The Third Sunday of Advent December 14, 2003
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
18, 62, 37, 66
“May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the blessing Paul bestowed upon those that he loved in the Lord. This is the blessing that I pray God would grant also to you. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Do you know the difference between an average athlete and a professional athlete? The same thing separates a poor parent from a great parent, and a fair-weather friend from a true friend. The difference is consistency. An average college baseball player, for example, can occasionally make a great play. A great baseball player makes that same play consistently and he makes it look easy. A poor parent can make a good decision or two. A great parent makes the right decisions and enforces the same good rules day in and day out.
You get the picture. The valuable lesson for us this morning is simply that consistency is far more important than the isolated shining moment. “Always the same” is not always bad, and more often than not it is something we all want to attain.
The ultimate in consistency, of course, was Jesus Christ, our Lord. It was Jesus’ perfectly consistent life of obedience that He offered on the cross as payment for our sins. Surely Jesus had his “bright, shining moments,” but without the day-to-day consistency there would have been no such moments. The payment that Jesus made for our sins was perfect and holy because He perfectly and consistently kept the Law for us in absolutely every way. He then offered that perfect life on the cross as payment for our sins. We received pardon and peace from our God because of Jesus’ perfect consistency.
The world, for the most part, seems to live only for the rare, bright, shining moment. Our text for this morning will tell us how our God views consistency. We will especially examine God’s will in connection with consistently making the best choices in our lives. Our text is found in Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians, the Fifth Chapter:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
Dear Father, we thank You for giving us your very words for our growth and enlightenment. We pray that you would work in our hearts through these words. Therefore we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
It is an interesting quirk in the human existence that individuals are most often noted for their bad actions rather than their good ones, even when the good is far more prevalent than the bad. How do you describe, for example, someone who is blissfully happy one moment and rather somber and depressed the next? Moody? Volatile? Unpredictable? Interesting that just about the last word you would use to describe such an individual is “unhappy”—this despite the fact that he or she might well be happy more often than not. Again, how would you characterize a boy who is fairly polite, works hard, and gets good grades, but who occasionally likes to set fire to the neighbor’s cat? Most who hear of such a thing would dismiss whatever is good and label him as “a rotten, horrible little kid.”
The problem again is consistency—or, more accurately, inconsistency. A “happy person” is one who is consistently so, not one who fluctuates between jubilation and depression, euphoria and gloom. A “good kid” is one who is consistently good, not one who occasionally incinerates someone’s pet.
We bring up this topic this morning because it applies to every single one of us, without exception. The key phrase in our text that brings this fact to light is the verse with which we began: “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [v.23] What a comfort, first of all, to know that we are already “blameless” in God’s sight because of what Jesus has done for us. Our sins have been forgiven, paid for by Jesus Christ! Note that something cannot be “preserved blameless” unless it already is blameless. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Yet since we still have our sinful flesh, the battle continues. Therefore what God the Holy Spirit reveals as the will of our Lord Jesus Christ is not that we make religion an inconsistent part of our lives. His will is that we “offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God; which is our reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). God’s will is that we be “sanctified completely.” The word “sanctify” means, “to set apart for God’s holy purpose.” Take that definition together with the word “completely” and we begin to have an idea of God’s will for our lives. He does not want one single nook or cranny of your life to be dedicated and devoted to anything but Him. He wants every single one of us to be shot through with the peace and love and joy of the Gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Our love for our Lord is meant to permeate and utterly fill our “whole spirit, soul, and body.”
Is that really what you want? Is that really what you are striving for? Or are you instead perfectly content—or happy even—with a partial Christianity? Are there certain corners of your heart that you are perfectly content to allow to remain worldly? Perhaps even whole rooms?
The answers to these questions all vary from moment to moment, don’t they? Sometimes the answer is no, sometimes the honest answer is yes. We come back, once again, to the concept of Christian consistency—or lack thereof.
Our text talks about an ongoing struggle for consistency in our lives with these words: “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” [vv.21-22] What is our text talking about? A better question would be, “What isn’t it talking about?” Our Lord tells us to put every single thing in our lives to the test. What kind of test? Not a difficult test, to be sure. In fact, it is rather simple. Every single thing in our lives gets filed under one of two headings: “Good” or “Evil.” Since our Old Adam is rather adept at rationalizing that something should be considered “good” if it is not always “bad,” we need to learn a bit more about the words Paul used by inspiration. Literally, Paul is telling us, “File everything under ‘profitable’ or ‘unprofitable.’ Grab hold of whatever is profitable, and separate yourself from everything unprofitable.” Asking if something will build me up or tear me down is much easier than trying to label something as good or evil.
