Growing Up To Be Like Jesus

Spiritual Growth, Perseverence, Prayer, Faithfulness

Do you generally read to the end of a letter that is written to you?  That probably depends.  If the letter is from someone looking for money you may not even read the first line before pitching it into the garbage.  However, if the letter is from someone important to you, you will read every last word.  Sometimes the best stuff is in the p.s. at the end.  You might read, p.s. “I’ve enclosed a check for you.” Or “p.s. I love you”.  Or, “p.s. I’ll be arriving tomorrow.”

Sometimes with a book we read to the end because we want to know how the story ends.  At other times we will feel the author has finished making his point well before he finished writing the book, so we skim or skip the last chapters.  Sometimes with a textbook we are required to read so many pages and we start to lose interest.  We end up not so much reading, as just turning, the pages.

How we read the end of the various books and letters of the Bible is determined by whether we see theses books as a letter from someone we love or as an assignment we have been given to complete.

We have invested 14 weeks in our study of this letter of Paul to the Thessalonians.  There is a tendency (even on my part) to be so eager to finish the study that we hurry through the final words of the book.  To do so is to miss some significant information.

        23 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. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

        25 Brothers, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

        28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Immediately we are confronted with a word that is uncommon to our normal vocabulary.  It is the word “sanctify”.  The word means, “to be set apart”.  It is a word that comes from the word holy.  When something was “sanctified” it was devoted to God’s service.

Paul here is praying for God to make us like those who are “set apart”.  If you will, he is praying that God would help us to be more like Jesus.  In theological terms this process of becoming “set apart” for God is called sanctification.  It is what Paul may have been thinking about when he wrote these words in Romans 8:29 “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  It is easy to get hung up on that word “predestined” and miss what it is that God has predestined us to be.  He desires that be conformed to the likeness of his son and to be a part of God’s family. So, here’s the question: How does this happen?  I see at least three principles on what it means to grow up to be like Jesus.

Honor Christ Fully in All We Do and Are

Paul said,

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.

Paul wants us to be “set apart” through and through.  He wants us to belong to God in our spirit, soul and body. Some people have made a big deal out of the fact that Paul here talks about the “spirit, soul, and body”.  They believe this tells us that there are really three parts to man.  However, if you search the Scriptures this is the only time in the Bible where these three words are used.  In Mark 12:30 Jesus talks about loving God with all of our “heart, soul, mind, and strength.”  In most cases the Bible talks about “body” and “soul” or “flesh” and “spirit”.  Don’t read so much into Paul’s words that you miss his point.  His point is that a person like Jesus honors Christ in every part of his life.

This is an important message for a couple of reasons.  First, it counters the tendency to compartmentalize faith.  In other words, we are Christian when we are at church and we are godless when we are at work or at play. We are Christian when we are with one group of people and non-Christian with another group of people.  I hope this sounds ridiculous to you.  Unfortunately, people are increasingly seeing no incongruity to such actions.  They say, “faith is faith” and “fun is fun”.  The Bible consistently points to the fact that if Jesus is not Lord OF all, He is not Lord AT all.

Second, it contradicts the notion that salvation is a one time affair.  On occasion we seem to give the impression that the Christian faith involves saying a prayer, performing some act, or having some experience.  Trusting Christ is about a whole new orientation and passion for life.  It is an ongoing and continual process.  Faith is not simply an agreement we make with God (“You died for me, I receive that provision”). Saving faith is entering into a relationship with God.

C.S. Lewis relates, “When I was a child, I often had a toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother, she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother–at least not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this: I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist the next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from my pain; but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they would start fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache.”

Our Lord is like the dentists. Dozens of people go to him to be cured of some particular problem. He will cure the problem, but he will not stop there. God is not content to simply remove the pain, He wants to deal with the true problem – your heart.

The Bible talks about our holiness (or sanctification) in three different senses.  First, there is Positional Sanctification.  Hebrews 10:10 tells us, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.  It speaks of holiness in the past tense. In this dimension of our sanctification, when Christ’s sacrifice was applied to our lives, God declared us holy.  It was like a Judge declaring us “Not Guilty”.  The issue is settled.  The debt is paid. Perhaps another way of looking at it is like a coach telling a player he is on the team.  He will dress for the games.  He will receive a ring if the team wins a championship.  He will be in the team photo.  Perhaps this image is best of all: You injury your knee badly.  Perhaps it even needs to be surgically replaced.  You talk to the surgeon after the operation and you are told, “everything went well.  The damage is repaired.” In this sense you are already healed.

Second, there is Perfect (or future) Sanctification.  The Bible also talks about a day when we will be made perfect.  When we die we will be freed from the sinful nature.  Our desires will be adjusted.  Our struggles will be conquered.  Our hearts will be pure.  Most of us will admit that we haven’t arrived at this point being made holy yet.  To go back to the surgical illustration, after the surgery you were healed, the injury was repaired, but you still couldn’t walk.  Your leg was still swollen and hurt.  You looked forward to the day (sometime in the future) when you would once again be able to walk and run without pain or limitation.  This would be the total healing.

