A portrait is intended to convey to the observer an image of the subject’s physical features and aspects of the person’s character.

A ‘word picture’ of the man of God

The Bible does not contain portraits but it does provide ‘word pictures’ by which we can visualise the particular person being described. It also provides ‘word pictures’ of how the numerous unnamed members of the household of God should live in the eyes of Him Who looks not on the physical form but on a person’s character.

Much instruction is provided in the Bible to enable us to perceive in our minds a portrait of a saint. A good painting comprises the components necessary to produce the desired complete picture and so it is with a ‘word picture’. The components that depict a saint, one who is spiritually complete or mature are:

  • appropriate understanding of God and the way of salvation
  • commitment to the required way of life
  • perseverance in faith through all aspects of life
    Numerous other sub-sections can be identified but these are the core components for a spiritually mature member of the household of God. This article intends to help the reader see the totality of a portrait of a saint and will provide encouragement for walking worthily of that vocation.

Appropriate understanding

Spiritual maturity by necessity requires an understanding of God and His plan for the earth; of how one should worship Him; of what He has revealed to us in His Word as distinct from the erroneous opinions derived from the philosophies of mankind. Peter tells us that we must “grow in grace and knowledge” (2 Pet 3:18 rsv[1]). One of the key features in Peter’s mind must have been the need for a belief in the return of Christ for he states, “that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, ‘Whereis the promise of his coming?’” (v3–4). One of the major attributes of a saint is a firm belief in the return of Christ and a life focused on being found worthy at that time.

Whilst there is no one ‘definitions’ page in the Bible from which we can ascertain the exactitude of doctrinal understanding required, nevertheless the demand upon us is to appreciate and to uphold our doctrinal understanding of Bible truth. Our relationship with God ought to be enhanced by increasing our understanding of what He has revealed to those who search. We can be “filled with fullness” by the broad scope of the understanding we have been privileged to receive. The greatness of God is more fully appreciated when we perceive the depth and richness of meaning in His Word. More than simply possessing knowledge though, we must use our knowledge to “know” God intimately and to increase our desire to be in His Kingdom and to serve Him diligently during the course of our discipleship.

The portrait from the mountain

Early in his ministry Jesus defined the high moral attributes required of those who wish to be disciples. The discourse, otherwise known as the Sermon on the Mount, sets forth moral qualities which, by any definition, exceed those accepted by humanistic thought as being sufficient to make one “good”.

To take but a few of the attributes listed in Matthew 5 we see that a disciple does not strive but is meek; accepts opposition and abuse; displays good works so that others will see God; does not become angry; does not lust; loves his enemies and prays for those who persecute him. A quick glance establishes that this is not what the world sees as reasonable conduct. Here we begin to see the high calling of those who would be saints. The task may seem daunting but support is available for “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psa 46:1).

Later in his ministry Jesus expanded on the qualities that should be displayed in those who would be disciples. One of the key qualities is a desire to focus on the things of God rather than the affairs of the world. His teaching is challenging. He said, “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well” (Luke 12:29–31). Shortly thereafter Jesus pointed out that those who wish to participate in the Kingdom, that is, to be a saint, are in the minority and the path they follow is narrow necessitating a determination not to deviate from it. “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24).

The Gospel of John develops a number of these concepts to a greater extent than the other gospels. In particular, the concepts of being separate and of having a different outlook to mankind in general are expanded upon with great principles being brought to our attention. The need for a different perspective is succinctly put when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:4). And then there is the great commandment, so important for the concern we should have for those of the household of God and for our neighbour, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).

In various epistles these concepts are taken up and expanded in different words to express the attributes of a saint. In Ephesians it is the putting on of a new man; Romans gives us the need to set our minds on the things of the Spirit rather than the things of the flesh; and Galatians provides us with instruction on displaying the fruit of the Spirit. All these are the mark of one who strives to live an exemplary life in the footsteps of Jesus.

A limitless picture

The Apostle Paul takes us to a spiritual mountain in the hope that we will be able to see the greatness and grandeur of being called to be in God’s household; in other words, to view a portrait of a saint in the true scriptural sense. The spiritual qualities of those at Ephesus must have been very high indeed for they were selected to be the recipients of Paul’s letter that takes the believer to the highest level of spiritual thought. From the heights the vision is limitless for those who can perceive it.

Paul prays that, “the Father of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:17–18). Later he prays that, in addition to fully perceivingthe hope and the glorious inheritance, we may be able to have, in effect, a limitless horizon in which to visualise the wonders of participation in the household of God. He prays, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3: 17–19).

It is apparent from Paul’s writings that not every member of the household will perceive the full grandeur of their calling. God could grant that wisdom but we must play our part to be recipients of it. All are taken to the heights but some have a much closer horizon line than others. For some the vision may not extend to the full glories of the Kingdom age, or the vision may become cluttered with obstacles placed in the path. Our vision may have become obscured by the importance placed on our daily work, the interest taken in sports or entertainment or the appeal of material possessions, all of which dull the brightness of our spirituality.

The portrait is clear but our vision may be obscured or our horizons limited.

Commitment

Those who see clearly from the vantage of the spiritual mountain are likely to be fully engaged in ecclesial life accepting roles suited to their abilities and, if unable to do that, are supportive of others and add to ecclesial life simply by participation. They will take the opportunity to participate in spiritual uplifts such as Bible schools and conferences. They will diligently read God’s Word and encourage their family by sharing the relevance of the message to daily life. When travelling they will seek out ecclesias to visit for they enjoy the company of those of like precious faith.

