What is a saint? I favor the definition given by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which explains:
“The word saint is a translation of a Greek word also rendered “holy,” the fundamental idea being that of consecration or separation for a sacred purpose; but since what was set apart for God must be without blemish, the word came to mean “free from blemish,” whether physical or moral. In the New Testament the saints are all those who by baptism have entered into the Christian covenant (see Acts 9:13, 32, 41; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Philip. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:14–15).”
A saint is one who is striving to be holy and who has consecrated his life to God. In the primitive Church, saints were not considered to be extraordinary or unusual. Everyday members of the Church of Jesus Christ were referred to as Saints. The passages cited above shows the regular, almost casual, way that members of the Lord’s Church were called “Saints.”
Luke wrote of “the saints which dwelt at Lydda.” The Apostle Paul addressed his epistle to the Philippians “to all the saints in Christ Jesus.” And so on. Peter gave us an interesting passage when he encouraged us all – the weakest among us – to be holy like Jesus Christ. Said he:
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
“As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:
“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
“Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16).
The word “holy” in this last line comes from the Greek αγιος, or agios (also hagios). It is the same Greek word, in the singular, for the plural Greek word translated “saints” in Acts, Philippians, and elsewhere. Therefore, Peter may have just as readily encouraged us to be “saints” or “saintly,” as Christ is the head Saint or is saintly.
The injunction to be like our Savior was issued by Him during His ministry. The final command of the Sermon on the Mount states:
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Why, then, should we single out only some individuals as “saints” when it is clearly the will of our Master that we all become saints – holy and righteous – like Him? Roman Catholics are the most well-known group to venerate people as “Saints.” Catholics usually revere only certain people as “Saints,” yet they acknowledge that all Christians are intended by their Maker to be saints. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said:
“All Christians are called to be saints. Saints are persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their life for others, or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation.”
Despite this noble sentiment, the statement continues with an exclusive viewpoint about how one becomes a big-S canonized “Saint,” seemingly ignoring its own acknowledgement that all Christians are supposed to be Saints and are referred to as such in the New Testament:
“In official Church procedures there are three steps to sainthood: a candidate becomes “Venerable,” then “Blessed” and then “Saint.” Venerable is the title given to a deceased person recognized formally by the pope as having lived a heroically virtuous life or offered their life. To be beatified and recognized as a Blessed, one miracle acquired through the candidate’s intercession is required in addition to recognition of heroic virtue or offering of life. Canonization requires a second miracle after beatification. The pope may waive these requirements. A miracle is not required prior to a martyr’s beatification, but one is required before canonization.”
There is nothing about canonizing anyone as “Venerable” or “Blessed” or “Saint” in the Bible. These are man-made, artificial honors. In the scriptures, no miracles or recognition from the Church are required for anyone to be called a “Saint.” Being a “Saint” is the default definition of one who follows the Lord Jesus Christ and enters into His Church by the covenant path of baptism.
We can, however, appreciate the idea of living a “heroically virtuous” life. We find this explanation of what being “heroically virtuous” is all about to Catholics:
“This definition includes the four “cardinal” virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice; as well as the “theological” virtues: faith, hope and charity. A saint displays these qualities in a consistent and exceptional way.”
While one may call this type of pious life “heroically virtuous,” the standards listed here are the bare minimum for every Christian disciple. Paul was not writing to an elite group among members of the Church in Corinth when he told them to have “faith, hope, [and] charity” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Paul was not writing to a small clique among the Galatians when he said that the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23).
All of these qualities are supposed to be exemplified by Christ’s followers; not merely by an elite group. Those who embody these characteristics truly are Saints, but they are not somehow distinct from the normal body of the Church of Jesus Christ. There is nothing miraculous, in and of itself, about a person becoming holy and saintly; it is expected!
Yet, on the other hand, it is something of a miracle to be a true and humble follower of the Lord in our sin-sick world with the “beat of Babylon’s band” reverberating around us. Even few among self-professing Christians ever measure up to the Lord’s lofty standards. However, in Heaven’s hopeful manner, we are all designated as the Lord’s “Saints.” I believe this was done as a deliberate and continual reminder that each day we need to strive for holiness and to be holy as our Lord is holy.
