Christians and Saints
The Bible uses several different labels to refer to those who are saved: Christians, saints, priests, children of God. Similar to other offices of the church, these labels serve as descriptions rather than titles; however, some religious groups reserve certain of these labels, such as saint, for exceptional Christians. Others promote some Christians to positions of title such as "Father", "Priest", and "Reverend." The question we need to answer is, "What are Bible designations for Christians?" "Which labels are scriptural and which are not?"
Probably the most prevalent title for God's people today,"Christian" is actually the least commonly found label in the Bible (only 3 times). It is based on the word "Christ", which was Greek for the Hebrew word, "Messiah". Both "Christ" and "Messiah" meant the "anointed one", or the chosen one. In the New Testament, we often find references to the Lord as "Jesus Christ" with "Christ" serving not as His last name, but as a title.
The word "Christian" simply means a "follower or disciple of Jesus Christ." We find this label first used and applied to the saved in the city of Antioch:
"... So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." Acts 11:26
Please note that the members of the church did not call themselves "Christians", but they "were called Christians". This implies that somebody outside the group gave them this name. History suggests that this name was probably assigned by outside Romans or Jews. This connotation fits the context of other verses that reference Christians:
" 'King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.' Then Agrippa said to Paul, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian." Acts 26:27-28
"Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter." I Peter 4:16
The first reference is made by a non-Christian, and the second passage speaks from the world's viewpoint of selecting Christians to persecute.
Though the label "Christian" did not have its origins in the church, it has been adopted as an appropriate description of who we are, "followers of Jesus Christ." So, if the saved did not call each other by this label, then what reference did they use?
Probably the most common designation that Christians used for each other was that of "saints".
"To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" I Corinthians 1:2
This word means "holy, pure, consecrated to God" (Friberg AGNT) and carries the idea of one who has be cleansed and set apart for God's purposes.
"And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." I Corinthians 6:11
"how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Hebrews 9:14 (see also II Timothy 2:21)
So which Christians are saints? All Christians! Looking through the apostle Paul's greetings to Christians, he often greets them as "saints" (Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2; II Corinthians 1:1; ... ). Many blessings and actions are ascribed specifically to saints of God with no inclusion for any other people (Romans 8:27, 15:25-26; I Corinthians 16:1; Ephesians 1:15, 18; 6:18; Colossians 1:12,26; Jude 1:3; Revelation 8:3-4). If all Christians are not saints, then such Christians are denied part in all of these greetings and blessings, since they would not be saints. Can any accept such a position?
Moreover, from the above quoted passages, we see that one is called to be a saint when he or she is sanctified by Christ's blood when he, or she contacts the blood at baptism (Romans 6:1-7; Ephesians 5:26; Galatians 3:26-27). Therefore, when anyone becomes saved, then he or she also becomes a saint, reflecting his or her sanctification by God.
Most people are familiar with the modern clergy, who dedicate their lives to the Lord and serve as a "priest". Priests also existed in the Old Testament, but God selected a class of people to be priests, specifically, the tribe of Levi. The duties of these priests included offering sacrifices, working in the temple, and teaching the other people about God and His will (Nehemiah 8:1-8; II Chronicles 15:3). However, God never intended for it to be this way in the New Testament. He even foretold in the Old Testament that it would be different:
"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.
"But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
"No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34
A distinct difference of the New Covenant (New Testament) was that there would be no division of clergy and dependent laity. All Christians would have the ability and responsibility to learn about God and His Will for us. When we turn to the writings of the New Testament, we find that this prophecy has been fulfilled (Hebrews 8:7-13). In fact, all of God's people are now considered priests. Speaking to Christians in general, the apostle Peter wrote:
"You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ... "
"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." I Peter 2:6, 9
Just as each Christian is a "living stone", part of the "spiritual house", member of the "chosen generation", citizen of the "holy nation", and constituent of Gods' "special people", so is each Christian numbered in the "holy and royal priesthood". Please note that each of these labels are used as part of a descriptive analogy. There is no physical house of "living stones", no physical nation, and no physical priesthood. These are physical descriptions of our spiritual nature and roles.
"How are all Christians like priests?"
The priests of the Old Testament performed three things that are accomplished by all Christians today.
First, Old Testament priests were responsible for teaching the Old Law, but in the New Testament, all Christians are responsible for studying, understanding, and teaching God's Word (Hebrews 8:7-13; II Timothy 2:15, 3:15-17; John 6:45; Psalm 119:97-102; Hebrews 5:12-14).
Second, Old Testament priests offered sacrifices. New Testament Christians are similar to priests in that they also offer sacrifices:
"Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Hebrews 13:15-16
Though not the sacrifice of animals upon an altar, our good deeds and worship is a type of sacrifice that we offer today.
Finally, priests of the Old Testament were mediators of worship, offering sacrifices for the people and going to God on behalf of the people for their sins (Isaiah 43:27). But, now we can go directly to God with no need for a human mediator. All we need is the one and only Mediator and High Priest, Jesus Christ, who was both man and God (compare Job's viewpoint in the Old Testament - Job 9:33; 33:23-24; versus our understanding today - I Timothy 2:5).
Therefore, today all Christians should be considered analogous to "priests", and there is no need for a separate class of priests, similar to the Old Testament pattern, since this work is now accomplished by all Christians. Consequently, recognition of anyone today as a "priest" separate from all Christians is a misuse of the Bible term and an unscriptural office and title of exaltation (Matthew 23:8-12).
Other Bible Names
In addition to these common names, the Bible also references Christians using several more labels. Each of these are used as an analogy, comparing some facet of our salvation, or relationship with God to an earthly relationship. These include:
- "children of God" - with God being our Father (I John 3:1)
- "elect" - reflects God choosing us through Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:12; Ephesians 1:3-4)
- "members of the body of Christ"
- Christ being the head
(I Corinthians 12:20; Ephesians 1:22-23)
- "citizens of the kingdom of Heaven" - God being the King (Phillipians 3:20; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 1:8)
- "servants" - showing our station and work (Luke 17:10)
Many more could be listed, but this brief list will suffice to demonstrate that the Bible references Christians by many names. These labels typically illustrate spiritual relationships to earthly things, which we can more easily understand.
The Bible uses several different names to refer to Christians throughout the Bible: Christians, saints, priests, children of God, and more. The name "Christian", although probably originating outside of the church, has been adopted as an appropriate an accurate representation of those who are followers of Jesus Christ. The terms "saints" and "disciples" were the most commonly used references for Christians by Christians. The term, "saint" emphasizes being washed clean by Jesus blood and now dedicated for good works.
Though often confused with New Testament evangelists, the term for "priest" is applied to all Christians since all the saved partake in the work that was once reserved for Old Testament priests.
Understanding the use of these names, we may better understand the wonderful blessing in being called "the children of God". We can better appreciate our sanctification and redemption, and better understand our privileges and responsibilities to worship and offer sacrifices of praise to God. All of these names denote a profound facet of a Christian's salvation or relationship with God, which should be inspiring, instructional, and encouraging to us.
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