To get a handle on this, stop for a moment and consider those two things (“separating” and “grabbing hold”) together, for they must be taken together to form the complete picture. One of the most common mistakes we make as Christians is that we try to “separate” without ever “grabbing hold.” In other words, we tend to have good impulses toward ridding ourselves of this or that blackness that has crept into our hearts, but we very seldom seek to replace it with anything good or profitable. Listen to the warning Jesus spoke concerning “sending away” without also “filling up”: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43-45). Jesus is obviously talking specifically about having a demon cast out, and failing to replace that void with saving faith. Yet, a warning is also sounded for those who try to rid their lives of sin without filling that void with something positive.
Let’s carry this into some practical applications. Does not the Spirit within you cry out against renting and watching sexually explicit movies? Suppose you finally begin to make good choices in this area and ban such filth from your eyes and hearts. Now what? You have not destroyed that Old Adam within you. He is still very active in your heart, looking for something carnal to replace what is now forbidden him. Are there other things out there just as unprofitable to you spirit? Of course, there are. It will do your spirit little good to substitute the gory or demonic for the raunchy. Yet how many of us would seriously consider studying the Word of God for two hours whenever we get the impulse to rent a movie? Have we ever even tried it?
All of this falls under what our text is referring to when it tells us, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Note that “Spirit” is capitalized. The original word can refer to either the New Man spirit within us, or it can refer to the Holy Spirit. Here Paul undoubtedly refers to the Holy Spirit and the word is rightly capitalized. It is that Holy Spirit within us that moves the child of God in the direction he should go. We “quench” that Spirit every time we ignore His urging, every time we substitute that which tears us down for that which builds us up, every time we choose what we know to be wrong instead of what we know to be right.
Ask yourself whether the Holy Spirit within you yearns for good or for evil? Does that Spirit work for your eternal destruction or for your preservation in the one true and saving faith? If the answer is obvious, which it is, why do we so often force those good and profitable impulses from the fore and opt instead for that which is evil and, therefore, unprofitable? The answer is that we are thoroughly sinful human beings in desperate need of our Savior Jesus.
Another great danger that we must confront when it comes to making consistently good choices is that it is easy to confuse “justification” with “sanctification.” Perhaps the single greatest misconception among the non-Catholic Christian churches today is the idea of “synergism.” Synergism is the damnable heresy that the human being can and must cooperate in some way with the Holy Spirit if he is to be saved. The most common form of this error is the notion that the first choice we can and must make is the choice to believe in Jesus. This choice, so some teach, is that which saves us. The Bible, however, teaches in the clearest of terms that saving faith is not a decision. That is, faith is not a choice that the unbeliever can make. God has declared us “not guilty” because of what Jesus has done for us. The faith to believe that declaration to be true, as well as the faith to believe that God’s declaration includes me and my sins, all is the work of the Holy Spirit alone! The Holy Spirit creates faith in my heart through the hearing of the Gospel. That faith is the hand that receives the truth of God’s declaration. There is and can be no conscious decision to be “made alive.” There is only reception of the gift through the faith created in us.
Why is this fact so important? Not only do the other ideas about how we come to faith rob God of the praise and glory that are His alone, they pervert our whole understanding of how to live consistently according to God’s will. Those who imagine that they brought themselves to faith are also doomed to the silly notion that they can also keep themselves in that faith. We can indeed make good and bad decisions once we have been brought to faith, but note well the last verse of our text: “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” [v.24] We mysteriously overlook what the Holy Spirit Himself tells us through Paul. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely.” [v.23] Only the God who gave us spiritual life in the first place is able also to sanctify us—to separate us from evil and set us apart for holy purposes. How will the Holy Spirit do that? There is no mystery, no magic formula, or special incantation. If that is what you seek, you will be sorely disappointed, for God has already given you that which alone can accomplish such great things when he gave you his Holy Word. It is only in being filled with that magnificent power that evil will be driven from your heart. We have the terrible power to crush that Spirit and to fill our hearts with that which erodes the walls—the very foundation—of our faith. It is God the Holy Spirit alone who can preserve us.
Our sins have been washed away in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. We have been declared righteous for Jesus’ sake. We stand, even now, as perfect and holy in his sight. Yet we live in a very hostile environment as long as we remain on this sinful earth. How will we survive, as inconsistent as we are? The Word of God is the only medicine that can carry us through until it is time to meet our Savior. The only question remains, will we bother to take that medicine? God grant us the power to choose to immerse ourselves in his Word. The natural, wonderful result will be that all of the other choices in life will take care of themselves. Even so, grant us also this great gift, Heavenly Father. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.