How does someone become a saint?

Paul addresses the Ephesians this way: To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:1). Here he defines what it means to be a Christian, which we can break into two parts. The coin of salvation has two sides. On one side, we see what God has accomplished. On the other, we see its outworking in people’s lives.

To call someone a saint is not to say that he or she has been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. A biblical saint is someone whom God has made holy. That person has been set apart and saved. The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to him. Romans 3 says, The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Ro 3:21-22).

In other words, becoming a saint necessarily requires something that we don’t possess nor can we obtain on our own—righteousness. To become a saint means that God has declared us perfectly holy and righteous. But no amount of good works can make us perfectly holy. Rather, we must turn to Christ who is holy. We must turn to the one whom God accepts on our behalf. The righteousness of God is manifested through faith in Jesus Christ (Ro 3:21-22). By putting our faith in Christ, we are accepting our helpless state before God. We are confessing, Lord, I want to be a saint, but I can’t do it myself. I want to be saved, but I cannot save myself. I am putting my life and my standing before you in Christ’s nail-pierced hands.”

But where does this faith come from? Notice what Paul says in Ephesians 2, starting with verse 8: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship (Eph 2:8-10). In fact, glance up a few verses, and you’ll see that we were dead in our trespasses (Eph 2:5). Faith itself begins with a sovereign work of God.

In short, we are saints only because we have put our faith in Christ alone for salvation. At the same time, we’ve put our faith in Christ only because God has chosen us to be saints. They are two sides of the same coin which ultimately we can’t separate. There is no faith apart from God’s intervention, and there is faith when God providentially intervenes. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10).