Q & A

Who are God’s saints?

Today when people speak about a saint, invariably their concept of a saint is not the same as that found in the Bible.

Roman Catholics understand a saint to be someone who is dead, whose life conformed to Church teaching and who has performed some miracles after dying, thereby qualifying them to be canonised and to become the object of prayer, devotion and veneration.

However, the Biblical teaching is quite different. The word ‘saint’ means one who is sanctified, or set apart for God. It is not a statement of one’s spiritual status that only a few Christians attain. On the contrary, a saint is anyone who has a living relationship with God through his mercy and grace expressed in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, every Christian is a saint. This can be seen from a very small sample of quotations from the Bible:

• When Saul was persecuting the church he was said to have done great harm to the ‘saints in Jerusalem.’ (Acts 9:13)
• Peter visited with ‘the saints in Lydda.’ (Acts 9:32)
• Recalling his persecution of the church, Paul said, ‘On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison …’ (Acts 26:10)
• Writing his famous epistle on the grace of God to the Christians living in Rome, Paul greets them: ‘To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.’ (Romans 1:7)
• Concluding his lovely letter to the church of Christ at Philippi, Paul says, ‘All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.’ (Philippians 4:22)

These examples are sufficient to show that the Roman Catholic understanding of a saint is not in harmony with what the Bible teaches. Saints in the Bible are all those who are God’s children. In the Bible saints are to be found among the spiritually weak and the strong, the educated, the uneducated, the slave, the free, etc. They all have this in common – they have been redeemed by the Lamb of God who has taken away their sins; hence, they are said to be saints.

Being a saint is not a title one wears; being a saint is a statement of one’s relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, saints in the Bible never became the object of veneration upon their death, no matter how pious their life had been. And the idea of actually praying to a departed saint is never taught in the Bible. God alone is the object of all our prayers, our devotion and veneration.

Praying to saints

The practice of praying to saints may be well intentioned, but it is a practice which violates the Word of God. The idea of having ‘a patron saint’ arises from a very poor understanding of the all sufficiency of God.

What can any of the saints do that God himself will not do? What lost object can Saint Anthony find that God cannot find? What protection for a journey can Saint Christopher provide that God will not give? What need can Saint Jude (patron saint of hopeless cases) meet that God will not abundantly meet? God himself is all sufficient to meet our every need; this is clearly seen in the Word of God.

The Bible declares that there is only ‘one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ (1 Timothy 2:5) The Bible says that Jesus is our high priest and ‘is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.’ (Hebrews 9:24) It is Jesus who says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28)

And finally the Bible speaks of the role of the Holy Sprit in our prayers. ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.’ (Romans 8:26-27)

In summary, we have Jesus: (1) as our only mediator, (2) as our high priest who is always interceding for us, (3) as the one who invites us to come to him and (4) we have God the Holy Spirit making intercession for us in our prayers. My question is this: Why would anyone need to pray to any of the saints? What can they do that God will not do?

I like the words of Paul – ‘And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4:19). ‘All your needs.’ No need is omitted because of the word, ‘all.’ And the one to meet those needs is ‘my God.’ Tell me one thing a saint can do that God has not already promised to do.