God’s Big Promises – 9. You Will Get BetterGod’s Answer to Hopelessness 1 Thessalonians 5: 23 - 24
A year ago we had never heard of the Coronavirus. Now you can find references to the current crisis in almost every sermon in this series. When fear abounds, we must go back to what God has said. We’ve already learned not to trust everything we hear on the news. You can’t trust everything the politicians say and sometimes the scientists disagree. In times like these, we need to learn once again how to stand on God’s promises. But you can’t stand on what you don’t know. That’s why this series is so important. So we come to the final promise: You Will Get Better: God’s Answer to Hopelessness. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
This is a prayer for something that hasn’t happened yet. We know it hasn’t happened yet because we looked in the mirror this morning. We aren’t completely holy and totally pure. Most of us don’t feel very close to that. Honesty compels us to admit we’ve got a long way to go. Paraphrase Paul’s words - “Lord, I have taught these people all I know. You’ve got to take over now. Unless you help them, they won’t turn out right.” That leads me to a layman’s definition – Sanctification is everything God does in your life and mine to make sure we turn out right. Sanctification guarantees that God’s investment in us will not be wasted. God finishes what he starts. We’re not finished yet—that’s why we pray and seek the Lord. Someday we’ll be finished—that’s what sanctification means. Here we have 5 P’s that flesh out this truth: the Person, the Purpose, the Prospect, the Position and the Promise.
1. The Person
“May God himself, the God of peace” (v. 23a). Here is the guarantee of our sanctification. Paul uses an emphatic Greek construction to drive his point home: God - God himself - God himself, the God of peace. Here is the truth: Only God can make you better. Exercise improves your body, therapy may help your soul, friends may lift your spirits, good fortune may improve your circumstances, but only God can make you better. God is the author and source of all spiritual progress. It’s easy to forget that. In our battle against sin, we crawl into a corner and try to get better. Then we stand up and say, “See how nice I look, Lord? I did it all by myself.” But we are wrong. Remember the words of Jesus in John 15: 5 “Without me you can do nothing.” In contrast to all our feeble efforts at self-improvement, Paul simply says, “God himself, the God of peace.” Sanctification starts with God, and if it doesn’t start there, you haven’t started at all.
2. The Purpose
“Sanctify you through and through” (v. 23b). God has ordained that his children—all of them without exception—will be made complete. We’re not that way now. Most of us feel fragmented and torn in a thousand directions. We’re not finished yet—but we will be. We’re not completely clean today—but we will be. We’re not wholly wise today—but we will be. Sylvia and I like to watch “Flip or Flop” and “Property Brothers.” These shows follow the same plan. You find a rundown property, and then start renovating it. If all goes well, you end up selling it for a profit. But things never go well. Usually, they start with a bang - begin ripping out the old walls, tearing out the electrical wires, digging into the foundation and knocking out the windows so they can replace them with French doors. But then trouble hits. “You won’t believe this, but the foundation is cracked,” or “The roof has to be replaced,” or “We’ve got mould in the bathroom.” It looks like the renovation project has turned into a disaster. Once the crisis is past, they can finish the renovation.
Renovation takes longer than you estimated, and it costs more than you expected. Nothing is ever as easy as it looks. If you think houses are hard, try renovating a human life. A great many of us are “leaky” Christians with lots of cracks that need to be filled. This is a job so tough only God would attempt it. God eventually says, “I’ve done all I can do down there. Come on up here, and I’ll finish the job where the working conditions are better.” Today we are holy in spots. When God is finished with us, we will be holy through and through.
