When sanctification seems impossible | 1 Thessalonians 5:22-28

When sanctification seems difficult/impossible!

Good morning, church. How are you all doing this morning? How I long for some response from you guys like a normal Sunday we used to have – seems like long time ago now.

We hope and pray that God would open doors and do a miracle in getting us all started once again – like days of old.

As a church, we have been going through the first letter written by Paul to the Thessalonians and today we end the series on “Abiding faith” as we meditate on the final words of Paul in this letter from 1 Thessalonians 5:22-28.

22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 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. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 25 Brothers, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

The story is told of a young girl who accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for membership in a local church. “Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your Life?” inquired an old deacon.

“Yes, sir,” she replied. “Well, are you still a sinner?” “To tell you the truth, I feel I’m a greater sinner than ever.” “Then what real change have you experienced?” “I don’t quite know how to explain it,” she said, “except I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved.

I’m a sinner running from sin!” she was received into the fellowship of the church, and she proved by her consistent life that she was truly converted. Beloved, I want you to think about this statement today morning – “I am a sinner running from sin”.

This is the calling with which God has called us – that we may be holy and be like His Son Jesus Christ – even though we have the sin nature active in our hearts.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 says it clearly – “For this is the will of God – your sanctification”. But we live and walk among broken glasses. Our own sin and the sins of people around us make us feel that sanctification is too difficult and slow and too demanding and sometimes, our recurring sins and sins which so easily ensnare us keep following us like a leach – sometimes making us think that sanctification is impossible.

Even though God calls us to a life of holiness and demands a life of purity – we still continue to fall in sin – and struggle with a slow and difficult process of sanctification.

Doesn’t our thoughts, our words and actions yesterday or even today morning show us that we are so far from being like Jesus? When our so-easily ensnaring sin refuses to let go and when sanctification seems tough and impossible, what do we do as a Christian?

Brothers and sisters, I want to encourage you this morning to look unto God – our sanctifier – as we meditate on our passage for today.

I want to title my sermon – “When sanctification seems difficult…” and I pray that you would remember these 3 points when you feel like giving up on God’s process of sanctification.

1. Do not give up your fight against sin!
2. Remember someone is praying for you!
3. Remember God is faithful to complete what He has promised!

1. Do not give up your fight against sin!

Before Paul goes on to talk about God – our sanctifier and perfecter from verse 23 – Paul commands the Thessalonian believers in verse 22 – “Abstain from every form of evil”. What kind of word is that?

Paul is just about to bring about an amazing truth of Christianity – that it is God who is faithful to sanctify you and keep you blameless until Jesus comes again. But, before you and I think that “Because God sanctifies me, I have no part or responsibility in being holy”, before we think that, Paul says that “Abstain from every form of evil”.

Brothers and sisters, if our view of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness lead us into a lifestyle of sin and laziness and sloth – we haven’t understood God’s ways of sanctification yet.

So many of us lose hope too soon in our battle against sin and many of us let go of our arms and ammunitions thinking there is no point of fighting against my sin. And few of the reasons that some of us give are –

“It is God who sanctifies, let Him do it – I could very well go ahead and spend some time netflixing.” Or another reason that we give is – “Brother, I have tried and struggled and done everything possible to fight my sin but I am still not able to overcome it.

I think I cannot fight anymore. I think I am born with this infirmity. I am going to make peace with it and accept it as my weakness. Main jaisa hun, main vaisa hi hun – main badal nahi sakta.”

Beloved, this school of thought has led many to think that holiness is simply impossible to have and if I strive for holiness, then I can possibly never get an assurance of my salvation – because I will always see my failures and my sins and doubt my assurance.

And today – more and more, we see churches and Christians and even ourselves – somehow narrowing down this call to holiness and watering it and diluting it to a great extent.

Why? They simply can’t believe that complete sanctification is possible. It is true – Beloved – that we do not attain practical perfection in this life – but then sometimes – Christians think that no degree of obedience or holiness or purity or goodness or love or repentance or transformation is required for entering heaven.

They decide to make peace with their sin. They then begin to look for ways and means to justify their sinful lifestyle. For eg, I am justified in Christ – I am accepted in Him – so no matter what I do, I am forgiven and I am a child of God. Or another similar justification given is God’s Grace – “We are living in an age of Grace, brother?

