Sanctification and Perseverance

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NASB)

Advent 3B – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Both the Old Testament and Gospel lections for the 3d Sunday in Advent recapitulate and expand themes introduced on the 1st and 2d Sundays: hope that transcends mere restoration, God’s prevenient grace in the prophetic call and use of the means of grace to prepare for God’s kingly activity.

The Epistle introduces a new theme: sanctification and perseverance.

Attention Wesleyans: The words “entire” and “sanctification” are found here in one phrase.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 is a benediction. It belongs to a unit of thought that begins in 5:12 and ends in 5:24. The lectionary cuts the unit short by beginning the reading in 5:16. Each verse in the reading could stand on its own, but together they constitute some of Paul’s thoughts on practical Christian living in the interim between the resurrection and the parousia. If one wants to know what Paul thinks that “sanctification” means in this context and what it means to be found blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, one just has to look back a few verses.

  • Respect authority within the church (5:12) (a little proto-catholicism in the earliest book of the New Testament!)
  • Live at peace with other Christians (5:13b)
  • Be productive (5:14a) (there is a Christian work ethic!)
  • Encourage the timid (5:14b)
  • Be patient with other Christians (5:14c)
  • Seek good for other Christians, not harm, even when others have harmed you (an echo of the Sermon on the Mount?)
  • Rejoice in every circumstance (5:16)
  • Pray in every circumstance (5:17)
  • Be thankful in every circumstance (5:18)
  • Let the Spirit continue to lead and inspire; don’t be a wet blanket (5:19)
  • Let preachers preach, but test what they say and only hold on to that of value (5:20-21)
  • Abstain from every form of evil (5:22)

Taken together, these verses address both individual and community life in Christ. They range from the abstract spirituality to practical matters such as earning a living. They speak about both deeds and attitudes. Most of all, they are actions that Christians perform. In verse 23-24, Paul turns to God’s actions. May God sanctify you. May God keep you blameless until the coming of our Lord. God is faithful and will do this. Human effort and divine grace are inseparably intertwined.