A synonym of the word “saint” is the archaic word “hallow.” J.K. Rowling’s masterwork Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows resurrected a term that, for a long time, had been used primarily at the end of October. I refer, of course, to the wonderful holiday Halloween (or Samhain, in the original Celtic tradition). In 609 A.D., Catholics designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, or All Hallow’s Day. In 837 A.D., the feast became generally observed. The night, or eve, before All Saint’s Day, October 31st, is, naturally, All Saint’s Eve. Or, if you use the term hallow instead, it is All Hallows’ Eve. Today, we know it as Halloween.
The word hallow is an interesting one. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines it thus:
“1. To make holy; to consecrate; to set apart for holy or religious use. Exodus 28:38. 1 Kings 8:64.
“2. To devote to holy or religious exercises; to treat as sacred.
“Hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein. Jeremiah 17:22.
“3. To reverence; to honor as sacred.
“Hallowed be thy name.”
When we take upon ourselves the mantle of Christian discipleship, we set ourselves apart for the Lord. We repent, reform our behavior, and make ourselves holy through the Savior’s atoning grace. We devote ourselves and commit our hearts to the sacred, the beautiful, the lovely, the true. Becoming a saint is not about performing miracles or being canonized by any earthly organization, it’s about humbly following the Lord, getting to know Him, and becoming like Him.
There are not many references to “hallow” in scripture. The most famous is, no doubt, the Lord’s Prayer, wherein Christ prayed: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9). We are told to “hallow the sabbath day” (Jeremiah 17:21-24). Ancient Israelite priests were to be hallowed before ministering in the tabernacle (Exodus 29:1). Perhaps the most interesting passage is this one in Leviticus which mirrors Peter’s words quoted earlier: “I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the Lord which hallow you” (Leviticus 22:32).
We can see from this latter statement that the Lord expects us to revere Him and, as we do so and faithfully follow His commandments, He sanctifies us. We become saints not through performing extraordinary miracles, but by performing ordinary tasks like praying daily, reading the scriptures, exercising faith in the Savior, being charitable, loving one another, forgiving people their trespasses 70×7, remaining chaste and virtuous except in covenant marriage, paying tithes and offerings, ministering to others, preaching the Gospel, and so forth.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, one of the Lord’s current apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once reminisced on what it means to be a Saint. He made these remarks:
“The word saint in Greek denotes “set apart, separate, [and] holy.” If we are to be Saints in our day, we need to separate ourselves from evil conduct and destructive pursuits that are prevalent in the world.
“We are bombarded with visual images of violence and immorality. Inappropriate music and pornography are increasingly tolerated. The use of drugs and alcohol is rampant. There is less emphasis on honesty and character. Individual rights are demanded, but duties, responsibilities, and obligations are neglected. There has been a coarsening of dialogue and increased exposure to that which is base and vulgar. The adversary has been relentless in his efforts to undermine the plan of happiness. If we separate ourselves from this worldly conduct, we will have the Spirit in our lives and experience the joy of being worthy Latter-day Saints. . . .
“If we are to be worthy Saints, we should minister to others and adhere to the Savior’s admonition to love God and our fellowmen.
“Separation from the evils of the world needs to be accompanied by holiness. A Saint loves the Savior and follows Him in holiness and devotion. Evidence of this kind of holiness and devotion is exemplified by consecration and sacrifice. President Hinckley has taught, “Without sacrifice there is no true worship of God.” Sacrifice is the crowning test of the gospel. It means consecrating time, talents, energy, and earthly possessions to further the work of God.”
Being a Saint means being different than the world. Saints don’t live in Babylon. They don’t do what Babylon does. They don’t think like Babylon thinks. They keep themselves pure and righteous even though they may be surrounded with evil influences. Saints avoid what they ought not to do and they do what they ought to. They live up to their obligations as disciples of Jesus Christ – as Saints of the Most High God.
