We’ve all heard, in one form or another, the subtle message that Jesus saves but it’s up to you to stay that way. It’s never stated that directly, but that is the net effect. We’ve been told that salvation is by faith alone, but now that you are a Christian, you need to work hard to live out your faith. This is true, but the subtle message—and it is subtle—is that God’s role is to get you in the door, but you need to keep yourself inside. The emphasis is often on the need for personal piety, for the personal practice of spiritual disciplines such as reading Scripture daily and praying. Again, it is true that we must live out our faith, but is it really up to us to stay “inside”? Consider what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
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 ESV
Paul uses the word “sanctify” here, which necessarily implies a process. It shares the same root as the word “holy” and means to make holy. Notice what Paul says: may the God of peace himself sanctify you. Sanctification is God’s work! This does not mean we don’t fight against sin or engage in spiritual disciplines; it means that at the end of the day, making us holy is something God does. When God saves us he justifies us—he declares us righteous. Before him we are holy. Then he begins the process of making our lives actually match our status before him.
Also notice the extent to which God sanctifies us: completely. In case he might be misunderstood Paul explains what he means: may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of Jesus. Paul’s desire is for all of you to be sanctified or made holy. May the God of peace make you entirely holy, your spirit and your soul and your body—every last bit of you—so that when Jesus comes you will be blameless.
The need to be blameless at the coming of Jesus has sometimes been used as a club to hit people with, to instill guilt in them to motivate them to “holy” living which is often limited to avoiding certain sins. You know, the old “don’t drink, don’t smoke, and don’t chew—and don’t go with girls who do.” Sadly, this mentality often results in the point behind the old joke:
There are three things fundamentalists don’t recognize:
- the authority of the pope
- the veneration of Mary
- each other in the liquor store.
So long as you avoid such obvious sins you’re okay. -ish.
Paul says that he who calls you is faithful: he will surely do it. Our role in this is the same as our role in salvation: faith. We trust him to do what only he can do. Only God can declare us holy and only God can make us holy.
As we spend time in prayer today, let’s pray for one another. Pray for God’s strength when we face temptation. Pray for God’s peace when we face discouragement. Pray for God’s provision when we face need. Pray for God’s mercy when we stumble into sin. Let’s pray for one another, asking God to make us holy. He will surely do it.