Called to be Saints
Called to be Saints
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We’re studying the letter that was written in 62 A.D., the letter to the Ephesians. You know the facts that Paul probably established the church maybe around 57 to 61 A.D. on his third missionary journey. You remember [pointing to map] that the toe of Italy comes down there and then around to the Mediterranean. You have Jerusalem there and you have Antioch there and Ephesus there. Rome is over here. The third missionary journey was like that.
It was during that time that Paul established the church. We dealt with the first part of verse 1. We talked about Paul, an apostle, and that was the Greek word “apostolos”, which is just “apostle” in English. It means “one who is sent”. We talked about the fact that you do things for God because you are sent to do them, not because you’ll be fulfilled doing them, not because you’ll have a nice life doing them, not because you’ll use your talents doing them, not because you’ll be able to give something to God but because you’re sent. Jesus calls you to it and that brings a stability that nothing else brings because finally, in every situation, you will end up in a position where you don’t feel fulfilled, where you’ll be washing dishes, or you’ll be serving tables and you’ll think, “What about all my brilliant guitar work or my great speaking ability?” There’ll always be times in your life — indeed, you’ll probably spend most of your life — doing things that you don’t feel really fulfills you.
It’s remarkable that when you look at the outside world outside Christianity, most people are doing exactly the same thing. Most people are involved in work-a-day repeat situations that don’t require a lot of the brilliance that they think they have. Particularly, that is the situation with Jesus. Would you like to have walked up Calvary Road? Would you have liked your mother to see you with the cross on your shoulders? Would you have said, “I am fulfilling my potential, mother?” Most things in this present sinful world involve us forgetting what we would like to do, forgetting what we think we’re good at and doing and doing what God sends us to do.
I think you remember we talked about that and I’ll just move on from there because we’re moving onto the second half of that first verse. If you turn to it in your Bible please, it’s Ephesians chapter 1 and what we would call in, I suppose Bible reference, 1b. It’s Ephesians 1:1b. Paul has just said, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” He did that in all his letters. It doesn’t matter which ones you look to, he always begins like that. Look at the next book — you can see it in Colossians 1:1, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother.”
So he writes all this letters like that with his own name and then the people to whom he sends it. You can see back in Ephesians 1:1b, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” 1a and 1b, “To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus.” The footnote says that the oldest manuscripts add “At Ephesus and faithful.” So “at Ephesus” is in most of the oldest manuscripts, “To the saints who were also faithful in Christ Jesus at Ephesus.”
“To the saints” — we think that “saints” is a word to be applied to Saint Thomas, or to the other saints that are listed in the Catholic church, but this was the normal world that was applied to Christians in the first century. They just referred to them as saints. You’ll see it in Acts 9:13,
“But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man,’” that was Saul, “How much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” So that’s the way they referred to Christians in the first century. They called them saints.
You know that in our century we think, “Ah, nobody is a saint.” Indeed, when you call somebody a saint you usually are making fun of the person. And then there is this ridiculous attitude that Christians have to themselves, “I’m not saint.” That fits with that bumper sticker, “Christians aren’t perfect — only forgiven.” You know how my comment usually goes after that. All the other people wish they were perfect, that they weren’t just forgiven. But the Christians love to say, “We’re not perfect. We’re only forgiven.”
In other words, there’s developed an unscriptural attitude among Christians to themselves. They think they should not be called saints. Why? Partly because it’s easier to be somebody who is always making mistakes, and always sinning and always being forgiven. But the fact is that it isn’t scriptural. In the first century Christians were called saints. The word is “hagios” (hag’-ee-os). It means “the holy people”. It refers usually to absolute ethical perfection and wholeness, freedom from moral evil. That’s the way the early saints struck the rest of the people in the first century.
For instance, at a time of plague everybody said, “Get out of the city! Get out of the city!” because the medicine was so poor that they couldn’t do much in a plague, “Just get out!” So they all got out — even if your mother was dying they’d say, “Get out, leave her! Don’t touch her, otherwise you’ll die too!” So that was the practice in the first century when the warning went out that there was plaque in the city. Everybody left leaving the dead and the dying behind. Parents left children. Children left parents. Everybody was left who was sick or touched with the plague. The healthy people got out except for these people [points to whiteboard diagram] who also went back and tended to their relatives and their friends. They looked after them even if it meant them catching the plague. So everywhere, these people began to be called, “saints” because of their moral rectitude and their concern for other people. “Hagios” was the name that was given to them.
