“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 1:1, NASB95)
In the majority of our modern translations we read that these believers in Ephesus were called saints. This is who they were. It was not because they had lived long lives and had proven themselves faithful doing great and miraculous works for God, but because God loved them and sent His Son to do a great and miraculous work on their behalf.
But “saint” may not be the best or easiest term for us to understand, especially when it is laid up against some other teachings concerning the word. Both the Old and New Testaments have words that are translated “saints” (from the Latin sanctus) almost exclusively used in the plural form referring to multiple people (and in the New Testament—the body of believers known as the church). But the same word is more commonly translated “holy” or “holy one(s).” In the Old Testament we read in Psalm 34, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! O fear the Lord, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want.” (Psalm 34:8–9, NASB95) Here the word translated “saints” is the Hebrew word qadowsh. This same word, while translated twelve times in the King James or Authorized Version as “saints” is translated “holy” 65 times and “Holy One” (referring to God) 39 times. In the New Testament the corresponding word, hagios is used 229 times in the same translation with 161 of those times being translated “holy” compared to 61 times as “saints” and 4 times as “Holy One” (again referring to God). In both the Old and New Testaments the word means consecrated or set apart to God, holy, or sacred. And when it referred to people it more literally means God’s holy or set apart ones.
All Christians are saints. This is who we are according to the Word of God. As we read through the New Testament letters we even find that when writing to a group that has some significant spiritual defect that they are still referred to as “saints” who are called to walk in accord with who they are in Christ. This is true of the immature Corinthians believers to whom Paul wrote, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:2, NASB95) These believers were not saints because they lived like saints, but they were saints because of what Christ did to make them that way.
Understanding this is incredibly freeing. If our approval before God depended upon our actions we would never please Him. But because our approval before Him is based upon the action of Christ there can be no falling short. This, however, is not an excuse to continue living as though nothing changed. Paul wrote at length about this, adding that it is our reasonable spiritual response to give ourselves back to God as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). The apostle Peter wrote, “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:15–16, NASB95) God is holy and everything He does is consistent with who He is. Similarly, we are called to live according to who we have become. As ones called to be saints or God’s holy ones we are to increasingly live in such a way that we more closely match our position in Christ.
Remembering that while we were sinners Christ died for us. He did this for us even knowing all of the sins that we have yet to commit. He will never be blindsided or surprised by our actions, and God still chose us. Rather than being an excuse to continue in sin it gives us even greater reason to be more grateful to God who does not give up on us nor leaves us to muddle through things in our own power. We read in the Bible that just as we were saved by God we are also strengthened to live in the power which He supplies.
“strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:11–14, NASB95)