Session 15 - Man as Saint

"The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on this name." Acts 22:14-16

  1. Man as saint in the world today.
    1. We come full circle with this lesson. In Session 6, we discussed man as set apart and considered Noah as a man who was called out and set apart by God for a purpose. In that lesson, we emphasized that Noah was:
      1. Chosen from the world for a special purpose.
      2. Protected from the world through a special relationship.
      3. Obedient in response to his special calling.
      4. Saved from the destruction of the world through God's grace and his obedience.
    2. Perhaps the most appropriate way to end our discussion of the role of men in the church is to focus upon men as saints. Men (and women) in Christ are called out of the world to a special position and purpose, yet this calling out changes these men. Central to this change is our sainthood. Peter writes, "prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus is revealed…be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" I Peter 1:13-16.
    3. Our sainthood is the sum of the masculine characteristics upon which we have focused throughout this study. By accepting the love of God through Christ and by working to purify and cleanse ourselves for service to God through Christ, God through Christ works in us so that we are sanctified (though we never achieve perfection).
    4. Our holiness is a reflection of God's calling. We have a vocation as a consecrated people. We are all saints in the church. For example, Paul writes to the church in Rome (as he did to the church in Corinth, Philipi, Colosse and Ephesus) that "to all…who are loved by God and called to be saints." Romans 1:7
    5. Just as Samuel was set apart for a special purpose in life early in life ( Samuel 1 and 2) and subsequently found his dwelling place in the house of the Lord, Christian men must take the role of persons set apart because we dwell in the church.
    6. Yet being set apart for ever as special people for a special work seems strange and threatening.
      1. We are the "lonely crowd". We don't want to appear (or be) different. We wish Christianity to be accepted by the majority of those around us. We wish the USA to be a Christian nation. Loneliness is a great fear. A home in the church can be a lonely dwelling place for some. A life of holiness at times appears to be a sterile life, a life not lived.
      2. We fear that being set apart may render us ineffective in reaching others. Paul became "all things to all people" so that he might best reflect the love and concern of Christ. Can a man of the people dwell away from the people?
      3. We fear that being set apart, believing ourselves different, may render us judgmental. How can we say that the way we do things or what we believe about a particular issue is the correct way to do or believe? If we dwell in the house of the Lord, what does that say about where others dwell? Do we truly believe in eternal salvation and eternal damnation?
      4. We fear that being set apart leaves us "at sea" as to what we should do next. The world provides fairly clear clues as to the good life and how one attains that life. If we walk against the grain of the worldly life, our guideposts are much less clear to most of us. For example, if we really followed the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, where would those precepts lead us? What is it like to live in the house of the Lord?
    7. The very idea of holiness seems strange to us. When we confess our sins (and note that we are sinners), we know what we are talking about. We are quite familiar with being sinners. How would we feel, however, if someone said, "You are a saint"? The attribution of sainthood is not something with which we are familiar.
    8. Paul provides us with an example of what it means to be a saint, to be one holy and set apart for eternity.
  2. Paul and sainthood.
    1. We perhaps can learn of Paul's sainthood from Acts 22 as well as any scripture.
      1. Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem. His return to Jerusalem has stirred up a large crowd. As the soldiers were about to take him away, Paul requests the opportunity to speak with the crowd. (Acts 21:37)
      2. Paul assures the soldiers that he is a Jew, from Tarsus, a citizen of the Roman empire. (Acts 21:39) On the surface it may appear that he assures the soldiers that he is one of the people with whom he desires to speak. Nothing could be further from the truth.
      3. Paul is a saint speaking to sinners in Acts 22. Paul, as he looks back on his life, is fully aware that he was called out and that calling out changed him forever. He lives in a different kingdom than the people with whom he speaks.
      4. Once he finishes his speech, the people also realize that he is different, so different that they are furious with him. "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!" they shout. (Acts 22:21) What sets Paul apart from these people? What is the evidence of his sainthood?
    2. Paul's speech on the temple steps.
      1. Paul begins his speech by establishing his worldly similarity to the Jews in Jerusalem. He speaks in Aramaic and he points out that he is a Jew who studied with their greatest scholar, Gamaliel. (22:1-3) All saints begin in the same place as all sinners. We come out of a tradition, we have a worldly background.
      2. Paul next points out how vigorous he was in persecuting the Christians. These Christians appeared as different (and dangerous) to him as to the people who were listening to him. (22:4, 5)
      3. Paul is confronted by Christ and has a "personal experience with Christ." (22:6-9)
        1. Of interest, to achieve sainthood in the Catholic Church, a personal experience with Christ must be demonstrated for the potential saint. Remember Saint Bernadette at Lourdes.
