[This article is based on material from our book, The Truth Revealed in Romans. You can read the entire book free on our website: www.biblestudybooksfree.com.]
Saints are commonly considered to be extremely virtuous, kind, and patient people. Or, saints may be considered as religious, pious people (i.e., a holy person), especially if they have been officially honored with this title by a Christian church. Some consider saints to be people who have died and gone to heaven. And, some (usually Christians) believe that saints are God’s chosen people.
The implication in most of these common definitions is that people are called saints on the basis of their behavior. Paul addressed this issue in Romans 1:7: “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” To explain what Paul meant in this verse, we must consider four words: all, beloved, called, and saints.
Because these words are all adjectives, not nouns, they should be followed with a noun, either written or understood (i.e., one or ones) by the reader. In other words, this verse should read: “to all those who are in Rome, beloved (ones) of God, called (ones), sainted (ones).” Paul used these adjectives to describe everyone in Rome.
To all, or some?
This letter was probably sent to the small church in Rome. But, was Paul writing only to the believers, which many people claim? Or, was it, as Paul said, written to everyone in Rome? The word all comes from the Greek pasin, which “emphasizes the individual member of the class denoted by the noun (Rome), every, each, any, scarcely different in meaning from, the plural ‘all’.” [Ardnt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich. Translation and Adaptation of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer=s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Edition. (University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 681]
If Paul were writing to each individual, as determined by the noun Rome, then he was not limiting his letter to only some of the people in Rome. When he said “all” he did not mean only the believers; he meant everyone. Paul was sent to all the Gentiles, and the “all” in Rome included the Gentile “called ones” to whom Paul was to preach the good news. When Paul wrote “all” he meant all; he did not mean “some.” Furthermore, when he said “all” he included unbelievers as well as believers.
Many today believe that “all” refers only to believers in Rome. The result, however, transforms God’s gift of grace, into man’s act of faith, indicating that God reacts to what man does. This is completely backward. Men are to react to what God has already done, i.e., given them salvation. [For more about this, see our book, What Scripture Says About Salvation. You can read the entire book free on our website: www.biblestudybooksfree.com.]
Paul did not begin his letter to the Romans on the foundation of faith, but on the grace and love of God toward men. Men cannot do anything that will influence God to love them. God already loves them, and he has already bestowed a full salvation upon them. This includes not only the “all that be in Rome,” but all those in the entire world, including those regarded as “sinners.”
God loves because his nature is love. His love is not generated by any quality in man. Instead, God’s love creates value. That which God loves has no value in itself, but is given value by being the object of his love. Agape does not simply confirm worth, it creates worth.
What reason could “all those in Rome “ give that would cause God to love them? Was it necessary for them to do something to cause God to love them? Men can be called “beloved” because God loved us even before we became believers. This is a result of grace.
By mistranslating this word as a verb, not an adjective, many people have missed the true sense of what Paul was saying. They were not “called to be saints” (as the KJV says), but they were “called ones.”
This calling was not something they did, but describes what they were. God called them through Jesus, the Christ. They had nothing to do with being “called” because God initiated the action.
In the phrase “called to be saints” (KJV), the words “to be” are italicized, indicating that these words were not in the original Greek manuscript. Therefore, the phrase is actually “called saints,” a very important distinction. Paul was not addressing his letter to “those called to be saints,” but to those “called ones, sainted ones.” The adjective “sainted” clarifies how God viewed them.
The word saints comes from the Greek adjective hagiois, usually translated as holy, or holy (ones) which means separation, or separate. Why were they addressed as "separated (ones)"? By the death of Jesus, all those in Rome — and in truth, all those in the world (past, present, and future)―have been separated, made holy (ones), or sainted (ones), to God, and by God, through his son, Jesus.
According to Paul, these adjectives describe things done by God, regardless of the worth of the people involved. God loved them all, called them all, sainted them all. It had nothing to do with the merit of the people involved, or whether they believed or not.
If they did not become sainted ones until they believed, then their faith would be the factor by which God would regard them as sainted ones. This would be the very thing Paul preached against. Paul was refuting the Jewish teaching that men only merit being “beloved” ones, “called” ones, or “holy” ones by something they do.
Many today still believe the extremely pervasive teaching that “all” refers only to believers in Rome. The result, though, transforms God’s gift of grace into man’s act of faith, whereby God reacts to man. This is completely backwards. People are beloved ones, called ones, and sainted ones because of God’s grace, not because of anything they do, not even because of their faith.
So, who are the saints? The answer is: all of us. Thank God, we do not have to be worthy to have God love us, call us, and saint us! We were completely worthless, yet God’s grace and love sought us out! All of us are beloved by God, called by God, and separated (sainted) to God.