Good morning church! I just want to thank God for the opportunity to share God’s Word with you this morning.
If you’ve been tracking with us, over the last few months we’ve been trying to understand this theme “Abiding Faith” from 1 Thessalonians. What we’ve learnt through all those weeks is that it’s ultimately God who sustains our faith. Today we arrive at the last passage of this letter that talks about “Sanctification” which means “being purified & set apart for God”.
Would you join me as we pray and ask God to help us understand and respond to today’s passage?
During my schooling days, there was this condition called “Out of syllabusitis”!
I’m sure many of us might be familiar with this term. We would spend quite a few of the last few nights cramming and preparing for an exam & when we receive the question paper, we are shocked to see questions that we’ve never seen before. Out of syllabus!!
It’s also true that these could have been questions that were in our portion which we didn’t prepare for but we would still refer to them as “out of syllabus” because these questions leave us stumped.
I think similarly when it comes to our Christian faith, there’s a lot of emphasis and encouragement on how to become a believer in Christ through repentance & faith but the common Christian experience after that is often “out of syllabus” for many.
We are left stumped and clueless. Often, we are handed over many commands to follow but as we go through our days as believers be it in our private moments when we are alone or when we are in public interacting with other people, we soon we realize that we simply don’t have the power or the ability to “purify ourselves daily and set apart ourselves for God”.
So brother or sister, if you’re at that place today where you’re confused on how to live the Christian life in purity or if you’re tired of your failing moral performance, just know you’re not alone. What help is available?
1. God’s gracious promise (v22-24)
God’s promise is the only thing that we can rely on to sanctify our lives. What I find interesting is that v22 “Abstain from every form of evil” is a command & imperative for God’s people.
But in the very next verse we are given a promise which will help us obey this command. It’s God’s gracious promise that empowers our ability to obey. But how do I know if God will honour and keep this promise? Let’s look at 3 aspects of God’s gracious promise:
- God’s promise is based on the Work of God – Now may the God of peace (v23) – That term God of peace refers to God reconciling us back to Himself through the work of Jesus. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, God has signed & sealed a peace treaty with us who have trusted in Jesus. As part of God’s peace treaty, He has promised no more wrath, no more condemnation on us who used to be enemies of God because the payment was paid in full by Jesus Christ.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1)
And I think this is a powerful truth for us because it tells us of how God views us if we’ve placed our full trust in Jesus. God’s not waiting for an opportunity for us to mess up so that we can be relegated back to being enemies.
Neither is God requiring our performance (achievements, self-will, our efforts) to maintain this peace treaty. It’s based on the permanent work of God.
But you may say it’s one thing to have a peace treaty through the work of God, but it’s another thing to sanctify a sinner like me. That requires enormous ability. That’s why the second aspect of the promise is important:
- God’s promise is fulfilled by the Power of God – May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v24) – I hope we are able to see the astonishing promise made here in terms of our holiness. Complete sanctification – meaning complete pure and set apart for God! When the Lord Jesus comes again, believers in Jesus would be made “blameless” in their spirit, soul and body. In other words, there won’t be an iota or a remnant of sin left in us!!
And this promise is made to sinners!!! Can God do this? Scripture is filled with testimonies of God doing things that are absolutely impossible for humans. I think this culminated in the Resurrection of Jesus. I mean we think about all that humans boast about and all the medical advances that have been made over the centuries, but yet no human has been able to provide an answer to the reality of Death.
With the sad news of hundreds of thousands that have passed away due to the current pandemic despite all types of efforts to contain the virus, we realize how helpless we are and yet Jesus Christ rendered death powerless! It’s astonishing.
I love the way Ps. David Jeremiah puts it:
“God, by His exerted power, reversed the process of death, overturned the process of decay, caused a silent heart to beat again. He was resurrected with an eternal body which according to Philippians 3 serves as a prototype for our own resurrected bodies”.Ps. David Jeremiah
If God’s able to overturn and destroy something as fatal and deadly as death, then God can do anything. He can certainly sanctify us completely and make us blameless when Christ comes again.
I think this is an important truth for us especially when we respond to habitual patterns of sin which often leaves us despondent and in despair. God is able to purify you!
- God’s promise is sustained by the Character of God – Now you might say I understand the work of God & the power of God – God is able to sanctify and purify us, but 2000 years have passed, what if God changed His mind?
We have had a consistent history of messing up a zillion times and not being faithful to God, what if God alters His promise?
And that’s why v24 is important: He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
God’s character (His faithfulness) is being highlighted here. Brothers and sisters, I realize that this aspect of the character of God is especially important because we trust a person on the basis of his/her character.
Is the person faithful or not? That determines our level of trust. God’s not like us “sinful humans” to make and break promises as it seems convenient. He puts His character on the line to back up this promise and assure us that He will do what He promised to do.
This committed promise of God is what empowers pure and holy living.
