Back in seminary days I played basketball with a group of students, many of whom had played in college. During the fall and winter we would take on teams from other seminaries and community colleges, as well as even a freshman team or two at some of the larger four-year schools in the Louisville area. Our nickname was the “Saints,” which at the time seemed appropriate but now strikes me as being more than a tad presumptuous. But of course, no one we played took our nickname that seriously. They understood it for what it was – just a nickname.
Sometimes I wonder if the same could be said of us Jesus followers, for whom the moniker is to be more of a description of our witness than a mere nickname. Ask people today to define a saint and chances are they will come back with some description of a person who acts “holier than thou,” someone who sticks his nose up in the air so proudly that when it rains he is always a threat to drown. For that reason alone most of us avoid the term out of fear that others will perceive us as rigid and judgmental and choose to stay away from us. I can’t say that it’s a baseless fear.
Sadly, however, the word saint is a good word. It’s a Bible word. Throughout the New Testament the Apostle Paul invokes it as a way of inviting the recipients of his letters to consider how they might give concrete evidence of the difference living for Jesus makes in their everyday experience. Far from being a license to Christians to act superior to non-believers, Paul offers the term as something to be embraced because of the ways in which it helps them identify themselves in an otherwise pagan world. Think of how sports teams today wear different colored jerseys to distinguish them from one another. According to Paul, we believers always look better in white, the color of purity.
That’s not to say that we are perfect people. But it is to say that we trust God’s redeeming grace to be making us into people who are more capable of living into God’s expectations of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22). It is to say that we trust God’s grace to be transforming us into the type of people who reflect a quality of life that can only be explained by Christ living in us.
This Sunday is All Saints Sunday on the church calendar. Normally, we might not give much thought to how such a designation applies to us. But when we stop and consider the manner in which God’s hopes for advancing Christ’s cause in this world hinge entirely on us, then we see that it’s important that get off the bench and move onto the court and mix it up with the powers that be until the buzzer sounds and every knee must bow and every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Who knows? Maybe then the world will take us more seriously than they do today. And maybe even some will be so moved by our witness that they will want to come over to our side and join us.
“For this reason…we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every good way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:9-12).