Sanctification: God's Will for You
For Christians, there are proverbial perennial questions that are, well, perennial. Every May graduating Christians seek the will of God for where they will take further education. Every college student wonders who God has for them on campus. And after boy meets girl and both graduate they labor to discover where God wants them to land. In short, believers ask, over and over, what is the will of God for my life.
That’s why a text like the one we have in I Thessalonians 4:3 can and ought to be viewed as a huge blessing. Often God gives us lots of principles and then says, “Now, choose wisely!” But in this text Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” Now, we are glad to read a statement like this one but frankly we don’t get overly excited about it. After all, it doesn’t tell us much. It says that God desires that we be devoted to him and so be separate from sexual immorality, which is really the focus of sanctification at this point in the text. And often the worst part or the least sanctified part of our brain thinks, “I could have guessed that much!”
But let me remind you that sexual immorality isn’t the only thing that God wants us to separate from and so be devoted to Him. In the opening of the letter Paul prays for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope” in the Lord. What is more, the end of the letter encourages the leaders among them to be at peace among themselves, not to be idle, to be stout of heart and to see that no one repays evil for evil. These are all things that believers must do. And in doing them, by the help of the Spirit in us, we get better at them. We become more and more sanctified. That is to say, our devotion to the Lord and toward one another grows stronger while our connection to the world, the flesh and the prince of the power of the air gets weaker and weaker. This is what theologians call progressive sanctification.
However, there is something else I want you to notice in this letter. It appears at the end. In chapter five and verses 23-34 we read,
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. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Here Paul prays that the God who brought the peace of Christ into our lives will sanctify us completely. And then Paul assures us that this God is faithful and will surely and completely sanctify us. Now, we might ask how he knows such a thing. And the answer is simple. Our sanctification is the will of God. Therefore, if it is the will of God that we be sanctified, then we will be sanctified.
Now, do you see the pastoral element here? No matter what sin we happen to be struggling with. No matter how intense the battle in our members may appear to be we can take heart that God’s will is for us to be sanctified. God’s will is that we will overcome the battle in our members. Now, whether we overcome in this life or upon the day of our death or at His coming is for Him to decide. What is important for us to remember is that our Faithful God will bring to completion the work He began in us. He will completely sanctify us. He will surely do it.
Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He has recently been appointed Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.