"To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 1:7 (ESV)
There are many religions which recognize individuals as "saints" or "enlightened ones".
One church reserves the term "saints" only for a member of their church regarded as "holy" who has died. The "saint" must have demonstrated "heroic virtue" or suffered martyrdom. After approval by an investigative panel, the candidate is proclaimed to be "venerable", the first step toward sainthood.
The second stage is called "beatification". It requires the candidate perform a miracle after their death and as a result of specific prayer to the candidate. This miracle proves that the person is in heaven and is able to intercede for the living.
The final stage of sainthood requires one more miracle, allowing the religious leaders to "canonize" the person, proclaiming the saint as holy, in heaven and worthy of honor by all.
The apostle Paul viewed sainthood differently.
Paul wrote a letter to the Christian church in Rome. He was not writing to the Jews or the Greeks...he was writing to "all those in Rome" who honored God as Father and treasured Jesus Christ as Lord. He was writing to all Christians.
Paul proclaimed them all as "saints".
The original language of the letter does not necessarily use the phrase "called to be saints". Rather, the original phrase uses only two words:
Kletos hagios: "called saints". The additional words, "to be", used in our English translation are implied, but not actually written in the original.
The word "called" means to be invited or appointed...it comes from a word meaning to shout loudly from a distance, to urge on.
So, God loves us, He desires to give us what we desperately need and what is best for us. Out of His love He urges us, He calls out an invitation to us.
To what does God lovingly call us?
The Greek word for sainthood used in this verse is hagios, meaning sacred, pure, blameless or consecrated. It comes from a word meaning "awful thing".
Mark used the same word to describe John the Baptist:
"Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man." Mark 6:20 (ESV)
The word used for saint, hagios (holy), is closely connected to righteousness (equitable, innocent or holy).
Luke used the same word to decribe God, as well as Jesus:
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God." Luke 1:35 (ESV)
To be a saint, to be called holy, is to intimately related to God, to share in His power and to be sacred, set apart from common humans.
Sainthood came to the disciples of Christ on the day Jesus gave them His Holy Spirit:
"Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:21-22 (ESV)
Becoming holy, becoming a "saint", did not come as a result of exemplary behavior...Jesus appointed His disciples, He imparted to them His Spirit, making them "saints" in order to empower their behavior.
The numbers of "saints" increased dramatically after the resurrection of Christ. 120 believers gathered together in Jerusalem and experienced a sudden, overwhelming transformation:
"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)
An astounded crowd gathered around this church of "saints", shaken by their sin and fearful of God's wrath. Peter exhorted them to change their minds about sin and embrace Jesus as Christ and Savior:
"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." Acts 2:38-39 (ESV)
The resolution of sinful guilt and eternal damnation is to become a saint! The call to become a saint is a promise from God given to all who embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior, a promise that their sins are forgiven and that His Holy Spirit would begin working in them to radically change their lives. From this point on, the writings of the apostles refer to all Christians, no matter their age, race, gender or location, as saints.
The title, "Saint", belongs to anyone who belongs wholly to God:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." Romans 12:1 (ESV)
The title, "Saint", belongs to anyone who regards Jesus Christ as Lord:
"To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours." 1 Corinthians 1:2 (ESV)
The title, "Saint", belongs to anyone who treasures Jesus:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." Ephesians 1:3-4 (ESV)
Sainthood comes not through our own work:
"God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace." 2 Timothy 1:8-9 (ESV)
God glorifies Himself by making choosing Christians to be saints:
"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)
God does not call Christians Saints because they live saintly...they live saintly because they remember that they are called Saints by God.
God calls us because of His love, his overflowing desire to share with us that which is best for us. His call is an invitation, an emotional appeal to join with Him in freedom from sin or stain. To be a saint of God is to belong to Him intimately and joyously, held closely in His pure and sacred love.