3. The Prospect
“Your whole spirit, soul and body” (v. 23c). This tells us the extent of our sanctification. God intends to renovate the whole person. Nothing will be left out or overlooked. Every part will be made perfect in the end. Suppose you could change anything about yourself, where would you start? Lots of us would start on the outside. Would you be . . . Thinner? Taller? Shorter? Better looking? Would you change . . . Your eyes? Your hair? Your teeth? Your legs? If you could wave a magic wand and change your outward appearance, would it be a light touch-up or an extreme makeover? Would we even recognize you? It gets harder as the years pass because the older you get, the more we must replace. We have implants, crowns, dentures, hearing aids and pacemakers. We wear bifocals, and we walk with a stick. We have replacement hips, knees, ankles and shoulders. Sometimes it seems like we’re held together with nails and glue.
The breakdown of the body reminds us God has something better in store for us. Eventually we come to the things in the heart that need fixing. People change slowly if they change at all. Think about the struggles of your own life. What would you change about yourself on the inside if you could? Would it be an impatient spirit - a critical tongue - a spirit of discontentment - lingering resentment - lust you can’t conquer - a guilty conscience - a judgmental spirit - a quick temper - profound discouragement - an ungrateful spirit? Here is the good news of the gospel. We are going to be changed! The stuff about ourselves that drives us crazy will be gone forever. Spiritual progress often is so slow in coming. But God has promised we will get better.
4. The Position
“Blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 23d). You are “blameless” if no one can bring a charge against you. That’s not true of most of us now. We all stumble in many ways. God intends that when we stand before him, he will say, “Does anyone in the universe know any reason why this person should not enter heaven?” At that point there will be a loud silence as no one—not the angels or the demons, not the saints or the sinners—no one in all the universe will be able to bring any charge against God’s elect. Good News Bible - God will sanctify us so that we are “free from every fault.” Phillips uses the phrase “spotless integrity.” God’s desires this for all his children. None of us achieves it in this life, but better things are coming for God's people. We are so far from this now. Do you ever get discouraged about your own life? Do you ever look in the mirror and say, “What’s wrong with you?” We all do that from time to time. It’s easy to find reasons to feel guilty: “What were you thinking when you said that? How could you be so stupid? You know better than that. Why did you tell that lie? How could you treat a friend that way?” On and on it goes.
Spiritual growth can be very discouraging at times. It’s like climbing Mount Everest. The closer you get to the top, the farther away it seems. But God has a reason for all this. He wants us to depend on him for everything. He designed life so that it works only when he is in charge of everything. When we try to run the show—which we often do—things begin to fall apart. If the Christian life is left up to us, we will fail every time. Only God can give us what we need to be victorious. Today we don’t feel blameless because we aren’t blameless. We are blameworthy, and we make things worse by what we do and say. Today we are all “unfinished people,” but when God is finished with us, we will stand blameless in his presence. That’s the good news from this passage.
5. The Promise
“The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (v. 24). This is all-important. Our hope—both in this life and in the life to come—rests on God’s faithfulness. Do you know what we are today? We are the “unfinished” children of God. You are a work-in-progress, and so am I. We’re all “under construction.” As we all know, construction is long, loud, noisy and very messy. God never stops his work because there is so much work that needs to be done. Even before our spiritual journey started, God made up his mind about our destination. One day we will look like Jesus.
Think of those 4 words at the end of v. 24: “He will do it.” They are simple and direct. No qualification, no hesitation, no doubt. Not “He may do it” or “He might do it” or “He could do it” or “He’ll do it if he feels like it.” Not even “He will do it if we do our part.” Just a simple declaration that God will do it. When it’s all said and done, what matters is not my hold on God, but His hold on me. That’s the final promise of our Big Promises series: You Will Get Better. We aren’t there yet. We have flaws, weak spots and lots of rough edges. But when God is finally finished, you will be like Jesus. Faithful is he who called you, and he will do it! Prayer - Strengthen our hearts, Lord Jesus, to trust you more and more. Thank you for Big Promises that can never be broken. Lord, with you there is no unfinished business. Forgive us for doubting your plans. We look forward to the day when our blemishes will be gone, our weakness removed, our sickness finally healed, our defects disappeared, and we are finally made like Jesus! Help us to keep believing until the day comes when our faith is turned to sight. In that confidence we say, “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.