If God really wanted us to be holy, then why would He give us Grace and Mercy?” Beloved, so many times, we use the same doctrines that were meant to help us for our sanctification as justifications for our sin. The hidden sin that we fight with and we struggle against are not there to make peace with.

God’s Grace is what we tap into not just for our forgiveness but also for our sanctification – for overcoming that one sin which you are battling against since months. Even the justification with which God has justified us in Christ Jesus is the solid ground and foundation for the life of sanctification and holiness that God has called us to.

And that is why, Paul says, “Abstain from every form of evil”. Do not put down your arms and ammunitions. Do not be bogged down by your constant failures and think that there is no point of us fighting this fight against sin. At the end of His life, Paul says – “I have fought a good fight.” Paul says to Philippians – “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Paul writes to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 – “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Does that sound like resting and chilling out? Beloved – do not forget this – GOD SANCTIFIES US THROUGH OUR OWN STRIVINGS AGAINST SIN! God works in our hearts both to will and to do and we work out what God works in. If our theory of sanctification has no element of us striving to holiness – we are not in sync with the sanctification of the Bible.

Hebrews 12:14 says – “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” So, what am I trying to say? Beloved, no matter how much you feel like a failure and no matter how difficult sanctification looks like – Do not give up your fight against sin? My son is learning to stand on his own.

It is so beautiful to watch him do that. He strives to stand up – catching hold of our legs, hands, ears, nose – he stands up – he leaves his hands and then balances himself on his feet – you should see him struggling to balance with fear but with such a joy and smile on his face on his accomplishment that he can stand without holding on to anybody.

And then after a few seconds, now he stands upto 1 minute – but after that, he falls down. What does he do? You think he will stop? Naa. He stands back again and then falls again. And again he stands and again he falls. I would not be exaggerating to say that he has done this a 1000 times already but he doesn’t lose hope.

He will stand again and again and again and again until he stands without falling. Oh my dear brothers and sisters – sanctification is like that – do not let go off your hope because you failed – because you fell down – because you sinned – no – no – no – one day you and I will be perfect like Jesus Christ.

Do not let go off your guard – do not lose hope in this battle – sanctification is slow, painful and difficult – but a day will come when there will be no more sin to fight against – no more wars to battle.

What a day that will be! 1 John 3: 2-3 says

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

Are you a child of God? Are you struggling with your sin?

Hold on to your fight, Beloved! Because God sanctifies us through our own strivings against sin!

But let me go on to my next point –

2. Remember someone is praying for you

Some years ago – this thought gripped my heart and I was excited – someone is praying for me!

Look at verse 23 – Paul is praying that God would sanctify the Thessalonian Believers. And in verse 25 – he asks them to pray for Paul as well. “Brothers, pray for us”.

When the way of sanctification gets tough, brothers and sisters, I want you to remember – someone is praying for you! Maybe it is your spouse, your parents, your friends, your brothers and sisters in Christ, your elders or someone you do not even know of.

There is someone battling on his/her knees for your sanctification – and if you do not know of anyone who is battling for you – I want to turn your eyes to someone who is definitely interceding for you at the right hand of God the Father – and who is that – the man Jesus Christ!

The same God who became flesh and battled against temptation, sin and the like – as a man – He has compassion on you and me! He prays for you! He prays for me!

Let me give you a few examples of his prayers when He was on earth. In John 17:19, when Jesus prays to the Father – He prays – “For their sakes, I sanctify myself, that they may also be sanctified through the truth” and in verse 11 – He prays – “Keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one”.

And he asks the Father in verse 15 to keep them from the evil one. The Lord Jesus in his incarnation as a man on this earth sanctified Himself (lived in perfect holiness) in order to sanctify His people who would believe in His name.

And he kept praying that God would keep them and preserve and make them one just as God the Father and Jesus Christ were one. Perfect unity is possible only among sanctified disciples.

Jesus prays for us that we may be sanctified and united so that we would then in turn pray for one another and bear each other up. The best thing that you can pray for someone is that God would sanctify them and make them holy.

Let us look at another instance when Jesus prayed for his disciples. In Luke 22:32 – When satan asked Jesus permission to sift Peter as wheat – Jesus said to Peter – “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

He prays for us! He prays that our faith may not fail! He prays that we may be sanctified and holy. He prays that we may be one! He prays that we may love each other as He loved us.

