Christians are both sinners and saints. All human beings are sinners because we are born in sin. But not all humans are saints. According to the Bible, a saint is not someone who has done wonderful things, nor is it someone who has been deemed a saint by a church or organization. The word translated “saint” in the New Testament, hagios, literally means “sacred, physically pure; morally blameless or religious; ceremonially consecrated; holy.” In the context of New Testament passages, saints are those who belong to the body of Christ, saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). In other words, saint is another word for a Christian, a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is a clear biblical truth that all are born in sin and all have a sin nature. Scripture says that God created humankind originally good and without a sin nature: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.’ . . . God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26–27). However, Genesis 3 records the fall of Adam and Eve, and with that fall sin entered into the two previously sinless creatures. And when they had children, their sin nature was passed along to their offspring. Thus, every human being is a sinner.
Saints, on the other hand, are not born saints; they become saints by being reborn. Because we have all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we are all in need of spiritual rebirth, without which we will continue in our sinful state throughout eternity. But God, in His great mercy and grace, has provided the (only) means for turning a sinner into a saint—the Lord Jesus Christ, who came “to give His life as a ransom for many.” When we confess our need for a Savior from sin and accept His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf, we become saints.
There is no hierarchy of saints. All who belong to Christ by faith are saints, and none of us are more “saintly” than our Christian brothers and sisters. The apostle Paul, who is no more of a saint than the most obscure Christian, begins his first letter to the Corinthian church by declaring that they were “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2, emphasis added). In this verse, hagios is translated “saints,” “holy,” and “sanctified” in different Bible versions, leading to the unmistakable conclusion that all who have ever called upon Christ for salvation are saints, made holy by the Lord. We are all “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
We are not saints because we have been declared to be saints by a church, nor can we work our way to sainthood. Once we are saved by faith, however, we are called to certain actions befitting our calling as saints of God. “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15–16). Saints are not sinless, but the lives of saints do reflect the reality of the presence of Christ in our hearts, in whom we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).