"She's a true saint."
That's a phrase you'll often hear in the church. It's usually said about an older member of the congregation, who has proven through years of faithful Christian practice that she really understands what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Such people are marked by the fruit of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). They are proof that grace really can transform a person, conquering sin and restoring the image of God in the soul.
John Wesley was fascinated by examples of living saints. As a missionary pastor in Georgia, he met one such saint and later wrote about him in his Journal. When Wesley met Henry Lascelles in 1736, he was dying. Wesley was astounded to note Mr. Lascelles' complete serenity and peace.
Wesley writes, "After praying with him I was surprised to find one of the most controverted questions in divinity, disinterested love, decided at once by a poor, old man without education or learning, or any instructor but the Spirit of God. I asked him what he thought of paradise -- to which he had said he was going. He said, 'To be sure, it is a fine place. But I don't mind that. I don't care what place I am in. Let God put me where he will, or do with me what he will, so I may but set forth his honour and glory.'"
Wesley later found that pointing to examples of saints could be a useful way to help spur the Methodists on to receive God's grace for themselves. In his famous book,A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Wesley tells the story of a Methodist woman named Jane Cooper. In telling the story of her death, Wesley calls her "a living and a dying witness of Christian perfection." He describes the way in which Ms. Cooper was buffeted by the full assurance of her salvation, even as she lay painfully dying of smallpox. Regardless of her situation, she knew Jesus' love for her and gave her full trust to God. Wesley presents her as an example for other Christians.
People like Henry Lascelles and Jane Cooper are all around us today. While it is true that the full extent of their faith is most noticeable around the time of death, such faith is also present in life -- usually in the quiet, unassuming way that living saints go about their daily discipleship.
Watching for the living saints among us can help us in our own faith journeys. They know something in their souls that we are all trying to learn. Their gift to us is that, in reflecting the light of Jesus so clearly to others, they give us a chance to receive it for ourselves.