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
When it comes to some of the promises of God, I have trouble buying in.
The promise of “He will surely do it” is not a statement that is easy to believe. How can a sinner such as myself trust that I will be kept blameless? Understanding our standing with God is fundamental and necessary, but how do we approach the idea that our entire being, even our actions, will be sanctified? How is that believable when I return to my sin like a dog to his own vomit?
The stark reality of life is that the idea of sanctification is contrary to everything I feel in my natural body. When I sin, my inner guilt screams out “backsliding wretch!” and my unregenerate mind craves the very sin that brings about my guilt. This familiar place is where many Christians find themselves all too often: aware of the promise of God to justify, sanctify, and glorify, but unable to sell out and risk everything for these promises because they cannot seem to see or taste any fruit of sanctification in the here and now. We hit the wall of “christian development”, where we seem to be nice and cordial God-fearing people, and often cannot find a way to move on from there. Our lingering sin seems to mock God, not glorify him. It seems as if God leaves us on our own, waiting for Him to make us holy but not seeing the real point of our patience.
What a joy to know that this is not true. God IS eternally faithful. But why is it so hard to believe?
In my wrestling with this problem I have come across some staggering Gospel truths that not only help me to believe a promise that I cannot always see or feel, but to understand more clearly the gradual fulfillment of such a unbelievable guarantee.
1. Our incomplete holiness comes from ourselves, not from Christ.
No matter how big our sin looks, and no matter how many times we return to it, Christ is still holy. He lived a perfect life, and it is finished for us. None of our actions after the cross and none of our actions before the cross, no single sin from the beginning of time until the end, takes away the righteousness of Christ. This is great news because we can be 100 percent certain that the imperfections in ourselves do not mean that the work of God somehow failed at the cross. All sin can and must be attributed to our sinful nature and rejection of God, because no accusation can stand before the the cross of Christ. Our ugly sin never stains the beauty of the cross, it magnifies it’s beauty.
2. We know God is faithful because God himself testifies to himself by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the great comforter. He reminds us of the blood of Jesus that speaks a better word than blood shed by sin and in death. As long as the Holy Spirit is there to comfort me, I can stand firm in the promises of God. No matter my circumstance, no matter how I feel or how I act or what I think, I know that the still small voice of the spirit of God will be there to remind me of the grandeur of the Gospel.
3. God’s end-all be-all purpose for magnifying his glory in us is the work of sanctification.
God’s greatest desire is for a holy bride. Only a people who are without blemish or spot can praise him and rejoice in him completely. That being said, God will never abandon this desire. The Gospel is a whirlwind of joyful truth that culminates in our sanctification and utmost holiness in Christ. Our holiness is not an after thought, rather it is the thought. Piper puts it this way: “In choosing you his purpose was your holiness. In predestining you his purpose was your holiness. In dying for you his purpose was your holiness. In calling you his purpose was your holiness.” The bigger I see God’s plan for my sanctification, the more apt I am to believe the unbelievable.
4. It’s not about you.
Good luck trying to make yourself holy. Our failure is great news, not bad news. We prevail over our sin not by our strength but by declaring our dependence on the the strength of God. We are merely a vessel of his grace, a wrong-side-up blessing that promises right-sight-up joy and purpose.
5. God’s promise of sanctification is not just for the end of time but for all time, it is an everyday assurance in the midst of sin.
Too often I think that God making me holy is an all or nothing experience. Either I am completely and utterly perfect in identity and in action, or nothing. God makes me perfect in identity but not fully in action until Christ returns. Why? In order to show his sovereignty, majesty, power, grace and goodness through my sin and failure. God does not only use my obedience to accomplish his ends, he uses my disobedience. He is molding me while I fall, even when I cannot see it.
This is the truth that hits closest to home. When we truly believe that God works not only in spite of our sin but by our sin, not causing it but knowing it and operating through it, we can be certain that he can and will sanctify us fully. This is plain in the narrative of Abraham and Sarah’s impatience, in Jacob’s conniving ways, in the evil of Joseph’s brothers, and in the stubbornness of Israel. We empathize with these characters because their story is ours, a story of failing to measure up. But we serve a who God can still paint with the colors of human wickedness his masterpiece of faithfulness, who composes a grandiose opera with faulty players, a majestic song of grace that reaches its awe-inspiring crescendo on the hill of Calvary. Our sin is never beautiful, but the Gospel is, and the way that God glorifies himself by triumphing over our rebellion is a work of art I will never tire to behold. Not the betrayal of Judas, not the shouts of “crucify him!” from the crowds, not the thick iron nails driven forcefully into his hands, not even the weight of the iniquity of the entire world could stop the king from having his rightful throne as sovereign over all. If God can work through the most heinous of sins, the murder of the God-man, how can we then not trust him to work through our daily failings?
Friend, you will return to some of your sin, even the sin you hate the most. Rejoice in the soul-suffering you feel. Anguish over your sin, but do not doubt the promise of God. His promise is that he will shape you in this life to a representation of himself, and he is faithful to that promise. He is not only faithful to the end, he is faithful from the start. He is faithful in the high and the low, in sickness and in health, in obedience and in disobedience. We do not serve a God that is only faithful to someday, we serve a God who is faithful to the everyday.
As adopted sons of the most high, surely we can echo the psalmist in saying: