The Christian’s Hope, Part 16

In our message on Palm Sunday, THE PURSUIT OF HOLINESS III (1 Thes. 5:23-28), we completed our series in the book of First Thessalonians.

In view of our identity in Christ and all we have been promised prophetically, the Lord continues to call us to holiness so we will be alert at His return (1 Pet. 1:15-16; 1 Thes. 4:13-5:11, etc.). But here we see an emphasis on God doing the work through us (i.e. “He… will do it”- 1 Thes. 5:24). This is good news because LIVING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IN OUR OWN STRENGTH IS IMPOSSIBLE (1 Pet. 1:15-16; 1 Thes. 4:1-12; 5:12-22; John 15:5, 11, etc.). Just like our justification is by grace alone through faith alone, our sanctification (becoming more like Jesus today) being “conformed to the image of His Son” is also by grace alone through faith alone (Rom. 8:29; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:11, etc.). It will ultimately be accomplished for “all” Christians at “the judgment seat of Christ,” but in the meantime, God wants us to participate with Him in the sanctification process by emptying ourselves so He can fill us (2 Tim.2:20-21; Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:18, etc.). Letting Him live through us today keeps us walking in the good works He made us for and will keep us “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Thes. 4:13; 5:23; 1 John 2:28, etc.).

Philippians chapter 2 verses 12 and 13 is a parallel passage to our text today. God’s Word reads there, “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). We see here our part in the sanctification process as we are to “obey… work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12; 1 Thes. 4:1-12; 5:12-22, etc.). Notice the Bible says here we are to “work [it] out,” NOT for it! We are to “work out” the “salvation” God has already given us by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9; 4:30, etc.). But the call to be Jesus’ disciples- to “pursue” holiness- is not easy (1 Thes. 5:15; Luke 9:23, etc.). In fact, as mentioned before, it is impossible requiring divine enablement (Phil. 2:13). From our side it means dying to ourselves daily- or perhaps a better way to say it is recognizing we are already dead to sin and alive to God in Christ each day (Rom. 6:11; Gal. 2:20, etc.). He then does the work in us the Bible says “BOTH to will AND to do… His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). That is, the Holy Spirit (who is already in us) does the work from inside of us supernaturally when we let Him take control of our lives, and He also even gives us the desire to do what is right (i.e. “to will”) when we surrender to Him (2 Cor. 5:9; 1 Thes. 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:4, etc.). This is also what Paul is praying for in our passage today (1 Thes. 5:23-24).

We see there it is “the God of peace Himself” who works in us to “sanctify” or make us holy (1 Thes. 5:23). All Christians have peace with God through the cross being born into God’s family- no longer under God’s wrath (John 1:12-13; 1 Thes. 5:9, etc.), but our Lord is also the God of peace in every other aspect of our lives… in our churches, our families, our relationships, etc. (1 Thes. 5:13; Rom. 15:33; 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; 2 Thes. 3:16, etc.). And He wants all of us today- our “whole spirit, soul, and body” to be controlled and filled with Him- His peace, His love and joy (Gal. 5:22-23, etc.). That is, He wants us sanctified (i.e. set apart for Him) “completely” with no part of our being lacking (1 Thes. 5:23; Rom. 12:1-2, etc.). Because the “spirit” and “soul” are both immaterial and hard to humanly discern, some scholars will debate about whether they both even exist or not, but God states He can tell the difference! “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the SOUL AND SPIRIT… and [He] is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of [our] heart[s]… to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12-13). I like how Dr. Walvoord put it: “The spirit is the highest and most unique part of man that enables man to communicate with God. The soul is the part of man that makes him conscious of himself; it is the seat of his personality. The body, of course, is the physical part through which the inner person expresses himself and by which he is immediately recognized.” While we may not fully understand the difference between soul and spirit, they do both exist and are, in fact, parts of who we are- just like our physical body is. And the Scripture says also He will save all of us to the uttermost to include our “spirit, soul, and [physical] body” one day when He comes for us (1 Cor. 15:13-20; 1 Thes. 5:9; 1 John 3:2-3, etc.). In the meantime, God wants all of us (“spirit, soul, and body”) devoted to Him- every aspect of our being- set apart for His glory and namesake making Him known to the lost world around us.

