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Thessalonians 5 v 23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly

When a person becomes a Christian, he usually undergoes some radical life changes, especially if he has had an immoral background. Through the first steps of spiritual growth and self-denial, he gets rid of the large, obvious sins. But sad to say, many believers stop there. They don’t go on to eliminate the little sins that clutter the landscape of their lives. Gordon MacDonald, in his book Ordering Your Private World, told of an experience in his own life that illustrates this truth.

“Some years ago, when my wife and I bought the old abandoned farm we now call Peace Ledge; we found the site where we wished to build our country home strewn with rocks and boulders. It was going to take a lot of hard work to clear it all out… The first phase of the clearing process was easy. The big boulders went quickly. And when they were gone, we began to see that there were a lot of smaller rocks that had to go too. But when we had cleared the site of the boulders and the rocks, we noticed all of the stones and pebbles we had not seen before. This was much harder, more tedious work. But we stuck to it, and there came the day when the soil was ready for planting grass.”

The radical life change that comes to everyone who trusts the Lord Jesus Christ as their saviour is called SANCTIFICATION.

We began to look last week at verse 23 of 1 Thessalonians 5 and we found that it is God who sanctifies His people. He is called the God of Peace! It is the holy creator, God Himself, who is in Himself peace, that brings us to this change. There is therefore a peace that underlies the sanctification of the believer.

Paul prays in this letter – beginning at verse 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.

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;

This phrase focuses on THE GOD OF PEACE, who is the One who powerfully works within our souls, by peaceful means, to bring about this change as the sanctifying agent.

But now you may ask, what is sanctification?

Let us first look this morning at the PRINCIPLE OF SANCTIFICATION.


Let us, as simply as possible, define the term SANCTIFICATION. Sanctification is another way of describing that basic and radical change that takes place in a sinner’s moral and ethical condition, when he or she has become united to the Lord Jesus Christ in effectual calling and regeneration. When a person has been convicted by God the Holy Spirit of his sin through being woken up to the fact of his sin; and when he has called out to God for mercy in response to that effectual call by God, calling him away from his sinful life; and when he has believed and trusted in Christ alone to save him from his sins – THEN the remarkable change process begins – called sanctification. It is a process that goes on then for the rest of his life. This process is reflected in the Greek word used by Paul the Apostle in this verse –

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;

Sanctify is HAGIADZOH – it is a verb and means to make holy or to hallow. It means to set apart from profane things. It means to be dedicated by God for God. It means to be cleansed externally and purified internally by the renewing of the soul. And this purification of the soul is by EXPIATION – to be freed from the guilt of sin. This expiation is achieved by the death of another – it is an atonement for sin – a paying of the penalty for sin on behalf of another and bearing the punishment for another. It was the holy, perfect Son of God who did this.

As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you are able this morning to admit to a dynamic change in your life since you believed in Jesus Christ – or rather you should be able to! Since you have become God’s special possession – set apart from the rest of the world of men and women, then it is bound to show!

2 Corinthians 5 v 17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Jesus Christ prayed that you and I might be sanctified – we read it earlier in John 17 v 16

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

Now there are some other important aspects of this word sanctification which need to be noted.

1. Sanctification is not an ATTAINMENT. It is the state into which God, in grace, calls sinful men and women and in which they begin their lives as Christians. Even though the transition, the conversion experience is usually instantaneous in its presentation, the sanctification process is not an act of instant saint hood in the sense that we are made perfect in an instant!

Rather it is a process seen in perspective. It is bit like the manufacture of a car which can be observed by a visitor to the car making factory. At one end the raw material of steel, glass and plastic begin a journey on the production line. At the other end a brand new pristine model comes rolling off the line ready for the showroom. Imagine that this process is achieved in one large cavernous factory and you can see the beginning and the ending – start and finish.

This is the perspective of the process. We can contemplate it as a COMPLETED ACT even though there is the production line between here and heaven!

