Thessalonians 5 v 23 (2) And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly
It is a wonderful thing to be the object of someone’s prayers! And if that someone is the great Apostle Paul, who was a man mighty in prayer and in touch with the Lord God, then the persons prayed for must feel very blessed! This is not to say that Paul’s prayers are any more effective than your prayers or mine – but Paul has a specific qualification that we do not have – his prayers, prayed in 52 AD are still being answered 1950 years later!
In 1 Thessalonians 5 v 23 in the closing section of his first letter, Paul records this prayer –
23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
What did Paul mean by “sanctify you wholly”? He desires that the Christians at Thessalonica, and all who read this letter to them down the ages, would know God’s touch in their lives in SANCTIFICATION. May God, the God of peace sanctify you "all of you", or "all of you perfectly", or “sanctify you through and through”.
When God sanctifies He separates from the life of sin; He causes those sanctified to be dedicated to Him. God is the principal mover in this but we are to work it out in our lives faithfully and to His glory – but always confident of the work of His Holy Spirit within us. The Thessalonians were sanctified by the Spirit of God, but not perfectly sanctified; the Gospel had come to them in power, and had worked powerfully and effectually in them. They had been turned from idols to serve the living God, and had true faith, hope, and love, implanted in them. But yet this work of grace and sanctification which had begun in them was far from being perfect; and neither is it perfect in the best of saints while still in their bodies. There is something lacking in the faith of the greatest believer. Love often grows cold, and hope is sometimes lost sight of; sin dwells in all of us. And amongst the people of God, the most holy and knowing among them cannot by any means claim perfection in themselves, even though they desire it. John Gill puts it like this –
“Their sanctification in Christ is perfect, but it is not perfect in themselves; there is indeed a perfection of parts in internal sanctification, every grace is implanted, there is not one wanting; the new creature, or new man, has all its parts, though these are not come to their full growth; there is not a perfection of degrees, and this is what the apostle prays for; for sanctification is a progressive, gradual work, it is like seed cast into the earth, which springs up, first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear, and is as light, which shines more and more to the perfect day.”
The Process of sanctification is like this – Sanctified Christians are first as newborn babes; then they grow up to be young people, and at last become fathers and mothers in Christ – mature Christians. Once this work has begun, it is carried on, and will be fulfilled, and made perfect: and it is God’s work to do it; he begins, and he carries it on, and he will finish it; and all through the process the believer cooperates with God.
We are expected to turn from our old sinful patterns of life – deliberately and consistently – to the new way of life that we learn in the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 4 tells us this –
20 But ye have not so learned Christ; 21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
There is nowhere in the New Testament that we are taught that sanctification takes place without human involvement and our effort.
Yet again it must be said that it is impossible to be sanctified, even a little bit, by our human will or effort alone. God the Holy Spirit is the One behind our every good wish and desire that we think and feel. God the Holy Spirit supplies the inner resolve to do what we know to be His will.
Philippians 2 v 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
So we must say again that it is God Himself who is the great sanctifier of His people.
We move on this morning to the second element of Paul’s prayer.
Having prayed to the God of Peace for their SANCTIFICATION he now turns in prayer for their
And immediately we can notice that there is a specific context for this prayer – the Second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The end of Chapter 4 brought us to tremendous encouragement about the future of God’s people. We have much joy in front of us – joy that will last for all eternity – if we are believers that is!
We know that we will have to face the judgement of Christ. We know that we all have to appear before that awesome judgement seat when God will judge in wrath upon sinners. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ will be the majestic judge on that occasion. And we know that unless we are right with God, unless we have had our sins forgiven we will not be able to stand.
We must have the righteousness of Christ to wear. We need to be covered by His purity and holiness. We need to appear before Him – BLAMELESS.
How can we appear blameless?
First we are MADE blameless through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ who substituted for us on the cross – dying in our place and taking our punishment. If you are a Christian believer this morning, God sees you, in the light of His most Holy Son the Lord Jesus Christ, as BLAMELESS. Your guilt and the stain of your lawbreaking have been taken away and you are now not to blame – Jesus took all that upon Himself on your behalf! You are blameless.
What more is needed to appear before Christ blameless?