The word “blameless” here does not mean sinless (1 Thes. 5:23). Obviously, God does not expect us to be sinless before He returns (1 Thes. 5:23). Without blame (Grk. amémptōs) means free from causes of reproach or regret with no legitimate ground for accusation. Some religious groups will erroneously teach from this passage there is a second work of sanctification where a person sins no more. While this certainly appeals to our flesh/pride, that is a lie and something that should be avoided at all costs! (Gen. 3:1; John 8:44; 1 Thes. 3:5, etc.). The Bible shows us as we wait on Jesus, this side of heaven, there will always be a struggle with sin until we are freed from the very presence of sin in our glorified bodies (1 Cor. 10:12; Rom. 7:24-25; Gal. 5:17; 2 Pet. 3:17-18 vs. 1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thes. 4:15-18, etc.). It is important to arm ourselves with the truth so we are not deceived by the enemy (Col. 2:21-23, 1 Cor. 9:24-27, etc.). “Blameless” here, once again, is not sinless but means we as God’s children are walking with Him- confessing our sins in a fellowship sense (1 John 1:9; 1 Cor. 11:31-32, etc.). It means to be spiritually alert (1 Thes. 5:6, 10, etc.). The sad irony, of course, for Christians, who are trapped in such ‘holiness’ cults, is they put themselves in a position where they refuse to confess personal sin which makes them unready for Christ’s return (1 Cor. 10:12; Gal. 2:21; 2 Tim. 2:24-26, etc.).

“He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thes. 5:24). The person who called us (that is, saved us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ) is trustworthy! He will keep us- “preserve…” us from regret and shame today if we walk with Him and this is also true at His return (Gal. 5:18; 1 John 1:9; 1 Thes. 3:13; 5:23; 1 John 2:28, etc.). He also will glorify ALL OF US one day completely- because He “is faithful” (1 Thes. 5:24; 1 Cor. 1:9; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18; 2 Thes. 3:3; Col. 3:22-25; 2 John 1:8, 2 Tim. 4:8, etc.). This is true even for His kids who are not alert (Grk. katheúdō) because “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (1 Thes. 5:6, 10; 2 Tim. 2:13, etc.). That is what grace is; it is unearned and underserved (John 3:16; Rom. 3:24; 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18; Titus 3:5, etc.). Indeed, “He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23; Eph. 1:13-14; Rom. 8:31-39; John 10:29, etc.). The God who justifies by grace, sanctifies by grace, and one day He will glorify all His children (even those living independently from Him) by grace (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 3:15; Heb. 12:28-29; 2 Cor. 5:9-10; 1 Thes. 5:9-11 NET, etc.). “He will in fact do this” (1 Thes. 5:24 NET).

Paul then asks for prayer for himself and his missionary team (1 Thes. 5:25). Out of the sixteen times Paul uses the term “brethren” in 1 Thessalonians, this is the only occasion (in the Greek) he uses it at the start of the sentence for emphasis. Paul is asking the Christians there to ‘keep on praying’ for them. We also need the prayer of God’s people to lift us up “to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19-20). Thank you for your prayers for me, and PLEASE ‘keep on praying’ for me and each other! (Eph. 6:10f).

The statement, “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” (1 Thes. 5:26) is an outflow of the church’s love for one another (1 Thes. 1:3; 5:8, etc.). It was common in that day to greet one another with a kiss on the cheek (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Pet. 5:14, etc.), and, in fact, it is still common in many nations today (Italy, Bolivia, Croatia, etc.). The point I think is, after corporate worship ended, the saints (i.e. “all the brethren”) continued to minister to and care for one another (1 Thes. 1:3; 5:8, etc.).

The statement, “holy brethren” in 1 Thessalonians 5:27 in the KJV/NKJV is not referring to a special class of believers that do not sin anymore (as ‘holiness’ cults advocate in their so-called second work of grace), but it is the same group of people as in verse 26 (namely, “all the brethren”), “saints-” all people saved by grace because they trusted the gospel (John 1:12-13; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2, etc.). That is, no one is to be left out from hearing God’s words! (2 Tim. 3:16-17, etc.). When Paul says, “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read,” he is commanding them to read this to everyone, and implying God would discipline them if they disobeyed (1 Thes. 5:27). We likewise should lift up the Bible high so Christians can “grow in the grace and knowledge” of God (2 Pet. 1:20-21; 3:17-18, etc.). And I think it is also true that the people who need to hear God’s words the most are those of us who are drifting in our walk with God (1 Thes. 5:12, 14, etc.). This epistle was not a private letter; it was meant for all Christians at Thessalonica, and it is also meant for us (1 Thes. 5:19-21, etc.).

Paul then ends this letter as he started it, with “grace” (1 Thes. 1:1; 5:28). He does this with all of his writings, as I recall, and God Himself even ends the Bible this way: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Rev. 22:21). Obviously, the grace of God is always with us as His children, but the Lord is concerned that we experience and enjoy this grace today (1 Thes. 5:28; Eph. 6:24, etc.). When we walk with Him, we are made “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus… [and] please him” in a present-day sense (2 Tim. 2:1-4; 1 Thes. 4:1; 2 Cor. 5:9, etc.). This keeps us alert for His return (1 Thes. 5:6, 10, etc.) walking in the good works we are created for (Titus 2:11-14, 3:8, 14; Heb. 10:24-25, etc.).