Just as much as a car is not made instantly – neither is our sanctification achieved instantly.

However we are viewed every bit as complete in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His work to sanctify us through many means. But it is not to do merely with our attainment.

So many sincere religious people believe this. They sign up for Christianity and then embark on a self sanctification programme which includes a strict set of standards designed to please God. They believe that they must attain a certain level of sanctification by their own efforts without any reference to God’s power in their lives. Yet it is the Holy God who has the power to make unholy sinners into saints! Saints who are called the HAGAOI – the sanctified ones – saints who are ordinary believers with an extraordinary Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His will that we His people are holy. But rather than leaving us struggling – he has come Himself to make us holy – by His Holy Spirit who graciously enters our souls when we first believe, and we are changed!

The effect of this inner change is seen in our outward behaviour and words. More about this in a moment.

But the point about verse 23 and Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians is this – the Apostle had a desire for them – it was a continuous and complete realisation of their calling to Holiness; and that by God’s power they might be able to live consistently for Him – knowing the fact that every part of their complex being belonged to God.

When he writes to the Church at Ephesus he will later say in Ephesians 5 v 25

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

This then is the Principle of Sanctification.

Yet before we move in our thinking to the Practice of Sanctification we must not overlook this word WHOLLY –

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;

It is a truly interesting word – wholly. It is a Greek word HOLOTELES – a compound of the word HOLOS meaning whole and TELOS – a goal or an end – a finishing or termination.

Put together in this one word the thought is this – that the process to which this word refers is perfect and complete in every respect.

Paul is praying for God to sanctify these believers through and through. He desires that sanctification should affect every part of the believer – soul and body!

This is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament and it tells us who is the principle agent in our Sanctification – it is not us – to struggle and earn favour with God – but it is of His grace that purifies us and makes us Holy like His son.

Indeed when we think of the way that we human beings have been marred by sin – the image of God spoiled in us by our rebellion – then it is natural for the Lord God to want to restore His image in us – as believers. And it is no half hearted effort this – no partial sanctification.

It is not merely our inward spiritual portion that is sanctified – it is the external material part of us that is sanctified too.

It is just as our brother Ken was saying two weeks ago – quoting Roman 12 v 1

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Transformation by the renewing of our minds – a transformation that shows with a conforming to the Lord Jesus Christ and the image being restored.

Paul’s prayer is for a COMPLETE SANCTIFICATION to be the Thessalonians portion. He is not praying to them – that they exert a supreme effort to change – but He prays to the Lord God that His sanctifying power will work in EVERY aspect of their lives – wholly – completely – entirely.

But what is our part in all this as believers – as saints – as sanctified ones? Is there nothing for us to do at all? Are we completely passive in all this pursuit of holiness?


The task of sanctification does not take place in a vacuum. It is based on the sovereign work of grace in our lives as Christians.

Peter makes a statement in 1 Peter 2 v 9

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

This is a statement of fact – You are a holy nation.

Yet in 1 Peter 1 there is a command

15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;

In other words since you are a holy nation – made Holy by the Sovereign Lord Himself – then it follows that you should be holy in all your behaviour.

This arrangement of statement and command can be seen elsewhere in the New Testament.

Romans 6 v 2 How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

The statement – we are dead to sin.

The command – look down at verse 12

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.

Let not sin reign!

We see it again in Colossians 3. First the statement

3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Then the command -

5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness …

Yet again it appears in Galatians 5 – the statement

24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

And the command in the next verse –

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

The relationships between these passages are not reversible. It is always the statement first and the command second.

Since you are a saint – then behave in a saintly way.

The command is always based on the statement.

Sanctification is a matter of Grace – but it is a matter to be pursued on the basis of the gracious work that God has already done in us in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our works can never add to God’s grace. Only those who have good reason to think that they are Christians ought to be exhorted this morning to be busying themselves in sanctification.

