Throughout the ages, many Christians have celebrated November 1 as “All Saints’ Day”. This day is dedicated to remembering the saints of the past; those brothers and sisters in Christ who have passed away before us.
Many who celebrate All Saints’ Day focus their attention on those the Roman Catholic Church has formally declared “Saints” (notice the uppercase “S”). The process of becoming one of these “official” Saints includes demonstrating a heroic level of virtue and/or suffering martyrdom, and proof of a miracle because of that person’s intercession. These are the Saints who get special days, feasts, and statues in their honor.
With all due respect, as Protestants, we are rightly skeptical of this practice of “Sainthood”. There’s certainly nothing wrong with honoring the faithful who have come before us (more on that in a moment). That’s especially true in the case of those who have shown an extraordinary level of obedience to Christ. Those people should be held in high regard by their fellow believers, and we should strive to follow their example. However, the formalized process of becoming a “Saint” in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church may cloud what the Bible actually teaches about “saints” (notice the lowercase “s”).
The word for “saints” in the New Testament can be more literally translated as “holy ones”. And in the New Testament, all who believe in Jesus are “holy ones”; not just those with heroic virtue, martyrdom, or miracles on their resumes. Anyone indwelt by the Holy Spirit – AKA, anyone who believes in Jesus – is a “saint”. The Apostle Paul even refers to the Christians in Corinth – who, if you read the two letters, aren’t always examples you ought to follow – as “saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
By God’s grace, you’re a saint. I’m a saint. By faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit lives within you, and lives within me. So let’s live like it! The Biblical message of holiness and obedience can be summed up in one simple phrase: “Be who you are.”
Now, as mentioned earlier, there is great value in celebrating the faithful who have gone before us. That was a good instinct on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, even if over time, their formal practice went too far. There’s certainly Biblical warrant for honoring God’s people who have died.
In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus encourages his disciples by telling them that when they are persecuted for their faith, they follow in the footsteps of the prophets before them. Hebrews 11 is an entire chapter dedicated to recounting the acts of faith from God’s people in the past, and Chapter 12 begins with a challenge to endure as they did. Finally, Hebrews 13:7 tells the congregation to “remember your leaders who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” This verse is likely referring to leaders who had already died.
In short, there is Biblical precedent for honoring the lives of believers before us, and looking to their examples for motivation in our own faith. They’re in eternal glory, and one day, we will be too. Even now, we stand on their shoulders. In that sense, All Saints’ Day has something to teach us.
So remember that you are a saint, and strive to live like it. You’ll likely never have a day on the calendar, a feast, or a statue dedicated to your memory. But by faith in Jesus Christ, you – yes, little, old, unremarkable you – are a saint. May that simple (but profound) reminder help you “be who you are”.
One thing that may help you live like the saint you are is to read about the saints who came before you, and be inspired by their example. That includes not just those who appear in the Bible, but those who came after. You could try reading “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”, or biographies of other famous believers. You could simply have a conversation with a Christian older than you; one who has endured the ups and downs of following Jesus for many decades.
Again, there’s value in some practice of All Saints’ Day. Likewise, it’s glorious to know that we are all saints.