Secondly we need to be KEPT BLAMELESS. This is what Paul prays for
and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We need to be prepared for the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians will pass through the judgement and enter into the glory that lies beyond it.
Luke 21 v 29 And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. 31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. 32 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. 33 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. 34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. 35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
The Lord Jesus Christ tells the parable of the fig tree, spoken to His disciples – finishing up with verse 36
Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
My friends we need so much to be kept blameless in every part of our being.
But this raises a question.
We are thinking about the Apostle Paul praying for the Thessalonians. What possible difference can one man’s prayer make for the preservation of many other believers?
It is the nature of the prayer that makes the difference – and Paul’s prayers are certainly different!
If the keeping power of God is to bring believers to the point where the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God can find, at the judgement, NO FAULT IN THEM – the meaning of BLAMELESS – then this is, in effect, their complete sanctification. Complete sanctification is blamelessness. Sanctify you wholly = preserve you blameless until the judgement. The two elements of the prayer merge together.
The God who sanctifies us will preserve us. Nothing will cause us to lose our salvation. How exciting! How glorious! How humbling!
Do not listen to those who say that you can lose your salvation my friends. They contradict Paul’s motive for prayer here. Paul believed in what he prayed. That we will be preserved right to the end – when we make that transition from being earth bound to being free in heaven for ever more – with Christ which is far, far better. The Lord Jesus Christ is a perfect Saviour – and He has a perfect future for all who are His own by adoption and redemption.
Is this future YOURS my friend?
Has the Lord so worked in your soul that you can be confident that He has begun a good work in YOU?
Has He so changed your will that you now have the desire to love and please Him in all that you do, forsaking the habits of the old life and putting on the features of a new and transformed life?
May He speak to each one and so confirm the reality of our salvation, and the certainty of our future that we will better praise Him with our whole being.
But if this morning you do not have such an assurance – then go to the Lord Jesus Christ – repent of your sins and plead His mercy. Ask Him to show you the hidden evils of your heart so that you may forsake them and reject them with all of your might. And then see Him as the One who died for your sins – and trust Him to save you!
We now come to a part of our text that has been the means of centuries of controversy breaking out between Bible students, theologians and Church leaders.
It is the phrase
and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless
What are we to make of this phrase – “your whole spirit and soul and body”?
Did the Apostle Paul believe that the constitution of a human being comprised three parts – spirit and soul and body?
Or can we say that man has only two parts soul and body?
The wealth of discussion down the ages has centred in two words – man as a TRICHOTOMY or man as a DICHOTOMY – three parts or two parts.
Did Paul intend to provoke an argument about the formal analysis of our human makeup?
I don’t believe that he did – but that he wanted to say that when the Lord Jesus Christ comes again that we need to be found blameless in EVERY RESPECT of our lives – both in the material aspects of our lives – our bodies – AND our immaterial aspects – our souls.
At the judgement the Lord Jesus Christ will scrutinise our OUTWARD life – the deeds of our bodies. And he will judge our innermost secrets too. Consider these verses –
Judgement of our outward visible behaviour –
Romans 2 v 1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
Judgement of our inward invisible behaviour and thought –
1 Corinthians 4 v 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
We will need to be found blameless in our outward actions and in our inmost thoughts, desires including our relationship to the Lord God.
So let us briefly think about the words that Paul uses here.
1. Spirit. The Greek word PNEUMA that is translated as wind, as well as spirit, occurs very frequently in the New Testament – 385 times. When it means wind as in John 3 v 8 – “the wind blows where it listeth” – or where it wills – refers to something that is invisible and powerful. It becomes an essential metaphor or word picture for the essential element of man by nature. Man is a spiritual being – all men, not merely Christians. Every human being is spiritual.
1 Corinthians 2 v 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
2. Soul. This is the Greek word PSUCHE from which comes Psychology. This word occurs 105 times and over half of those times it is translated SOUL. Soul is the life centre, the personality of the human being that makes the person different and unique from everyone else. It is the seat of the affections, perceptions and desires.
Soul is often shorthand for person hood. Ships are said to sail with a certain number of souls on board. Of course such souls are housed and contained within the next word –
3. Body. SOMA – the material part of a human being designed to house the soul during life on earth. Paul poetically describes this as if we are clay pots enclosing the unseen yet real person that we are when he says this in 1 Corinthians 4 v 7
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
He also describes the body as an earthly house –
2 Corinthians 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Some thinkers have separated these three elements into distinct parts of the human being – body, spirit and soul.