It’s an interesting word because it means actually two things. First of all it means what was implied in Exodus 20:8, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” That is, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your god; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” Therefore, you ought to remember it to keep it holy, keep it separate from all the other days. “Set it apart” — that’s the first meaning of “holy”.
Set it apart from all other days. Set it apart from all other days. Really, it means set it apart from the world. That’s what saints are. They’re people who are set apart from the world. They’re set apart from the ordinary uses of the world. They’re set apart from ordinary human beings. They don’t work just to get money, or to get clothes, or to be successful, or to be happy. They actually don’t care about what the world thinks. They don’t care what the world does. They are set apart from the world. They’re different from the world. They’re set apart from achieving anything in the world. “If my [Jesus’] kingdom were of this world then my disciples would fight — they know that their kingdom is not on this world. They are not here to make a mark in this world. They are not here to become famous in this world. They don’t care if they ever fulfill their potential in this
world because they are set apart from the world.”
To them, the world is still this “evil generation” that Jesus talked about. It’s still a place that is condemned. It’s a place that isn’t what God wants it to be so they have no interest in succeeding in that world. That’s why it’s normal for “hagios” to look at their peers and see their peers getting cars, and clothes, and all the things they want — and the “hagios” don’t have any of those. The “hagios” take that for normal because they are set apart from the world. They’re not like the world. The “hagios” don’t get together and say, “Boy, we’re missing out here. We really are. I mean, by giving our lives to God like this, look what we’re missing! We’re not able to have our own homes. We’re not able to have our own apartments. We’re not able to have our own lawnmowers. We’re not able to have our own vacations. We can’t do what the rest of the world is doing.” Amen, praise God that you can’t because “hagios” are people who are set apart from the world. They’re different from the world.
Now, that’s the first part of being holy. Some people have said “it’s the human side”. Sometimes it’s been called by a word that is taken from the Latin, “consecrate”. Often people say they are consecrating themselves. The “hagios” are regarded as people who consecrate themselves. They set themselves apart from the world and the emphasis is on “from”. It’s the human side of holiness and of being holy.
That changed after Jesus’ death because then we became aware that being set apart from the world involved an inner miracle that he had wrought on Calvary. You’ll find it mentioned in John 16:33, “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Jesus overcame the world and when he was crucified before the foundation of the world as the Lamb that was slain, all the “hagios” were crucified with him and they were in his miracle, set apart from the world.
You remember, it’s like that old cigarette commercial, “You can take Salem out of the country, but you can’t take the country of out Salem.” The world is in us. The world is in us through and through and through. We often talk like the world. We often think like the world. We’ve often inherited a lot of the world’s attitudes. We have little ways of expressing ourselves. We have little ways our eyes blink in certain situations. We have little anxieties that spring up almost automatically inside us that we have no control over. We have knee-jerk reactions that we produce just because the world is in us, through us and in us all the time. We have lots and lots of bits of the world, ways of the world, habits of the world and thoughts of the world that we don’t even know about. In other words, there are things in each of us that we need to set ourselves apart from. They’re so much a part of us that we don’t even know that they’re there. That is part of the miracle that was wrought on Calvary.
In other words, you can only say that’s true up to a point. You have to say that setting ourselves apart from the world is also something that Christ did and that his Messenger, his Colleague, his dear Counselor can only do in us. So if you’re concerned to be a “hagios” and you want to set yourself apart from the world, you can only do it if you begin to deal with this dear Person –to begin to believe that this dear Person, inside himself, took all of the worldliness in you and crucified and destroyed it.
So it’s not a simple thing to “set yourself apart”. We tend to make it so. We tend to say, “Oh, consecration — consecrate all your talents, consecrate your time, consecrate your thoughts, consecrate your money and consecrate your future.” So we all try to do those — then we wonder, “Now
why can I not come into the fullness of the Holy Spirit?” Well, it’s because we have persisted in acting as if we can do this ourselves. In other words, our human pride and our human self is still standing up and saying, “Oh yes, well I can set myself apart from the world. I will! I will set myself apart from the world’s plan for my career. So I will set myself apart from that. I will set myself apart from the possessions that the world thinks I should have. I will set myself apart from the ambitions that the world has.” And we go through them all and we think, “Now I am consecrated.”
