What Is a Saint?

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What Is a Saint?

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Are saints a special class of holy people in heaven who can intercede with God on your behalf? The Bible says no! Discover why.

Transcript

[Gary] Can you imagine two churches fighting over the body of a dead church member?

This is a strange story. Archbishop Fulton Sheen was famous for his popular radio television programs from the 1930s through the 1960s.

[Fulton Sheen] I heard of a little boy who came home from school and his father said, “What did you learn in school today?” He said, “I learned to say, No Sir and Yes Sir.” The father said, “You did?” The boy said, “Yeaah.”

[Gary] His TV programs are still in reruns today. In his lifetime, Sheen won two Emmy Awards for Most Outstanding Television Personality.

Sheen died in 1979. Since the early 2000s he was on the fast track to being declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. But his recognition as a saint has come to what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle. Two dioceses are fighting over Sheen’s body.

The entire process of his canonization has been halted--indefinitely.

Here’s the real issue about this story. Is the idea of the veneration of saints, practiced by some of the largest Christian denominations, a teaching you can find in the Bible?

Today we’re going to find the biblical answer to: “What is a Saint?”

[Announcer] Join our host Gary Petty and his guests, as they help you understand your future on Beyond Today!

[Gary] It’s emotionally difficult, but we must face the facts. There are beliefs that many Christians hold dear that actually aren’t in the Bible. Today, we’re going to look at one of those beliefs.

Bonnie Engstrom is very disappointed in the suspension to declare Fulton Sheen a saint. According to the Catholic Herald, she prayed for Sheen’s intercession with God and her stillborn son received life. Now this is significant--because according to Roman Catholic teachings-- evidence of a miracle is required for sainthood.

The process of Sheen’s declaration as a saint has been suspended because two dioceses are fighting over his remains. To further complicate the matter, Catholic custom requires that his corpse be exhumed and bone fragments and other remains selected as religious relics.

The New York Times reports, “To be sure, disputes over the remains of saints are nothing new in the Roman Catholic Church, and in the past the resolution has sometimes been to--divide the body. St. Catherine of Siena is enshrined in Rome, but her head is revered in a basilica in Siena, Italy.”

Catherine of Siena’s head was removed from her corpse as an act of religious worship. The battle over Fulton Sheen’s body and his dissection, is at a stalemate.

In Roman Catholicism, the canonization of a saint is a long and complicated process. Sometimes a declared saint can lose his or her status.

When I was young, many of my Catholics friends had a statue of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, mounted to the car dashboard.

Christopher was canonized in the 15th century when saints were elected by popular approval. In the latter part of the 20th century, it was determined that most of the stories concerning Christopher’s life--they were mere legends. His status among the saints was somewhat reduced.

Catholicism isn’t the only denomination to venerate saints. This practice is found in various forms of Eastern Orthodoxy and in the Anglican Church.

In these denominations the word “saint” has a number of uses. Sometimes saint is used to denote anyone who has died and gone to heaven. Other times it may refer to an especially holy person who is still alive. Most of the time, it is used to refer to a person who has died--and meets very special qualifications in order to be recognized as a saint. The recognized saint then performs intercession between human beings and God.

There are a number of questions about this practice we need to answer: Is this the definition of saint we find in the Bible? What did it really mean to be a saint in the early Church--during the time of the apostles Peter and Paul? Are sacred relics a biblical idea?

First, let’s look at some of what Paul writes about saints. It is important to understand that the apostle Paul’s writings are letters. Letters sent to specific individuals--like Timothy and Titus--and letters to congregations.

So let’s look at the introduction to a number of Paul’s letters to some of the congregations he was writing to:

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 1:1 Ephesians 1:1Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:
American King James Version×
)

“Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons...” (Philippians 1:1 Philippians 1:1Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
American King James Version×
)

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colossi...” (Colossians 1:1-2 Colossians 1:1-2 [1] Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, [2] To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
)

The most detailed of Paul’s introductory remarks about saints is in his first letter to the Corinthians. Now let’s notice what he writes:

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Jesus Christ--called to be saints--with all who in everyplace call on the name of the Jesus Christ our Lord…” (1 Corinthians 1:2 1 Corinthians 1:2To the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's:
American King James Version×
)

Now there are two very important points about saints in Paul’s introduction to the Corinthians:

First: The people he is addressing are “sanctified in Jesus Christ…” Sanctification means to be “set apart” by God. It means to be forgiven and taken out of a depraved, self-willed, sinful lifestyle.

