Yes. That is the short answer, but there is a longer biblical answer to that question. This answer is defined by God Himself, not by years and years of tradition. This past Sunday throughout the news there were articles or segments that spoke of “how the Catholic Church makes saints” or “Catholic Church makes history through canonizing two saints on the same day.” According to Roman Catholic teaching someone is not a saint until the church recognizes them to be so (by various qualifications) after death.
But what does the Bible say about “sainthood?”
Sainthood has to do with holiness
We need to consider what the word “saint” means. To be a saint is to be a “holy one.” That is, someone who is set apart or holy before God. But that leads us to a problem biblically. No one is holy in and of themselves.
Everyone is unholy
The Bible is clear that we are all born unholy by nature and eventually we choose to act in unholy ways out of that unholy nature.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
These and many more places in Scripture show us that there is no hope for any human being to be holy before God in and of themselves. Which means, unless God does something out of His mercy to change who we are there could never be a saint dead or alive.
Alive sinful saints?
Shockingly, the Bible speaks of saints who are alive and yet sinners. Of all the early churches addressed in the New Testament Corinth was one of the least holy in their behavior. And yet, consider how the letter to this church begins:
Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 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 1:1-2)
God’s Word clearly contradicts Catholic teaching and tradition. The believers in Corinth were living sinful saints.
Pathway to sainthood
Maybe this last week you read something that explained the “pathway to sainthood” that Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII took. The Catholic Church has recognized over 10,000 people as saints who have followed that supposed pathway to sainthood. The pathway to sainthood as revealed in the Bible is that anyone who admits or confesses they are unholy (that is, not set apart from sin) and is willing to turn from that sin and trust in Jesus who lived and died for them becomes a saint.
How can this be? It has to do with the fact that when someone trusts in Jesus they are given His righteousness or His holiness so that before God they are just as righteous and holy as Jesus the very Son of God is before the Father. Jesus died to pay for our unholiness and through faith in Him cleanses undeserving sinners with His blood. God’s Word is clear that in order for you to be a saint when you are dead, you must become one by faith in Jesus before you die.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
You could also say it this way: “So that we might become the holiness of God in Him.” God demands total purity and sinlessness because He is a just and pure God. Therefore, the only way to be accepted before Him is to be completely without sin. God has made a way through Jesus for all those who trust in Him to legally be without sin before Him because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection in their place.
God declares believing sinners to be saints simply because they have truly trusted in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. God actually justifies ungodly people. He declares righteous the unrighteous by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He declares the unsaintly to be saints at the point of being born again spiritually by faith in Christ.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. 8 “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.” (Romans 4:5-8)
The pathway to sainthood is being brought into union with Jesus Christ so that the perfectly holy life that He lived and the substitutionary death that He died for your sins is credited to your account before God.
So are saints dead or alive? Yes. Anyone who trusts in Christ truly is immediately declared to be a saint before God. And because such a person is born again and has a new nature from God at salvation, they will start to progressively become more saintly in their behavior by God’s grace. But this is very important to grasp: At the point that they are born again, they already are a saint before God. And when that person dies they remain a saint and immediately enter the presence of God.
Are you a saint? You can be. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today and you will be legally well-pleasing before God in every way and you will start to live your life more and more in a well-pleasing way every day. This is possible because Jesus who lived and died for you is well-pleasing to God the Father in every way and He gifts His holiness to all those who trust in Him.