All Saints’ Day is a widely celebrated event in the Christian world. In the Roman Catholic Church it is officially called the Solemnity of All Saints. It is also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas (from which we get the word “Halloween,” from “All Hallows Eve”). All Saints is celebrated on November 1 by parts of Western Christianity, and observed the first Sunday thereafter in our church. It is a day to honor all the saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us in the faith.
Among the people of God, those who possess extraordinary faith have always been looked upon highly. From faith-confessing martyrs in the first century to compassion-filled servants in the twentieth century, it would seem that some believers have been given an extra portion of Christ-like strength and humility. But how does the Bible define the saints? The term often used by Paul in the New Testament to identify the church is hagioi. This term indicates separation for and dedication to God. It is not, however, the amazing accomplishments of one’s devotion that allows entrance into sainthood. It is the singular redemption obtained through faith in Jesus Christ that creates saints out of all believers. All believers, great and small, are saints.
When Paul used the word “saint” in his writings (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1) it was rarely used to describe individuals. It is primarily used as a picture of the elect people of God who are sanctified and redeemed in Christ. There is also confusion as to the final destination of the saints after this earthly life. Do some experience the fullness of God’s presence while lesser ones are left out? Roman Catholic dogma and a blend of other religions have left some believing in a hierarchy of saintliness in heaven. The biblical account leads us to believe otherwise. All God’s people, or saints, are assured of a restful paradise until the renewal of all creation. Joining God in paradise is not the final destiny for the saints – the bodily resurrection is our essential hope in eternity.
There are also several passages that clarify that it is not personal accomplishment that achieves sainthood. The dying criminal hanging on the cross near Jesus confessed faith in him (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus promised him entrance into paradise that very day. Similarly, the church in Corinth is addressed as the sanctified in Christ who are called to be saints (1 Corinthians 1:2). From the content of Paul’s letters we see Corinth was laden with immorality and factions. However, these spiritual troubles do not preclude the church from being a collection of the saints of God. The understated truth is that sainthood is less about achieving personal piety and more about simple faith in the redeeming work and power of Jesus. It is enough to be found in Christ and covered by his grace.
A saint is not a higher-order Christian. Through baptism, we have joined with Christ in his death and resurrection, making us saints now and saints to be in paradise. Our goal on earth is to join with Christ in the recreation of the world now, which anticipates the ultimate recreation of heaven and earth and the bodily resurrection of Christ’s faithful followers.
Here is a little quick-and-dirty home recording of “Shall We Gather at the River” for all my fans! 🙂