Those people who are called Christians these days, if they are true, Biblical Christians, the New Testament repeatedly refers to as saints or holy ones.1 The original Greek word basically means the separated ones. In our salvation, we are separated from our old sinful life. And we are separated to God’s worship and service and godly living.
As with all sinners of the fallen human race, being children of wrath, we were on the broad road leading to destruction (Matthew 7.13; Romans 3.23,6.23; Ephesians 2.3). Then we were saved by our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. God the Father delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. He has reconciled us to himself by including us in Christ, who died for our sins (Matthew 1.21; Romans 5; Colossians 1.12-13). And by the Holy Spirit he has given us a new heart and he has called us to be saints, setting us apart for a new life (John 5.5-8; 1 Corinthians 1.2; 1 Peter 1.2).
The fifth of the five points of Calvinism has to do with the perseverance of the saints.2
Some Arminians3 argue that Christians can ultimately fail and fall out of the Christian life, losing their salvation. Calvinists reject this idea, arguing that the only true Christians are those who persevere in the Christian life.
True Christians persevere because they are preserved4—they are tightly held onto by the Triune God himself, who continues to work in their lives after regenerating and converting them. Thus, they grow and persevere as Christians, and are preserved as Christians, being eternally secure in their salvation.
While the Bible speaks of Christians as being the saints, the holy or sanctified ones, it also speaks of the Christian life as being a life of growth. True Christians grow as Christians, increasingly separating from their old sinful lifestyle and increasingly evidencing that they are true Christians.
This process is often called sanctification,5 and it is caused by the ongoing work of God the Holy Spirit within us. The Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification cultivates in us a lifestyle (or, as older Christian writers expressed it, a “manner of life,” as per 2 Timothy 3.10 in the KJV) that is turned from sin and devoted to God.
The sanctified life is:
- A righteous life, meaning right in God’s sight (Psalms 1.6; Luke 1.6; James 5.16);
- A godly life, meaning devoted to God (Psalms 4.3; 2 Timothy 3.12; Titus 2.12);
- A life obedient to God’s moral law (Exodus 24.7; 1 Samuel 15.22; Matthew 8.24-27; 22.37-39; 1 John 3.21-24);
- A morally pure life (Psalms 34.12-14 and 119.1,9; Matthew 5.8; Ephesians 5.3-7; 1 Timothy 1.5; James 1.27; 3.17); and
- A life pleasing to God, or in which God takes delight (Numbers 14.8; 1 Chr. 29.17; Psalms 69.30-31; Proverbs 11.20; Colossians 1.10; 1 John 3.22).
The Christian is to live a holy (i.e. sanctified), God-pleasing life. And we will increasingly do so, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification happens in all true Christians, even though they may sometimes fall into grievous sin—because they will always turn back to God and then continue to grow again as Christians.
Christians are called to be saints. These teachings have to do with the very essence of the Christian life. The apostle Paul teaches this repeatedly in his epistles. He lays it out in detail in his Epistle to the Romans.
Those times when we fail in such a lifestyle, we live as though we were still dead in our sins. That is contrary to the Christian life. That is not the life that is “as becometh saints” (Ephesians 5.3).
Paul sometimes calls the former nature of Christians, which totally controlled them before they were saved, their “old man.”6 He teaches us that the Christian’s old man was “crucified” with Christ when they were converted (Romans 6.6; see also Galatians 2.20; Colossians 3.3,9).
So that we do not fail to grasp what Paul means here, let us remember that he also teaches that the fallen nature of human beings is a spiritually dead state, meaning, cut off from communion with God, and unwilling and unable to worship and obey God. That was the state that we Christians were previously in before we were born again: we were “dead in sins.” But now we have been “quickened”—made spiritually alive by God (Ephesians 2.1-5).
Paul affirms that our old man (and our state of being “dead in sins”) has been crucified with Christ, and that this took effect in our soul when we were born again. And in our regeneration, a “new creature” was created in us: the “new man” that we now are (2 Corinthians 5.17; Ephesians 4.24; Colossians 3.10).
How can this be true? This is how:
- In the covenant of grace, in consequence of Christ having been crucified for us, God the ultimate supreme Judge reckons us to be crucified with Christ. God counts it as though we had died with Christ, at Calvary (Romans 6.1.5; Galatians 2.20; Colossians 3.3).
- And then, in consequence of this reckoning by God, God therefore sends the Holy Spirit to set us free from our fallen nature. This liberation is what Paul describes as a crucifying of our old nature (Romans 6.6; Colossians 3.5).
- That liberation took effect when we were born again (John 3.3-8).
In our regeneration, our old man died and our new man was created—we received our new life. By “died” here is meant that our old man was separated from our persons (whom we know as “I,” “myself”) so that, although our old man still remains within us, it no longer controls us as it once did. It is dead—it is no longer who we are.
