Growing up as a Catholic, the word saint only brought to mind spooky-looking figures dressed in robes, with halos around their heads, each with his own particular realm of authority to answer prayers. Sainthood was a classification out of reach of ordinary people, reserved only for the most devout Catholics who were so holy they could perform miracles even after they were dead. In fact, most of those considered saints had that honor bestowed on them long after their deaths.
Nothing could be further from the truth of what the Apostles taught about becoming a saint. On the contrary, all believers in the Son of God are called to be saints, and the earnest expectation of the Apostles was that all would attain to that calling during their lifetime. That transformation from helpless sinner to steadfast saint can only occur in a set-apart place where all who believe live together and share all things in common, as the first disciples did in Acts 2:44.
There is a secret hidden in plain sight in the beginning of Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth. Its radical implications are overlooked simply because the life it takes for granted is completely foreign to the vast majority of Christians, yet it reveals the very pattern of discipleship which this apostle considered normal:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those in every place who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
Paul understood that all believers are called to be saints, that is, holy men and women who are completely devoted to God and who have been purified from anything unclean in His sight. But he also understood that one cannot become a saint alone, but only together with all those in every place who call on the same Lord.1 That is why they must first be sanctified, which means set apart from fellowship with the world and brought into fellowship with God in Christ Jesus -- in the place where He dwells.
There are three foundational words Paul uses here that are essential for us to understand or we will completely misunderstand and misapply everything else Paul says in his letters.2 These words are sanctified,3 saint,4 and place.5
First, let's establish the objective of discipleship, which Paul made crystal clear in his letter to Titus:
...who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14)
Yahshua7 gave up His life to obtain "a people" for His own possession. His objective was not just to save individuals who continue to live independent lives, much the same as all the other decent people in the world except for their new-found personal conviction and a religious gathering to attend on Sunday. "A people," according to Webster's dictionary, is a body of persons that are united by a common culture, tradition, or sense of kinship, having a common language, institutions, and beliefs. Therefore, Yahshua's people must be a recognizable body having the same culture, traditions, structure, and beliefs, who are being purified from all that is foreign to His nature. As Jude wrote,8 it's all about "our common salvation," because Yahshua is not going to return until this people is made ready, like a spotless Bride prepared for her King.9
The Apostle Peter also wrote about "a people for His own possession" in a way that sheds light on the objective Yahshua had in mind as He was suffering on the cross:10
But 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)
He was after a holy nation, that is, a spiritual nation of holy ones (saints) who would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died, and went into death, and rose again on their behalf.11 They are a full-time royal priesthood of twelve tribes who serve Him night and day,12 daily offering their bodies as one living sacrifice,13 daily laying down their lives for one another out of love for Him.14 Because of their sincere and whole-hearted devotion to Him they have the expectation of being made like Him in this life as they give themselves to the purifying fire of their life together.15
There is not the slightest possibility of this objective coming about apart from the sanctification Paul wrote of in 1 Corinthians 1:2, and which he also described explicitly in his second letter to the Corinthians:
Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)
To be "sanctified in Christ" means to separate yourself from fellowship with the world and be immersed into the fellowship of His people through baptism into His Body, which is a people who dwell together in unity as a light to the surrounding world.16 That is where you receive the Spirit of adoption as a son or daughter that enables you to truly cry, "Abba!" (that is, Father),17 being truly "born again" into God's family, where you can be fathered by Him through His people. As Yahshua promised His first disciples who left everything and followed Him:
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands -- with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)>
Yahshua's radical gospel of forsaking everything is the means by which we are sanctified (set apart) from all that is common and brought into one of the holy clusters where our new brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers abide together in the Vine. Yahshua told His apostles that He was the Vine and they were the branches,18 and if they would abide in Him, they would bear abundant fruit. To abide in Him meant to keep His commandments,19 and He commanded them to make disciples, teaching them to obey everything He had commanded them.20 And that is what they did.
