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How to Become a Saint

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 1:6–7

Do you know who you are? That question is so important that Paul begins his letter to the Romans by reminding his readers that all who have faith in Jesus Christ are loved by God, belong to Christ, and are, by God’s grace, saints.


When I was growing up in Virginia, folks in the south typically addressed older men and women as Mr. and Mrs. I was certainly trained that way—to say “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am” as well. That was considered showing respect to older people.

I can still remember the shock, the first time a waitress said to me, “Can I help you, sir?” Well, that proved I was older now—and I was not so sure I liked it.

The truth is, how we address people can reveal our relationship to them. Here in the book of Romans, Paul now addresses his readers for the first time in chapter 1. And as he does, he describes how he relates to them and, even better, how they relate to God.

He begins in verse 6, by referring to them as those “who are called to belong to Jesus Christ . . . all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”

There is a threefold description in these titles, or terms. First, these believers are “called to belong to Jesus Christ.” The Greek word for “called” is klētos. A related word is ekklēsia, which is translated “church” and literally means “called-out ones.”

Members of the church are those who have been saved by faith in Christ—they have been called out of the world and into a body of believers. Paul says here that they belong to Jesus Christ. We are His special possession—a people belonging to Him.

I read some time ago of a young man’s conversion to Christ while he was in college. He and a college friend had gone to hear an evangelist preach, and that night they both professed faith in Christ. The one man’s life changed course that night. But the next morning, his friend came into his dorm room and said, “Wasn’t that the craziest thing we did last night? I guess I just got carried away; you won’t tell anyone about it, will you?” Well, that young man had heard the call of the evangelist, but the other young man heard the call of Christ.

Those are the people Paul is writing to here—those called to belong to Christ.

Second, Paul refers to them as people who are “in Rome [and] loved by God.” This expression speaks of a special kind of love reserved for the children of God. While God has a general love for the whole world, He has an intimate love for His children. I love all the children in the church I pastor, but I do not love them like I love my own children.

Do you know what it means to be loved by God? Do you think of yourself in this way? Oh, that you would let this truth penetrate your heart today. You are God’s special possession, and He deeply, eternally, faithfully, deliberately, unfailingly loves you.

But Paul makes this note, which I do not want you to miss: he is writing to those who are loved by God and living in Rome. That is another way of saying, “God knows exactly where you live.”

If there was a church that might have wondered if God knew where they lived, it would have been this group of Roman believers. So far, in the early history of the church, neither Paul nor any other apostle had visited this church. In fact, the church in Rome apparently was not planted by any prominent leader among the early Christians. Bible scholars believe that visitors from Rome had come to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, and after hearing the message of the apostle Peter, they believed in Christ, took the gospel message back to Rome, and started a church.

And what a city in which to try to plant a church! This was Rome. This was the hometown of Nero the emperor. This was a wicked city, the home of gladiators, gamblers, prostitutes, and idols. This was, in fact, a very easy place for a follower of Christ to become discouraged.

But now this inspired letter comes to them from the apostle Paul—and straight from the heart of God. And it opens by telling them that God knows them. They are loved by God—they have not fallen off His divine radar!

Perhaps this is the message you need to hear today. No matter where you are, God knows exactly where you live, and He knows every detail of your life. God has not forgotten who you are; His love has reached you.

Third, Paul writes in verse 7 that these Roman Christians are “called to be saints.” The Greek word for “saints” is hagios, which means “holy ones.” The Latin translation of hagios is sanctus, from which we get our word saint.

Now I need to note here that the verb “to be”—in “called to be saints”—is not in the original text. The words are italicized in some Bible versions to indicate this. They represent the translators’ attempt to clarify that this is who we are called to be. And that is certainly true.

Personally, I think it might confuse the point here. Paul is saying the believers in Rome are “called saints.” There is a vast difference between being called to become a saint and being called a saint. The Catholic Church over the centuries has taken this phrase to urge people toward some kind of special sainthood that only really holy people can ever attain; in fact, you have to have some miracles associated with you if you are going to reach sainthood after you die.

Beloved, Paul uses this term here, not for dead Christians, but for living Christians. This is not a name for special Christians but for every Christian.

The truth is, God never tells sinners to try to attain sainthood. He picks us up out of the mud of sin and calls us saints.[1]

But how can God call us saints? Listen, I live with me, and sometimes I am not much of a saint. Well, we are called saints, not because we have arrived, but because we belong to Christ; we have the righteousness of Christ deposited to our bankrupt account. Paul will explain this later in chapter 5.

The only difference between a sinner and a saint is the Savior and His gift of salvation and righteousness. You are a saint, beloved, not because of your perfection, but because of your position. In Christ, you are a member of the family of God, through your perfect Savior.

Now do not misunderstand this. The biblical idea of holiness means that we want to live our lives in a way that pleases our holy God. The word holy in Scripture means “set apart.” Being saints means we are set apart to God. And on that basis, we want to pursue holy living.

This is the point Paul stresses in Ephesians 5:3: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”

I remember in high school, when I was going out in the evening to be with my friends or to attend some activity, just before I walked out the door, my mother would say, “Don’t forget what your last name is.” Remembering I was a Davey was not the point. She wanted my behavior to measure up to my family name.

God is saying to each of His children, “You are a saint—now live like it for My glory.”

Paul then offers his personal greeting in verse 7: “Grace to you and peace,” he writes. This is Paul’s typical greeting in his letters. It combines the Greek greeting (“grace”) with the Hebrew greeting, shalom, or “peace.” So, Paul is actually greeting both the Gentile and Jewish members of the church in Rome.

But he also wants to emphasize the only source of grace and peace, so he writes, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

[1] Alva J. McClain, Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace (BMH Books, 1973), 43-44.

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