1Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:1-12, ESV
A common misunderstanding of the word “saint” is that it only refers to someone who has already died. Even among us, we may be more comfortable talking about the deceased as now being “saints” before God more so than any who are living.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the process of canonization, the road to sainthood, includes three components:
2 It must be proved that the candidate lived an upright life, and
3 There must be evidence of a miracle or miracles attributed to the candidate after the candidate’s death as a
result of a specific petition to the candidate.
Such a process of canonization, first of all, attributes the possibility of sainthood only to the one who has already died. This view most certainly advances the view that “saint” refers only to the deceased.
Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church necessitates a view that considers only the outward life of the individual in question.
Thirdly, because miracles must be attributed to the candidate after death, most would be excluded, especially as prayers must have been prayed to the deceased candidate prior to the miracle occurring.
The Roman Catholic teaching about sainthood is not everywhere believed or supported, especially among us, but it is a source from which many derive their understanding of sainthood. As much as the world might want to distant themselves from the church generally, the world continues to take cues from the Catholic Church concerning what Christians believe, without making distinctions between what is true from what is false, not according to what any church body says, but according to what Holy Scripture itself teaches.
Having died, and having lived an outwardly “good” life, are two attributes that seem most to apply to that word “saint” as most understand the word. And on this “All Saints’ Day,” such an understanding seems to continue.
The use of the term “saint” is much broader, however, and also narrower, in Holy Scripture than either the Roman Church or many inside or outside the church apply.
More broadly, in the Holy Bible, “saint” is the translation of the word for “Holy One” in the singular, or for “holy ones” in the plural (i.e. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 6:1; 14:33; Philippians 4:21; June 1:14). The word does refer to those who have died. It also refers to those who are still living. The definition of “saint” as only one who has died is not the whole picture.
For the Biblical understanding of the word “saint,” we cannot exclude the living from the word’s definition. As Scripture speaks, so must we. This means that we also are to distinguish, more narrowly, who a saint is and what a saint does.
The world and Rome depict a “saint” as one who “had lived an upright life.” According to this definition, a saint was a “good person.” An “upright life,” therefore, seems to equate to “being good,” but in the sense of outward behavior, not of the inward heart; external actions and not internal motives.
Our Lord, because He judges with “righteous judgment” and “not according to appearance” (John 7:24), does not look only at what a man does. He looks at who he is. God sees what is in the heart.
In Matthew 15, Jesus says that “those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man” (Matt. 15:18-20, NKJ).
“Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matt. 15:11, NKJ).
Broadly, the word “saint,” Biblically used, includes both the dead and the living.
Those who have “died in the Lord,” having believed in Jesus Christ as their only hope and Savior, are members of the Church Triumphant. These are they described in this morning’s epistle as “before the throne of God, and” who “serve him day and night in his temple… 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).
Members of the Church Triumphant are now with the Lord awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. They were formerly members of the Church Militant, of which we are now, as we continue to struggle in this sinful world, seeking to abide by the only Word that saves and remain in the faith of our Lord through which salvation comes.
Narrowly, the word saint applies only to those who are holy in the sight of God, and not because of what they do or have done, or how good they are or have been, as determined by the world, but who are “good in the heart” before God.
God determines and judges things differently than we and the world do. We look at the outside of things to determine if it’s worthy of our consideration and of value in our eyes. God, instead, “confers” worth and value upon the unworthy and to the detestable according to the eyes of the world and its inhabitants (LW 31, Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 28).
God gives freely to the undeserving. He is unconditional to the poor who can’t offer return. Our Lord blesses those without merit. He forgives the sinner and saves those who cannot at all help themselves.
Being “good in the heart” before God inwardly comes before living an “upward life” outwardly.
“Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:17-18, NKJ).
Being a saint, being a holy one, doesn’t first have to do with how you live your life before God or before others. It first has to do with what God Himself says, not what you think about yourself.
“Judge with righteous judgment” says our Lord (John 7:24).
A saint, a holy one, is not one who thinks that he is by virtue of his goodness, worthiness, or activities, either before God or before men. Such a one is truly a hypocrite who believes himself to be worthy of God’s favor and blessing. None are deserving of sainthood. Our inability to keep God’s Holy Law reveals this.
“By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20, NKJ)
A saint, therefore, is one who believes himself to be unholy, unrighteous, guilty before God’s Holy Law, condemned, and unworthy before God of anything but His wrath and righteous judgment.
Because the saint believes what God says of him, the saint finds no self-confidence of hope to stand before the sinless Judge.
Like the tax collector, the saint pleads, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13, NKJ).
To the Word of God concerning the corruptness of his heart, the saint says, “Amen,” it is so. I am undeserving and unworthy to be called holy. God so declares and has so revealed. My condition is such that it cannot be undone. What we confess is so, “I, a poor miserable sinner…”
“There is none righteous, no, not one,” declares the Psalmist and St. Paul (Psalm 14: 1-3 & 53: 1-3; Romans 3:10).
“There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
These words we confess to be true. And to you does our Lord now say, “You are forgiven. I do not condemn you. Your condemnation went on Another, on One who did not deserve to die the death that He died, on One who willingly sacrificed Himself in your stead on a wooden cross, on He whose blood cleanses you from all sin.”
Saints believe this Word of our Lord. They believe that the righteousness reckoned to them is not their own, but Another’s—Christ’s—what we call imputed righteousness. God calls you good because of His Son. Jesus was, and is, Good, for you. He is your goodness and righteousness before the Father.
Your works do not save you. Christ’s do. You do not merit God’s grace and favor. It is gift, your own through faith in God’s only begotten Son.
You have no confidence before God because of your own doing, but in Him who on the cross declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Your certainty of salvation and confidence in God lies not in your experiences in this life, but in the blessings of God, revealed in Holy Scripture, blessings which are even now yours and blessings which are sure to come, as sure as Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again.
You are blessed according to the Lord’s Word, even if you don’t feel it. Feeling and experience do not identify you as blessed. God does.
The blessings declared by our Lord in today’s Gospel reading, often referred to as “The Beatitudes,” are not blessings bestowed upon those who “do” apart from faith, but upon those who believe the promises given apart from their works.
The one who is blessed is the one to whom the promise is given, the one who believes the promise.
So St. Paul, quoting the Psalmist, reveals that, “To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin” (Rom. 4:5-8, NKJ).
Those whose lawless deeds are forgiven are blessed, as is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.
You, too, are blessed in this way, because your lawless deeds are forgiven you, and the Lord does not count your sin against you.
This is what it means to be a saint—To have God’s pronouncement of blessing. You do, because of—and in-Christ, your hope and your certainty. Amen.
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