Christianity 201

June 5, 2019

On People Coming and Going from Death

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Graham and Amaryllis, a retired couple living in Trimsaran, West Wales, UK who have worked in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Yesterday I revisited their blog and found this article on a topic we had been discussing the day before. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Once to Die!

There is a most interesting verse in Matt 27:52, 53 – The earth shook, and rocks split apart.  Graves opened, and many of God’s people were raised to life. Then after Jesus had risen to life, they came out of their graves and went into the holy city, where they were seen by many people – but I have never heard anyone explain this satisfactorily.

The sequence is important, at the Friday earthquake when Jesus died and the veil was torn in half, these ‘many’ Old Testament saints were raised up and must have been with Jesus in spirit until Sunday.  On Sunday, these people were seen in Jerusalem by many people, so, we must assume that they then were united with their bodies.  But what happened to them afterwards?

This is a fascinating and again we can assume that the purpose of it was two-fold, encouragement for God’s people in Jerusalem and also a demonstration of power against the Dark Kingdom – death, hell and the grave were thoroughly defeated.  But was there something more?

Now, another interesting verse – As the Scriptures say, “When he went up to the highest place, he led away many prisoners and gave gifts to people. Eph 4:8 – who were the prisoners Jesus ‘led away’ at the ascension?  Can we put these verses together?  We cannot be dogmatic about this, for there is too little information given, but we can read between the lines, as long as we don’t contradict any other verses.

So, were the prisoners that were ‘led away’, the risen Old Testament saints of Matt 27:52?  Their bodies had been prisoners in the grave and the spirits had been ‘in heaven’ waiting for resurrection, [Abraham’s bosom, paradise, sheol, where-ever!  There’s no need to get into a debate over those terms, they all suggest shades of meaning of the same thing for various people.  Every righteous person in any age who dies, goes to be with God in spirit!  They had passed their test and God would reward them, with His presence at the very least].

It is unthinkable to me that these raised people could die again, in any circumstances, besides the important verse – it is appointed to man once to die, after that the judgment, Heb 9:27 – those saints had been at the Judgment Seat of Christ as one cannot be in God’s presence without that; I’m sure there was something similar for Old Testament saints.  So, is it impossible that any one should go through death twice?  Certainly not judgment twice!

If this blessedness was for those Old Testament saints of being with Jesus as He ascended back to heaven, could it also be the same for Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son?  Surely, God would not want them to go through the horrors of death twice?  Could Heb 9:27 refer to them as well as the Old Testament saints?

There might be one difference, especially for Jairus’ daughter who had not long died, perhaps her spirit had been held ‘in limbo’; even science is now aware of ‘out of body experiences’ where people were clinically dead, but revived once their spirit returned to the body.  American doctors researched this and are convinced these experiences are real and that the term ‘clinically dead’ has limitations!  Even the widow’s son, it might be reasonable to think that his spirit could be in limbo for a few hours, but surely it is stretching it for 4 days, for Lazarus.  These 3 are rather speculative, so I would be inclined to discount it, but it remains a problem, does God really want people to die twice which is contrary to Heb 9:27?

There is one more possible ‘candidate’ for this ‘captive ascension’, the dying Thief, who was told by Jesus – today, you will be with me in paradise – it is possible that he too enjoyed being one of the ‘prisoners led away’, a border line case?

Now, with Eph 4:8, also think of Col 2:15 – having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them – we assume this to be the Ascension of Jesus.  Now imagine the Risen and glorified Christ taking that band of risen Old Testament saints, at least, and going up slowly through the skies, right through Satan’s new sphere of authority.  Remember, in the Old Testament, he was the Ruler of this World, but Calvary’s victory demoted him to be Prince and Power of the Air and ex-occultists state that there is a dark spiritual cloud completely encircling the world like a mantle.  Jesus and His ‘new’ friends broke right through that mantle and -the Ascension was the final scene of Satan’s defeat!

Some claim that it was defeated demons that were ‘led away captive’, but I don’t think that is the sense.  Why should only some be led away, and where to, and what about the gifts distributed?  All demons were defeated along with Satan and they all still await their final judgment; dreading it.

Can you imagine the great joy of those saints as they rose up through Satan’s territory?  I’m sure the demons slunk away as far as possible!  It was yet another reminder for Satan that he is a defeated foe and the day is surely coming when the full harvest that those ‘firstfruits’ are a promise of, will be completely gathered in, the Rapture!

