Good News for Unfinished People

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

November 17, 2018 | Ray Pritchard

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Let’s begin with the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

“May God himself, the God of peace,
              sanctify you through and through 

May your whole spirit, soul and body
              be kept blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The one who calls you is faithful
              and he will do it.”

I’ve underlined the key phrase: “sanctify you through and through.” Here are some other translations:

“Sanctify you completely.”
“Make you completely holy.”
“Make you pure, belonging only to him.”

This is a prayer for something that hasn’t happened yet. We know it hasn’t happened yet because we looked in the mirror this morning. We aren’t completely holy and totally pure. Most of us don’t feel very close to that. Honesty compels us to admit we’ve got a long way to go.

Coming as it does at the end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, we might paraphrase this benediction this way:

“Lord, I have done all I can and taught these people all I know. You’ve got to take over now. Unless you help them, they won’t turn out right.”

That leads me to offer a layman’s definition of sanctification: It’s everything God does in your life and mine to make sure we turn out right.

God intends that his children turn out right

God intends to make sure his children turn out right in the end. That’s why parents care so much and worry so much about their children. They have given their lifeblood, and so it matters almost more than life itself how their children turn out. Now apply that same truth in the spiritual realm. God has invested in us the death of his only begotten Son. Sanctification is the divine guarantee that God’s investment will not be wasted. It is the assurance that God finishes what he starts.

Sanctification, then, is God’s commitment to us.
We’re going to make it.
He will personally see to it.

 But we’re not finished yet. Many years ago I saw people walking around with buttons bearing a strange and indecipherable message: P.B.P.G.I.N.F.W.M.Y. Then someone told me the secret.  Those letters stood for the following message: Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet. That statement strikes me as be entirely biblical.

We’re not finished yet—that’s why we pray and seek the Lord.
Someday we’ll be finished—that’s what sanctification means.

 Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians is really a short course in sanctification. In these two verses we have 5 P’s that explain what that means: The Person, the Purpose, the Prospect, the Position, and the Promise.

# 1:  The Person

May God himself, the God of peace” (v. 23a).

In this opening phrase we have the guarantee of our sanctification. Just as any contract is only worth the integrity of the name on the paper, even so our hope of sanctification is only as good as the person who stands behind it. Paul uses an emphatic Greek construction to drive his point home:

God himself
God himself, the God of peace

Here is the truth: Only God can make you better. Think about that for a moment. Exercise improves your body, therapy may help your soul, friends may lift your spirits, good fortune may improve your circumstances, but only God can make you better.

Only God can make you better

God is the author and source of all spiritual progress. It’s easy to forget that truth. In our battle against sin, we crawl into a corner and try to get better on our own. After a while we stand up and say, “See how nice I look, Lord? I did it all by myself.” But we are wrong to boast like that. Remember the words of Jesus in John 15:5, “Without me you can do nothing.”

In contrast to all our feeble efforts at moral betterment and self-improvement, Paul simply says, “God himself, the God of peace.” Sanctification starts with God, and if it doesn’t start there, you haven’t really started at all. 

# 2:  The Purpose

 “Sanctify you through and through” (v. 23b).

The phrase “through and through” translates an unusual two-part Greek word that combines “whole” plus “in the end.” God has ordained that his children—all of them without exception—will be made complete in the end. We’re not that way now. Most of us feel fragmented and torn in a thousand directions. We’re incomplete and under construction in this life. But God intends that when we finally get to heaven, the hammers and saws will be put away, and we will stand before the Lord with every part perfectly in place and every aspect of our life made perfect.

We’re not finished yet—but we will be

We’re not finished yet—but we will be.
We’re not completely clean today—but we will be.
We’re not wholly wise today—but we will be.

In his comments on this text John Calvin said that God intends “the entire renovation of the man.” If you watch any of those renovation shows on TV, you understand what he means. Marlene and I like to watch “Flip or Flop,” and “Property Brothers,” and most of all, we like to watch Chip and Joanna Gaines on “Fixer Upper.” All those shows follow the same plan. You find a distressed property, and then you start renovating it. If all goes well, you end up selling it for a profit.

 But things never go well.

