How to Become a Saint without the Pope

Josh Buice


On Sunday, September 4th, Pope Francis led in the canonization service that pronounced sainthood upon the well known Catholic figure from recent history—Mother Teresa.  With Vatican City pulsating with a crowd that exceeded 120,000, Pope Francis bestowed the highest Roman Catholic honor upon Mother Teresa, in effect, making her Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  Did Mother Teresa need Pope Francis’ help in reaching the level of saint?  Was this ceremony necessary?

How to Become a Saint in the Roman Catholic Religion

The process to be recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church is a bit technical and lengthy.  The overview is as follows:

  1. The person must be dead for a minimum of 5 years.
  2. The person must have “fame of sanctity” or “fame of martyrdom.”
  3. Typically the Bishop of the Diocese initiates the investigation of the person’s life.
  4. The investigations looks to see if any special favor or miracle has been granted through the person’s life.
  5. The candidate’s writings are thoroughly examined to confirm that nothing heretical (against the Roman Catholic Church’s beliefs) are taught.
  6. Upon the end of the investigation, a transumptum (a faithful copy) duly authenticated and sealed, is submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
  7. Next, they examine to see if the candidate was a martyr of the faith.
  8. If the candidate was not a martyr, they examine the person’s life to see if exemplary sacrifice and charity was performed in love for his or her neighbor.  Was this person’s life lived out in a heroic manner?
  9. Beatification is the next process, and the candidate will receive this in the case of martyrdom.  If not martyred for the faith, the candidate must be credited with a miracle.
  10. After beatification, the candidate will be recognized as a saint in a specific city, region, diocese, or religious family.
  11. After beatification, another miracle is needed for canonization and the formal declaration of sainthood.

As you can see, this is a lengthy process that takes time to validate.  Once the candidate reaches the final step and is pronounced a saint, their name can be officially used in the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgy during official worship.  It is also believed that a saint can receive prayers in the act of mediation.  According to the Roman Catholic Church’s catechism, they teach the following:

“We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (Paul VI, CPG § 30).

How to Become a Saint According to the Bible

Since Scripture is our final authority, we turn to the pages of sacred Scripture for answers on the subject of sainthood.  A survey of the New Testament provides the following usages of the word saint:


  • Philippians 4:21 – Referencing the living.


  • Matthew 27:52 – Referencing the dead.
  • Acts 9:13 – Referencing the living.
  • Acts 9:32 – Referencing the living.
  • Acts 9:41 – Referencing the living.
  • Acts 26:10 – Referencing the dead.
  • Romans 1:7 -Referencing the living.
  • Romans 8:27 – Referencing the living.
  • Romans 12:13 – Referencing the living.
  • Romans 15:25, 26, 31 – Referencing the living.
  • Romans 16:2 – Referencing the living.
  • Romans 16:15 – Referencing the living.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:2 – Referencing the living.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:1, 2 – Referencing the living.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:33 – Referencing the living.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:1 – Referencing the living.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:15 – Referencing the living.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:1 – Referencing the living.
  • 2 Corinthians 8:4 – Referencing the living.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:1 – Referencing the living.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:12 – Referencing the living.
  • 2 Corinthians 13:13 – Referencing the living.
  • Ephesians 1:1 – Referencing the living.
  • Ephesians 1:15 – Referencing the living.
  • Ephesians 1:18 – Referencing the living.
  • Ephesians 2:19 – Referencing the living.
  • Ephesians 3:8 – Referencing the living.
  • Ephesians 3:18 – Referencing the living.
  • Ephesians 4:12 – Referencing the living.
  • Ephesians 5:3 – Referencing the living.
  • Ephesians 6:18 – Referencing the living.
  • Philippians 1:1 – Referencing the living.
  • Philippians 4:22 – Referencing the living.
  • Colossians 1:2 – Referencing the living.
  • Colossians 1:4 – Referencing the living.
  • Colossians 1:12 – Referencing the dead.
  • Colossians 1:26 – Referencing the living.
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:13 – Referencing the dead.
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:10 – Referencing the living.
  • 1 Timothy 5:10 – Referencing the living.
  • Philemon 5 – Referencing the living.
  • Philemon 7 – Referencing the living.
  • Hebrews 6:10 – Referencing the living.
  • Hebrews 13:24 – Referencing the living.
  • Jude 3 – Referencing the living.
  • Revelation 5:8 – Referencing the dead.
  • Revelation 8:3, 4 – Referencing the dead.
  • Revelation 11:18 – Referencing the dead.
  • Revelation 13:7 – Referencing the living.
  • Revelation 13:10 – Referencing the living.
  • Revelation 14:12 – Referencing the living.
  • Revelation 16:6 – Referencing the dead.
  • Revelation 17:6 – Referencing the dead.
  • Revelation 18:20 – Referencing the dead.
  • Revelation 18:24 – Referencing the dead.
  • Revelation 19:8 – Referencing the living.
  • Revelation 20:9 – Referencing the living.

The overwhelming majority of Scripture uses the word “saint” in reference to a living person, someone who was not dead and had not gone through a formal process of confirmation and canonization.  In fact, if we’re honest, the way the word “saint” is used in the New Testament is primarily focused upon normal Christians among the church.  The entire church in specific places were referenced by the word “saint” as opposed to a higher class of special holy ones.  The word “saint” is used as a description for saved people in the New Testament.  Therefore, all true believers are saints based upon their faith in Christ.

It should likewise be noted that in no place in Scripture do we see people praying to the saints.  This is the case for two main reasons.  First of all, the overwhelming majority of usages of the term “saint” in the New Testament involves living people at the time the letter was written.  It would seem odd for Paul to pray to Peter in order to speak to God, right?  Should it not seem odd for a person today to pray to Mary or to pray to Peter in order to reach God?  Especially since the Bible clearly states that Jesus is our one Mediator who stands between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

The way a person becomes a saint according to the New Testament is to have a brokenness over sin and faith in God through Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Rom. 6:23; Rom. 3:10; Rom. 10:13; Acts 3:19).  In Christ’s finished work on the cross, and that work alone, can a sinner find mercy and forgiveness from God (Is. 53:10; 1 Pet. 2:24).  Jesus said that He is the exclusive means of reconciliation (John 14:6).

It is impossible for a sinner to perform works of righteousness in order to please God (Titus 3:5).  Did Mother Teresa need Pope Francis to become a saint?  Absolutely not.  Mother Teresa needed Jesus Christ alone rather than the pope and the Roman Catholic Church.  Unfortunately, she spent many years in doubt and finished her life in darkness.  She wrote:

“I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” she wrote at one point. “I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.” On another occasion she wrote: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” [1]

  1. Letters of Mother Teresa — See Washington Post Article – “Mother Teresa, about to be named a saint, felt terrible pain ‘of God not wanting me’”
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Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.