Return of the Saint

Saintliness, Holiness, Faith, Works and Heaven. April 2021

Return of the Saint” seemed like a good title to this first of a new series of posts. As a 10-year-old I used to love the action-packed TV series of this name in the late 70’s. The hero may be no Saint, but he always seemed to be a good and slightly updated version of Robin Hood.

In the case of these returning posts, the Saint is me! Listening to radio adverts I’ve learned you can say anything as long as you finish it with, “Terms and Conditions Apply.”

In this case I’ve not missed a month, so the term “returning” may be considered as nothing more than a useful connection to previous work. Oh, and I’m no Saint either. Or am I? Are you?

According to the internet, I find that a Saint can be…

  • an honour from the Catholic church
  • anyone who is a Christian (now or post salvation?)
  • a measure for holiness (by love, joy, peace…?)
  • someone known to have done good (can we spot a saint?)
  • one of “the ten” great names for places of; learning, worship, travel (railway stations), sport stadia, shopping venues…
  • the result of sanctification

Oh yes, saintly people wear a halo too, just in case you did not notice that they were any good. People who have met with God do have a glow about them, sometimes quite literally e.g., Moses (Exodus 34:29).

I have a halo too as long as my head is in the right place of the Zoom background picture of Earth. I believe that Saintliness and Holiness are quite literally connected and “I’d like to be, in that number, when the Saints go marching in.

I have recently read, “Holiness” by J.C. Ryle. First published in 1879 it may predate other recent reading, but the issues raised in relation to activities within church, remain frighteningly current. Significant lockdown reading has made me question much of what I read. Does intellectual and often semantic theological understanding really matter?

I believe it can matter, but Christian faith requires connection with God rather than significant cognitive effectiveness. J.C. Ryle distinguishes between sanctification and justification (Holiness p46-83) and his rationale is exceptionally convincing.

He argues that according to the bible; justification, regeneration and sanctification are necessary for the salvation of every person. There are at least four key words to understand to connect with that one.

In practical terms this does once again highlight a problem with the “big sell” missionary outreach which can leave a responding proclaimer with the view that there is nothing further to do in this Christian faith and that they can go on doing what they want because Jesus has paid the price for us.

I don’t want to get into the 490 times illustration offered by Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22. Do we imagine we can go on selfishly and do what we want for eternity in heaven? If that’s what God’s people will be like in heaven, I’m not sure it’s the heaven I imagine. I am hoping for far more than endless singing even if I would rejoice in endless worship experienced in many ways.

“But hang on it’s not about good works either. Jesus has done the work for us!” I believe that to live Christian faith like this is to miss the point of forgiveness and the relationship and eternity available to us. Holiness is calling now.

I raised the faith and works debate in A Swift One and I am absolutely convinced that a Christian faith is a continuing battle against sin and selfishness.

“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:17) The conflict still goes on.

We are called to live holy lives in preparation for eternity with holiness. We read in Ephesians 4:30 that we can grieve the Holy Spirit of God.

We don’t tend to use the word holy to describe people. It is right to use in relation to God, but for me it’s more about people and their connection with the Holy God than it is about places we frequently describe as Holy.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

I’ve recently gone from “Quiet Moments!” to “God and the Pandemic” books by Tom Wright, and on p70 of the latter this Bishop claims that the Devil knows his way into church too. If so, where can we always find holiness?

I confess I have a few other Tom Wright books on my shelf.

The whole of John 15 is invaluable.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

But we do need to bear fruit to remain connected to Jesus the true vine because gardener God will cut off branches that bear no fruit. (v2) Are we still connected to the vine?

What should our fruit look like?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-24)

These fruits are visible to others. Christians with praiseworthy humility might not always see holiness within themselves.

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” (Matthew 25:37)

They do good because it’s instinctively and spiritually the right thing to do. It’s become natural to them.

Being holy is not always about the highly visible. Stylistic acts such as publicly bowing respectfully toward the cross or signing the cross on the body without the right motives are exactly that -ACTS.

When motivated by a desire to know and please God they can be powerful indeed, with or without the fancy dress!

As a teacher the, “hands together and eyes closed” message might help remove distractions from children to maintain their focus, on praying to God. These actions do not always work. For me it is easier to keep the focus right when private rather than in public. We will know those who remain connected to Jesus by their fruit and not their pretence.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:15-17)

We can all pretend to be Saints, or potential Saints, with the right presentational background -like me in Zoom. Christian faith is more than a one line of prayer. It’s a future life, not a moment.

True discipleship is challenging but a peaceful, rewarding and completely comforting privilege. There is no faith v works argument in my head. Again, it’s about a “Holy Communion” an ongoing Holy connection.

You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” (James 2:22-24)

I’ll stop worrying about the Saint label. Rejuvenation, justification and yes, sanctification, are for those connected to Jesus and bearing His fruit. The very people with whom I’d like to spend an eternal salvation.  

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