Usually they get started with a bang. They begin ripping out the old walls, tearing out the electrical wires, digging into the foundation, and knocking out the windows so they can replace them with French doors. But then trouble hits. Chip calls Joanna with the bad news: “You won’t believe this, but the foundation is cracked,” or “The roof has to be replaced,” or “We’ve got mold in the bathroom.” It looks like the renovation project has turned into a disaster.

The producers always put the trouble just before a commercial break, so you’ll stay tuned to see the outcome. Once the crisis is past, they can finish the renovation.

Here’s what I’ve learned from watching those shows. Renovation always takes longer than you estimated, and it always costs more than you expected. Nothing is ever as easy as it looks.

If you think houses are hard, try renovating a human life.

If you think houses are hard, try renovating a human life.

That’s a job so tough only God would attempt it. Some of us take 25 years, some 30, some 40, and many of us take 50+ years, and the job still isn’t done. God eventually says, “I’ve done all I can do down there. Come on up here, and I’ll finish the job where the working conditions are better.”

Today we are holy in spots. When God is finished with us, we will be holy through and through. 

# 3: The Prospect

“Your whole spirit, soul and body” (v. 23c).

This phrase tells us the extent of our sanctification. Paul wants us to know God intends to renovate the whole person in all its parts. Nothing will be left out or overlooked.  Every part will be made perfect in the end.

Suppose you could change anything about yourself, where would you start? Lots of us would start on the outside.

Would you be . . .

Better looking?

Would you change . . .

Your eyes?
Your hair?
Your teeth?
Your legs?
Your bulges?

If you could wave a magic wand and change your outward appearance, would it be a light touch-up or an extreme makeover?

Would we even recognize you?

Would we even recognize you?

But as hard as it is to change on the outside, it seems infinitely harder to change on the inside. If there is anything we know about human nature, it is that people change slowly, if they change at all. Think about the struggles of your own life. What would you change about yourself on the inside if you could?

Would it be an impatient spirit?
Would it be a critical tongue?
Would it be envy of those around you?
Would it be a spirit of discontentment?
Would it be lingering resentment?
Would it be lust you can’t conquer?
Would it be financial mismanagement?
Would it be a guilty conscience?
Would it be overbearing stubbornness?
Would it be a judgmental spirit?
Would it be a quick temper?
Would it be profound discouragement?
Would it be an inability to appreciate life?
Would it be an ungrateful spirit?
Would it be a disorganized life?

Here is the good news of the gospel. We are going to be changed! The stuff about ourselves that drives us crazy will be gone forever.

#4:  The Position

 “Blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 23d).

The word “blameless” means to be acquitted in a court of law. You are “blameless” if no one can bring a charge against you. That’s not true of most of us now. Those who know us best know our weaknesses and could testify against us but for their kindness toward us. God intends that when we stand before him, he will say, “Does anyone in the whole universe know any reason why this person should not enter heaven?” At that point there will be a loud silence as no one—not the angels or the demons, not the saints or the sinners—no one in all the universe will be able to bring any charge against God’s elect.

The Good New Bible says God will sanctify us so that we are “free from every fault.” Phillips uses the phrase “spotless integrity.” This is God’s desire for all his children. None of us achieves it perfectly in this life, but better things are coming for the people of God.

Better things are coming for the people of God.

Here is Paul’s hope. When Jesus returns, two great things will happen for the believer:

  1.   Our character will be revealed
  2. Our perfection will be complete

We are so far from this now. We seem to make such slow progress. Do you ever get discouraged about your own life? Do you ever look in the mirror and say, “What’s wrong with you?” I suppose we all do that from time to time. It’s easy to find reasons to feel guilty: “What were you thinking when you said that? How could you be so stupid? You know better than that. Why did you lie about that? How could you treat a friend that way?” On and on it goes.

Spiritual growth can be very discouraging at times. It’s like climbing Mount Everest. The closer you get to the top, the farther away it seems. But God has a reason for all this. He wants us to depend on him for everything in life. He designed life so that it works only when he is in charge of everything. When we try to run the show—which we often do—things begin to fall apart.

When God is finally finished, you will be like Jesus.

If the Christian life is left up to us, we will fail every time. Only God can give us what we need to be victorious. Today we don’t feel blameless because we aren’t blameless. We are, in fact, blameworthy, and we make things worse by what we do and say. Today we are all “unfinished people,” but when God is finally finished with us, we will stand blameless in his presence.