The fruit of the Vine is the clusters that come forth from the vitally connected branches -- and what rich clusters came forth on the day of Pentecost! Three thousand people were saved, forming many clusters throughout the city of Jerusalem as everyone left behind their old lives and clung together, drinking in the nourishment that came from the branches, that is, the apostles:
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:41-45)
A grape in a cluster that is vitally connected to the vine through a branch becomes juicy and sweet, while a grape by itself shrivels up and dies. In the same way, it is impossible for a person to become holy unless he is grafted into the fellowship of Yahshua's people. You cannot become a saint -- a pure, sweet, ripe grape -- while living alone in the world. It is impossible.
As Paul said, we are "called to be saints together with all those in every place who call upon our Lord Jesus Christ..." It does not say "all those everywhere" as the New International Version and some other modern versions incorrectly translate the verse, as if it were speaking of individual believers scattered everywhere in the world. The word place means a particular locality in a township. It is speaking of a cluster of true believers living together in unity (having "the same Lord," as Paul stipulated in 1 Corinthians 1:2) in several households in a particular neighborhood21 -- a community.
To be "sanctified in Christ Jesus" means to be where He is,22 which is not the slightest bit mystical, but instead very real and practical. He is where "all who believe live together"23 because they hated their lonely, futile lives in this world:
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:25-26)
In that place where Yahshua's Spirit dwells in His people, where His people dwell together in a cluster, where they give themselves to the purifying fire of living together in unity, there the Father honors them with the glory of His Son.24 That glory is the inner worth that demands the respect of others. There they learn to walk in a manner worthy of Him,25 doing the deeds prepared for them to build up the Body.26 And in the process, they are purified as their wrong ways are revealed through their constant interactions with each other.27 The purifying process that happens in the set-apart place where disciples live and work together is expressed in the metaphor of the Bride's wedding garment:
It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Revelation 19:8)
What a vivid picture of those "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together...," and even more vivid is this prophetic vision of the Bride:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Revelation 12:1)
Here is the fully-formed holy nation of twelve tribes, having the radiance of the sun because she has put underfoot all the spiritual enemies that plague the souls of men. The term lunatic is derived from luna, the Latin word for the moon, recognizing that men's souls are influenced by lunar cycles, being more troubled when the moon is full. That is why having "the moon under her feet" depicts the Bride fully prepared for her King, for it is written that He cannot return "until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet."28
So the Bride being ready for her King will be a "great sign"29 that a people have been sanctified (set apart), and that sanctification has achieved the desired objective of their becoming saints -- holy ones who are worthy of reigning with their King. This miracle will be able to happen because there are places where disciples can be insulated from the defilement and distractions of the world and nurtured in the pure, life-giving fellowship of the community.
They are not isolated in compounds, however. Rather, they live together in the midst of the watching world, reaching out in every way they can, and welcoming guests, for how else can they be a light to the world?30
There is another very significant sign spoken of in the Scriptures that has everything to do with sanctification. In fact, it is actually the same sign expressed in different terms:
You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, "Above all you shall keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you." (Exodus 31:13)
The most profound sign that there is a people who are truly being sanctified is that we are able to have true rest in our souls and keep the Sabbath together in all our dwelling places.31 This does not mean merely ceasing from the regular work we do on the other six days. The Sabbath is not a day off on which to pursue our own pleasure,32 like a "relief valve" from the pressures of living and working together all week long. No, the Sabbath is the culmination of laboring all week long to put our spiritual enemies under our feet -- the selfishness and iniquity that hinder our fellowship with one another and our God. It is a day to enjoy the sweet fruit of repentance and forgiveness -- the unstrained relationships with our brothers and sisters as we share our hearts with one another -- celebrating, eating together, recalling what our Father spoke to us throughout the week, walking and talking together, writing letters, enjoying a game of volleyball, and yes, taking a nap.
The Sabbath is a time to be refreshed, even as our Creator was refreshed by enjoying the fruits of His six-days' labor in Creation.33 And as the Sabbath draws to a close, we gather together with one heart to celebrate the resurrection of our Master Yahshua, and to break bread with thankful hearts34 -- a fitting way to begin a new week.
Such is the abundant life of the set-apart people of God, who are called to be saints together with all those in every such place who call on the name of our Sovereign Yahshua, the Messiah -- their Sovereign and ours!