Who are the Saints?

“He’s a saint!” you might hear someone say. What they probably mean is that the person is very good, generous, kind or helpful. Most often when we use the term, we mean someone respected and honored by the early or medieval church for their example of holy living or strong faith. Such people called a saint in the first few centuries were witnesses to Jesus to the point of death. They were also called martyrs, witnesses.

The Bible does not use the word saint in such a narrow way. The word means, “holy one” and is used to describe God’s people, saved and made holy by his grace. St. Paul goes at great lengths to describe how those God is making holy should live. Many Lutheran pastors follow this custom and call the hearers of their sermons “saints.”

During the Middle Ages, saints who were admired for their faith went from being good examples to being venerated — worshipped really — although Catholics would object to that description. The church redefined a saint to be someone whose good deeds were more numerous than their sins and so they did not go to purgatory, but directly to heaven. (that subject is for another post!) There, it was said, they are aware of what is going on and pray for us. They are able to hear our prayers and do miracles for us — or rather ask God to perform them. The honoring of and praying to the saints became known as the cult of the saints.

Martin Luther and the reformers believed the cult of the saints had gotten out of control. They believed it was good to give thanks to God for saints, to study their lives and to immitate their faith. The Book of Hebrews says as much. (Hebrews 13:7) Yet the saints in heaven do not know what is happening on earth and they do not hear our prayers. Prayer and worship belong to God alone.

So Lutherans do not pray to saints, collect pieces of their bodies or things that belonged to them as magic objects. We do study some of their lives, consider what happened to them, learn from their sins and mistakes and immitate their faith and good works. We do this not because they are better than us, but because they are just like us. If God got them through this life by faith, he can — and will — keep us to everlasting life.

©2020 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Who are the Saints?