worldly sorrow makes us believe we can’t change. God has given us the Holy Spirit, so that we have divine power to live transformed lives. That idea is so important we’re going to look at it a bit more in a moment. But Satan wants us to live defeated lives. Satan wants us to grieve the Spirit, and resist the Spirit and put out the Spirit’s fire, he wants to down play the power at our disposal. Satan wants your identity to be defined by your sin. He wants the worst day of your life to be the defining aspect of every day of your life. Next, godly sorrow looks to Jesus, while worldly sorrow looks to self. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives he will point us to Jesus, he will remind us of what Jesus has done for us on the cross and the things that Jesus said. We know we are experiencing godly sorrow when it makes us turn to Jesus and fix our eyes on him. But that’s the last thing Satan wants you to do, he wants you to focus on yourself, on my sin and my failures and my faults, rather than God’s salvation and God’s grace and God’s forgiveness in Jesus. Don’t get tempted to look at yourself, instead look to Jesus. Sixth, godly sorrow focuses on our new identity in Christ, while worldly sorrow focuses on our old identity in sin. Remember, ‘17 …if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17)’ Don’t focus on the old, it’s gone, it’s in the past, God’s forgotten it, instead focus on who you are now, focus on the fact that in Christ you are new, you have a new identity, you’re now a saint, not a sinner. Seventh, and I hope you’re starting to realize this, godly sorrow is a blessing, and worldly sorrow is a burden. When God makes you sorry over your sin it’s not to burden you. Jesus says, ‘28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30)’ Satan on the other hand loves to burden people. Jesus accused the Pharisees, ‘46 …woe to you experts in the law, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry... (Lk 11:46)’ Worldly sorrow makes you feel like you’re carrying your own sin, whereas godly sorrow reminds you that Jesus took your sin, that he carried it to Calvary, and he dealt with it on the cross. Eighth, godly sorrow leads to life, while worldly sorrow leads to death. Notice the trajectory here: godly sorrow leads to repentance, which leads to experiencing God’s grace and peace in Jesus Christ, which leads to eternal life. Worldly sorrow on the other hand reminds us that we are sinners who deserve death. Worldly sorrow points us away from God and life in him. Finally, it’s helpful to think of godly sorrow as the Spirit’s work in convicting us of sin, while worldly sorrow is Satan’s work in condemning us of sin. The Spirit convicts saints of their sin, and they look to Jesus, they repent, they rejoice, they change, they are blessed, and they receive life. But Satan condemns us of our sin, and makes us look to ourselves, which leads to regret, and recrimination, and defeat, and to make us feel like sinners, and be burdened, and ultimately it leads to death. Do you see how good godly sorrow is? Do you see how bad worldly sorrow is? Paul puts it so well in Romans 8:1, ‘1 There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)’ God doesn’t condemn the saints, but he does convict us. And we have to get this. I know a guy who couldn’t get past his guilt and his shame, to the point where he started cutting himself. He didn’t believe that God could ever forgive him, that Jesus could take the punishment for the things he had done, and so he punished himself. And maybe like him you find your identity in your sin and not in your Saviour. You can’t move beyond your shame, and guilt, and condemnation. That’s worldly sorrow, that’s Satan. But in Christ you are no longer defined by your sin. In Christ there is no condemnation. Saints see their sin with godly sorrow, that brings repentance which leads to salvation and leaves no regret. Don’t listen to Satan and his lies, instead listen to what God says about you, and God says there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
3) Saints experience Power over Sin
So I hope I’ve made a good case that in Christ you are a saint, and that in Christ you are no longer condemned for your sin, but I want to finish this morning by looking at one final issue, as a saint do we have power over sin? Does being a saint make any difference whatever to our daily lives? Does being a saint actually mean we are different to sinners? Let me explain that for a moment. We believe that when God first created people he created them perfect, without sin. Let’s represent that by showing a pure white person on the screen. But when Adam and Eve rejected God we believe that humanity became marred, or stained by sin. Let’s represent that by showing a stained person on the screen. That’s the condition of every person on this planet, we’re all sinners.
