Who are the saints?

Phillip Jensen preached a message on the church for our church recently. One aspect of his otherwise faithful message was incorrect I thought, namely that the “saints” referred to in this letter, refer specifically to “Jewish christians”. Whenever I hear the term “saint” it means to me anyone made holy through faith in Jesus Christ. The scripture Phillip was preaching on was:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16

I think the saints referred to here are the members of Christ’s church, regardless of race.

  • Paul has just finished demolishing the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile in Christ, in chapter 2.
  • The beginning of chapter 4 is all about unity, one God, one lord, one baptism, one faith…
  • Paul is discussing that Christ has descended, ascended and poured out gifts on men. “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. There is no Jewish distinction in this statement.
  • In many other letters Paul refers to the saints, and to understand this term as only “jewish christians” would indicate a partiality which is not present in the Gospel of Christ. It is a step backwards to the dividing wall no longer present in Christ.
    • 1 Corinthinians 1:2 – To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours
    • Romans 1:7 – To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints
    • Romans 8:27 – the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
    • Romans 12:13 – Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
    • 1 Cor 6:2 – Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?
  • Other references to saints in ephesians itself do not support a “jewish christian only” view.This understanding would lead to a “special” christian distinction for Jewish christians.
    • Ephesians 1:15 – For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints
    • Ephesians 1:18 – having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints
    • Ephesians 5:3 – But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints
    • Ephesians 6:18 – praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
  • Revelation has a nice definition of the “saints”
    • Revelation 14:12 – Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

I would say that Jesus gave and continues to give the five-fold ministry to his saints, understood as all those who “keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus”, irrespective of nationality. I would expect to see in the church today, living apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the church for works of service, looking forward to the revelation of the mature man – Christ Jesus and his church on the last day.


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