There is another ponderable, fascinating issue – the risen saints in Jerusalem the 50 days up the resurrection!  Amazing what God will do!

I hope this is helpful for you; to me it is very encouraging.  We must always remember that God always seeks ways to bless people and to demonstrate to Satan that he is a defeated foe, think of Job 1&2; after all – Jesus Christ was manifest to defeat the works of Satan, 1Jn 3:8 – this is our challenge today, the Dark Kingdom is rampant and causing so much suffering, globally; our hospitals can’t cope, in most areas of life are now, there is much angst, stress and pressure that are intolerable so that mental health is the huge problem and doctors cannot deal with it; for it is a spiritual problem.  Many preachers also appear not to have the answers, they can’t even help themselves so how can they help others?  We need to understand that, even for God’s people, even we are perishing if we are not in the enjoyment of the abundant life, not walking that Narrow Way.

So, the Kingdom of God is diminished for want of more Overcomers to walk that wonderful pathway; these few are the disciples of Jesus, the worshippers Father seeks; the problem being is that there are very few that find that Straight Gate to the Narrow Way that is the Life Abundant, Mat 7:13,14, Jn 10:10.

Pray dear friends that our churches will be led, by faithful men, real overseers, elders full of the Spirit, into great fruitfulness so that the Dark Kingdom can be set back until after the Rapture; that is what God wants to do!  Yes, that pre-Rapture Revival is coming, let’s hasten it with our passionate intercession.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian sites and blogs. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

February 5, 2014

Do Not Sin; But if You Sin…

A year ago we introduced you to Don Costello at the blog Theophobic. Don takes an expository approach — phrase by phrase — and blogs in a style not unlike what you might find in a detailed Bible commentary. He’s been blogging since 2006 and has about 1,500 posts.  Click here to read this at source, and then click the header at the top of his page to look around at other recent articles. (We’ve left all references here in KJV, which Don uses. Feel free to look up each reference in the Bible you are most comfortable with.)

1 John 2:1
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
a. This study is going to upset some apple carts so fasten your seatbelts because for some of you it is going to be a bumpy ride.
1. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not…”
a. Translations
1). [NLT] My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin.2). [NIV] My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.

3). [NASB] My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.

4). [RSV] My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin;

b. What are the things he wrote in order that we should not sin?

1). 1 John 1:5-10 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

b. It is extremely clear what John is saying. He said, I am writing this to you so that you do not sin, but he also made abundantly clear that everyone has sinned and no one is without sin, but he wrote all that to say that we should not sin. The grace of God provided in the New Covenant provides us with forgiveness and mercy for our sins, but it also provides us with empowerment not to sin, that is what John was saying. The body of Christ in American culture has a perverted view of grace and salvation in Christ. Too many believers have the opinion, “I am just a sinner saved by grace.” On the authority of the word of God I tell you that is not true and you should not have that opinion of yourself. You are saints! Yes saints,  for that is what the Scriptures call us. If you are a born again Christian you are not “just a sinner saved by grace”, you are a saint!

1). Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

2). Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:

c. The warnings in the Scriptures concerning having an exalted opinion of oneself are clear and here are a few of them.

1). Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

2). 1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

d. In this study I will not be referring to having an exalted opinion of ourselves, but rather what the word of God says about us and what it says about the opinion we should have of ourselves in Christ.

e. The opinion I am to have is the mind of Christ, a part of the inheritance we have in Christ Jesus.

1). 1 Corinthians 2:16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

2). The mind of Christ.

a). 1 Peter 4:1, 2 Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.

b). Jesus had the attitude that he was not going to sin against his Father God and that is the opinion and mental attitude that we also should have. We are not going to sin against God

3). Notice what Paul writes concerning what our opinion should be concerning sin

a). Romans 6:1-14 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
For he that is dead is freed from sin.Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under graceb). In the above passage Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost: God forbid that we would sin; we should not serve sin; we are freed from sin; we are not to let sin reign in our bodies; We are to reckon (consider) ourselves dead to sin; sin shall not have dominion over us because we are under grace. What? Sin shall not have dominion over us because we are under grace? But what we hear mostly is the part of grace that Christ has borne my sins and I am forgiven of them and when I sin, I can ask forgiveness and he forgives me in grace given to me because of what he did on Calvary. All of that is true.4). Sin will not have dominion over me because I and under grace. Everything I need to live a victorious in Christ is given to me through the knowledge of God.