So here’s the issue: when we put our faith in Jesus, when we go from being ‘in Adam’ to being ‘in Christ,’ do we actually change in any way? Another way of putting it is, is the only difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is a non-Christian is a guilty, evil, vile, wicked sinner, and a Christian is a guilty, evil, vile, wicked sinner who’s forgiven? Are we still this stained sinner, but we’re just forgiven, and a non-Christian isn’t? Does sin still ultimately define our lives? There’s no real change in your nature, or your identity, you’re essentially both the same, except one is forgiven?
I believe the answer is no! There is a difference between us as saints, and us as sinners, and that difference is the Holy Spirit. According to the Bible when you put your faith in Jesus you’re not just forgiven, you’re not just justified, or declared to be holy, or a saint, you receive the Holy Spirit. Paul says, ‘13 …Having believed, you were marked in [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. (Eph 1:13b)’ And later Paul prays, ‘16 …may [God] strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Eph 3:16-17a)’ And he tells us to ‘18 …be filled with the Spirit. (Eph 5:18b)’ The Spirit is what makes all the difference in the lives of the saints. Let’s represent that this way. What the Spirit does in the lives of the saints is to make them holy, to make them more like Jesus, to make them more saint-like. The Holy Spirit helps saints say no to sin and yes to Christ. The point I want you to get this morning is that saints experience the Spirit’s power over sin. Theologians call this process sanctification, the process of becoming holy. The Holy Spirit makes holy saints.
And it all flows from your identity as a saint. Who you are determines what you do. Because you are a saint you can chose to behave like a saint. Or another way of putting it is: the Holy Spirit enables you to choose holiness instead of sin. That’s what Jesus wants to do in your life, that’s why he gave us the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that Jesus’ purpose is ‘26 to make [the church] holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph 5:26-27)’ One of the ways the Spirit does that is by renewing our will so we can choose to be holy. That’s why Paul can say stuff like ‘1 …in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God… (Rom 12:1b)’ And why Peter can say, ‘15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do. (1 Pet 1:15)’ We can only offer our lives as a holy sacrifice to God because the Spirit has made us new people and helps us be new people. We can only be holy because we have the Holy Spirit. Of course we often choose sin instead of holiness because we ignore the Spirit, because we don’t rely on the strength God gives, which is why Paul tells us to live by the Spirit and to keep in step with the Spirit.
The reason why this is so important is because if you believe that your primary identity is a sinner, than you believe that Jesus doesn’t really help you in this life. But if your primary identity is a saint, then you believe that Jesus has taken away your sin, that he has given you a new identity, and he has given you the Holy Spirit so you can start to live out your new identity in Christ. If your primary identity is a sinner, then when you’re tempted to sin, you figure, ‘I’m a sinner, I guess I’m going to sin.’ But when you’re primary identity is a saint, then when you’re tempted you can say, ‘No! I’m not a sinner, I’m a saint, I’m a new creation, I don’t have to go back to old ways, I can choose holiness!’ Don’t get stuck in the trap of ‘I can’t change,’ or ‘I can change myself.’ Instead, you need to say, ‘I can change in Christ. I can resist temptation in Christ. I can be obedient in Christ. Because I am holy in Christ, and in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I can start to live a holy life.’
So I want to ask you again: How do you see yourself? Do you see yourself as a sinner or a saint? Do you truly believe that in Christ you have received a new identity, that in Christ God no longer sees you as a sinner, instead he sees you as a saint? And as a saint how do you see your sin? Are you sorry over your sin, and is your sorrow godly sorrow or worldly sorrow? Does your sorrow over sin lead you to Jesus, and repentance, and rejoicing, and transformation, and a new identity, and blessing, and life? Or does your sorrow over sin lead you to look to yourself, which results in regret and recrimination, and feeling defeated and burdened? Worldly sorrow will kill you, it leads to death? The Spirit will convict you of sin, but if you are in Christ then there is no condemnation for your sin – that’s what Satan does! And as a saint is the Spirit helping you say no to sin and yes to Christ? Is the Holy Spirit helping you to be holy? People of God, you are saints. Can you say that, ‘I Am A Saint!’ Amen.