Called to Be Saints

Those people who are called Christians these days (if they are true, Biblical Christians), the New Testament repeatedly refers to as saints or holy ones1. The original Greek word basically means the separated ones. We are separated from our old sinful life—separated by our Triune God himself—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. 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 has sanctified us, calling 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.

Some Arminians2 argue that Christians can ultimately fail and fall out of the Christian life, thereby losing their salvation. Calvinists reject this, arguing that the only true Christians are those who persevere in the Christian life.

True Christians persevere because they are preserved3—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 one of growth. Christians grow in their personal Christianity, increasingly separating from their old sinful lifestyle and increasingly evidencing that they are true Christians.

This process is often called sanctification4, 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”) 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 life pleasing to God, or in which God takes delight (Numbers 14:8; 1 Chronicles 29:17; Psalms 69:30-31; Proverbs 11:20; Colossians 1:10; 1 John 3:22); and

  • 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).

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.

Not to maintain such a lifestyle is to 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).

These teachings have to do with the very essence of Christian living.

The apostle Paul teaches this repeatedly in his epistles. He lays it out in detail in his epistle to the Romans.

Paul sometimes calls the former nature of Christians, which totally controlled them before they were saved, their “old man”5. 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 God6.

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” or made spiritually alive by God (Ephesians 2:1-5).

Therefore, we can explain it like this: when we were born again, it is as though our spiritually-dead state itself died! Paul affirms that it has been crucified with Christ, and this took effect in our life when we were born again.

But how can this be true? This is how: In consequence of Christ having been crucified for us, in the covenant of grace, God, the ultimate supreme Judge, reckons us to be crucified with Christ—he counts it as though we had died with him there at Calvary. And in consequence of this reckoning by God, God therefore sent the Holy Spirit to set us free from our fallen nature—a liberation that Paul describes as a crucifying of our old nature.

That liberation took effect when we were born again (John 3:3-8). In our regeneration, our old man died and our new man recieved its new life.

By “died” here is meant that our old man was separated from our persons (our “I”) so that, although our old man still remains within us, it no longer controls us as it once did. The old man, which was like some tyrant with absolute power over us, has been slain—so, it no longer dominates the born-again Christian as it did before his or her conversion.

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).

These are not empty words. This is Christian experience.

The apostolic doctrine is this:

  • For the Christian, the old man (our fallen, spiritually-dead nature) is dead—but still present within our souls, so long as we live on this earth.

  • Now that it is “crucified with Christ”, our old nature 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 freed from sin (Romans 6:7, 18-23); in other words, we no longer have to obey the sinful lusts of our old nature (Romans 6:12).

  • Our old nature is not totally gone from us until we go to heaven. A life-long battle continues (see Romans 7:14-25) until we see the Lord (1 John 3:2).

  • However, it is a battle that Christ has already won at Calvary, in his crucifixion.

  • That is why true Christians are saved, and that is why they persevere in that 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 soul. Before our conversion, we—our persons—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). We are new creatures (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 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).

Notice Paul’s words in Romans 6: if we are true converts to the Lord Jesus Christ, then:

  • 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).

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, so that we no longer think we must obey its lusts (see Romans 6:11).

Chapter 31 of God’s Grace In Our Experience.

  1. This translates the greek word ἅγιος (hagios) (Strong’s Concordance) (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). The word saint most often used to identify the Lord’s people throughout the Epistles and Book of Revelation, whereas the word disciples is much more often used for the student-followers of Christ in the Gospels and Acts. However, the label Christians was evidently given to us by the Greeks and is used only three times in the Bible (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). ↩︎

  2. 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”. ↩︎

  3. 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 (or walk) as saints. ↩︎

  4. 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”. ↩︎

  5. Paul also uses the following equivalent terms for the old man (Romans 6:6; Colossians 3:9): carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-4); carnal mind (Romans 8:6-7); the flesh (Romans 7:25; 8:1-14); body of death (Romans 7:24) and body of sin (Romans 6:6). 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. For more on this point, see our discussion on counterfeit Christianity, in chapter 34, Work out Your Own Salvation. ↩︎

  6. See chapter [chap:None-doeth-good], There Is None That Doeth Good (page [chap:None-doeth-good]), and chapter [chap:Servants-of-Righteousness], Servants of Righteousness at the section, Devoted Slaves (page [Devoted-slaves]). ↩︎

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