a). 2 Peter 1:2-4 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

5). The grace of God teaches us and empowers us to live free from ungodly lusts free from all iniquity.

a). Titus 2:11-15  For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

2. “…And if any man sin…”
a. Too many in the body of Christ have a sin consciousness, they believe that even though they are Christians they will continue to sin, it is a fact of life you can’t get away from it, you are just a sinner saved by grace and when we sin we repent, ask God to forgive us and we go on, but that is not what the New Covenant says.
1). 1 Corinthians 15:34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not: for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
2). 1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

3. “…we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:”

a. advocate [3875 * parakletos][an intercessor, consoler:–advocate, comforter.]

b. In the New covenant we have been given grace that empowers us not to sin against God, but if we sin we then have an advocate where we can ask forgiveness.

1). Hebrews 4:14-16 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

2). 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us form all unrighteousness.

June 7, 2013

Prayer: An Orthodox Perspective

Although many of the featured writers here at C201 are Evangelical, we try to include a variety of voices. Today’s post is somewhat lengthy, but it allows us to listen in on an Orthodox discussion about prayer, and particularly the invoking of the names of saints, either generally or by name in their prayer patterns.This is from the blog Glory to God for All Things by Fr. Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox Priest under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America. He serves as the Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. You may click the title to read at source and/or leave a comment or question there.

Prayers and the One God of All

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!

So runs a common exclamation in Orthodox services of prayer. And so begins another offense for those who wonder why the Orthodox “don’t pray directly to God”…or “why do you pray to the saints”…or, worst of all, how do we dare to say, “Most Holy Theotokos (Birth-giver of God), save us!” For “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1Timothy 2:5)… and “surely only God can save us!”

These are common questions in the modern world – both from Protestants as well as from the general public. Many members of the Orthodox Church ask the same questions – they, too, are products of a culture that has great difficulty with such things. What is the great difficulty? I believe the problem can be found in a misunderstanding of who God is as well as what it means for us to be in union with Him.

To a degree, questions about prayer and saints reminds me of a common question I’ve heard from children (and some concerned adults): “Which member of the Trinity should we pray to?” When I have responded by trying to ascertain what the nature of the problem was, I have discovered that some are concerned that if they talk to Jesus, exclusively, they will offend the Father and the Holy Spirit. But if they talk exclusively to the Father, it feels less intimate than it does when they speak to Jesus. And they have no idea what to say to the Holy Spirit. So, the question becomes, “Should we just talk to all of them, or if I just say, ‘God’ can they figure it out?” And so the conversation goes.

It is perhaps the case that most of my readers will have wondered the same thing at some point in their Christian lives. For many, the Trinity is not so much a theological problem as a matter of spiritual etiquette. But the problem reveals a great deal – Christians may say they believe in the Trinity – but are largely clueless or simply confused about what it means. Is there an etiquette of prayer?

Of course, an etiquette of prayer presumes that we actually know what prayer is. I have always had difficulty in small groups of people. I can speak to thousands without difficulty (with a good sound system). Speaking to thousands is quite similar to speaking to one. But in a group of say, six, I am at a loss. To whom do you speak? Whose face doyou look at when you’re speaking? And on and on the questions go. For a man who was nurtured in the old Southern culture of the US, being “polite” is ranked among the commandments.

Speaking to God is not speaking to a group – for though God is Triune or Trinity, He is One. To speak to God is to speak to God. There is a typical manner in which most formal prayers are written in Orthodoxy – addressed to the Father, closing with a glorification of the three persons of the Trinity. But this only describes the most common form. Prayers are also written that are addressed to Christ and a few are addressed to the Holy Spirit (“O Heavenly King,” comes to mind). I should add that when Orthodox prayers begin with the general address, “O God,” it is speaking to the Father – something that generally becomes clear during the body of the prayer.

But this is etiquette and not the meaning of prayer. Prayer is active communion with God. Plain and simple – it is nothing else. When we pray we are uniting ourselves to God in thought, word and deed. We yield ourselves to Him and unite our will to His will, our life to His life. Because it is communion, and not just a conversation, it is reciprocal: God unites Himself to us. He yields Himself to us. He unites our will to His. He unites His life to our life.

Thus St. Paul says:

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Gal 4:6).

And,

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs– heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Rom 8:15-17).