Just to illustrate:
In marriage, it consists of a promise and loving responsibilities. Which among both is important? Both. The promise are the vows made by the couple to each other on the wedding day & the loving responsibilities are the outworking of the promise.
Without the promise, there’s no security for the couple when they mess up in their responsibilities. Without the loving responsibility, there won’t be an opportunity for the couple to care and serve each other.
But remember the promise precedes the loving responsibility. The promise binds and holds the loving responsibility. Similarly, it’s God’s promise to sanctify us is a security that empowers us to live in purity.
But not only do we have God’s gracious promise, but we also have
2. God’s Gracious Provision (v25-27)
God’s gracious Provision is through spiritual disciplines! That might be a strange idea for some of us because we’ve never thought about it in that way. Many times we view spiritual disciplines like a labourer instead of a son or a daughter.
What I mean by this is that a labourer works to get a salary from His master (spiritual disciplines are a means to grace). On the other hand, a son or a daughter don’t have a transactional relationship with their Father because they are loved and accepted.
All the gifts they enjoy are not a salary payment made to them but means by which they can enjoy and grow in their relationship with the Father (spiritual disciplines as means of grace) V25-27 mentions 3 spiritual disciplines as a provision for us to help us in our sanctification:
- Prayers of believers: Brothers, pray for us. (v25) I find it interesting that after sharing so much of biblical truth in this whole letter, Paul closes the letter by asking them to pray for him and his companions.
Despite the fact that Paul was an amazing church planter & preacher, Paul recognizes how much of divine help (grace) is required to help him grow in purity, continue to trust Jesus with his entire life & pursue the mission that God called him to.
And that’s a humbling thought to realize that despite all our so-called accomplishments, despite how many years we may have been as believers, despite how active we may have been in ministry, we are still little children dependent on the grace of God for everything including purity.
Praying is an acknowledgement that we are desperate and helpless & only God is the only one who is able to help us.
Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
It is a humbling thing when we ask our brother or sister to pray for our purity and holiness.
At the same time, it reaches out to God’s enormous power source to come to our aid whenever we are in need.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
- Fellowship: Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. (v26) In biblical times, this kind of “kiss of peace” was a greeting that people would use when they would meet people. However, the NT church, the symbol was much more than just a greeting.
It was to symbolize unity among the members in the church. It didn’t matter what a person’s background is, now that He is in Jesus Christ – He is united to me and I am united to Him as a spiritual sibling.
And especially with this topic on “purity”, it’s significant because it means that we no longer look at our brother or sister as spiritually superior or spiritually inferior but it levels the playing field so that we can be open, honest and repentant to our spiritual siblings about our lives and struggles.
6 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
God has graciously given us “fellowship” to help us in our spiritual growth.
- Word: I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. (v27) You know as we read this letter in 1 Thessalonians, it is certainly a heartfelt letter to Paul’s spiritual children expressing his deep concern.
However, it was much more than just a heartfelt letter – it is the very words of God to not just provide them with instruction on how to lead a life of purity but these words were in itself the means by which people would be made pure.
In John 17, Jesus prays this for his disciples – 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)God’s Word is truth that purifies our hearts.
Another favourite verse of mine is from Romans 10:17 – 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. God’s Word has the power to produce faith in our unbelieving hearts! The Spirit uses God’s Word to perform a spiritual surgery fixing and purifying our broken hearts.
And that’s really important for us to know because it tells us that even if we are going through seasons when we are struggling spiritually, what we need to hear the most is actually the “word of God” which the Spirit will use to produce faith and call us to repentance.
If we are absolutely honest, we would probably confess that our tendency is to view sanctification as our own performance rather than trusting on God’s promise and God’s provision.
And that’s one of the root sin issues that we need to repent of. And this isn’t a modern sin issue. It finds its origin in the Garden of Eden with our ancestors Adam and Eve. God created them for purity to reflect His purity through their lives.
But they needed to trust His promise and His provision. They trusted in their own performance & broke their relationship with God. From that moment onwards all of humanity has been held captive by that lifestyle of performance.
Even our solution to the sin in our lives is:
“I’ll do better, I’ll fix what I’ve broken, I will cancel my wrongs with the good that I do, I will pray more, I will read God’s Word more, I will spend more time in the church”.
But God in His grace sent His Son Jesus to the earth, born of a Virgin & the only one in the history of humankind to live a life of perfect performance.
And then died on the cross for our sins & failed performance to fix ourselves. He rose on the third Day to freely handover his own perfect performance to those who would come and surrender their lives to Him!
And this handover of Christ performance is what purifies/sanctifies our lives. And one day this handover of Christ’s perfect performance will be complete when He returns.
This great goal is sealed by God’s gracious promise and God’s gracious provision.
So today I invite us to not just repent for the behavioural patterns of sin that we struggle with. But I would ask us to repent of our attitude of performance toward God.
Repent of the times when repentance was just our own performance resolution. Shed aside our weak and failing performance and come to the foot of the cross where our performance ends and trust in Christ’s promise and Christ’s provision today.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.