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Q&A: Should Christians pray to saints?

My in-laws are Catholic. They ask people in heaven to ask God to help them. They also ask Mary to ask Jesus to help them. What do I say about this?

Say a child wants something from his or her parents. That child’s best chance to get what is requested is by asking the “golden child” older sibling, whose family status is higher, to go to the parents and present that request. The parents may be more inclined to grant the request to the “golden child.” In the same way, people pray to the saints with the idea that the saints are the “golden children” of heaven who can go to Jesus on their behalf. They think that Jesus will more readily grant the request of a saint in heaven.

Why is this a Roman Catholic practice?

Roman Catholics say that they worship God and only venerate or show devotion to the saints. They point to the “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (Revelation 5:8). They reason that if the saints in heaven are offering prayers to God, they must be aware of our prayers. They say it is no different from asking someone on earth to pray for you. However, Scripture indicates that while the saints in heaven may offer up prayers in general, they are not aware of our specific prayers: “You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (Isaiah 63:16).

Sometimes, James 5:16 is used as justification for prayers to the saints: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Roman Catholics reason that since the saints in heaven are more righteous than anyone on earth, their prayers are more efficacious. This is a misunderstanding of the source of prayer’s power. The power does not come from the righteousness of the one praying or the size of one’s faith, but from the omnipotent object of the prayer. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

What does the Bible have to say?

Prayer is an act of worship. Scripture is filled with beautiful examples: “I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead” (Psalm 86:12,13). God bids his children, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15). Scour the Scriptures. You will never find a single word about asking a saint in heaven for help.

Because God commands us to pray and worship only him, prayers to saints are idolatry. It gives glory to saints, glory that God reserves for himself. “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8).

Prayers to saints are an offense to Christ. The Bible says, “There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). We have no command to pray to saints, nor do we have a promise that saints in heaven can hear or help. Most important, we already have the perfect mediator, our brother Jesus, who advocates on our behalf. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

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Author: David Scharf
Volume 110, Number 7
Issue: July 2023

Q&A Bible study open bible 2023 Dave Scharf

Honoring the saints

Article 21 of the Augsburg Confession condemns the worship of saints but gives three beautiful ways to honor the saints who have gone before us. First, we want to thank God for them. Second, we can look at their lives to be strengthened in our faith. Third, we honor them as we imitate their faith and other virtues.

Thanksgiving for the saints

The Bible is full of examples of giving thanks to God for the saints on earth and those who have finished their earthly race and gone before us. In most of the apostle Paul’s letters, he thanks God for the believers to whom he writes (Ephesians 1:16; Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). It’s fitting to thank God for those through whom you heard the Word of Truth! I am eternally grateful for my grandparents and parents, who trained me in the way of the Lord. I praise God for past teachers, my friends, and my spouse, who taught me what it is to live and forgive like Jesus.

Read Philippians 1:3-6.

List the heroes of faith God has placed in your life and what they have done to encourage you in your faith.

Look to God’s grace in their lives

The devil is good at making us feel alone. I sit in church and hear the pastor proclaim, “God, our heavenly Father, has forgiven all your sins. By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, he has removed your guilt forever.” But the devil whispers in my ear, “But not for you. Maybe for these others here but not for you.” Can saints help when Satan attacks? They can when we consider how God showed his grace in their lives. Who else has questioned God’s forgiveness? Others who have gone before!

King David felt the full weight of his sin: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. . . . Then I acknowledged my sin to you. . . . And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:3-5). David, the adulterer? David, the murderer? No, David, the forgiven. His guilt was removed forever, and mine is too.

Search the Scriptures in your mind or with your open Bible. Give examples of God’s grace in the lives of people in the Bible that can help encourage you when you have doubts.

Imitate their faith

The third way to honor the saints is to imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

Read Hebrews 11.

In the heroes of faith chapter, the Bible holds up these people—even though they were sinners—as examples for us to follow. Pick out a hero of faith and consider a virtue of that person’s faith that you want to emulate in your life.

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This entry is part 1 of 66 in the series question-answer

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