St. Paul’s references to the cry of “Abba, Father,” most likely have in mind the “Lord’s Prayer,” the “Our Father,” as it is known in most languages. The prayer in many languages (both Hebrew and Greek) begins with the word “Father” (rather than “Our”). Thus it would be the prayer known as the “Abba.”

But St. Paul’s discursus makes clear the nature of our prayers and their essence. Prayer is active communion with God – it indeed is such active communion that he describes it as the Spirit speaking with the voice of the Son to the Father. Prayer is the life of the Triune God on our lips. This is true whether we are saying, “Abba, Father,” or whether we are saying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is also true if we are saying, “O God, heal my daughter!” It is still true if we are saying, “O God, why did my child die?” Many such expressions of the heart can be found throughout the Psalms. They are the voice of God in the heart of the Psalmist written to teach us to pray. If the Psalms can say it, so can we!

Prayer is active communion with God regardless of the words we use. Very often people worry themselves about the content of a prayer. They think, “I cannot possibly say that!” Some become superstitious and think that if they say the wrong thing in the wrong way, bad things will happen. These are understandable thoughts, but they are simply the reflection of our own neuroses (some of them taught us by our own religious culture). Prayer is active communion with God and whatever you think, say or don’t say, it is you, yourself that is being united to God. If you think it, believe it, fear it, wish it, whatever, it is you, and you are God’s. God is not offended with us and our prayers.

The content of our hearts is simply an illustration of the content of our lives at any given time. If I am filled with fear, it’s no good pretending that I am not. God isn’t impressed with my ability to pretend things that are not true. Over the decades of my life as a believer, I have said some very terrible things to God. But there have been some very terrible things in my life. Christ God became man and united Himself even to our sins –  (“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” 2Co 5:21). Thus Christ has taken on Himself my anger and my cursing, my doubts and my questions, my rebellion and the secret sins of my life that fill me with self-loathing. All of this He has made His own and nailed it to the Cross that I might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Prayer is active communion with God and this is our salvation. We are saved through union with Christ. Every sacrament, or mystery of the Church, has as its purpose our union with God. In Baptism we are united to Christ’s death and resurrection. In marriage a man and a woman are united and become one flesh in Christ for their salvation. In the Holy Eucharist, whosoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has Christ’s eternal life in them. And so it goes. Everything is about communion with God and communion with God is the content of our salvation:

God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the economy of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him (Eph 1:9-10).

This communion (gathered together in one) is salvation – again, pure and simple. This is our paradise, our peace, our resurrection, our hope, our triumph over death and hell, the forgiveness of our sins and our eternal life.

So, why do we pray, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers…”?

The most straightforward answer is that “this is what communion sounds like on the lips of the Church.” We can also say that “through the prayers of our holy fathers…” is the content of the word “our,” in the “Our Father.” For those who wonder why we invoke the saints when we pray, we do so because we were not taught to pray as individuals (except in the admonition to pray in secret). But the content of our prayer, in the words of Christ, always include others. Our Father…our daily bread…our debts. I have known of some who objected to the Lord’s prayer because we ask God to forgive our debts, arguing that they have no idea what others might have done or whether they are sorry, etc.  Such thoughts betray a misunderstanding of God and of the nature of our salvation.

“No one is saved alone…” the fathers have said…”but if we fall, we fall alone.” Whoever would ask God to forgive his own private sins, but not intercede for others’ forgiveness, will find that he remains unforgiven – not from his own sins – but unforgiven for the sins of others. Because the nature of communion as salvation – is that we cannot be saved alone. Salvation is communion, and communion requires the other. God is Other, but so is everyone and everything. To seek to unite myself to God apart from all of creation is to wish the destruction of everyone and everything.

Part of the language of communion that the Church has developed over the centuries (and quite early I might add), is the language that is described as “prayer to the saints.” There are many ways to do this wrongly (just as there are many ways to pray to God wrongly). Just as God is not rightly conceived as a “supreme personal being” (this is a caricature of the One God), so it is not right to conceive of our prayers to the saints as getting powerful friends to intercede on our behalf because God likes them more than he does me. I was the younger of two sons for most of my childhood. My older brother would urge me, “You go ask Dad! He’ll listen to you.” My father was indeed a tender-hearted man and was very generous to my young intercessions. But God is nothing like this, nor do such examples have anything to do with prayer.

