Saints in a Sinful World


Saints in a Sinful World

January 9th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM

Ephesians 1:1

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ephesians 1:1

1-9-83    8:15 a.m.



And the Lord bless the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio.  This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the morning message entitled Saints in a Sinful World.  The message is the second in the doctrinal series on the Christian life.  And the text is in Ephesians 1, chapter 1:  "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:  Grace and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" [Ephesians 1:1-2].  Saints in a Sinful World: "To the saints which are in Ephesus."

When he writes to Corinth, it will be, "To the saints which are in Corinth" [1 Corinthians 1:1-2]  When our Lord addresses the church at Pergamos, He will write, "To the saints who dwell where Satan’s seat is" [Revelation 2:12-13].  These saints are not in heaven; these saints are not in some guarded, separated, ivory tower where no chilling winds blow, where there’s no opposition or trial or temptation; these saints are in Ephesus.  And Ephesus was one of the most corrupt cities that ever existed.  All of those Asian Greek cities were evil and vile; but of all of them, Ephesus was the most corrupt and the most vile.  It was the seat of the center of the worship of the goddess Artemis, Astarte, Diana; and the temple erected to her was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  And the licentiousness that characterized Greek idolatry is untranslatable from their literature, and unimaginable by us.

Some of you have visited the ruins of Ephesus. On the main colonnaded thoroughfare, there in the stone you’ll find carved a picture of a madam and carved footprints showing you the way to the house of prostitution.  And on the main thoroughfare of the great city of Ephesus, one of the most imposing of all of those Greek structures is the vast house and temple in which those harlots lived.  Beside, the degradation of human slavery: had you walked down that colonnaded street, three men out of every five you met were chattel property, they were slaves.  So he addresses, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the saints which are in Ephesus," saints in a sinful world [Ephesians 1:1].

Not only do the saints live in an un-ideal world, but they belong to an imperfect church.  We live in an un-ideal Christian community.  We are saints, but down here where we are afflicted with all the foibles and weaknesses of human nature.  The word "saints" is always in the plural, hoi hagioi.  The one exception still in reference is plural.  They love to be together.  They call their assembly an ekklesia.  They called it also a koinonia, a fellowship, a communion.  And they were together in praise, and in prayer, and in love, in adoration, in the breaking of bread, and the administration of the ordinances, and the preaching of the gospel; but with all of their love and praise for God and for one another, they belonged to an imperfect society.  They lived in an un-ideal fellowship.

In the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, in the first and mother church in Jerusalem, the story begins in the sixth chapter of Acts with the Hellenistic Jews, with the Greek speaking Jews, unhappy about the Aramean Jews, the Aramaic speaking Jews, because the Hellenistic Jews’ widows were neglected in the daily ministrations [Acts 6:1].  And it was such a breech in the fellowship of the church that they ordained men – that we call deacons – to seek to heal over that breech in the fellowship of the church [Acts 6:2-6].  And in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, out of which Pat Zondervan just read, the last part of that fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts describes – Luke uses the word "paroxysm" – describes a paroxysm between Barnabas and Paul over John Mark [Acts 15:36-38].  Barnabas, Luke writes in chapter 11, "was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith; and much people was added unto the Lord" [Acts 11:24].  And Paul was God’s anointed emissary to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15; Acts 22:21; Romans 11:13].  But they so bitterly divided over John Mark, Paul wouldn’t have him, Barnabas, who was his uncle, chose him; and as Luke describes, "There was a paroxysm, a bitter encounter between them."  So they separated, and Barnabas took John Mark and Paul took Silas and went their separate ways [Acts 15:39-41].  We are saints in an un-ideal society.

In the tremendous revival under George Whitefield and John Wesley, George Whitefield was a Calvinist and John Wesley was an Arminian, and there was a bitter difference between them.  And George Whitefield wrote to John Wesley:


My honored friend and brother, for once hearken to a child who is willing to wash your feet.  I beseech you by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus our Lord . . . write no more about the misrepresentations, wherein we differ . . . Will it not, in the end, destroy brotherly love, and insensibly take from us that cordial union and sweetness of soul, which I pray God may always subsist between us?  How glad would be the enemies of the Lord to see us divided! . . .  Honored sir, let us offer salvation freely to all by the blood of Jesus; and whatever light God has communicated to us, let us freely communicate to others.

