A TRADITION BEGAN in the third century to recognize Christian martyrs — men and women who were killed because of their Christian faith. In the ninth century, it became an established festival on Nov. 1. Remembering saints and allowing their testimony of faith to encourage us in our faith.
I’d guess none of us expect to be honored as a saint. At least based on our image of figures with halos and images in stained glass. Because, well, we flunk sainthood. But during the Reformation the word “saint” was biblically reclaimed. The New Testament confesses that all those who have been baptized into Christ and declared righteous by grace are, in fact, living saints of God. Nine times in Ephesians, the living Christians of Ephesus and Christians of other places are called saints.
(Ephesians 1:1) To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus
(Ephesians 1:15) I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints
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FOR US, THE PRIMARY MEANING of this day, All Saints, is simple.
■ We gather to give thanks to God for people of faith who have been particularly important to us.
■ We remember those who, having died, now live in the nearer presence of God.
■ We name those persons who died in the last year and live now in the glory of God.
Their holiness — and our own! — is not because of moral achievement. Their holiness, and our own, rests upon having been made holy by God’s declaration in baptism. In other words, we are saints not because of anything we have done but because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. So, we can’t flunk sainthood. We are saints not by our doing but by the grace of God.
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LISTEN TO WHAT WE READ in earlier verses of Ephesians about why we are saints:
■ God chose us in Jesus Christ.
■ God destined us for adoption.
■ Christ’s blood redeems us.
■ Christ forgives our trespasses.
■ Christ lavished his grace on us.
■ We have obtained an inheritance.
■ We were marked with a seal of the Holy Spirit.
This is why we are saints. We have been sanctified, we have been made right with God, we have been branded (marked with a seal) as saints because of Jesus Christ.
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THE LANGUAGE OF ELECTION or being “chosen” is unmistakable here. Talk of election sounds privileged and elitist. There’s a fear that if people view themselves as elected or chosen, they will presume upon God’s grace and lead depraved lives. After all, if I’m chosen I can do whatever I want to do. Those are proper questions and concerns. But Paul’s use of election reflects his own heritage as a Jew.
This seal of the Spirit upon the life of believers is not a “marked for future delivery” stamp. Christians are sealed from the moment of conversion. Not to be shelved away in a storage unit until we’re delivered in glory. But for God’s use.
The people of Israel were God’s elected people. But note why. They were chosen by God so that the whole world would be blessed through them. In other words, election is for the sake of the world.
Election, being chosen by God, is not a separation from the world. It’s not supposed to feed speculation about who is “in” and who is “out.” It’s not license to simply sit on our hands and do nothing. Election brings significant responsibility. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (2:10)
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WE ARE CHOSEN, by God through Jesus Christ, so that we might be instruments of God’s purposes in the world. Hear that God’s purposes and not our own.
As the church of Christ:
■ We have a purpose in this world to live for others with Christ-like love.
■ We have a seal of promise to be reunited with the saints of old in Christ’s coming kingdom.
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TODAY WE REMEMBER THE SAINTS and hear their challenge to live like saints.
May God help us follow the example of Christ, modeled by the saints who have gone before us, as we strive to live in unity and love through the power of the Spirit.