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. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV
In this prayer, Paul cuts straight to the chase. He asks that God would do what only He can do: To sanctify them completely. In other words, that God would complete His work of making them holy and conformed to the image of His Son. Paul spoke of this same confidence in his letter to the believers in Philippi: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). Paul’s desire was that God continue His sanctification process in their lives. At because he knew and believed his God to be faithful, he was confidence that his prayer would be answered. Our sanctification, just like our salvation, is a work of God. He must do it. We cannot make ourselves more holy or Christ-like. Any attempt on our part of behavior modification will always fall short. We must always recognize and rest in the fact that our transformation is a divine activity in which we play a role, but one that is totally dependent upon God. Earlier in his same letter to the Philippian believers, Paul encouraged them to “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear” (Philippians 2:12 NLT). Their primary effort would be focused on obedience and reverence for God. Our job, as believers, is to listen to what God has to say, and then to do it. We must revere Him and respond obediently to Him as our God and Father. And we are never to forget that our pursuit of holiness is a Spirit-empowered endeavor. Peter puts it this way: “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV). Don’t miss what Peter says, “you must live as God’s obedient children.” We must develop a habit of listening to our heavenly Father, because we know He loves us and knows what is best for us. Obedience comes with trust. But trust is built from learning to obey. When God reveals His will for us and we obey it, we learn the invaluable lesson of faithful dependence upon Him. No matter how much we may disagree with what He may be asking us to do, we do it faithfully. And that act is an integral part of the process of our sanctification.
It is interesting that Paul’s prayer includes the request that God would keep them blameless in spirit, soul and body. In other words, that they would be completely, wholly holy. Paul speaks of a holistic holiness that touches every part of their being – inside and out. A kind of holiness that would impact the way they live both internally and externally. Paul’s not looking for mere external conformance, but desires to see true heart change accompanied by real lifestyle change. But again, Paul wants us to remember that without God’s help, none of this is possible. For Paul, nothing could be more ridiculous than for a believer to attempt to sanctify themselves. Listen to what he wrote to the Galatian church: “How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT). Great question, and one we should be asking one another on a regular basis. The sad fact is, we all regularly attempt to make ourselves holy. We try to work out our salvation, but we leave out the part about “deep reverence and fear.” We forget that we need His help and so we end up trying to achieve holiness in our own strength. And it always leaves us worn out and wondering what it is that we are doing wrong or not doing enough. But our God is faithful. He who save us also sanctifies us.
Now, here’s the catch. God may not transform us in quite the way we expect or desire. He may choose to use difficulties and disappointments. He may allow heartache and loss to enter into the equation. At times, He may allow brokenness in order to eliminate pride and self-sufficiency. When all is said and done, God will have been at work. He will have had His way and seen that His will was done. You can rest in that fact. He will surely do it. So why wouldn’t we pray this same prayer for our loved ones, our friends, and fellow believers? His desire for us is our sanctification. Should our desire for one another be any different?