[quoted in The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, Luke Tyerman; London:

Hadder and Stoughton, 1876, p. 313-314]


We live in an un-ideal world, and we belong to an un-ideal fellowship.  The church is filled with human beings full of all of the weaknesses and foibles of human nature. Saints in a sinful world, "To the saints in Ephesus" [Ephesians 1:1]; we not only live in an un-ideal world, we not only belong to a communion and a church filled with all the weaknesses of human nature, but even though we are saints, we are facing the common denominator of the experience of all mankind. Unless the Lord delays His coming, all alike we are facing the last great common coming enemy of death [1 Corinthians 15:26]; all of us.  All of us shall find the day when our physical frame is destroyed, scattered like the golden palace of Nero, gone like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, lost and forgotten in some crowded cemetery.  Our lives, all of us, our lives are like breath on a cold frosty morning, or like the leaves that fall dead from the trees in the autumn, or like the grass cut down by the sickle and the scythe.   And death is no respecter of persons; the fact that one may be sanctified and holy and saintly does not obviate his cruel confrontation with death.

As the Lord God sent Isaiah to King Hezekiah, and said, "Set thine house in order:  for thou shalt die, and not live" [Isaiah 38:1], all of the holiness and godliness and sanctity of life will not shield us or protect us from that cruel enemy of death.  As the Arab proverb says, "The black camel of death stops at every door."

For many years I was on the board of Baylor University, and the chairman of the committee in Dallas was Harvey Penland, who was Dr. Truett’s nephew.  And Dr. Truett suffered indescribably for a solid year, dying of cancer of the bone.  And I was never with Harvey Penland, but that finally he would ask me, "How is it that a man as saintly and as godly and as consecrated as George Truett should suffer so in death?"  That we are saints does not deliver us from the judgment of that dark, last enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26], and the love of family and friend and church will not protect us from it; and though one may give his life in service of his country, even his patriotism will not deliver him from the judgment of death.  There is no armor against that awesome enemy.  Even though we are saints, we face death.  Nor do we know when or where he will visit us.  God has given us memories to recall the past, but He has not given us eyes to discern the future.  We shall surely die, saints though we are, with all common humanity, if Christ delays His coming.

Saints in a sinful world, living as we do in an un-ideal world, a sinful world, belonging as we do to a church filled with all the weaknesses of humanity, made up of people just like us, and facing the common denominator of all mankind, the inevitable, inexorable coming of death, how does the Christian live victoriously?  He does it in the word of the apostle Paul, listen to him: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are in Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus" [Ephesians 1:1].  The key and the secret of our triumph in this sinful world, in an un-ideal communion, and in the presence of death is found in our faithfulness in Christ.

Paul loved that phrase, "in Christ."  He used it one hundred and sixty-four times: "in Christ." 

·         Second Corinthians 5:17: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation." 

·         Or like Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things," and the King James Version translates it "through Christ which strengtheneth me"; what Paul wrote is, "I can do all things in Christ who strengtheneth me." 

·         Or like Galatians 3:28: "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ."  He loved that phrase, "in Christ," and it is the secret of the triumph of the Christian in a sinful world.

What do you mean "in Christ"?  If I ask a man, "Are you in business?" he understands perfectly what I mean.  If I ask a man, "Are you in the professions?  Are you in medicine, or in law?" he will understand perfectly.  If I ask a young fellow, "Are you in love?" and if he is, he glowingly replies.  But if I ask a man, "Are you in Christ?" he’s mystified, he’s embarrassed, sometimes baffled.  But these Christians of the New Testament were perfectly at home with the phrase, "in Christ."  In Him they found, we found, the secret of our victory and of our triumph and of our strength; in Christ.  In ourselves, weakness, mistake, sin, shortcoming, all of the things that disappoint God and us, in ourselves.  But in Him, in Christ there is our forgiveness [Ephesians 1:7], there is our justification [Romans 4:21], there’s our salvation [John 3:16-17, 10:27-30; Acts 4:12], there’s our strength, there’s our communion, there’s our fellowship, there’s our hope of heaven, there’s everything that we pray for in Christ, in Him [Romans 8:32].

In us, all kinds of weakness and discouragement; but in Him and His grace, every continuing victory.  Paul himself will say, for example, in the Book of Ephesians 3:8, he will say, "I am a minister according to the gift of the grace of God, unto me, who am the least of the saints is this grace given, I who am the least of all the saints" [Ephesians 3:7-8].  And he will say, in 1 Corinthians 15:8, I mean, verse [9], "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle . . . but by the grace of God I am what I am:  and His grace was bestowed upon me more abundantly.  Not I, but Christ" [1 Corinthians 15:9-10].  That’s what Paul says, Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: yet I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:  and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." 

