Reflection for All Saints’ Day 2013

evia all saints

(excerpt from a doctoral paper written in 2008)

Sanctification is not a sign of growth in righteous behavior, but it is a solid truth for those redeemed in Christ. Sanctification is first a sign of salvation and not just ethical behavior. Sanctification is the work of God signaling God’s ownership of all Christians. That is why the scandalous Corinthians can be called by Paul “saints” and those for whom Jesus Christ became their sanctification. While sanctification is completely a gift from God, not something to be morally attained, it does require a human response. Because believers are sanctified already, we are to pursue sanctification in all aspects of living.[1] “Sanctification is both a divine gift and a human task.”[2]

The nature of the church also brings meaning to the doctrine of the saints. In the Patristic Age, four marks of the true church were developed to differentiate from heretical groups: unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. The Roman Catholic understanding of the church being marked with holiness centers more on the sacraments and on holy individuals (saints). The Eastern Orthodox Church also places a high level of importance on the saints in heaven and the Virgin Mary in particular as holy. Protestants tend to interpret the church’s holiness as its set-apartness and dedication to God and serving Him.[3] In a Trinitarian fashion, the church is holy in three senses: they are the people of God, the body of Christ, and posses the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is baptism that marks or separates the church as holy unto God. But in our death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ Jesus there is an eschatological tension. A life of holiness is given to us through Jesus; however, it is still not completely present. We are holy, but at the same time, not yet holy. It is the continual living out of our baptism that makes us ready for life in the kingdom of God.[4]

Much like the saints that comprise it, the church is holy because God makes it holy. There are no self-made saints and there is no church made holy by herself. Even baptism does not automatically create holiness in men, but it is dependant on a holy God and a faith-filled response by man. “It is God who distinguishes the Church, sets it apart, marks it out for his own and makes it holy, by winning power over the hearts of men through his Holy Spirit, by establishing his reign, by justifying and sanctifying the sinner and thereby founding the communion of saints.”[5]


[1] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, ed. Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 563-565.

[2] James Leo Garrett, Jr, Systematic Theology, (North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal Press, 2001), 400.

[3] Ibid., 516-523.

[4] Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1984), 127-130.

[5] Hans Kung, The Church (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1976), 418-419.

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