This section of scripture came up in my bible study this week. 1 Thessalonians is a book of the bible written by Paul which is actually a letter to the church in Thessalonica. It was written to strengthen the Christians there. If you are like me, you read a list like this and take your spiritual temperature to see where you stand. My internal monologue, as I read this passage, is in parenthesis below.
Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy (*Insert Name here* is lazy. The bible is giving me permission to tell them. Should I do that? Also, sometimes I am lazy). Encourage those who are timid (I need to be less timid in my parenting. The kids need a mom not a friend.) Take tender care of those who are weak (What does this actually mean?). Be patient with everyone ( I was not patient with my son yesterday but neither was my husband).
See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people (*Insert Name here* did evil towards me. I didn’t repay them with evil…or am I fooling myself? Lord, show me my role). Always be joyful (How can I be joyful when I am struggling?). Never stop praying (I do pray throughout the day…yay…I am doing ok with this one). Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus (It’s hard to be thankful when something horrible happens but I will be deliberate about doing it).
~1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 (New Living Translation) (NLT)
Throughout scripture there are lists like this and each time I read one, I go through a similar process. In each case, if I am honest, I come up short against the measuring stick of God’s word. Out of that whole list, I am doing one thing “right” at this point.
There is a gap between me when I first believe in Jesus and where I need to be according to God’s word. When we believe, God begins to change us but this is a process over time. What you see through my inner monologue is a snapshot of the process of sanctification in my life.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. ~Romans 6:22 (ESV)
You know those “for Dummies” books; the ones that teach you how to use QuickBooks or even play football at a high level and in a simple manner. I am going to try to tackle Sanctification in that manner. Sanctification is a big Christian word. I am no bible scholar so what I am describing below will be more in line with those “for Dummies” books rather than a scholarly dissertation. I likely only have a vague idea of what I am talking about.
The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines “Sanctification,” as the process of being made holy resulting in a changed lifestyle for the believer. The Lexham Bible Dictionary states, “Sanctification” refers broadly to the concept of being set apart as sacred. This doctrine of sanctification draws on New Testament passages that emphasize a move toward holy and righteous living that characterizes following Christ in faith (1 Thess 4:3–8; Rom 6:19–22).
Believing in Jesus is just the beginning. You are not a perfect Christian automatically. When you believe in Jesus and agree to follow Him, He begins to work in your life through the Holy Spirit living inside you. The Holy Spirit’s work in your life is “the fruit you get” leading to sanctification referenced in Romans 6:22 above.
Like I said in my post about the Proverbs 31 woman, for years I thought I had to do this myself by following “the rules” laid out in the bible. I thought God looked down on me in disappointment wondering when I would get my act together. What I didn’t know was that God was waiting for me to give up trying on my own and to surrender to Him. When that happens, miracles begin to take place. Some of them are big and instant and some some are slow over time. As you read your bible, pray, and agree to follow God in your life, He begins to work. Some things you can see right away. Other things change slowly over time and you don’t even have an awareness of it; one day you realize you no longer struggle with a particular issue and you don’t know even know when it changed. When you surrender to God, he does all the work. Some things are painful as you are grown and some things are easy. Either way, you don’t do any of it except to agree to follow where He leads.
You can look at a passage like this through the lens of condemnation as if God is sitting in heaven pointing a finger down on you in anger telling you to get it together. Or you can look at this passage with conviction recognizing the areas where you need help leading you to turn to the One who can. The One who can (The Holy Spirit) is with you. He will put His spiritual arm around you and say, “Let’s work on this together.” That’s grace. Is God’s word a measuring stick for right and holy living? Yes. Is sin a thing God cares about? Yes, but you and I don’t overcome any of it without His help.
I don’t look at this list and feel hopeless. I look at this list with humility and hope, knowing that the only way any of this will be true in my life is if I ask God to help me with it. I can’t do any of it on my own. It is my heart’s desire that these things be true for me. I pray for change, accept the grace God gives me for today, and let Him work in His time. Sanctification is a process and where I am today is okay as long as my heart is surrendered