You Will Get Better: God’s Answer to Hopelessness
August 2, 2020
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This is the ninth and final message in the series Big Promises: God Says You Are, You Have, You Can, You Will. In my first message, I told the story of a man named Everett Storms who set out to count every promise in the Bible. After two years of study, he concluded that there were 7487 promises from God to man in the Bible. That means 1 in every 4 verses is a promise from God.
When I planned these messages, I had never heard of the Coronavirus. Yet you can find references to the current crisis in almost every sermon in this series. When fear abounds, we must go back to what God has said. We’ve already learned not to trust everything we hear on the news. Here’s a news flash: you can’t trust everything the politicians say either. For that matter, sometimes the scientists disagree.
We need to stand on the promises!
In times like these, we need to learn once again how to stand on God’s promises. But you can’t stand on what you don’t know. That’s why this study is so important.
So we come to the final promise: You Will Get Better: God’s Answer to Hopelessness. 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.
“Lord, you’ve got to take over now”
We can paraphrase this benediction this way:
“Lord, I have 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. Sanctification guarantees that God’s investment in us will not be wasted. It assures us that God finishes what he starts.
We’re not finished yet—that’s why we pray and seek the Lord.
Someday we’ll be finished—that’s what sanctification means.
In these two verses we have 5 P’s that flesh out this truth: 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. Paul uses an emphatic Greek construction to drive his point home:
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. 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 started it 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. We’re not that way now. Most of us feel fragmented and torn in a thousand directions. My friend Skip Olson (who went to heaven not long ago) often spoke about the faint sound of “hammering and sawing” on the inside. When we finally get to heaven, the hammers and saws will be put away, and we will stand before the Lord with every part in place and every aspect of our life made perfect.
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.W
We’re not finished yet–but we will be!
In his comments on this text, John Calvin said 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. Chip and his team 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 takes longer than you estimated, and it costs more than you expected. Nothing is ever as easy as it looks.
Nothing is ever as easy as it lools
If you think houses are hard, try renovating a human life. There is always something that needs to be fixed. Or if we fix it, it breaks. Or we fix one thing, then something else breaks. We stop one bad habit and start another. A great many of us are “leaky” Christians with lots of cracks that need to be filled.
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. God intends to renovate the whole person. 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 . . .
Would you change . . .
Would we even recognize you?
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?
It gets harder as the years pass because the older you get, the more we must replace. We have implants, crowns, dentures, hearing aids, and pacemakers. We wear bifocals, and we walk with a cane. We have replacement hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders. Sometimes it seems like we’re held together with spit and glue.
I had an elderly friend who had lost several body parts to encroaching diabetes. The last time I saw him, he was in the hospital, recovering from his latest surgery. He greeted me with his trademark smile. We chatted about this and that, and then I told him not to worry about anything: “Joe, the Lord is taking you to heaven one piece at a time.” We both laughed at that, but it’s true in a sense. The breakdown of the body reminds us God has something better in store for us.
Eventually we come to the things in the heart that need fixing. 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 a guilty conscience?
Would it be a judgmental spirit?
Would it be a quick temper?
Would it be profound discouragement?
Would it be an ungrateful spirit?
We are going to be changed!
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. A man came to me after a service one Sunday and said, “I’m sick of myself.” We’ve all felt that way from time to time. Spiritual progress often is so slow in coming. But God has promised we will get better.
#4: The Position
“Blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 23d).
You are “blameless” if no one can bring a charge against you. That’s not true of most of us now. We all stumble in many ways. God intends that when we stand before him, he will say, “Does anyone in the 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 News Bible says God will sanctify us so that we are “free from every fault.” Phillips uses the phrase “spotless integrity.” God’s desires this for all his children. None of us achieves it in this life, but better things are coming for God’s people.
Better things are coming for God’s people
When Jesus returns, two great things will happen for the believer:
- Our character will be revealed
- Our perfection will be complete
We are so far from this now. 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 tell that lie? 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. 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.
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 hope—both in this life and in the life to come—rests on God’s faithfulness. His faithfulness bears the 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 hear hammering and sawing on the inside. God never stops his work because there is so much work that needs to be done.
We are all “under construction”
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” describes where we will end up. Even before our spiritual journey started, God made up his mind about our destination.
One day we will look like Jesus.
In 1464, a sculptor named Agostino di Duccio began working on a massive piece of flawed marble. He intended to produce a magnificent sculpture of an Old Testament prophet for a cathedral in Florence, Italy. After two years, he gave up on the project. 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. 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 from around the world come to view it. More than a masterpiece, it is one of the greatest works of art ever produced. Many experts say there is no statue more perfect.
How did he do it? Here is his answer in colloquial terms: “I cut away everything that didn’t look like David.” Now apply that to the spiritual life. All of us are works-in-progress. 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 result will be. But God never stops working on us because there is so much that needs to be done.
I am my own worst enemy
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 hard because the chunk is badly marred, misshapen, discolored, and cracked in odd places. It’s about the worst piece of marble a sculptor could 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 part 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?”
With a guilty look, I slowly raise my hand. I’m my own worst enemy. But God is faithful. He patiently picks up his chisel and goes back to work. He chips away everything that doesn’t look like Jesus. In my case, he has a long way to go. But I am encouraged by the 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. 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 hold on God, but his hold on me.
Garrett Kell tells the following story: “An elderly sister from our church who deeply loved Jesus was on her deathbed and was asked by a visiting member, ‘How are you feeling?’ The sister slowly opened her eyes, smiled, and said, ‘I’m almost well.’”
“I’m almost well”
That’s the final promise of our Big Promises series: You Will Get Better. We aren’t there yet. We have flaws, weak spots, and lots of rough edges. But our Heavenly Father has picked up the hammer and chisel and started to work on us. 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 Lord blameless in his sight.
We know this is true because God finishes what he starts.
God finished what he starts!
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!
Fortify our hearts, Lord Jesus, to trust you more and more.
Thank you for Big Promises
That can never be broken.
Lord, with you there is
No unfinished business.
Forgive us for doubting your plans.
We look forward to the day when
Our blemishes will be gone,
Our weakness removed,
Our sickness finally healed,
Our defects disappeared,
And we are finally made like Jesus!
Help us to keep believing
Until the day comes when
Our faith is turned to sight.
In that confidence we say,
“Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.”