Paul is writing to people who have been--set apart--from the rest of society because they are “in Jesus Christ.” These are people who have--at the core of their being--accepted Jesus as their Savior, Master and King. Notice, they are living on the earth and assemble with others who have also been sanctified.

Secondly, they are “called to be saints, with all who in everyplace call on the name of the Jesus Christ our Lord...”

The earliest followers of Jesus didn’t pray to saints in heaven--the people they knew in their own congregations were saints.

You see from Paul’s writings we can clearly see that a “saint” is not limited to a special class of holy people who have died--but often, more often than not, refers to any living, authentic follower of Jesus Christ.

An authentic follower of Jesus Christ is someone who has accepted Christ’s sacrifice for his or her sins and lives by the values and standards of God’s Kingdom. They follow Christ as their King and Master. He reigns in their very lives.

Paul put it this way to the Ephesians, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God...” (Ephesians 2:19 Ephesians 2:19Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
American King James Version×
)

Let’s take a closer look at what Paul is writing: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners…” He is writing to Christians, who before they turned to God were strangers and foreigners to God’s Kingdom. God did not rule in their lives. They didn’t anticipate the return of Christ to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. And then Paul says: “…but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God...”

Notice--saints are members of the “household of God.” God is calling people today to become His children in His family. Citizens of the Kingdom of God. A saint isn’t a limited class of Christian. All those who are of the household of God--who have been given God’s Holy Spirit--are saints.

This is the relationship God wants to have with you. As surprising as this may seem, God wants you to become a saint.

If you think that a saint is a special class of person that you need to venerate, and implore to intercede with God for you, then you are misinformed about what the Bible actually teaches.

This is important for you to understand! Listen: God is calling you. And the rich--the poor, the self-assured--the downtrodden, the person with many talents--the person who can’t seem to succeed at anything, the young--the old, male--female, to become His saints.

To help you understand what it really means to be a saint, you need to order the Bible study guide, The Church Jesus Built. It’s yours absolutely free!

If you want to know more about who the saints are and how to be one, you really need this valuable, free booklet. It explains how Christ founded His Church and how you can separate human traditions from biblical truth. To get your free copy of The Church Jesus Built call: 1-888-886-8632. That’s 1-888-886-8632. Or you can go online at BeyondToday.tv.

For those of you living outside of North America, please write to us at the address on your screen. [Beyond Today, PO Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH 45254]

Be sure to order your own, personal copy of The Church Jesus Built today. It will really awaken you to the truth of what a saint is and help you grasp much more about what God is doing on earth today.

You know, it really is difficult for non-Catholics to identify with the emotional fervor in the battle over Fulton Sheen’s corpse. But for those who believe in the veneration of saints it’s a highly charged issue.

It is customary, for the altar in Catholic churches to contain a cavity for placing relics--preferably a piece of bone or hair--from a canonized saint. If declared a saint, Sheen’s body would need to be dissected to create relics for altars.

Pieces of his bones or hair would be considered special treasures to aid in a person’s communion with the saints in heaven. People who practice these rituals believe that heavenly saints pray--along with the worshipper--in making intercession to Jesus Christ.

The story of the controversy over Fulton Sheen’s body poses a very serious question: Is the practice of venerating the relics of a cadaver and praying to saints in heaven for intercession acceptable biblical teaching?

Well in reference to relics, search the New Testament and you will not find any reference to these kinds of practices. Often the examples of a woman touching the garment of Jesus and being healed--or of Paul sending out pieces of anointed cloth for healing--are used to support the practice of scavenging body parts, clothing or objects touched by recognized saints as sacred relics.

Well it’s true, that the Gospels tell of a woman who touched the garment of Jesus and was healed. We also know that the laying on of hands by elders for the sick was common in the early Church. Paul couldn’t be everywhere at once, so he anointed a piece of cloth, prayed over it, and sent it to the sick by courier or through the mail.

But no one in the New Testament ever cut up the bones and hair of a dead church member and used those body parts in a religious ceremony. In fact, the earliest Christians would have seen that kind of practice as being rooted in pagan idolatry.

The earliest Christians, the people of the New Testament, were a minority religion surrounded by the paganism of the Roman world. It’s difficult for us to understand the intensity of their rejection of pagan religious practices. An intensity that, in all honesty, is often missing in modern Christianity.

In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul lists what he calls the “works of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:19-21 Galatians 5:19-21 [19] Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, [20] Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, jealousies, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, [21] Contentions, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×
).