In fact, no one can be fully consecrated without the work of Christ on Calvary and the work of the Holy Spirit. Now, if you say to me, “Well, what’s the difference?” Well one is a self-assured, confident, self-examination, and introspection. The other is a humble, submissive, self-despairing, seeking of Christ and the Holy Spirit — and that alone brings this separation from the world — that is the first part of being holy.
The second part of being holy is that we are sanctified to God. You can say, “separated” to God but it is such a work of God that probably this is the better word to use, “sanctified” to God. In other words, after we’re set apart from the world, then we are sanctified to God, “sanctus Deo” two Latin words which mean “to be made”. This is the passive of “facio” — “to do or to make” — to be made holy. We are to be made holy to God. Holiness is the attitude of God himself, “Be thee holy as I am holy.” It is God’s inner character and being sanctified to God is the second part of being holy. First, set apart from the world then sanctified to God himself. You know there are many instances of that, but you certainly find it in Matthew 5:20 where the need for it is stated very clearly because Jesus defines the righteousness that “hagios” have. Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
So the holiness that “hagios” has is even here different from the Pharisees because it is something that is revealed by the Holy Spirit — but here it is utterly different from the Pharisees. Why? On the outside, they cleaned the cup. On the inside, it was filthy. That’s why Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven.” [In other words,] “Unless your righteousness means your heart, and means a clean heart, then you are not entering into all that I have done for you.” And so, to be sanctified to God is an absolutely divine act that God does through his Holy Spirit and through his word because he’s dealing with that [draws heart on white board].
The Bible puts it clearly. Look at Galatians 5:19, “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication”. Well you see that’s an outward act of immorality — but “impurity”. Impurity is the thought life or it’s attitude, impurity of thought, impurity of attitude, thinking dirty thoughts, having sexual imaginations — that’s what it is. “Licentiousness.” We always think of it as somebody getting drunk or something, but it’s coming to those moments in your life where you say, “I want to do what I want to do.” It’s an inward attitude that often doesn’t express itself outwardly because we know it would offend everybody, and we’re not supposed to be like that. But inside our attitude is really, “I’m going to do what I want to do.” “Idolatry, sorcery, enmity.” Enmity is having bad thoughts about another person. Enmity is feeling, “The other person is my enemy.” Enmity is having an attitude to the other person thinking, “They’re against me. They’re against me. That’s what’s wrong.” Enmity is, “I don’t like that person.” That’s enmity. Enmity is feelings of antagonism towards another person whether you express it outwardly or not.
[Galatians 5:19, continued] “Strife.” Strife is an attitude, actually inside in your heart. Strife
occurs inside. Before you get into an argument with a person there has to be strife in your heart. You have to have that attitude to them, “I disagree with them strongly and I’m going to tell them that.” That’s what strife is — it’s an inner attitude. “Jealousy.” Jealousy is saying, “I’m jealous of that person because they’re more popular than I am, or they seem to be liked by everybody, or they look better than me, or they seem to do their work better than me.” Jealousy is wishing that the other person was not as good as they are. Envy is wishing you were like them. Envy is wanting what they’ve got. Jealousy is wishing they haven’t got it. Envy is wanting it for yourself. It’s envying someone’s position, or someone’s looks, or someone’s clothes, or someone’s performance.
“Anger.” Anger is inside. It’s being angry with people. Jesus said, “You’ve heard how it was said of old time, if you murder you’re guilty of the judgment but I say unto you if you’re angry with your brother you’re guilty of the judgment.” But anger is having temper, having bad temper, or feeling you’re just bursting with anger, or feeling a real seething anger underneath because somebody has asked you to do something that you think is not right, or because you are dissatisfied with some situation, or the way somebody else has treated you. “Selfishness.” Selfishness is looking after yourself. That’s why I mention table manners to you at times because actually, if you grab the sauce for yourself instead of looking first at the other person, you’re being selfish. That’s it. Our simplest mothers told us that if you go for the thing first and don’t ask the other person do they want it, that’s selfish and that comes from selfishness inside — that comes from thinking, “Me, I alone count. I’m the important one in this world, to me. Other people may be important to them, but I’m important to me, and what I want is what counts whether it’s for my future, or whether it’s for my present. What I want for myself, that’s what is important.”
