God wants to change us.  Not our first choice.  God’s blessing on our life, yes.  But not our whole person transformed.  Sounds uncomfortable.  Yet that’s what God wants.  Here’s how Paul put it . . .

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification . . . “
(1 Thessalonians 4:3a)

“Now 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.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:23)

That’s the change:   sanctification.  Here in his benediction to the Thessalonian church, Paul uses the verb “sanctify” and the noun “sanctification.”  The Greek verb is hagiasai—“to set apart, make holy.”  What does that kind of change look like?

Here’s a picture.  When the LORD instructed the Israelites to make a sanctuary in the desert (Exodus 25:8), his blueprint included this directive: “Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the Testimony behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place” (Exodus 26:33).  Two chambers.  A “Holy Place” and a “Most Holy Place.”  Same old desert ground.  No somber, mystical music mysteriously drifting through.  In themselves, ordinary places.   But both were set apart for the Lord’s use only.  That’s what “holy” means—“set apart from the ordinary for the Lord.” 

This is God’s will:  our being “set apart from the ordinary for the Lord.”  This is Paul’s benediction for the church:  ” . . . may the God of peace himself set you apart completely for himself . . . “

The scope of sanctification is “completely”:  “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely.”  We see the same scope again:  ” . . . and may your whole spirit and  soul and body be kept blameless . . . ”  The Greek word for “completely” is holotelays—“wholly, entirely, through and through.”

Commentators tend to get stuck discussing what Paul means by “spirit and soul and body.”  Does he mean man’s being is three parts?  If so, “spirit” would be that part of our being that perceives the spiritual God.  “Soul” is the sphere of our will and emotions.  “Body” is obviously our physical being.  However, I don’t think Paul is dissecting humans.  Rather, he’s stressing the state of being completely “kept” (tayreo) “blameless”  (holoklayros) “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The goal of sanctification is blamelessness when we stand before the Lord at his coming.

How in the world can we pull that off?  With David I have to admit, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3).  How, then, can I possibly be “blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ”?

Look closely at Paul’s benediction . . .

“Now 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.”

May God sanctify you.  May God himself sanctify you.  If that blessing isn’t enough, Paul adds this promise . . .

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (5:24).

Pistos is “trustworthy, faithful, dependable.”  Because it is God’s nature to be faithful, “he will surely sanctify us  completely and keep us blameless at the coming of our Lord.  Another word here is significant—“calls.”  God initiates our relationship with him.  He calls us to save us from sin and death.   And that relationship (in which we are being sanctified) continues, not by our merit, but by his grace and faithfulness.

This is what Paul wants to be ringing in the Thessalonians’ ears (and ours) as we reach the end of his letter.  Jesus is coming again.  We must be found blameless at his coming.  God will sanctify us and keep us blameless so we are ready for Jesus.

Paul then closes his letter with four remarks . . .

Brothers, pray for us.  Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
I put you under oath before the Lord
to have
this letter read to all the brothers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(5:25-28)

Knowing the missionaries will face more opposition as they continue to preach the gospel, Paul asks the brothers to pray for them.  He asks them to “greet all the brothers with a holy kiss”—this kiss being like that between members of the same family.  It’s important everyone hear his letter’s content, so he puts the recipients “under oath before the Lord” to be sure it’s read to all.  Finally, he blesses them with “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Two “take-aways” from 1 Thessalonians stand out to me today.  One, Jesus is coming again.  Human history will end, not with an all-destructive war or Planet Earth run out of resources or the seas flooding the continents from global warming.  It will end with the triumphant return of the Lord Jesus Christ for his followers.

Two, God is progressively sanctifying us now and will keep us blameless for the day of Christ’s coming.  “He is faithful; and he will surely do it.”  With that in mind, we can turn Paul’s benediction into a prayer that expresses God’s will for us living in this fallen world . . .

O God of peace,
you yourself, please sanctify us through and through,
to preserve our whole spirit, soul and body
blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his name we pray, Amen.


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