"Not I, but Christ" [Galatians 2:20].  And this is the secret of any great, strong Christian life.  It is vouchedsafe to us, bestowed upon us, given us, in the grace and love and mercy of Christ.  "Not I, but Christ."  And any man that you see who walks in the Christian pilgrim way is a monument to the grace of God bestowed upon him in Christ Jesus.  "Not I, but Christ" [Galatians 2:20].  In us, weakness, defeat; in Him, strength, victory, triumph.

And you find that in the very meaning of the word "saint."  "Saint," kadosh in Hebrew, hagios in Greek, both of them referring to an exact great revelation of God:  something or someone God has set apart for Himself.  God does it.  God sets it apart.  Kadosh, a somebody or a something God has set apart for Himself; hagios, a something or a somebody God hath set apart for Himself; translated "saint."  We will never get that word back to its godly, marvelous Old Testament, New Testament meaning; something that God has done, setting apart something or someone for Himself.  For example, the tithe is kadosh to the Lord, hagios to the Lord; the tithe is holy unto the Lord [Leviticus 27:30, 32].  Now I may steal it, and I may withhold it, and I may rob God of it [Malachi 3:8], but it belongs to Him just the same.  It is kadosh, it is holy to the Lord; it belongs to Him, it is set aside for Him.  The temple is kadosh; it was set aside by God for His name, "My name shall be there" [1 Kings 8:29].  And in the temple is the kadosh kadoshim, the Holy of Holies, the Hagia hagion, the sanctum sanctorum; it was a place God sanctified and set apart for Himself [Leviticus 16:2].  So the word applied to us: hagioi, saints, these are they that God hath set aside for Himself.

To us, a saint is some,it is used in a technical, unbiblical, human way to describe someone who is striving to serve God.  To us the word "saint" implies a subordinate position of God; he accepts what somebody is offering Him in goodness or in good works or in some ministry.  That’s what saint is to us.  To us it refers to somebody who is trying to be good, and trying to do good before God.  But the word in the Old Testament and the New Testament has no connotation like that at all.  The word "saint," in the Old Testament [Psalm 116:15] and the New Testament both [1 Corinthians 1:2], refers to somebody, someone that God has set aside for Himself.  And these saints of the Lord whom God hath chosen, who are elect, and who by the grace of God have been brought into the fellowship of Jesus our Lord, these saints live in that world of praise, and adoration, and glory, and thanksgiving, and gratitude, and overflowing hearts of love and worship [Romans 8:28-39, 11:33-36].  O bless God that His grace extended to me, and I came to know Him and to call upon His name.  It is a grace, it is a goodness of God.

O bless God, bless God, bless God that He placed me in the ministry!  From the days of my youth, from the days of my childhood, bless God, bless God!  He did it.

That’s what it is to be a saint:  it’s somebody that God hath chosen and set apart for Himself.  And the glory, and the honor, and the adoration, and the thanksgiving is not to us, it’s to Him.  Praise His name that He loved me!  Bless His name that He gave Himself for me! [Galatians 3:20].  O God, thank You for the grace that reached down even to me!  That’s the Bible.  That’s what God says.  When you study the Word of the Lord, what you’re going to find is that there’ll be less, and less, and less, and less of you, and more and more and more of the love and grace of God, until finally you conclude, "There’s just nothing of me, it’s all of God."  That’s the Bible.  I’m telling you the truth of God.

And our lives to flow in praise to the Lord:  "Lord God in heaven, thank You for saving me!  Thank You for writing my name in the Book of Life.  Thank You, Lord, for calling me into Thy work.  Thank You, Lord, for remembering me.  Thank you, God, for being my friend and Savior.  Thank You, God, for my hope in heaven."  That is the life of the saint, of the Christian: praising God, loving the Lord, and that’s our invitation this morning to you.

Has the love and mercy and grace of our blessed Lord reached down to you, touched you, called you?  If He has, if the Holy Spirit has thus brought the blessedness of Jesus, the grace of our Lord to you, would you praise Him with us?  Would you thank Him with us?  "Pastor, today I confess Jesus as my Savior, my hope, my friend; and I’m on the way.  Here I come."  A family, a couple, or just you: "This is God’s day, and God’s time, and God’s moment, and God’s invitation, and I’m answering with my life."  Make the decision now in your heart.  And when we stand and sing this appeal, there’s time and to spare; if you’re in the balcony, down one of these stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these, down one of these aisles.  "Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, God has said something to me, and I praise His name, and openly I confess Him.  And here I am."  Come, a thousand times welcome; angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.  "Here I am, pastor, here I am.  And here I come.  This is God’s time for me, and I’m coming."  God bless you in the way.  God bless you in the way.