His long list includes human frailties like adultery, murder, sorcery, drunkenness and idolatry. Christians need to understand the spiritual gravity of the kinds of superstitions we’re talking about today. Pieces of a human cadaver, placed in an altar as an aid to venerate that person is a human superstition and not a teaching of the Bible. In fact, it is a form of idolatry.

Now the second issue concerns the praying to saints for intercession. Intercession means to plead on behalf of another person.

The writers of the New Testament encourage Christians to pray for each other. But there is not one case where saints are told to pray to dead saints. Now remember, we’ve already proven all those who are of the household of God who have been given God’s Holy Spirit are saints.

An important passage in understanding intercession is found in Hebrews. Here it is explained that Jesus Christ has been resurrected to act as the High Priest before God’s throne. (Hebrews 6:20 Hebrews 6:20Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
American King James Version×
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Here’s what it says: “Therefore he…”--speaking of Jesus--“… is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25 Hebrews 7:25Why he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.
American King James Version×
NIV).

Christ lives to intercede for us. We don’t need layers of saints between us and Christ and God the Father.

So, if we don’t pray to dead saints as our intercessor, then are we to pray directly to Jesus who then takes our prayers to God the Father? Interesting question.

What I’m about to tell you is a remarkable truth. All true followers of Jesus Christ have a wonderful and unique privilege. Jesus explained this privilege to His disciples in John:

“In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:23-24 John 16:23-24 [23] And in that day you shall ask me nothing. Truly, truly, I say to you, Whatever you shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. [24] Till now have you asked nothing in my name: ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.
American King James Version×
NIV).

Jesus told His disciples to pray in His name and that the Father will listen and answer.

One verse later, here’s what He said, “In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God” (John 16:26-27 John 16:26-27 [26] At that day you shall ask in my name: and I say not to you, that I will pray the Father for you: [27] For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.
American King James Version×
NIV).

When we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, we are allowed direct access to God the Father. When we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the great door opens before the throne of the Almighty God and the Father listens to our prayers. He interacts directly with us as His children.

Notice what Jesus said, “I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf…” (John 16:26 John 16:26At that day you shall ask in my name: and I say not to you, that I will pray the Father for you:
American King James Version×
).

When you go before the throne of the Living God, in the name of Jesus Christ, Christ intercedes for you and the Father calls you to come up and speak to Him.

Because of the intercessory work of Jesus Christ, human beings can have the privilege of interacting directly with God the Father.

Can you wrap your mind around the immensity of that statement?

We don’t need heavenly saints or pieces of decaying bodies and bone to open the way to God. We have the resurrected Jesus Christ, the Heavenly High Priest, who opens the door for us to come directly before the Great God.

Now we have covered a lot of ground so far in today’s program in discovering the truth about whom and what is a true saint. To help you learn much more about this vital subject and about the authentic Christianity as taught in the pages of your Bible, I encourage you to request your own personal copy of our free study aid: The Church Jesus Built.

Call us at 1-888-886-8632. That’s 1-888-886-8632 for your copy of The Church Jesus Built. Or, go online to BeyondToday.tv to read or download your free study aid.

And when you do, we will also send you a free subscription to our Beyond Today magazine. This bi-monthly publication will help you live a more joyful and productive life--all the while preparing you for eternal life in God’s family--in His Kingdom. You’ll receive helpful articles on family life, doctrine, prophecy and analysis of today’s often-perplexing world news.

So, please call us today for both of these free offers at 1-888-886-8632, or write to us at the address on your screen. You can also go online at BeyondToday.tv and read The Church Jesus Built and Beyond Today magazine.

So far we’ve looked at a biblical definition of saint, as well as the non-biblical belief in human remains as relics and praying to dead saints as intercessors.

Well we’re here to continue our discussion about “What is a Saint” with fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers.

I think one of the difficulties of this subject is just people don’t understand the biblical definition of “saint.”

[Steve] Right. You’ve got to take it for what the Bible says. So often times we add what we think we want it to say, and if you really look at the passages that talk about a saint, it becomes very clear. Like you mentioned, it’s someone who is a true believer, someone who has submitted their lives to God, someone that has their sins forgiven, someone that has been baptized, had hands laid on them, received God’s Spirit and are true followers of God’s will and His way. And so it becomes very evident, that’s really what a saint is. It’s not talking about some dead individual that’s been turned into a relic.

[Darris] There is no way you can take from Scripture the idea that a person who has deceased--has died can be prayed to and looked upon as an intercessor, other than the One who was resurrected, Jesus Christ. It’s just a…

[Steve] And then He’s alive!

[Darris] And then He’s alive. It’s totally a bizarre, unbiblical teaching.

