"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Hebrews 12:1, NAS
There’s an old country-western song that says "Me and Jesus got our own thing going" (Tom T. Hall). And I have to admit, there’s a part of me that likes that idea. Yes, it’s the sinful, self-absorbed part of me, but the words of that song have a dark appeal. Perhaps the same goes for you.
Sometimes, we just don’t want other people looking at our lives. We don’t want to be questioned. We just want to be affirmed. But that kind of “Mind your own business. Me and Jesus got our own thing going” attitude isn’t from God. He doesn’t teach His children rugged individualism. He connects us to something bigger than our stand-alone, little lives. Every follower of Christ is a part of something grand and ancient. A yearly reminder of that fact is the holiday known as “All Saints Day.”
Who is a saint? Well, you are, if you’re a believer. The Bible says that—by God’s grace, with all our blind spots, flaws, and all—God calls Ephesians 1:1those who trust in Christ alone for salvation. Because Christ lived a perfectly obedient life and died on the cross for our sin, it’s paid for and forgiven (Romans 5:1). We’re also clothed in the righteousness of Jesus (2 cor. 5:21). God then uses His saints with feet of clay to further His kingdom. This brings Him glory and makes His grace shine clearly.
All Saints Day dates back to about A.D. 610 when the Pantheon in Greece, turned into a Christian Church, was dedicated to all saints. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer says that the holiday stands for “the unity of Christians of all ages, countries, and races in Christ, and the perfection of that unity in heaven."
The Bible doesn’t teach us to pray to the saints (matt. 6:6), through the saints (1 tim. 2:5) or for saints who have already gone to heaven. Instead, we remember the saints and to allow the testimony of their faith spur us on to deeper worship and greater service to the Lord.
hebrews 11 gives us examples of the great cloud of witnesses who are called so, not because they are watching us, but because they testify of God's grace to them. These saints of the past remind us:
"God is faithful."
"The Lord is good, trust always in Him."
"God's grace was sufficient for me and it will be for you too."
There’s a hymn that’s traditionally sung around this holiday called "For All the Saints." It encourages believers to look across 2000 years of Christian history and think of the millions now enjoying rest and salvation in the presence of God. It’s also meant to provide encouragement to believers here and now to press on, looking forward to the glorious day…
“And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
How about you? Do you tend to view your Christian life as an individual self-improvement project? Or is it a life of a saint, called so because of Christ's merit? Do you see your connection with the rest of the saints in Ephesians 4:1? Take a moment or two to read through the words of “For All the Saints.” If you've never heard this great song of the faith, here are two recordings you might listen to as you reflect on the lyrics below:
Alex Crain is editor of christianity.com and contributing editor for crosswalk.com, biblestudytools.com, and Jesus.org. He serves as pastor of worship ministries at Harvest Christian Fellowship in the Richmond, VA area. You can RSS his blog and follow him on Twitter @alex_crain.
"For All the Saints"
(Lyrics: William How; Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams)
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
For the Apostles' glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o'er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: