Most Christians have a view of themselves that acknowledges they have not yet arrived at full Christian maturity. That’s a sensible perspective and accords with what Paul writes to the Ephesians. “This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. (Eph. 4:13 TLB)
But focusing only what we have not yet attained can obscure the truth about what we have been given, namely our identity in Christ. At the start of Romans, Paul states these truths plainly. He describes his own apostleship, the source of it–the Lord Jesus himself–and that through him “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” (Rom. 1:5–6)
In some translations, the words that are inferred or added by translators are shown in italics. That was a helpful editorial decision and were it in place here, we would see the words to belong to in italics. In other words, Paul is saying the Romans are saints by calling. Called is an adjective, descriptive of their position in Christ. They don’t one day hope to be saints, they are now saints. They are holy in Christ, positionally sanctified, and seated with him in the heavenly places. Believers are saints every bit as much Paul is an apostle, for he uses the same words to describe himself in Rom. 1:1, not called to be an apostle, but a “called apostle.”
The New Testament is full of exhortation and encouragement for believers to press on to become more like Christ. But those exhortations are predicated on our already being in Christ, already seated with him in the heavenly places, and already sealed with the Holy Spirit. If we reverse this order, we have misunderstood our identity in Christ, and have given up the blessing of knowing who we are in Him. We do not become saints by our holy living, we are to live in a holy manner because of who we already are. So, believer, whether you are saint John, saint Fred, saint Christine–whatever you name is–insert it after “saint” and you are on biblical ground as a description of your position in Christ.
Some have described this as the difference between standing and state, or position and condition. Our state may change from day to day, but our standing can never change, because it is in Christ, and we are sealed with his Spirit. Getting a right view of our standing actually influences our state. Don’t let the world beat you down into thinking that your failure defines who you are in Christ. Believers certainly fall short but measured in God’s estimation, as we are in Christ, we cannot be holier. As one hymn writer put it:
So near so very near to God
I cannot nearer be
Yet in the person of his Son
I am as near as he.