What is a Saint?

A typo identified John Ed Mathison as a saint.


I preached at the First United Methodist Church in Ozark, AL, in November 2020. I shared that one of the most unusual things that has happened to me in my ministry occurred in Ozark. Because people sometimes think that preachers make up stories, I actually carried a copy of the incident as reported by the Ozark newspaper, The Southern Star,  to show that I was telling the truth.

The occasion was an incident when I was invited to speak at the annual membership banquet of the Chamber of Commerce at the Ozark Civic Center on Tuesday, January 16, 1996. The theme of the banquet was “Life in Ozark.” It included a lot of displays by students and adults and displays showcasing some of the industries’ products in the area. The newspaper had a huge misprint when it reported, “The guest speaker is St. John Ed Mathison, Senior Pastor of Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, AL.”

Wow, talk about a misprint! I was referred to as “St.” rather than “Dr.” John Ed Mathison. I think the most amused persons were my wife and good friends who know me best.

This “misprint” got me to thinking about saints and who is a saint. Some people are declared to be saints posthumously. Sometimes people refer to saints as people who don’t engage in some of the obvious sins. Often, we refer to somebody by saying, “He’s certainly no saint.”

But the Bible teaches something different. I learned that a person does not have to die to be a saint. Many saints are alive today.

First, a saint is a person who is in Christ, and Christ is in that person. (Phillippians 1:1) John Wesley described a saint as “Properly understood, a saint is a manifestation of the continuing work of Jesus Christ in human life.” Second, a saint is one who is called by God to his or her vocation. A saint is one who lives in the understanding that they’re doing what God has told them to do. (1 Corinthians 1:2, Romans 1:7) Third, a saint is one who is prepared and ready for the return of Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)

So, you don’t have to be dead for 100 years before you are a saint. You don’t have to be perfect. You do have to be faithful, holy, and have the Spirit of Christ living in you. You can be a saint!

A little boy and his grandfather were visiting a cathedral with stained glass windows showcasing several saints. The sun shining through the windows created a life-like picture of each person. The grandfather pointed out St. Peter, St. John, St. James, and St. Paul.

The grandfather asked his grandson, “Do you know what a saint is?”

The little boy thought a minute and then said, “Yes, sir. I think it’s a person that God’s light shines through.”

That’s it – that’s a saint! It’s one who allows the light of Christ to shine through. I think Christ calls each of us to invite Him into our lives and let His light shine through us.

I love the old gospel song, “When the saints go marching in. Oh Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.”

Are you marching?

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