Updated: Aug 3, 2022
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19 NIV 1984)
In almost all Christian traditions, followers of Christ in heaven are called “saints.” While some traditions further canonize specific departed believers, earning them the title “Saint” (capital S), they acknowledge that there are many in heaven whose names are no longer known on earth.
Because of the potential confusion between “saint” and “Saint,” many Bible translations, including the newer NIV revisions, use “holy ones” or “God’s people” instead. Indeed, it’s happened quite recently with a different capital-S “Saints”: the New Orleans football team, thanks to a hashtag-mix-up, received the Pope’s blessing on Twitter.
Another word for saints is “hallows.” The universal Church has celebrated departed Christians with All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows, since at least the 700s. The vigil of the night before that holiday came to be known as “All Hallows’ Evening,” which eventually became “Halloween.” As with many of our modern holidays, the Christian, pagan, and secular traditions are now difficult to separate, plus, in the Protestant tradition, All Saints’ Day has fallen out of favor. However, I think it’s worth revisiting today.
Writers of the New Testament used “holy ones” (Latin sanctus, whence we get the word “saint”) not just for the departed, but also for the living believers—see Romans 16:15, for example. Part of the radical nature of Christianity is that we all have equal access to God, not just those who are able to attain certain standards of behavior. Jesus gives everyone the opportunity for salvation.
In our small group, we’ve been studying 1 Peter. In it, Peter refers to Christians as a chosen nation and royal priesthood (e.g., 2:9). But the privilege to be called “saints” is also a sacred charge. We are called to rise above our “evil desires” and to be holy—set apart—because God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16).
How do we achieve such saintly heights? By putting our hope in the grace of Jesus (1 Peter 1:14) and “being rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17 NIV). The more we know Jesus and the depths (and heights and breadths…) of his love, the more we will be able to live into and live up to our moniker of “saint.”