If you and I have anything to boast about regarding our holiness – it is just that God sanctified you through the prayers of His Son and through the prayers of the saints whom you are surrounded by!

When you struggle in your walk in holiness – remember this dear child of God – Someone is praying for you! But let me go on to my last point which is my most important point to hold on to when sanctification seems tough – because if that didn’t exist, points 1 and 2 were useless! And that is –

3. Remember God is faithful to complete what He has promised!

In verse 24 – He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. Beloved, sanctification is not a process (prakriya) that you have begun but it is God! It is God who decided to take a man – who was full of sin and evil – and cleansed him and washed him and made him clean and whole and justified in Jesus Christ and made him a child of God!

It is God who decided to do it! It is God who started the good work! And then He decided to place this man back into the same broken world – with sin and evil and darkness – and decided to keep him and preserve him in Jesus Christ and make him more and more like Jesus.

Well, it was God who started it. And it is not becoming of Him to leave it half undone. He has never done that! He will never do that! He has counted the cost – and He paid the price – and that was His only Son – Jesus Christ! Paul binds our sanctification to His faithfulness! Brothers and sisters, I want you all to find the roots of your sanctification.

Where does sanctification spring from? We have a small hint in verse 24 – “He who CALLS you”.

Beloved, much before our sanctification – there was a calling with which He called you. It was not an ordinary calling.

It was not a general calling. It was a particular – effectual – and personal calling – when He commanded very strongly into our hearts – ‘Follow me’ – and we left our all and followed Him.

Much before our sanctification – came God’s call to our hearts personally. But this is much clearer if we will read Romans 8:29-30 – “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”. Glorification is when we become completely and perfectly like Jesus and that is the holy calling that we have, Beloved – being conformed to the image of His Son! But it all began with God’s foreknowledge – He loving us even before the foundations of the earth.

He then predestinated us to become like Jesus! Those whom He predestined – them He also called and those whom He called – them He also justified and those He justified – them He also glorified. I don’t know if you are able to imagine this picture with me – those whom God loved before the foundation of the world – them He predestined – not even one left out.

Those whom He predestined – them He also called – not even one left out. Those whom He called – them He also justified – not even one left out again! And those whom He justified – them He also glorified – not even one left out till the end! There is cycle from foreknowledge till glorification and there is not even one lost out in the process!

There is not even one separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus in this process! Ah! That is what Paul is talking about in 1 Thessalonians when He binds our sanctification to His faithfulness! Let me repeat that once again – The certainty of our sanctification rests on God’s faithfulness! He hasn’t lost even one during this process of sanctification.

Jesus says in John 6: 39 –

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

Even when we fail, even when it is dark, even when we feel nothing is working out – we can rest on the faithfulness of God – who promises to complete what He has begun. And this is the assurance that we get from the Word – “HE WILL SURELY DO IT”.

I thank God for the “wills” and “shalls” of the Word of God. If He says, that He WILL – you can rest assured that He WILL do it. Our assurance of salvation doesn’t come by minimizing the need for holiness or sanctification or by focusing on the measure of our holiness – our assurance comes by placing our trust on the measure of God’s faithfulness to do the sanctifying work that he promised to do.

Let me end my sermon here by showing you how committed God is to complete the work of sanctification in our lives and that commitment is much more than mine or yours. The aim of God in the death of His Son was your holiness. Jesus died that you may be holy.

I want to read to you Ephesians 5:26 and it says,

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her”

—make her holy. Your becoming holy is as sure as God’s invincible purpose in the death of his Son.

In electing you, His purpose was that you may be holy. In calling you, His purpose was your holiness. He who chose you is faithful. He who called you is faithful. He who justified you is faithful.

He who sent His Son to die for you is faithful. He who sanctifies you is faithful – He will surely do it! He will surely do it! He will surely do it! If He doesn’t do it, God will become a liar and that is just not possible!

So, my beloved brothers and sisters, when sanctification gets tough, when holiness seems difficult, when practical Christ-like living seems impossible, remember the faithfulness of God bound to your sanctification – bound to your holiness!

2 Thessalonians 2:13 says,
“God chose you from the beginning to be saved through sanctification”

—not apart from sanctification. Salvation comes through sanctification, and no other way.

We have a great and glorious ground of assurance not because holiness is not needed, but because God is faithful to preserve us and make us holy and blameless like His Son Jesus Christ. He will surely do it!!!

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