Sunday, September 27, 2009
A Work in Progress that Will be Completed
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
~1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
In the closing of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives them several instructions on how they should live. He provides advice on how they should treat their elders (vv 12-13) as well as each other (vv 14-15). He also commands three things they ought to do in direction to God; Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks (vv 16-18). Notice that these three are categorized as God's will for the believer. So, for those who struggle with what God's will is for you, here is part of your answer. If you are not following these three commands, you will not be where you need to be to hear His guidance for personal areas of where God may be directing you. The last couple of instructions call for examination, holding on to the good, and staying away from evil (vv 19-22).
These are all clear commands for the believer. In fact, 15 of the verbs used in this passage are in the imperative form in Greek, indicating them being used as a command. These instructions pertain to the believer's sanctification. This is the fancy term used to describe the process of the believer progressing towards holiness. It is the process those who are have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are currently involved. In Justification the sinner is declared righteous by the means of their faith in Christ. In Sanctification the sinner is progressively made righteous and in his final Glorification, the believer is presented righteous by Christ before God's throne. Sanctification serves as the bridge God uses to bring the sinner whom He now views as being as righteous as Christ to be perfect in glory where he will no longer be able to sin. Thus, we are a work in progress yet to be completed.
Right after giving this list of instructions, Paul then prays that God would sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v 23). Although he had just given exhortations of what one should do as part of their seeking to live a holy life for God's glory, he asked for God to do the work to aid in the believer's progress. This coupling of an exhortation followed by a promise of God providing and enabling the believer to live it out is common through out Scripture. One of the clearest pictures of this in in Philippians 2:12-13. In v. 12, Paul commands to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Then he gives the reason that we are able to follow this command: for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (v. 13). Therefore, we work only because and on the basis of God's work within us. Paul must have realized that apart from God's grace, we would not be able to heed these admonishments given and progress forward. The truth that these are not easy tasks can be seen in the lack of them being performed and in specifically how we struggle to live them out daily. We need God's daily doses of grace to help us live for Him to bring Him glory. Augustine realized this when he stated in his Confessions, Command what thou wilt, but give what thou command. Thankfully, our sanctification is not in our own hands but God's. Paul held a similar hope for the church of Philippi, For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
This work of God to sanctify entirely led Paul to describe Him as faithful because not only does He bring one to salvation (Paul's typical use of the verb for to call) but He will complete the work He began the day they became born again (He also will bring it to pass). The it refers back to the sanctifying just previously mentioned. Jesus Himself promised that of those who are saved, He will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44). In the unbreakable "Golden Chain of Redemption" in Romans 8:29-30, Paul describes those who have been foreknown by God, predestined, called, justified as also glorified which is a future state. Glorified is in the past tense, indicating that in God's mind it has basically already occurred because He fully intends to complete the work He started. The author of Hebrews even describes Jesus in His role of divine priest as For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). Perfected is in the past tense while the participle for to sanctify is present tense. This indicates that Christ through His death completes (another possible translation for the Greek verb teliow, defined as "complete, finish, accomplish, bring to its goal, perfect") the one who is currently in the process of being sanctified. Also, the verb is passive, pointing to God as the one who ultimately does the sanctifying of the believer. The passive form of a Greek verb indicates that the subject of the verb receives the action instead of performing it as the active form would signify. God will ensure that the believer will come to the completion of his sanctification in glory. Other Scriptures reveal that He does this through means such as suffering (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:3-9), discipline (Hebrews 12:7-11), and possibly warnings not to stray from the faith (Hebrews 6:4-8).
This should be a major encouragement for us. We are not left in our Christian walk alone. God is with us and will guard, protect, and bring us to glory as we strive forward to serve Him. God does not just pick us up on the side of the road, dead and dirty due to our sins, then give us life and wash us just to hand us a Bible as a roadmap and drop us off on the side of the road saying "I hope to see you in glory." Instead, He not only picks us up off the side of the road but will drive us all the way to glory. So, let us move forward and struggle to live for the glory of God and praise Him for His enablement to do so as well as trusting that He will complete the work He has begun and continues to do in our lives. Praise God that while we are currently a "work in progress," we will be complete due to God's power and grace! May we rely fully and solely on Him to live for Him!
Soli Deo Gloria!