On the other hand those for whom the vision has become obscured may struggle to fully engage in the opportunities the household provides. Attendance becomes Sunday morning only as the pleasures of more frequently sharing fellowship and hearing the Word of God are not recognised nor appreciated. Participation in ecclesial roles is dismissed because of being ‘too busy’. Some genuinely see this as a reasonable excuse failing to see that they are effectively saying to God, ‘I have structured my life in such a fashion to have insufficient time for service within the household’.

The problem with a cluttered vision is that more often than not we do not realise it has occurred.

Here is a call to us all to check if we can perceive the spiritual vista and priorities given long ago to our brethren and sisters in Ephesus. They are of course applicable to every believer since that time. As fellow saints with the Ephesians we will then aim to live our lives in an exemplary, dedicated manner. We will strive to do all things “as unto the Lord”, so that all those we meet will perceive us to be persons of upright character. This includes being honest, trustworthy, gracious and kind so that all, including non-believers, will not have anything to say against the people of God.

The “therefore” chapter

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians lifts us to the heights of participation in the household of God. The grandeur and enormity of this calling is highlighted by statements such as, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (1:4). Just as Christ was in God’s plan from the beginning of time so was the calling out of a household to ‘fill up’ or complete the Father’s purpose.

With such elevated thoughts contained in the letter it comes as a shock to reach what can be called the “therefore” chapter. Paul begins chapter 4 with, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” What is he saying? Surely someone with the spiritual capacity to perceive what it means to be a member of the household of God is not in need of advice on the personal way of life! Well, if we’re honest, we know that we do need that advice, so Paul seamlessly weaves a powerful message about our way of life into his treatise on spiritual matters of the highest order.

The saint in the modern evil world

Maintaining the life of the “new man” has been a challenge for believers in all ages. Advice to those in cities such as Corinth and Ephesus to avoid the prevailing immorality, takes on a greater relevance today than it did in times when society in general frowned on such matters. Paul’s advice is of paramount importance in today’s world. He warns, “But immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints” (Eph 5:3).

Combating the lust of the eyes has always been a battle, but current circumstances bring unique and dangerous challenges. In past times, by and large, one had to go to some lengths to engage in inappropriate activities or obtain offensive material. Today it is possible to sit at home and access offensive material at the click of a button. The ready accessibility increases the opportunities and the temptation. Here is a call for all to focus on things that are pure and honourable. We need to provide guidance to younger people to avoid the temptation to participate in ungodly activities which so many in the world simply see as another aspect of modern life.

This world also provides almost limitless opportunities for entertainment. In previous times it was necessary to make a particular effort to seek out entertainments with the result that generally only those with a substantial interest became involved. A life of separation was more easily obtained. Today’s world is heavily influenced by television, DVDs and the like, and for the majority every evening can be allocated to these activities. It is a pervading influence so readily available and effort must be applied to curtailing its effect. With very few exceptions the output ranges from the banal to the violent and immoral. This is not a medium to which any allegiance ought to be given.

Our occupations can also distract us from ecclesial matters and from reading and contemplation. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with work or education, and the experience gained from both can be utilised in service in the household, but as with so many other things the extent of our allegiance to either needs to be carefully monitored. It is imperative to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” ( Eph 5:15–16).

Perseverance

A key aspect of the “new life” is that we should continue in it during times of adversity. When the vicissitudes of life come upon us we may question if God is really interested in individual members of the household; does He hear my prayers?

It is in such times that the mettle of a disciple is tested to the utmost. It can befall us all at any time in life. Expectations are not always fulfilled. Events we hope will never occur sometimes do. To take some examples: many young people expect that attendance at Youth groups, Bible schools and the like will provide them with a partner for life, only to find that the years slip by and the prospect of a long term single life has to be addressed. Others find a partner only to find that the marriage does not live up to expectations, and in some cases irreconcilable differences develop resulting in separation. In other cases a life is unexpectedly cut short or illness or long term unemployment impinge heavily on what was planned. Later in life much distress can be caused when children do not accept the Truth. As the years go by the effects of mortality weigh more heavily, sometimes quite unexpectedly, and the burden may be difficult to bear.

These are but a few examples of issues that may have to be addressed in life. Faith can be tested when prayers for the burden to be lifted do not produce the hoped for response. Such circumstances can lead to the question of ‘why me? Why am I not amongst those that have seemingly avoided the difficult issues of life?’

We can rest assured that God has not left us when problems develop. Those who live as a saint in this life and desire to be an immortal saint are never out of God’s sight or bereft of His loving care. Members of the household are not promised relief from the vicissitudes of life. Sometimes prayer results in the lifting of burdens; sometimes the answer is the provision of strength to cope, but the burden remains as one of the issues or burdens of this present life.

Our aim therefore must be one of perseverance; in serving God by continuing in the “new life” in both ease and adversity. This is why our faith is so important. Living as a saint amongst the sons of disobedience has its challenges but it brings purpose, pleasure and peace to our present life and the sure hope of reward in the future. We take confidence in Paul’s words:

“… and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6–7).

References

[1] All quotations from the rsv