Summary: Holiness is part of a process whereby God makes us more like Christ. It isn't just what we do in church on Sunday that marks us as holy; it is being faithful during the week, before the watching world...letting our light shine.
In a speech to the nation in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said this...
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”
We are blessed, and that leads us to holiness, a life set-apart to honor God. Our affections are on things Above. We strive for holiness, not to earn Heaven, but because our hearts have been changed, and out of gratitude for God's blessings. C.S. Lewis observed: “There is no excess of goodness. You cannot go too far in the right direction.” And Puritan Thomas Brooks noted: “No holiness here, no happiness hereafter.”
In our reading, the Apostle Paul gives his parting instructions to the church of Thessalonica. I want to focus on his blessing to the church--in the form of a benediction--verses 22-23: “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.”
Paul expresses his desire for our sanctification, which is a process of spiritual growth leading to a holy life. In II Corinthians 5:17, Paul explains that those who are “in Christ are new creations; the old life is passing away, and all things are becoming new.” We are set apart for God's exclusive use; we are renewed by the Holy Spirit working in us--giving us a new nature, chipping away our rough edges, and making us more Christlike. When we get a grip on grace, doing God's will becomes a holy habit. We practice our faith day-by-day by living godly lives. It isn't just what we do in church on Sunday that marks us as holy; it is being faithful during the week, before the watching world...letting our light shine.
Paul points us to the “God of peace”, verse 22. The sum total of gospel blessings can be summed up by this word “peace.” God is the Source. In I Corinthians 14:33 Paul says, “God is not the God of disorder but of peace.” We know troubled people who are not at peace, who look for answers apart from God, who seek substitutes for peace to no avail.
The Apostle says in his blessing that we're to be blameless in holiness, anticipating the return of Christ. While holiness is a process, Paul is anticipating the completion of the process. He wants us to be righteous. Christ supplies the grace to accomplish this. He initiates this work and can be relied on to finish it. Paul's been urging the church to be holy, and it is only in God's strength that we can be. It is only in God that we will be able to do what we've been commanded. God does this “through and through.” He will preserve us entirely, and without blame--a total transformation.
Recently a lot of attention has been given to the 30-year old movie Back to the Future, since it made specific predictions about October 2015--to include hoverboards and the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. Well, the first came true; the second...almost! We don't know the future, but I wonder how we would order our lives if we did--specifically if we knew when Jesus will return. Preachers make predictions, but no one knows the day. The recent Blood Moon came and went. But if we did know, and if it were soon, I suspect it would alter our priorities. Personal holiness would be of greater importance, I suspect. How would we then live? The secretary for Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley knocked on his office door and told him, “There's a man downstairs who claims to be Jesus. What should I do?” The Cardinal said, “Look busy.” Let's be busy; let's live as though Jesus was returning soon.
You’ve heard the expression “good enough for government work.” That’s a sarcastic way of saying, “Don’t worry about the details. The joints don’t have to fit, the margins can be crooked, and we don’t need to worry about the budget. We don’t have to be perfect; we don’t even have to be close.” Mark it down: God doesn't do government work. Everything He does is perfect. But many of us feel like our lives are “government work.” We look inward and see lots of good and bad mixed together; a whole bunch of loose connections, and a lot of parts that don’t seem to work right. That’s the way it is in a fallen world. We’re stuck with what seems to be “government work” in this life. But it won’t be that way forever, and it doesn't have to be that way now.