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« Sainthood, Service, and Suffering: Introduction | Home | A Member of God’s Holy People »

Why You’re Like Saint Truman Burbank

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, April 25, 2007

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In the hit movie from 1998, The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays the role of Truman Burbank, a happy-go-lucky insurance salesman who lives in the perfectly manicured town of Seahaven, “the best place to live on earth,” according to the headline of the local paper. So it would seem to be for Truman, his “perfect” wife Meryl, his best friend Marlon, and all of their flawless, sparkling neighbors.

As the movie begins, Truman goes about his simple daily routine, having no idea that everything around him is a farce. In fact, he lives on an elaborate stage set filled with professional actors. Even his wife and best friend are paid to co-star in the wildly successful television hit, The Truman Show. Poor, sweet, idealistic Truman is completely unaware that he is the most famous man in the world, the star of a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year show about his life. He lives each day without realizing that every moment is being broadcast to the world (with some careful editing to keep the show PG).

Living his apparently ordinary life, Truman never imagines that he is a special person, someone set apart by “the powers that be” for a particular purpose. He does not understand that he is fulfilling the vision of The Truman Show’s creator and producer, an enigmatic genius named Christof. His entire life has been dedicated to something far beyond Truman’s wildest dreams, a fact that eludes his grasp until strange happenings finally begin to reveal the truth.

Christians are like Truman Burbank. I’m not suggesting, thankfully, that our lives are being televised to the world. Nor am I implying that our world is simply a complex stage set. But we are like Truman because we too have been set apart by “the powers that be” for a purpose far beyond what we may imagine. We too can go through life unaware of our specialness, never understanding that we have been designated to fulfill the vision of our Creator and Producer, the God of the Universe, the Lord of History.

If this comes as a bit of a surprise to you, you may be even more startled to learn the title that the Bible has given you to indicate your specialness. According to Scripture, you’re a saint. That’s right, a saint!

In the beginning of the letter we call 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses believers in Corinth in a peculiar manner:

“To the assembly of God that is in Corinth, to those who have been set apart in Christ Jesus, to those who are called “saints,” along with all of those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord and their Lord (1 Cor 1:2). The Corinthians are called by God to be “saints.”

The Greek word translated here as “saints” refers to people who are set apart for some special purpose. It can also be translated as “holy ones.” (In Greek, “saint” or “holy one” is hagios. You sometimes hear this root in the English word hagiography, which is a biography of a saint.) In the ancient world, “saints” were usually priests and priestesses, those who were set apart from common people to serve in the holy precincts of a temple, offering holy sacrifices to the gods. Analogously, believers in Jesus are saints, though they don’t exercise their sainthood in some secluded temple. Rather, they serve God in the world with the sacrifices of their worship and obedience to God (Rom 12:1-2).

We typically use the word “saint” in a way that differs considerably from Paul’s practice. We tend to label as “saints” those few Christians who demonstrate moral and spiritual excellence. For us, saints are extraordinary human beings, believers in Jesus who have lapped the rest of us in the race of the Christian life. But Paul identifies all believers in Jesus as saints, without regard to their moral or spiritual achievements. We receive the title of “saint,” not because of our exemplary lives, but because God has chosen us to belong to Him and to do His work. To be called a saint is not to receive an honorary degree in Christ’s kingdom, but rather a letter of admission to his school of discipleship. It’s the starting point, not the goal. Our goal should be to live consistently as a saint of God because that’s what we already are, not because that’s what we want to become. The fact that Paul refers to the Corinthians as saints underscores this point. As the rest of 1 Corinthians reveals, the Corinthian believers are exemplary of everything we ought not to be as Christians. Their sainthood has nothing to do with getting a high grade in Discipleship 301, since most of them are stuck repeating Discipleship 101. They are caught up in divisiveness and self-centeredness, not to mention sexual immorality and idolatry. Yet the Corinthians are still saints, people set apart by God for him and his work.

So, when I say, “If you’re a Christian, then you’re a saint,” I’m not really complimenting you. Instead, I am noting that if you have put your faith in Christ, then you have been “set apart” in him (1 Cor 1:2). You are special to God, and, importantly, you are a member of God’s special people.

In my next post I want to examine what it means to be one of these special people.

Topics: Christianity and the World |


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