And they have justified this when attempting to interpret scripture with scripture. We read earlier in the service from Hebrews 4, verse 12 of that chapter says this
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
However I believe that this verse teaches the very opposite – that the Soul and the Spirit CANNOT be devided and are very alike in their nature and activities.
Furthermore there are many more texts that point to the fact that man is body and soul.
Matthew 6 v 25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Matthew 10 v 28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Acts 20 v 9 And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.
10 And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.
Someone has helpfully put it like this “SOMA – body and PNEUMA – spirit may be separated. But PNEUMA and PSUCHE can only be distinguished.
The separation of the soul from the body at death does not leave a spirit still in the body. Therefore the soul and the spirit are synonymous in scripture. And Hebrews 4 v 12 which speaks of the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit, is graphically describing the process by which the Holy scriptures discern and penetrate the very core of a man or woman searching the invisible faculties thoroughly.
Perhaps we could consider these words of the Lord Jesus Christ –
Mark 12 v 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
Did the Lord Jesus consider that we are made of 4 parts? Heart, soul, mind and strength?
Of course He did not. He who made man – a living soul housed in a body – was making the same point – that we are to love God with all that we are!
It seems clear that Paul is expressing fervent seriousness when he uses these words spirit, soul and body as he prayed. He was oh so concerned that every part of his friends would be taken up in service to God.
So then to summarise – Paul is not at this point giving a theoretical description of the nature of the human constitution – but he is engaging in prayer. He prays that the whole persons – bodies and souls – of the Thessalonians Christians will be involved in the process of sanctification. He desired that they would be entirely set apart to God. Sanctification is not departmental – in other words we can be sanctified in our souls but not in our bodies – or vice versa. We saw last week how WHOLLY means entire or through and through.
And Paul prays that this process will bring these believers to heaven, at the coming of Christ, complete in every way.
Oh my friends Paul’s prayer also directs us to something very challenging as we move to a close this morning.
The character involved in being a Christian is one that is of the very highest of standards. Paul does not merely pray that they will lead good lives – he prays that they might be BLAMELESS.
Purity and holiness in the life of the believer is hard work.
Daily progress must be made. Every day there must be something of our old rotten natures cleared away and brought to the Lord for cleansing. As long as we live in these bodies we will have work to do to examine ourselves and be concerned for holiness.
We have to ask ourselves – Are the words of Jeremiah true?
Jeremiah 17 v 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 10 I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
We have to confess that they are true and they apply to us. Our hearts, our spirit, soul – our innermost beings are desperately wicked.
Therefore we must realise as believers what is to be done.
Psalm 77 v 6 I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.
Lamentations 3 v 40 Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
It is possible that we could feel very low at this point and feel condemned in our hearts. We hear that the Lord God will sanctify us. But we also know that we are to be active in the pursuit of holiness. And we are daunted! We are afraid! We have enemies – the world, the flesh and the devil. We can feel accused that we are not what we should be.
So let us take comfort from Paul’s words this morning in Romans 8 v 33
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. 34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
We Christians are sinners – but we are elect sinners. Sometimes we feel that we are more sinners than saints!
Within our bodies and working in our souls is the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ who causes us to desire, to long for holiness; to strive against sin; to aim at God’s glory and to desire to be a blessing to others around us.
Yet sometimes there is a suspicion that we could be charged with something awful and be condemned and lost forever.
NO – says the word of God here! God will not condemn us – because He is perfectly satisfied through the death of His Son.
Our conscience cannot condemn us – because it has been cleansed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore silenced by the word of God.
Satan cannot condemn us – because he has been proved a liar and his testimony against us is invalid.
And the Lord Jesus Christ Himself the judge of all men will not write us off – because He would rather die for us that to condemn us!
Certainly Christ has undertaken to preserve us blameless until His coming again – when we will be blameless for all eternity enjoying that eternity with Him – who is the absolutely blameless one the Lord Jesus Christ Himself!
May we all be encouraged with Paul’s prayer, the truth of it and the joy of it!