The old man, which was like some tyrant with absolute power over us, has been slain. Consequently, it no longer dominates the born-again Christian as it did before his or her conversion.
Yes, it! Christian, your old nature is no longer a he or a she, for it is not you any longer, but it is dead. And you are, now, a new creation in Christ.
What a change has occurred in us, signified by Paul’s change of one word! We were “dead in sins” (Ephesians 2.1,5) but we are now made “dead to sin” (Romans 6.1).
Notice Paul’s words in Romans 6. if we are true converts to the Lord Jesus Christ, then all this is true of us:
- We “are dead to sin” (v.2);
- We “were baptized into [Christ’s] death” (v.3);
- We “are buried with him by baptism into death” (v.4);
- Our “old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed…” (v.6a);
- “…that henceforth we should not serve sin” (v.6b).
The apostolic doctrine is this:
- For the Christian, the old man (our fallen, spiritually-dead nature) is dead—although it is still present within our souls, so long as we live on this earth.
- Now that our old nature is “crucified with Christ,” it has neither the right nor the power to control us as its slave, as it did control us before we were converted (Romans 6.6; compare John 8.34,36).
- Therefore, as we grow in the Christian life, we progressively learn that we are indeed “freed from sin” (Romans 6.7,18-23); in other words, we are no longer compelled to obey the sinful lusts of our old nature (Romans 6.12).
- Our old nature will not be totally gone from us until we go to heaven. Meanwhile, a life-long battle continues (see Romans 7.14-25) until we see the Lord (1 John 3.2).
- In our battle within our souls, we are not on the side of our old man, which is dead. We are on our Lord and Saviour’s side, and he is on our side—and he is with us, by his indwelling Holy Spirit.
- This is a battle that Christ has already won at Calvary, in his crucifixion.
- Therefore, true Christians are saved, and they shall persevere in this state of salvation, to everlasting life.
We should not take Paul’s analogy of an “old man” and a “new man” as teaching that the Christian has two human persons living within his or her soul. Before our conversion, we were totally depraved. “We were dead in sins.” But now we have been born again. This regenerated state is our new man (Ephesians 4.24; Colossians 3.10).
If that is unclear to you, Paul’s words are most clear: we are, now “a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5.17). We are no longer dominated by our old man because our old man, our sinful flesh, was crucified with Christ in his crucifixion.
However, to our shame we sometimes choose to yield again to our dead old man’s cravings to sin, and so we sin (Romans 6.13,16). Our crucified old nature and regenerated new nature are at war within our one soul, with the old nature being defeated while our new nature perseveres (see Galatians 5.16-26).
Seeing that our old man with its lusts remains in us, we sometimes find it hard to believe that it is dead and so no longer controls us! But we need to understand that it is dead in order that we might reckon it to be dead. We must “let not sin [another word for the ‘old man’] reign” in our mortal bodies, because we should no longer think we must “obey it in the lusts thereof” (see Romans 6.11-12).
These are not empty words. This is God’s grace in our experience.
The New Testament Greek word translated saint is ἅγιος (hagios) (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 40). The word saint most often used to identify the Lord’s people throughout the Epistles and Book of Revelation (e.g. Romans 1.7; 8.27; 1 Corinthians 1.2; 14.33; 2 Corinthians 13.13; Ephesians 1.1,15,18; 2.19; 1 Peter 2.5,9; Revelation 5.8; 15.3), whereas the word disciples (μαθητής, mathetes, Greek 3101) is more often used for the student-followers of Christ in the Gospels and Acts. The label Christians (Χριστιανός, Christianos, Greek 5546), evidently given to the followers of Christ by First Century Greeks, is used only three times in the Bible (Acts 11.26; 26.28; 1 Peter 4.16). ↩︎
Perseverance of the saints is the name given to the fifth of the five points (tenets) of Calvinism. ↩︎
Not all Arminians believe that Christians can lose their salvation. Some believe in what they prefer to call eternal security, which they explain to mean “once saved, always saved.” ↩︎
The fifth point of Calvinism is sometimes mis-remembered as the preservation of the saints. While it is also true that true Christians are preserved by God so that they never lose their salvation (because God never loses them; e.g. see John 10.27-29), the historic Calvinistic emphasis is on their perseverance in the Christian life, as saints. ↩︎
A good definition of sanctification can be found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer to question 35: “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man, after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” ↩︎
Paul also uses the following equivalent terms for the old man (Romans 6.6; Colossians 3.9): carnal nature (1 Corinthians 3.1-4); carnal mind (Romans 8.6-7); the flesh (Romans 7.25; 8.1-14); the body of death (Romans 7.24) and the body of sin (Romans 6.6), and simply sin (Romans 7.11,13,20,25). We need to understand that in all these teachings of Paul, he talking metaphorically—he is not talking about fleshly body-parts but about sinful drives and habits. ↩︎