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Who Can We Call a Saint?

If you are a member of the Catholic Church you are welcome among us. About 20% of all of our members were raised in the Catholic Church.  However, the canonization of two popes this past week does give me an opportunity to point out one of several major differences between us and Roman Catholicism.

The Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that all believers in Christ are “saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1 etc). But in the early centuries when the idea arose that salvation was not a free gift given to those who believe the Gospel, but rather a goal to be reached through our good deeds (along with God’s help to be sure), the church taught that most people did not have enough merit to enter heaven at death; most had to enter purgatory, to be “purged” from residual sins.

There were a few, however, who had accumulated so much merit that they could be called “saints.” And then as traditions developed, the next step was to say that the church could declare someone a saint after death if they met certain requirements (two miracles etc.). Of course the average parishioner could never expect such an honor, but it is limited to a few.

The fatal flaw in this reasoning is that it overlooks the good news: Righteousness is a free gift given to those who believe the Gospel. All believers receive the same gift of righteousness; all stand without condemnation because of Christ and all go to heaven at death. All are equally saints because Jesus has declared us to be such.  To quote Paul, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). As Luther put it, “O, Jesus, I am thy sin; Thou art my righteousness!”  

Rejoice for all who are “in Christ” are saints! 

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