So really, selfishness is an attitude where you make yourself the center of the world and you make everybody else serve you. Your automatic first thought after the service is, “What do I want to do? What would I enjoy doing?” Or, when you get to a table it’s, “What would I like?” It’s not, “What would that other person like?” It’s, “What would I like to have? What do I feel like eating?” When you go out to have a day out together your thought is not, “Now, I want this person to enjoy themselves. Now, I wonder what they would like to do? Oh, I bet they would like to go there.” But selfishness is, “Well, what would I like to see here? What do I want to do.” Selfishness is a whole attitude that just circles around self all the time. This is a work of the flesh. The Bible says that if that is in you, “you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. [Matthew 5:20]
That’s what it means. A “hagios” is one who has a clean heart. A clean heart — not only a clean life, but a clean heart. That is something that can only be wrought by God through the Holy Spirit. If you look at Acts 15:9, you’ll remember that you see it stated very clearly. You see the agent of the cleansing miracle there. Peter is talking about what happened to them and in Acts 15:8-9, he says about the Gentiles, “And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.” That’s the only way to get a clean heart, to have the Holy Spirit cleanse your heart by faith.
The Holy Spirit is the one who does it but he does it by applying again the work of Jesus on Calvary in whom our old self was crucified. The Holy Spirit applies that work miraculously to our hearts. When does he apply it and why does he apply it? Because we’ve been willing for him to set us apart from the world. In other words, here he has said, “Are you willing to be looked down upon by everybody else for my glory?” And we say, “Yes Lord, I am. I’m willing for them to despise me if it’s for your glory.” Then the Holy Spirit is free to cleanse you from envy, and jealousy and pride
— and that’s the way it works.
If you are willing here [touches heart], the Holy Spirit cleanses you here and fills you with himself. “Hagios” are people who have experienced both of these. If you want to be clean inside and holy, then this is what you do with everything in your life that God has shown you is wrong. You deal with each part of your life and you ask the Holy Spirit, “Holy Spirit will you show me where the world is still in me? Will you show me where I’ve to set myself apart from the world and where you Lord Jesus, have already set me apart from the world but I don’t see that? Show me where that is.” And he’ll show you and show you. Of course, we’ve all talked about the layers and layers of the heart that he has to go down and down. He gets down to there [points to part of heart on diagram] and then it’s not enough — and then down to there, and we ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit — and still nothing happens. And then we go down another layer and finally, you get down to the ground of your heart. John Wesley calls it, “the ground of your heart”. That is God’s will. That is why the early Christians were called “hagios” because they were “hagios” outside, but most important, they were “hagios” INSIDE. They were sanctified inside as well as outside.
So loved ones, that’s what Paul means when he says, “To the saints who are in Christ Jesus,” because all this happens in Christ. If Christ has not crucified us with himself and raised us up with himself, then there’s no way in which we can be holy — but that’s what he says, “To the saints that are in Christ Jesus.” The last word of the verse is the word “pistois” and it means not just “faithful” in the sense of people who are loyal and keep on being loyal, but people who are actually trusting today. The only way to be a “hagios” today is to be actually trusting at this very moment, moment-by-moment, moment-by-moment trusting in these two things and then in these two kind and loving persons. Only by trusting daily and moment-by-moment are you able to be continually “hagios”. That’s why God has called us. That’s why the businesses are so important because people need to see saints living in the midst of the world. They need to see saints, and so we are the people that Paul is speaking to, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ to the saints who are trusting in Christ Jesus in South Mimms. Let us pray.
Lord, we see that you are totally different from the world. We have been created in you. We have been crucified with you, and raised together with you and made to sit in the heavenly places. We also see Lord, that we are totally different from the world. Holy Spirit, we ask that you make us so — and begin the work in us today and graciously reveal to us where the world is still in us. Make it clear to us what we need to be willing for so that the crucifixion of the world can take place in us that has already taken place in Jesus.
Oh Lord Jesus, we look to you. Nothing can happen unless it has happened first in you. Oh Lord Jesus, show us what part of us you bore pain for in your crucifixion. Make us aware of what part of us caused you pain, and what part you have destroyed forever and you want us now to separate ourselves from it. Holy Spirit, show us that — and then we ask you when you see that, at last, we are ready to be cleansed, will you mightily cleanse our hearts by faith so that we are holy inside and out?
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with each one of us now and ever more. Amen.