[Gary] Well you know, I think people have a false idea, too. They talk about a saint like that was a perfect person. In fact, I would hear people say, well he’s no saint. But these people that are real saints, the people we see in the Bible, the people who are saints today, they’re not always perfect.

[Steve] Right.  I think it’s another way that religion, false religion, counterfeits the truth of the Bible. When you really see what the Bible talks about, we’re supposed to be repentant. And so, we are not perfect and when we see those flaws and those sins in our life, we have to change. We have to submit our lives to God and prove we are saints. Prove that we have God’s Spirit and submit to that Spirit and change our lives. Certainly not perfect now, but we are striving for that perfection that is found in Jesus Christ.

[Darris] In my experience, the people that I have known who could be saints, good people really living a godly life are those that are struggling with some type of a trial but handling it in a truly converted, godly fashion, that…makes you just stand back in awe and realize that hey, they understand what it’s all about. They are handling this adversity in a godly way and that in a sense is a saint--a person who is knowing how to live today in a way before God. And, so, to say yeah they are acting like a saint, but it’s talking about a living person today.

[Gary] Yeah. Here we are talking about this, but this is important. This isn’t just about, well we’re dealing with some custom, some religious custom and it’s not important. This is an important issue.

[Steve] It’s prevalent. It’s not something that is off in a corner. We are talking about major religious factions that believe this thing. And yet it’s anti-biblical. The Bible doesn’t talk about it in that way, shouldn’t be utilized in that way and it takes away from the true meaning of what the Bible is all about. And so we can directly have a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ. And so, what a blessing we have as compared to this addition that is added on to what the truth of the Bible is all about.

[Darris] And frankly, it just, it is really is farcical. You used the word bizarre I think in your script today, Gary. But, a few years ago we made a Beyond Today trip in Budapest in Hungry to do some filming and we took the opportunity to go to Saint Stephens Cathedral in downtown Budapest. It’s a large cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of Hungry, Saint Stephen. And we had heard that at the back of the church, you could see a relic. You could see the relic--the hand of Saint Stephen--and so we made our way back through there. And here we were back in the depths of this cathedral and to see the hand of Saint Stephen, you had to put a coin in a box and a light would come on and you would see it. And, it reminded me of a circus sideshow like I used to go to when I was a kid, of the freaks and the oddities and the bizarre things. Here this was, you paid a--put a coin in a box and a light came on and you saw this part of a cadaver that was somehow a relic that was supposed to inspire you. It’s the most unusual part of a modern world that you could ever image.

[Gary] You know, we’re not making fun of anyone’s sincerity. We want to make that clear. We’re not making fun of anyone’s sincerity. But the real issue here: is this how God wants to be worshipped? Is this how He sees worship of Him and the role of Jesus Christ as intercessor as people take cadaver parts and somehow there’s a holiness in that that allows them to have a better relationship with God?

[Steve] The Bible talks about it pretty specifically. Those who worship in sincerity and truth. There has to be truth behind our worship. We can’t just make things up just because we are sincere. But what is the truth of the Bible? That shows our sincerity when we are willing to submit ourselves to what Jesus Christ Himself taught about true worship. We have to worship in spirit and in truth, and without that, we are going to be missing the mark.

[Darris] You know in this modern world of ours, we have with this subject, the classic case of idolatry. I couldn’t help but thinking as you were going through your program today, Gary that you go to New York City--you have Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, this great avenue of consumer spending and consumerism right there in the middle of this metropolis. A few blocks away from Saint Patrick’s is the Apple Store with its iconic cube shaped building in which you have the consumer products that kind of represent the global consumer world that we live in, just a few blocks away from this huge cathedral, in which are these relics from Saint Patrick that you’re talking about--and what a contrast. And yet they both, in a sense, can represent forms of idolatry today that misused, separate us from a worship of the true God in the right way.

[Gary] And there’s an idea for a future program. We can talk about not the literal idolatry but the idolatry of materialism.

[Darris] Yes.

[Gary] As we’ve covered in today’s program, a true saint is one who has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and King and is striving to live a life of holiness through the vital help and guidance of God’s Spirit. If you would like to learn more about this important subject, be sure to order your free copy of The Church Jesus Built. This booklet will take you on a scriptural study to help you grasp what the Bible says about the Church Jesus Christ heads today.

To request your free copy of The Church Jesus Built and the Beyond Today magazine call toll free: 1-888-886-8632. That’s 1-888-886-8632. Or, you can read both The Church Jesus Built and Beyond Today magazine online at BeyondToday.tv.

