The term “saint” is a bit difficult to understand. Many of us think of saints specifically as defined and identified by the Catholic Church. They officially declare any deceased believer who is now in Heaven to be a saint, but assign greater honor to some and canonize and glorify them in the role of saint. These saints are, in some traditions, hereticaly elevated to a position of intercessor before God and people can pray to saints asking them to provide or petition God on their behalf.
But Scripture clearly teaches us that under the new covenant, anyone who is a believer – anyone in whom the Holy Spirit resides – is a saint.
The Greek term for saint literally translates as “holy”. It is the same term, in fact, which is “holy” in the “Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”. It is a sacred thing, a thing set apart by God, a thing set apart for the usage of God: sacred, physically or morally pure, blameless, or consecrated.
The Old Covenant defined a ceremonial structure by which one tribe of the twelve (the Levites) were set aside as priests. They were given the responsibility, role and requirement to care for the temple, to offer sacrifices for the sins of the other eleven tribes and to uphold the Law. Within the priesthood, there was a hierarchy and there was one high priest. Only the high priest could enter into the inner-most room of the temple and the presence of God. He was only allowed to enter this room once a year, and much pomp and preparation was required. This was a fearful thing.
But when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain that separated this holiest of rooms in which the presence of God resided was torn (Matt 27.51). God no longer resides in the temple (Acts 7.48). But we, as believers, become the temple of the Holy Spirit.
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
– 1 Cor 3.16
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
– 1 Cor 6.19
This new form of interacting with God is what Christians now called the “Priesthood of the Believer”. We are all now priests in the sense that we can each approach God directly, we do not need another, more holy person to approach God on our behalf.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
– 1 Peter 2.9-10
If you have believed in Jesus and called upon Him for salvation, you are now part of this royal priesthood. Your sins have been washed by the blood of Jesus and you can approach Him without shame and in confidence. You are a priest, you are holy, you are a saint. Until our sins have been removed, we are unable to approach God, but once we have been made righteous by Jesus’ death on the cross, we are pure and we can call Him father.
“…and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever.”
– 1 Rev 1.6
The only remaining priest that we have is Jesus Christ Himself. Hebrews defines Him as the “Great High Priest” who made the perfect sacrifice which never needs to be repeated. Previous priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could intercede for the people, but Jesus never had His own sins to atone for. The blood of animals was a symbolic gesture which looked forward to the perfect sacrifice, the blood of Jesus, which alone could pay for our sins. Now, our confession and repentance looks back on the blood of Jesus and finds its power there (Heb 7.23-28).
“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”
– 1 Tim 2.5-6
And we are all set aside and made holy by Him. We all approach God in prayer through Jesus Christ. We are all priests. All Christians are saints. All Christians do not always act like saints. But that is why we have a High Priest, Jesus Christ, who intercedes for us and empowers us through the Holy Spirit, who resides within, us to fight sin and find victory over sin.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
– 2 Cor 5.21
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
– 1 John 2.1-2