“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24).
I knew a girl in college whose response to most any conversation was: “That’s just how I am.” Whether spoken as an opinion or in response to the innocent inquiry of a friend, this statement was the overarching reason for most anything she did or said. She was not insistent that others adopt her way of thinking, but the repeated statement made it quite clear that she had no intention of ever changing her mind or behavior. At the ripe, old age of 18 she had herself and the world figured out … or so she thought. “That’s just how I am” cemented her thoughts and opinions into unwavering truth. The problem: She left no room for her truth to interface with God’s truth on the topic of who she really was — no room for growth, true surrender or divine partnership.
1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 implies a willingness to grow in the Christian life. In fact, there is great responsibility upon those who call themselves followers of Christ, for their path is paved with continual decisions designed to instigate growth in God’s grace. From prevenient grace (the grace given to initially acknowledge one’s need for Christ) to glorifying grace (the grace experienced upon entering God’s presence after death), true believers choose to journey – to become, believing that God can transform even the slightest iniquity so that we can reflect the image of God bestowed upon humanity at Creation (Genesis 1:27).
Growth in grace requires surrender to the only God who can “sanctify through and through.” True surrender acknowledges personal weakness. It accepts human nature’s bent toward inward satisfaction over outward service, yet it is not satisfied with this spiritual status quo. It anticipates a comprehensive atonement (or at-one-ment) with God where nothing is off limits to the scrutiny of the Spirit. It takes seriously the Old and New Testament admonitions to “be holy as I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44–45, 19:2, 20:7–8; Numbers 15:40; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:15–16).
Benson H. Roberts, son of our denominational founder, B.T. Roberts, echoes this essential doctrine in his book “Holiness Teachings – the Life and Work of B.T. Roberts” when he writes, “With equal plainness He says, ‘Be ye holy.’… Here is a plain command, reiterated at long intervals, and under different dispensations. It is not a matter which is left to our own choice. It is imperatively required by our God.”
Those serious about the Christian journey do not ignore God’s Word regarding this fundamental teaching. The command to “be holy” must mean that such a way of life is possible, because our God would not entice with impossible instructions.
The Scripture passage above also necessitates partnership with God. The responsibility of surrender is ours, but the responsibility of transformation is God’s: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (emphasis mine). A “through and through” sanctification requires the power and presence of God, because it is a state of being beyond human ability. It is neither the perfection of straight A’s nor the flawless recitation of a Scripture passage in preparation for the next Bible quiz competition … both of which could be credited to one’s own fervent study and remain only disciplines of the mind. The “through and through” process is the Spirit-initiated, internal renovation possible when that which we’ve studied encompasses both head and heart … such that God has access to it all.
The life of a true Christ-follower is a journey of growth, surrender and divine partnership. These are sanctification essentials that not only recur in Scripture, but also are interwoven into the fabric of our denominational DNA. In his book, “Why Another Sect,” B.T. Roberts writes, “Those that are sanctified wholly are saved from all inward sin — from evil thoughts and evil tempers. No wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul. All the thoughts, words and actions are governed by pure love” (emphases mine).
B.T. Roberts and many of our forerunners were misunderstood, chastised and shunned for their unwavering conviction and commitment to this type of faith that demanded all. Yet they remained faithful to the call.
Are we still willing to keep on the way of transformation no matter the cost, or are we set in the way we are? May we mirror God’s faithfulness to make us blameless by exhibiting faithful commitment to growth, surrender and partnership with God!
Joy M.O. Ireland is a Free Methodist elder who resides in Wilmore, Kentucky.
DISCUSSION: Read Matthew 5:43–48, 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 and 1 John 1:5–10. In connection with 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 quoted above, what do these passages teach us about our role in the Christian journey of sanctification? What are characteristics of a blameless life, and what are vices that need to be chiseled away?  What mindset, beliefs or opinions hinder your willingness and ability to keep on the way to giving God all and allowing God to sanctify all of you? 0