April 12, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NRSV)
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.
Every Christian has a calling from God. One dimension of this calling involves being set apart by God for a relationship with God and for participation in his kingdom work. To use biblical language, we are called to be saints. God has called us as his special people, not because of our merit, but because of his sovereign grace.
Today’s devotion is part of the series God’s Transformational Calling.
In the letter we know as 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says of the letter’s recipients that they are “called to be saints.” Even as God called Paul to be an apostle (1:1), so God called all of the Corinthians believers to be saints. What did Paul mean by “saints”?
Though the translation of the Greek word hagios as “saint” is traditional and common, I would suggest that it’s not particularly helpful in our day. Besides using “Saint” as a name for a professional football player from New Orleans, we call someone a saint if that person is truly extraordinary. If we say, for example, “Anna is such a saint,” we mean that Anna is someone who acts in a particularly charitable and sacrificial way as she does good for others. In the church, “Saint” can be used as a designation of a rare Christian whose life of service to God and people is truly exceptional. In 2016, for example, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was declared a saint – “canonized” is the official word for it – by Pope Francis for her unique life of service to the poor and suffering.
But this is not what Paul had in mind when using the Greek word hagios. The basic meaning of this word had to do with things being dedicated or consecrated to God (or in the Greek word, a god). Hagios is often translated in the Bible as “holy.” Things used in the temple in Jerusalem, for example, were holy in that they were set apart from ordinary usage in order to be used in the worship of God. A person could be hagios if that person was dedicated to God. In the Old Testament era, priests were thought of as holy in this sense.
But so were all of God’s chosen people. In Exodus 19 God chose Israel to be his “treasured possession out of all the peoples” (19:5). The Israelites would be for God “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (19:6). Though some of the people would have an uncommon “holy” role as priests, all of God’s people were set apart for God and his purposes. In this sense, all of them were holy. Or, if you prefer, all were saints.
What was true of Israel became true for believers in Jesus, according to Paul. They were “called to be saints” as the NRSV reads. A better rendering in today’s English would be, “called to be God’s special people.” All Christians are set apart by God for God and his purposes. This is just as true of teachers, carpenters, and realtors as it is of preachers, priests, and missionaries. To be a saint is a little like being an Olympic athlete who is set apart from the rest of humanity for a particular purpose.
The fact that the biblical title of “saint” is not given only to especially worthy people is abundantly clear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. This church was quite a mess, actually. People were not getting along with each other as they divided up into opposing factions. Some were engaging in prostitution while others were getting drunk at Communion. The Corinthian believers didn’t earn their sainthood by their good works, that’s for sure. Rather, they were “called to be saints” by God on the basis of grace offered through Jesus Christ.
And so it is with you and me today. If you have embraced the good news of the gospel, then you are a saint, or as I would prefer to say, you are one of “God’s special people.” You belong to God and are a vital contributor to God’s work in the world because God has called you and set you apart through Christ. That is indeed good news!
Do you think of yourself as a saint, that is, as someone set apart by God for a relationship with God and for his purposes? If so what difference does this make in how you live each day?
If you do not think of yourself as a saint, why not?
Do you have any clarity about the purpose(s) God has for you in life?
Talk with a wise friend or with your small group about what it means to be a saint, according to 1 Corinthians. Think together about how this designation might make a difference in how you live each day.
Gracious God, thank you for calling us to be your saints, your special people. Thank you for doing this on the basis of your grace given in Christ. Thank you for inviting me to belong to you and your family. Thank you for summoning me into your kingdom work.
Help me, Lord, to see myself as a saint, not in a way that puffs me up, but so that I might know you intimately and serve you faithfully. May I see everything in my life as an opportunity to live out my sainthood for your purposes and glory. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. An article on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Calling to Life, Not Only to Work
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.