God's Will for Us
A Practical Essay
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from unchastity… for God has not called you to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." (1 Thess.4.3-8)
Many Christians ask the question "How do I know what God's will is for my course in life?" God's will is the same for all His people ‑ sanctification. So the question follows "What is sanctification?" It is translated from the Greek 'hagiasmos'and is related to holiness. Paul sometimes says those to whom he writes are "called to be saints". These words relate to all God's people, all who are part of the Divine family and wish to share the life of Christ. They do not relate to just one or two special Christians.
So God's will for all His people is that they should be holy, and this is similar to Heb.12.14 which tells us that we must strive for that holiness without which we cannot see the Lord. The writer there infers that to reach a state of holiness requires effort over a period of time, and so it is with sanctification. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church (1 Cor.1.30) wrote of "Christ Jesus whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness, sanctification and redemption." Christ becomes our righteousness the moment we accept Him as our Saviour from sin and at the end of our lives is responsible for the moment we are delivered from "this body of death", again in a moment of time. But the time between those two points may be many years and during that time we undergo a process which in theological terms is our 'sanctification' ‑ the process of being made holy. But although this requires effort on our part, that sanctification is not possible without Him, His life in us by the Holy Spirit is the only way to God and through that process we become like Him.
In Thessalonians Paul is writing to young converts; men and women who had turned from a pagan way of life, along with Jewish converts in Paul's first visit to Europe. They had discovered salvation in Christ, and he had become their righteousness. Just as the pagan way of life had made those Gentile converts more and more unholy, similarly, their Jewish brethren failed to be made holy through obedience to the Law of Moses. The believers at Thessalonica had begun in the way of Christ but before them lay perhaps many years of the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit before they could enter the presence of the glory of God.
There must be many new converts who feel 'on cloud nine' ‑ on top of the world ‑ when they have just become a member of God's family. They feel joyful yet at peace, and they know the doctrine of Christ. They may think that they can gain an adequate knowledge of God's Word in a very short time. Be that as it may, that knowledge and understanding of God's truth has to become a reality in their lives before they can be ushered into the very presence of God. They can only discover their immaturity when in the weakness of their old nature they face the opposition of the world and Devil and begin to realise how far short they are of the glory of God. There is often a long hard journey with Christ, learning by the temptations and trials of life, and this is the long process of sanctification.
So Paul urges the new converts in Thessalonica to avoid all forms of unholiness ‑ everything in life which does not please God, everything that would in any way interfere with our walk with Christ and His brethren. That which so often disturbs the Christian life and hinders our progress is not blatant rebellion against God but the seemingly unimportant, little infringements of God's law (Jesus called them 'little foxes') and the restlessness that goes with them. Nor can we be sure of what we are actually doing when we are rushing about doing what we think are 'good works'. We need rest, not a sitting down doing nothing attitude, but a restful mind, waiting on God, seeking quietly in prayer 'the way of the Lord'. Jesus revealed that the 'rest' that God had after His initial creative work was completed was not quite the same as the attitude to the Sabbath that the Jews displayed. Holiness is to be reached by an active faith in Christ and that is the goal of the writer to the Hebrews and he deals with this 'rest' quite early in his letter. It is a rest of total dependence and utter acceptance of God's way and this can only be as 'we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word' in the words of an old hymn. The words of John's first letter are clear "when we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin."
Peter expressed this viewpoint when he wrote "sanctification by the spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ." (1 Pet.1.2). It is difficult to know precisely how Israel viewed all this in the earlier phases of its history, so much of which was quite obviously not working towards anything that could be regarded as remotely holy. More often it was idolatrous rebellion. In his own life time Peter would be left in no doubt as to what was wrong with the society of his day ‑ pious Jews in Judea and further afield across the Empire, thought they could achieve holiness by doing what the Law of Moses demanded.
Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians described it in a very different manner. "We beholding the glory of the Lord are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another." (2 Cor.3.18). In six legged invertebrates, little is seen of the wonderful changes within the pupa as it changes from the crawling imago into the beautiful flying insect. The wonderful systems for eating, moving, breathing and reproducing itself all develop silently out sight of the observer. It is a wonderful illustration of how the child of God (the new creation) develops to the maturity that prepares them to live in the 'Eternal Light' of God's love ‑ that love which is His glory and which they receive and reflect.
Jesus described it by the Covenant illustration, 'The Vine', when he said "every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the Word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you." (John 15.1-3). Paul had a similar thought when speaking of the relationship of husbands and wives. "Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved (Gr. agape) the church and gave himself for her in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word." (Eph.5.25,26). The word cleansing in the Greek is much the same as Jesus used in the quote from John 15 in the cleansing of the vine branch. Therein lies the value of the Scriptures ‑ the Word of God. It has a cleansing effect if allowed to do so. This is not academic learning for its own sake, which appears to be the purpose in some Bible study analysis and deduction. Rather it is the "washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit which he poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that we might be justified through his grace and become heirs of the hope of eternal life." (Tit.3.5). We do not live monastic lives separated from the dark influences of the world. Worldly media has been a growth industry for more than a century and is not conducive to 'holiness'. J.B.Phillips translation of Romans 12.2 is appropriate here and opens our eyes to the power of world. "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity."
We have the privilege of taking every demand on our time and skills and energies, to the Lord remembering the words of Paul in Romans 14.23, "whatever is not of faith is sin" How we earn our daily bread and how we relax between times, is all subject to the questions "Can I do it with the Lord?" ‑ "Will this take me nearer to him or further away?" "If I could see him face to face ‑ what would his response be?" But the more time we spend with Him, the thinner becomes the veil between us.
Is there a 'mess of porridge' we exchange for our birthright? If so, what is it? What is so important that we can jeopardise our eternity? We do everything, we say everything and we think everything in the 'light of eternity'. Does that make us a little more careful about the way we think, and speak and act? It is God's will that we become holy like him.
In our modern world, with more 'leisure' time and vastly greater opportunities to use 'relaxing' in sport, games, books, hobbies, gardening, (the list is seemingly endless in this computer-internet society) we must again ask pertinent questions such as "Can I do it with the Lord?"; "would I do it if I could see him? And what would Jesus do?" We reach maturity in Christ when we know what he wants, and are able to spiritually advise others. God speaks to our hearts and in the context of what is happening in our lives.
"Do not worry about anything but in prayer with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" Phil 4.6.
Real holiness demands that we have that gentleness ‑ that readiness to forego our legal, moral rights ‑ and treat everyone that touches our lives with a willing forgiveness.
'If I in thy
likeness O Lord may awake and shine a pure image of thee,