This date has traditionally been associated with the annual “feast of St. Patrick,” observed especially in Ireland, where the missionary Patrick was largely instrumental in converting that nation from paganism (the Druid religion in particular) to Christianity back in the fifth century A.D. Although his remaining writings indicate that his preaching and the churches he founded were largely evangelical, and although he was never officially canonized as a “saint” by the Roman church, his “day” has been commonly known as “St. Patrick’s Day” for more than a thousand years.
If you ask people who Saint Patrick was, you’re likely to hear that he was an Irishman who chased the snakes out of Ireland. In reality, the real Patrick was not actually Irish. He was born in Britain in A.D. 390. As a teenager, marauding Irish raiders attacked his home and Patrick was captured, taken to Ireland, and sold to an Irish king, who put him to work as a shepherd. “The work of such slave-shepherds was bitterly isolated, months at a time spent alone in the hills” (How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill). Although Patrick had been raised in a Christian home, he didn’t really believe in God. But now–hungry, lonely, frightened, and bitterly cold–he began seeking out a relationship with God. As he wrote in his Confession, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours and the love of God surrounded me more and more.”
Six years after his capture, Patrick walked nearly two hundred miles to the Irish coast, boarded a waiting ship and made it back to Britain and his family. But–by the grace of God–his life had changed. He trained for the ministry and thirty years later God called him back to the Emerald Isle as a missionary. The Irish of the fifth century were a pagan, violent, and barbaric people. Human sacrifice was commonplace. Patrick understood the danger and wrote: “I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved–whatever may come my way.” Through Patrick, God brought thousands of the Irish to Himself and a warrior people “Lay down the swords of battle, flung away the knives of sacrifice, and cast away the chains of slavery” (Cahill).
As it is with so many Christian holidays, Saint Patrick’s Day has lost much of its original meaning. Instead of settling for parades, cardboard leprechauns, and “the wearing of the green,” we ought to recover our Christian heritage, celebrate the great evangelist, and teach our children about this Christian hero who didn’t chase snakes out of Ireland, but who was used by God to bring into Ireland a solid faith in the one true God–and to forever transform the Irish people.
So, was Patrick really a “saint?” Do we have “saints” today? Are you a saint? Well, as we always need to do, let’s go to God’s Word for the answer. The word “saint” or “saints” is used 101 times in the Bible–38 in the Old Testament and 63 in the New Testament. The Hebrew word used in the OT is qodesh (ko’-desh) and means “a sacred place or thing; consecrated, dedicated, hallowed,” holy (Eg, Dt. 33:2,3; I Sam. 2:9; II Chr. 6:41; Psa. 16:3; 30:4; 31:23…). The Greek word used in the NT is hagios (hag’-ee-os) and again means “consecrated” or “dedicated,” or “set apart.” When we put our trust in Christ for salvation through His death, burial and resurrection (the Gospel…I Cor. 15:1-4), we are “delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). We are “set apart” (consecrated, dedicated) for God, i.e., we are “sanctified,” “made holy,” or “made saints.” The same Greek word hagios is translated either “holy” or “saint,” and a similar word, hagiazo (hag-ee-ad’-zo), meaning “to make holy, consecrated, set apart” is translated “sanctified.”
In Acts 9:13 and Ro. 15:26 we see Luke and Paul addressing “the saints in Jerusalem.” In Acts 9:32, we see Peter traveling to visit “the saints who lived at Lydda.” Paul writes to the Roman believers, saying, “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints…” (Ro. 1:7). Then, in his first letter to Christians at Corinth, he writes: “to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling…” (I Cor. 1:2). In his second letter, Paul refers to “all the saints who are throughout Achai” (southern Greece, including Athens and Corinth). To the church at Ephesus Paul writes: “to the saints who are at Ephesus who are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1). Paul addresses the church at Philippi saying, “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (Phil. 1:1). And to the church at Colossae he writes, “To the saints and faithful brethren who are at Colossae” (Col. 1:1).
I guess you get the picture–all who are “in Christ Jesus,” through faith in Him, are “saints,” “sanctified,” “holy brethren.” (“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling…” Heb. 3:1). If you have trusted Christ for eternal life, you have been “set apart.” You have been “born again” (Jn. 3:3), you have “passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24), you have become a “child of God” (I Jn. 3:1,2). You are a “saint.” You have been “sanctified.” You are “holy.” These terms refer to our new position “in Christ Jesus.” Now the goal is to “walk worthy of the calling (as saints) with which we have been called” (Eph. 4:1)–that is to live like who we are in Christ– saints, holy, set apart for His use.