        2. Yet sainthood is not always a beatific experience as described by Bernadette (a vision of the mother of Christ). Paul is confronted and challenged by Christ and loses his vision (all that he "saw" in the past he no longer can trust).
        3. The road from being a sinner to sainthood is not an easy road. We must recognize our past sins and the error of our ways.
      4. Paul's response to the confrontation is submission, "What shall I do, Lord?" (22:10)
      5. Paul is instructed to go to Ananias. He receives his sight (a new vision is laid before him). (22:12, 13) Sainthood does involve vision, a new vision.
      6. Paul learns that he is chosen and that he will see the true way. Sainthood is based upon knowledge of His will. The order in these passages is of interest. First Paul receives "the vision" but he is not at that point ready. He must go through a period of training to adequately know God's will for him and the people to whom he is called to teach. This training is not necessarily book learning. (22:14)
      7. Paul learns that God has set a lifelong task for him. Conversion and sainthood is not a one time affair. Sainthood is a lifelong practice of being a light unto the world (being a witness). (22:15)
      8. Paul learns that sainthood is about obedience to the cross and such that response to the cross begins with baptism into the death of Jesus on the cross. Baptism is to be taken seriously and it is not to be delayed. (22:16)
      9. Paul learns that the very people about whom he is most concerned will not listen to him. In fact, he must separate himself from them. Sainthood often involves setting oneself apart (perhaps for a lifetime) from those we care about the most (family, close friends, social network) because those with whom we are most close are often those who listen to us the least. (22:17, 18)
      10. Paul never was effective as an evangelist to the Jews in Jerusalem. For one, he appears too "changed" for them to accept him. (22:19, 20) Sainthood is forever realizing how one's past sins continue to effect one's present successes. Sin is forgiven yet sin has consequences.
      11. Paul is given a different mission from that which he had imagined. He is to go to the Gentiles. (22:21) Saints do not know from the outset where God will send them.
    3. Why did the crowd respond so negatively to Paul? (22:22)
      1. Paul pointed out their sins as a people. They had rejected the Christ who arose from them. Saints speak the truth, even when it hurts (but they do not intentionally try to hurt others, i.e., "speak the truth in love").
      2. Paul worked "outside the box" by going to the Gentiles, a people whom they despised. Saints do not live in nor work in cliques. Saints are influenced by the will of God, not men.
      3. Paul loved where they hated. Saints practice agape love, and agape love is not accepted by the world.
  3. Making modern day saints among our men in the church.
    1. Saints begin like everyone else in the world. We have a history. Sainthood does not mean denial of that history, but recognition, reconciliation and integration of our past..
      1. At times, we interpret spiritual as somehow antagonistic to history. We live in the here and now, paying little attention to our roots (and to our future), forgetting that we are in the midst of a sacred journey in the faith.
      2. Men of faith, men who become saints, remember their history, the roots of their faith (both good and bad).
    2. Saints remember their sins.
      1. All sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are equally guilty under the law, whatever the nature of our past.
      2. Saints, men of faith, never forget they are sinners (just as a member of AA never forgets that he is an alcoholic, regardless of when he took his last drink).
    3. Saints have a personal experience with the living Christ.
      1. Our faith is based on the living Christ, the resurrected Christ. In this we rejoice.
      2. Yet, just as with the personal experience of the apostles, a man's experience with Christ is not always that of a "good buddy", a "god in the box", nor a "Christ on command." Christ continues to struggle with us, with our sinful nature. Saints are continually confronted by Christ.
    4. Saints submit to Christ. Men of faith must bend their prideful will. Men of faith must wait and listen, not always charge forth. Men of faith must learn from the most humble among us.
    5. Saints adopt a new vision. If our entire world view does not change when we accept Christ, when we are baptized into the faith, we must question whether we have adopted this new vision. Perhaps a good place to begin is the Sermon on the Mount.
    6. Saints love the word of God. Saints immerse themselves in that word. Men of faith study. They never plunge deep enough into that word.
    7. Saints enlist for the long haul. Saints count the cost. Men of faith are men of lifetime commitment.
    8. Saints recognize that God's way is usually not their way. Men of God wait for God to provide a direction and accept the disappointment of personal ambition within the church. One man may wish to be an elder, yet God intends for that man to be a lifelong servant. Another man wishes to sit on the back row and not get involved, only to learn that God wishes him at the center of activity in the church.
    9. Saints practice agape love. Sainthood is a matter of will, not only of emotion. Sainthood cuts against the grain of our natural inclinations.

"When we think of saints we are apt to think of very pale, still persons who are all the while wishing they weren't alive. My ideal of a saint is a brown man, with red arms, who gets up early in the morning and goes to work for others - who stands the brunt of work, who bears with problems he did not create. People say of him, 'What a homely, good creature he is." Adaptation of a saying by Henry Ward Beecher