Saint has come to mean a preeminently holy person who is officially recognized after death. But what is the Bible definition of saint?
Some people readily admit, "I'm no saint," as if being a saint were a rare and unreachable goal. But what is a saint according to the Bible, and should we want to be one?
Saint in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word hagioi, which is related to the Greek hagios—holy (New Bible Dictionary, second edition, pp. 486-487).
God is holy (1 Peter:1:15-16) and commands us to become holy as He is. He is the ultimate example and source of holiness. Holiness includes both the idea of being separated for a special purpose and being pure and right—acting and thinking like God.
So God calls all members of His Church to be holy—literally, to be saints. Consider 1 Corinthians:1:2, for example, which proves this beyond dispute: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours."
Sanctified can be translated as "set apart" (Jewish New Testament), or as the Amplified Bible expands it, "to those consecrated and purified and made holy." All members of the Church of God are called to be "saints," or God's "own holy people" (New Living Translation). The many problems Paul describes in the Church of God in Corinth show that the brethren were far from achieving the goal of holiness, but that is what they were called and aiming for.
If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit, then by biblical definition you are a saint.
So how did its meaning change? According to the New Bible Dictionary, the apostles called all Christians saints, and "it continued to be used as a general designation at least up to the days of Irenaeus and Tertullian, though after that it degenerated in ecclesiastical usage into an honorific title" (second edition, pp. 487-488).
For more understanding, please read our booklet The Church Jesus Built .