An intriguing element of discipleship is sacrifice. True religion requires us to sacrifices things – bad habits, hard hearts, stubbornness, sin, corrupting allegiances, flawed principles, and so on. When we choose to follow the Savior and to become a Saint, we leave Babylon forever. There is no turning back. Those who turn back are not holy like their Lord – they are not true Saints. He taught: “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Another modern apostle of the Lord, Elder Delbert Stapley, gave us a piercing checklist that all aspiring Saints should review and answer honestly. After recounting the marvelous promises the Lord has decreed for the righteous, Elder Stapley said:
“In the light of these glorious promises, it is difficult to understand how any of our Heavenly Father’s children would voluntarily choose anything less than the best our God has to offer. Perhaps it would be well for each of us to reassess ourselves to determine where we presently stand in relation to the fundamental law of the celestial kingdom—the law of obedience. The results should reveal to us which kingdom we have chosen as our goal. For instance:
“Do I study and ponder the scriptures in an effort to know the will of God and understand His commandments regarding His children?
“Do I follow the counsel of God’s living prophet, or do I merely select those things with which I agree, disregarding the others?
“Do I seek the advice and counsel of my bishop and stake president on matters of concern to me and my family?
“Am I earnestly striving to discipline myself, placing my physical appetites under the subjection of my will?
“Am I making every effort to repent of past or present wrongdoings and correct them by doing right?
“Do I have an attitude of faith in God even though I experience trials, adversity, and affliction? And do I bear my burden without a complaining spirit?
“Keeping the commandments of God is not a difficult burden when we do it out of love of Him who has so graciously blessed us. The Savior has implored us to “take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
““For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29–30.)
“Our willingness to comply with the commandments of God is a witness of our faith in Him and our love for Him. A rebellious disposition cannot inherit the celestial kingdom.”
If you are honest and search your soul thoroughly, you may find that you have areas that must be mended, flaws that should be blotted out, and things that you can do better. Being a Saint on paper is as easy as getting baptized. But being a Saint in reality is the work of a lifetime and requires introspection, self-examination, and constant correction.
Yet, the Lord’s burden, though tremendously exacting, is light. It is a burden that does not weigh us down, but lifts us up. It does not cause our head to droop in despair, but causes our eyes to lift Heavenward. If the desire of our heart is to be like the Savior and to show our love for Him and our Eternal Father, then it is not an oppressive thing to leave behind our sins and to do what is right. Yes, it may be difficult, but it is not heavy or burdensome. The Lord’s way is always ennobling, enriching, and empowering!
I pray that no one within the sound of my voice will “voluntarily choose anything less than the best our God has to offer.” Why settle for less than exaltation with the Lord? Why settle for less than that perfection which the Lord invited and commanded us to reach? Why settle for less than sainthood?
Being a Saint is not an impossible task; being a Saint is what the Lord expects of those who follow Him. Does the Lord give commandments that are too hard to follow? Does He require more than we can bear, do, or become? Of course not!
The ancient followers of the Savior were called Saints because they were holy or striving so to be. They were also called holy by Peter because the One who called them, sanctified them, and redeemed them is called Holy. How can we ever become like Christ, which we will in due time through His power, unless we walk His path of holiness and adopt his saintly nature?
Nothing can stop us from achieving victory over Satan, death, and hell if we take the Lord’s yoke upon us. A yoke is an interesting device. It is a wooden piece that fits over two animals, enabling them to pull together and lighten a workload.
If you are one of the two in the Lord’s yoke, who is the other? It is the Lord Himself. If the Lord is pulling for you, with you, and beside you, can you fail? Never! You can voluntarily remove the yoke and go in a different direction by yourself, but you can never fail, though you may falter and progress slowly, if you are yoked to the Lord Jesus Christ who has overcome all things and who is Master of Heaven and earth.
The Prophet Joseph Smith, through whom the Lord restored much of His Gospel light to earth in what was foreseen by the ancients as the “dispensation of the fulness of times” (Ephesians 1:10) and as the Gospel which an angel flying in Heaven would deliver to the earth (Revelation 14:6), said the following about the Lord’s work in these last days before the His glorious return:
“Our missionaries are going forth to different nations, and in Germany, Palestine, New Holland, Australia, the East Indies, and other places, the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (Joseph Smith, Documentary History of the Church, Volume 4, 540).
No unhallowed hand can prevail against the hallowed and holy ones of God – His Saints. Are you one of His Saints? Are you voluntarily and joyfully yoked to the Lord? Are your feet firmly planted on the covenant path of discipleship? If not, or if your feet have strayed, I invite you to come and see what miracles the Lord Jesus Christ can do in your life.
October 16, 2022