Saints & Sinners moving forward as a new congregation

New Life is in the process of becoming an organized congregation of the ELCA. Recently we discussed in our Sunday adult Bible study what that means for us, today. We looked at the charge Paul gives to the young Christian congregation in Rome, and talked about how our charge today is really quite similar:

Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

And some one asked me to elaborate on the word “saint” in verse 13, and how we define that. Here are some other translations:

13 Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. (MSG)

13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (NIV)

13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. (KJV)

Here is part of a definition in Thayer’s Greek dictionary:

hagion: …set apart for God, to be, as it were, exclusively his… Just as the Israelites claimed for themselves the title hoi hagioi, because God selected them from the other nations to lead a life acceptable to him and rejoice in his favor and protection, so this appellation is very often in the N.T. transferred to Christians, as those whom God has selected, that under the influence of the Holy Spirit they may be rendered, through holiness, partakers of salvation in the kingdom of God; (cf. B. D. American edition under the word Saints).

So, Christians, our fellow Christians. Those of us trying to live on this path of following Christ, of being disciples, of encouraging discipleship in each other.

Luther scholar Dr. Kathryn Kleinhans writes:

Some religious traditions distinguish between saints, who obey God’s will, and sinners, who disobey. Others set apart saints as super-holy people. Regular Christians like you and me aren’t particularly bad, they would say, but we haven’t done anything extraordinary enough to be called saints.

Being a saint isn’t about what I do or don’t do but about who I am in relationship with God. That’s also true of being a sinner. The Lutheran confessions define sin as the self-centered failure to trust God (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article II). Adam and Eve’s problem wasn’t just that they ate a piece of fruit or broke one of God’s rules. Their real sin was their desire to be “like God,” relying on their judgment rather than trusting God’s word. For us, too, our specific sinful behaviors are only symptoms of this self-centered condition that theologians call “original sin.”

Martin Luther describes Christians as “simultaneously saint and sinner.” This both/and approach is a distinctly Lutheran understanding of who we are in God’s eyes.

Luther calls Christians “simultaneously saint and sinner” because he redefines “saint” as a forgiven sinner. We are called saints not because we change into something different but because our relationship with God changes as a result of God’s grace. Luther said: “The saints are sinners, too, but they are forgiven and absolved.”

( Living Lutheran: Saints and sinners, April 12, 2005)

In other words: Contribute to the needs of the saints = be attentive to the needs of our fellow followers of the Way. Let’s keep each other going as we try to do the best we can to follow Christ. That’s how we do church and be church together.

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