That’s the good news from this passage.

#5: The Promise

“The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (v. 24).

This little phrase is all-important. Our entire hope—both in this life and in the life to come—rests on the faithfulness of God. His faithfulness bears the entire weight of our puny efforts.

“The one who calls you is faithful.” Do you know what we are today? We are the “unfinished” children of God. You are a work-in-process, and so am I. We’re all “under construction.” As we all know, construction is long, loud, noisy, and very messy. That’s why most of us can hear the sound of hammering and sawing on the inside. God never stops his work because there is so much work that needs to be done.

One day we will look like Jesus

Romans 8:29 says we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Think about the word “predestined” and take it apart. “Pre” means before and “destined” means where we will end up. Even before our spiritual journey started, God made up his mind about our final destination.

One day we will look like Jesus.

Michelangelo’s David

In the year 1464 a sculptor named Agostino di Duccio began working on a huge piece of flawed marble. Intending to produce a magnificent sculpture of an Old Testament prophet for a cathedral in Florence, Italy, he labored for two years and then stopped. In 1476 Antonio Rossellino started to work on the same piece of marble and in time abandoned it also.

In 1501 a 26-year-old sculptor named Michelangelo was offered a considerable sum of money to produce something worthwhile from that enormous block of marble called “the giant.” As he began his work, he saw a major flaw near the bottom that had stymied other sculptors. He decided to turn that part of the stone into a broken tree stump that would support the right leg. He worked on the marble for four years until he had produced the incomparable “David.” Today the seventeen-foot-tall statue stands on display at the Accademia Gallery in Florence where people come from around the world to view it. More than a masterpiece, it is one of the greatest works of art ever produced. It has been said that there is no statue more perfect.

“I cut away everything that didn’t look like David.”

How did he do it? Here is the answer in his own words:

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”.

Said in more colloquial terms, “I cut away everything that didn’t look like David.”

Now apply this to the spiritual life. All of us are works-in-progress. We’re not finished, not glorified, not perfected, not completed. We’re all “under construction.” If you’ve ever visited a construction zone, you know it is noisy and looks messy. While the hammering and sawing continues, it’s hard to imagine what the final result will be. But God never stops working on us because there is so much work that needs to be done.

In my mind’s eye, I picture God as a sculptor working with a rough piece of marble. He’s working on a big chunk named “Ray Pritchard.” It’s a hard job because the chunk is badly marred, misshapen, discolored, and cracked in odd places. It’s about the worst piece of marble a sculptor could ever find. But God is undeterred, and he works patiently at his job, chipping away the bad parts, chiseling an image into the hard stone, stopping occasionally to polish here and there. One day he finally finishes one section of the statue. The next morning when he returns to the studio that section is messed up. “I thought I finished that yesterday,” he says, “Who’s been messing with my statue?”

I’m my own worst enemy

It turns out I’m the culprit. I’m my own worst enemy. What I thought would improve things has only messed them up. But God is faithful. He patiently picks up his chisel and goes back to work. He’s chipping away everything that doesn’t look like Jesus. In my case, it’s evident that he has a long way to go. But I am encouraged by the certain knowledge he won’t quit half-way through a project. What God starts, he finishes.

“End of Construction”

Think of those four words at the end of verse 24: “He will do it.” They are simple and direct. No qualification, no hesitation, no doubt of any kind. Just four words: He will do it. Not “He may do it” or “He might do it” or “He could do it” or “He’ll do it if he feels like it.” Not even “He will do it if we do our part.” Just a simple declarative statement that God will do it.

When it’s all said and done, what matters is not my strong hold on God, but his strong hold on me.

One day we will stand before Jesus Christ whole and complete. No more hammering, no more sawing, no more finish work. Some days it feels like we’re not making much progress, but that’s okay because the Father knows what he is doing. Little by little he is chipping away everything that doesn’t look like Jesus.

One day all of us “unfinished” people will be sanctified through and through.
We will stand before the blameless in his sight.
We know this is true because God finishes what he starts.

“End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

During a visit to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, we saw the spot where Ruth Graham is buried. Engraved on her tombstone are these words:

“End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

Do you hear the faint sound of hammering and sawing on the inside?
When God is finally finished, you will be like Jesus.

You can take that to the bank.
Faithful is he who called you, and he will do it!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?