In a culture that has become deeply individualistic, the view of what it is to be human is profoundly flawed. Our relationships to others have been reduced to moral obligations (etiquette) and contracts. St. Paul’s teaching that in the Church  “if one member suffers, all the members suffer…or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice…” (1Co 12:26), is absurd in a world of individuals. There is no communion of individuals and can be none (it is contrary to the notion of the individual). This same culture thinks of God as individual (a Supremely powerful being). If it is incorrect to say this of human beings, it is heresy to say it of God. God is a communion of Persons – One God – Three Persons.

“Prayer to the saints” is, of course, misunderstood by some. Prayer to God is misunderstood by most. Learning that prayer is active communion with God is a great step forward for everyone. To say, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us,” is to embrace the communion that is our life. It is the voice of creation being united in the One God who draws all to Himself.

November 22, 2012

You Are Among The Saints

This appeared recently at the blog of Kevin Sanders aka Kuya Kevin — an American living in The Philippines for a decade — under the title, What is a Saint in the Bible?

“Do you believe in saints?”

I’ve been asked this question many times since moving here to the Philippines. I always affirm my belief in the saints since they are mentioned in the Bible. But I also do my best to clarify what the Scriptures really mean when this term is used.

Many people believe that saints are an elite group of Christians who did remarkable acts of piety before dying. This is a common teaching in some religious traditions. But I would simply encourage you to look at the way this word is used in the Scriptures.

To put it simply, the word “saint” or “saints” is always used as a general reference to God’s people. Anyone who is a true follower of Christ is, according to the Bible, a saint.

Let’s look at a few New Testament references for the sake of simplicity. Notice who Paul is writing to and how he addresses them:

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 
-1st Corinthians 1:2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 
-Ephesians 1:1-2

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2

A couple of things are clear from these Scriptures:

1. Paul was not addressing dead people.
2. Paul was addressing the entire church—all believers.

Why does this teaching matter? Let’s study a little more deeply.

The word translated “saint” literally means “holy one” in the original language of the New Testament. This is why some English translations (New Living Translation, for example) use “God’s holy people” instead of “saint” for the before-mentioned verses.

We should not overlook the significance of this adjective. “Holy” is a word that belongs exclusively to the God. He alone is holy, therefore only He can make someone holy. The Scriptures never present sainthood/holiness as something that is achieved through good works or religious service. You also won’t find “saint” used as a title given to a select few by the church leadership.

I believe the New Living Translation of 1st Corinthians 1:2 is particularly helpful for clarifying this:

I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

I’ll point out two truths from this verse:

1. God has made all His children holy through Jesus Christ.
2. God has called all His followers to live in holiness

Tragic consequences come from altering the original meaning of “saint.” First and foremost, the focus has been taken off of God and placed it on human beings. Some go so far as to pray to the saints, even though the Scriptures teach that Jesus alone is our intercessor to God the Father (see 1st Timothy 2:5). This is a form of idolatry.

Some may object to my last statement, claiming they are only honoring or venerating the departed people of faith. But let’s think about this: how can a mere mortal answer hundreds (or thousands) of prayers? Can an American saint who has passed away now understand Tagalog and Mandarin prayers? Is the Lord God not the only one who has the power to understand and answer millions of prayers? Is it right to attribute this kind of power to mere flesh and blood?

This leads into a second, yet equally important issue: salvation. According to the Scriptures, salvation is a gift of God’s grace. We are made holy in the sight of God by trusting Christ—not due to our own efforts. Here’s what Paul told the Ephesian believers:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. 
-Ephesians 2:8-9

But canonizing an individual shifts the emphasis from grace to good works. I’ll clarify something here: there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the lives of God’s servants. But what I have seen goes far beyond celebration by claiming an elite group has achieved special status/favor with God by their own merits.

The last consequence has to do with Christian living. Just as all believers are made holy, we are also called to live and grow in holiness (a process known as sanctification). Creating an artificial category of “super-Christians” sends the message that only a select few can really live holy lives. The rest of us are thus demoted to second-class citizen status in God’s kingdom.

Final Thoughts/Summary:

A saint is anyone who has trusted Christ and chosen to follow Him. We are made holy in God’s eyes through our relationship with Christ. We can be inspired by the lives of faithful believers who have gone before us. But we should not give them exclusive titles, pray to them, or do anything else that may rob God of the glory He fully deserves.

I am the Lord; that is my name;
 
my glory I give to no other,
 
nor my praise to carved idols. 
-Isaiah 42:8