Complete Holiness is Ultimate Goal of Every True Christian Life
"And may the God of peace himself sanctify you to perfection, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blamelessly in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." (I Thessalonians 5:23, 24, improved translation.)
Language staggers at the task of transmitting the full meaning of this text which at first seems so simple. In the midst of a series of exhortations to practical obedience on the part of God's people, the inspired writers, as if realizing anew the inability even of saints to respond without divine help, suddenly break forth into this prayer for and assurance of the work of God in the sanctification of His people.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you" - so far we can translate with comparative ease, though understanding and interpreting the translation is another matter. But what next?
"The very God of peace sanctify you wholly," says King James. But the word rendered "wholly" is a compound adjective in the original, not an adverb, and commentators disagree on its intent here. Tyndale said "throw out," or, in modern spelling, "throughout," which KJ changed to "wholly." Some have suggested simply "all," meaning that Paul and his associates in writing this letter were praying for all the members of the Thessalonian church.
But the adjective in dispute is compound, made by combining the words for "whole" and "end." Perhaps the idea in view here is sancttfication to the extent that the sanctified will be wholly finished, completed, or perfected, and so I have freely translated the adjective by a phrase conveying this idea.
"Your whole spirit," etc., is not an exact translation, as the adjective rendered "whole" is predicate rather than attributive, but it is practically impossible to render accurately the Greek construction and word order here in readable English.
More important is the corrected rendering "blamelessly" instead of "blameless." His prayer was not that the Thessalonians should be blameless but that they should be blamelessly preserved.
Let us remember that in Biblical usage "sanctify" means "set apart," and that these Thessalonian saints had already been sanctified or set apart as God's people. So to II Thessalonians 2:13 we read:
"God chose yon from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth."
In Biblical language all saved people, all children of God, all true believers in Christ, are saints. These terms are different ways of describing the same people. But "saints" may be more or less "saintly," holy, or sanctified: hence the frequent commands and promises of greater holiness to an already holy people.
Now, the prayer of our text is that God will so sanctify that the persons sanctified will be quite complete, wholly perfect, finished products of God's redeeming grace. Nothing less than this should be the goal and ambition of every true child of God.
How much holiness or sanctiflcation have we experienced? To what extent have we been sanctified or set apart to the God Who commands us to sanctify Him in our hearts? (I Peter 3:15.)
The three-fold division of our nature as set forth in our text offers a practical outline for self-examination.
Sanctification of Spirit
"Peter . . . to the strangers . . . elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sancttfication of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. . . ." (I Peter 1:1, 2.) See also II Thessalonians 2:13, already quoted.
It is probable that the primary reference here is to the Holy Spirit, but His work of sanctification is first of all with the spirit of man. See I Corinthians 2:9-12.
So we are sanctified or set apart in spirit unto God at the very beginning of our Christian experience. So complete and permanent is this sanctificatlon of spirit, inseparably connected with the new birth, that we read:
"Everyone that has been born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God." (I John 3:9.)
"We know that everyone that has been born of God sinncth not; but he that was born of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one does not touch him." (I John 5:18.)
Here is real "sinless perfection"! And note that in the Bible this claim is not made merely for a limited advanced class of God's people who are supposed to have obtained a "second blessing" or to have attained a "higher" or "deeper" spiritual life than ordinary Christians! No: the Bible claims this "sinless perfection," this absolute separation from sin, for "everyone that has been born of God."
On the other hand, of these same children of God, the same inspired writer says: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (I John 1:8.)
"If I do.that I would not," says Paul, "it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." So, in Romans 7:20, is the paradox resolved. As also in verse 25: "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."
Sanctification of Soul
Obviously, then, scriptural sanctification to this life is NOT the "eradication of the old nature." The old man may be crucified, put off, and reckoned dead, but he is still with us while we live in this world.
"The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would," (Galatians 5:17.)
Now, the "soul" spoken of in our text seems to be or to include the permanent self, the ego, the conscience, the personal life which constitutes at once the battle-ground and, under God, the arbiter of this conflict between flesh and spirit.
It is this "soul" or "life" (the same word in the original) which in Matthew 16: 24-27 Jesus commands His disciples to lose for His sake that they may find it. And our eternal rewards will be according to our works: that is, the degree to which our souls (lives) are sanctified (set apart) in His service.
Further sanctification of soul or life in order to a fuller manifestation of the divine relationship is the objective held forth in II Corinthians 6:11-7:1:
". . . Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: . . . for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: . . . Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
Sanctification of Body
Ceremonially and momentarily these bodies of flesh and blood are sanctified to divine service whenever we "through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body." (Romans 8:13.) But the momentary sanctiflcation, though it becomes habitual in the life of a true Christian, does not in any wise change the sinful nature of corruptible flesh.
Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, who no doubt attained a higher degree of sanctification in his life than anyone on earth today, testified of himself in the present tense:
"I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing." (Romans 7:18.)
Moreover, the same apostle informs us:
"Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorrnption . . . For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." (I Corinthians 15:50-53.)
So it is not until the resurrection that the bodies of the saints will be finally, completely, and forever sanctified or set apart from sin and the sorrow, pain, death, and corruption that result from sin, to be henceforth for eternity a perfectly holy people in the presence of their holy God and Savior. (Revelation 21:1-4.)
Is it really possible for God's people that our "whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blamelessly in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ"? The prayer already has its answer: "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it."
[From AAB May 16, 1975, pp. 1, 3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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