So let me pause and ask that most fundamental of questions this morning – do you have good reason to think that you are a Christian?

Have you gone to the Lord Jesus Christ in true repentance and confession of sin, and found in Him forgiveness and pardon? Has He assured you that he is your saviour and that he died for your sins – personally? And do you believe with all of your being that when He died on the cross at Calvary that He was dying for you?

These are really important questions – and your answers will say much about you – they will say whether you indeed have good reason to think that you are a Christian.

Many people just drift into the Christian life by becoming associated with a group of Christian people. They observe the lives of Christians. They determine that if they do this and that – behave like those who are called Christians, then that makes them the same. They become Christians by imitation and by assumption.

But the Bible says that ye must be born again if you are to see the Kingdom of God. Why does the Bible say that quoting the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 3? Because you MUST BE BORN AGAIN! There is no other way to become a true believer.

O my friend – if you are not a Christian this morning – then this is the command for you – be born again! Being born again is Biblical. The term may have been hijacked by politicians and film stars to indicate some radical change in their lives – but they do not have a clue what it really means! The new birth means to be made alive by the Spirit of God; to be regenerated; to be renewed in the mind and to become a partaker of the Divine nature. Is this your experience this morning?

Notice also that the commands are not optional. We who are Christ’s are compelled to be obedient to God’s precepts of holiness.

No one may say “I am sanctified” who is not engaged in dying to sin and being sanctified!

Samuel Waldron puts it very helpfully like this – the believer is to be CONSTANTLY RECKONING and STRENUOUSLY WORKING.

Romans 6 v 11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Because we have been saved and sanctified and are new creatures in Christ and have repented of our sins then we can confidently reckon that what God says has happened to us is true! We are not commanded to become dead to sin and alive to God – that is presupposed. We were joined savingly to the Lord Jesus Christ when we were converted.

Next we are to strenuously work – sin is to be mortified and grace is to be cultivated. The old habits of sin are to be replaced with the new habits of righteousness and godliness.

This is our task as Christians – to constantly reckon ourselves dead to sin – to strenuously work at habits of righteousness. Yet we are to remember first and foremost that sanctification is God’s work in us.

Our text this morning proves that point –

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;

God sanctifies – and He is in the process of sanctifying. Paul prays, “May the God of peace embark and continue in the process of sanctifying you – wholly – completely.”

Can we confirm that this happening in us and to us today my friends?

Paul prayed for his friends at Thessalonica that it would be true for them.

The Lord Jesus Christ prayed for you and me that it would be true for us today –

John 17 v 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one;

Do you believe that the prayers of the Son of God are answered?

Jesus prayed for His people – His believing children – true believers – you, if you are a believer, and me.

We can be confident that he will lead us in His sanctifying work, making us ever more and more like Him – and lead us in our part to follow after holiness – until we meet Him in glory – THEN we shall be perfect!

Then all our trials and sorrows will be oe’r, And we’ll be safe on that beautiful shore, Just to be near the Dear Lord we adore – That will be glory for us!

A final illustration. When King Solomon was building his magnificent temple he made sure that no tool – neither axe nor hammer – was used in its construction ON SITE. All the preparations were down away from the place where the temple was erected to the glory of God.

The stones in particular had to be fashioned and dressed by the stone masons in the quarries and workshops – before being placed together in the Temple building.

My friends we are being built into a temple – but we are still in the fashioning stage. Rough edges are being painfully hammered and chiselled off us to make us into a perfect stone – fit to be eventually placed in God’s glorious temple – into which God will come, in all His glory and majesty, to live for ever!

Don’t smart under the hammer blows and chisel cuts of the Lord’s preparation of you for being part of His temple. Sanctification is a good thing – for the Lord Jesus Christ will be honoured by the final result – and all the glory will be His!

May we know patience in our preparation for glory! And of the Lord’s tender help and encouragement as we submit to His sanctifying work in us. Then Paul’s prayer will be answered –

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;

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