Remember, all of our publications are free of charge and offered as an educational service. Please be assured that your name and address will not be given to anyone. So, please call or write to us. We would love to hear from you.

Also, if you want to discover even more about the genuine truths of the Bible, we invite you to tune in every other Wednesday night for our live online Bible studies. Join us as we cover important biblical subjects. You can watch them live and also find our earlier study series on our website BeyondToday.tv.

Beyond Today television programs can also be viewed on-demand, anytime--day or night, on your Roku and YouTube channels.

Let’s review what we’ve been able to see today:

First, in the Bible a saint isn’t a special class of Christian in heaven acting as intercessors, but all those of the household of God are saints.

Two, the use of relics, body parts from human remains, as a means to enhance communion with dead saints--it’s a non-biblical practice.

Three, Christians don’t need layers of saints as intercessors between us and God the Father. Jesus Christ is the Intercessor who opens the door for us to come directly before the throne of God.

I hope this wonderful information can help transform your prayer life. I hope you can discover a deeper--more meaningful--relationship with God.

Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in constantly praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.

[Announcer] For the free literature offered on today’s program, go online to BeyondToday.tv. Please join us again next week on Beyond Today!

Comments

  • Lucian Hodoboc
    I don't know whether the Catholic and the Orthodox theology is correct or not, but I have experienced the intercession of Saint Mary, The Theotokos, myself. It happened multiple times and it was an undeniable supernatural experience. My guess is that some people who have lived very holy lives get to have the privilege of hearing our prayers and of interceding for us in Paradise.
  • amj
    I like to inform you that there is a church called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who claim to be to only church who have the priesthood to act in HIs behalf. I am one of them, now non-practicing any more, due to personal reasons. Their nickname or scold name are Mormons after Moroni mentioned in the Book of Mormon. They claim to be Saints....
  • Douglas Boyer
    It was very clear the first time I read Jesus' words that it is through Him and because of Him we are right with God, and in Paul's letters, calling all followers of Jesus "saints", that there is no need of a deceased "saint" intercession or any other human intercession. I noticed frequent use of the term "Idolatry" but in the case of praying to saints it can almost be called borderline hierarchal polytheism to our true God. I just can't comprehend the idea of it. I can certainly understand naming buildings after exceptionally pious saints (Christians) but I go with the holy spirit and that is an unmistakable feeling.
  • magherafelt1943
    This is the first time I have listened to your sermon and found it fascinating. Everything was made crystal clear - so thank you so much for a great program.
  • Jennifer T
    Watching this program made me think of the crucifixion account: What an awesome and final way for God to show mankind that we have access to Him, by tearing the temple curtain from top to bottom! It would have been something amazing to witness, although terribly frightening I'm sure.
  • treidsmith@hotmail.com
    After being baptised and then turning away from God there is only one end, to be consumed in the lake of fire. Hebrews 6:1-8. Yet I can not live any longer with following God's laws as my way was too painful. May everyone once baptised continue to follow God's laws.
  • DAVID-JOHN
    The point is you are still listening and watching God's word and somewhere within you the spirit is still calling to you. Answer the call yet again. Come back and ask for help. Ask for help from God's ministers, ask help from God, and act upon the help received. Do not prejudge what help you expect to receive as God's ways are not our ways and our logic is not God's logic. My prayers are with you that you will answer the call.
  • Sabrina Peabody
    Hi treidsmith, Your foundational understanding is true. When you have tasted and understood God's plan and purpose for you and the blessings surrounding it, and you purposefully push it away by making choices contrary to His laws, it ends in death. I think there is a point to which you can return, if you haven't totally seared your conscious and heart then there is hope. Perhaps reading the Parable of the Lost Son would be encouraging in Luke 15. I would consider that one's life is made of the sum of their choices throughout their entire life, not just a period of their life. God does not let anything go to waste. Perhaps those years of struggling can be turned around to help others?
  • Daniel R. Elway
    A Saint is one that keeps the commandments of GOD, and the faith of Jesus. Revelation 14:12.
  • Joe Camerata
    Back in the ‘50s, as a youth I greatly enjoyed the Fulton Sheen program on TV. However, about 15 years later I came to understand that “saints” were dead and buried and in the grave and could not answer intercessory prayer. Some time before baptism I came to recognize that I had access to the Father through our Savior Jesus Christ. Since then I have committed my life to serving Christ in all that I do, recognizing that even in my times of weakness that Christ promised “never to leave nor forsake me/us”. May God help each of us in serving Him in the right manner!
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