Third, there is Practical sanctification.  This is what takes place in between these two times.  In Philippians Paul told us to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling” (2:12).  In other words, we are to apply our salvation in our daily living.  This is what Paul has been urging throughout all these commands in 1 Thessalonians 5.  He wants us to apply our salvation.

Let’s go back to the sports analogy. The person who is on the team must still work hard so they can get into the games.  They keep working so they can make key plays and truly contribute to the fortune of the team.

If we use the surgery illustration, this practical sanctification would be the equivalent of Physical Therapy.  There is discipline, there is exercise and there are skills you need to re-learn.

We are sanctified, we will be sanctified, and we are being sanctified.  All are true at the same time.  We should be seeking all three.

Put Our Confidence and Trust in God and not Ourselves

If you are like me, you look at your life and you may feel like Paul, “the good that I want to do, I don’t do; the evil I don’t want to do, that I do.” (Romans 7:14-20)  I look at myself in the mirror and I see that I am a long way from being holy.  I get angry over petty things.  I get frustrated and take it out on others.  My mind wanders to places I wish it wouldn’t go. My appetites and desires sometimes seem to control me.  Like the person with the injured leg, I sometimes wonder if it is true that I have been made right with God.  Am I really healed of my sinful past?

Notice the words of Paul.

23 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. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

We aren’t in this alone.  God doesn’t expect us to achieve this holiness in our own strength.  We don’t have the needed strength to become holy in ourselves. God is the One who will sanctify us.  He is the one who will “keep us” (the picture is of something that is put under guard).  He is committed to our growth and development.  God has given us His Holy Spirit (to act somewhat like the Physical Therapist).  The Spirit, prays for us in groans too deep for words. He guides us, equips us with various spiritual gifts, He comforts us and He is working to develop Christlike character in us.

Like a good coach he is guiding our development; The Lord is giving us direction and instruction.  Our job is to learn to trust the wisdom of God much like we would trust the wisdom of the coach or the Physical Therapist (even though he or she seems like a masochist bent on our destruction).  God is not concerned about is not so much about our mimicking certain behaviors as He is about us deepening our relationship with Him and our dependence on Him.

We Must Cherish the Value of Prayer

As Paul, the great theologian and Pastor closes his letter he makes several final requests.  He asks for prayer.  He tells the church to great each other warmly as mid-easterners often do, with a kiss (the equivalent of our shaking a hand or giving a hug).  Then he tells them to make sure everyone hears what Paul has written.

It is the first request that is key: “Pray for us”.  Paul understood that life is difficult.  We are under assault from our internal nature, from the enemies of the gospel, and from the Devil himself.   Jesus understood the power and importance of prayer.  In the gospels we read often of Jesus spending entire nights in prayer.  Prayer is our lifeline to the Father.  If we are going to grow to be like Jesus we must: pray, seek prayer, and extend prayer.

First, we must pray.  Prayer is like communication in marriage, you can’t grow in Christlikeness if you don’t spend time in prayer.  Prayer puts us in touch with the heart of God.  It helps us to renew our focus. It opens our hearts to the work of God’s Spirit.

We need to understand the truth of what Jesus said in John 15: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”  Our strength is not found in our programs, our talents, our persuasive words, our graphics, our vision statements or our organizational pyramid.  Our strength is in the Lord.

  • We can make slick presentations; only God can change a heart
  • We can make strong arguments; only Gods can generate faith
  • We can work hard; only God can bring fruit from that labor
  • We can build great buildings; only God can empower true ministry
  • We can develop great theories; only God is truth

Apart from the Lord, we are like a car without an engine.  We can look good on the outside but we are powerless on the inside.  We must pray.

Second, we must seek prayer.  Paul, the great apostle never passed up an opportunity to ask other to pray for him.  When we ask for prayer we are asking people to help support us because we know our weakness.  When we seek prayer we are becoming more accountable to those around us.  I think the reason we don’t ask for prayer is because we don’t want to admit weakness.  When we hide our needs we soon end up pretending in every area of life.

Third, we must pray for others.  There is not a single person in this room that doesn’t need your prayers.  Just as you need the prayers of those around you, so they need your prayers.  It is important that we pray for those in a crisis.  God’s strength can see people through horrible times.  God’s ability to heal exceeds that of the Doctors.  However, we also need to pray for each other before the crisis hits.  We need to pray that God would shield us from evil, that He will help us resist temptation, that He will develop within us an appetite for His glory.  We need to pray for each other: “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.”

Conclusions

There are several things I hope you see from this text.  First, I hope you see that the Christian life is a marathon rather than a sprint.  Marathon runners know that they need to train and train diligently. They build up strength over time.  This endurance must be maintained by regular and steady training.  As believers we too must discipline ourselves in the faith. We must choose to serve Him at work, at home, in our recreational activities, in our social gatherings, and in the way we handle our quiet and private times.  He wants us to follow Him and to do so, not as a hobby, but as our very life.

So, please look at your own life. Are there parts of your life that you have declared “off limits” to God?  If so, confess this fact and ask God to give you the faith to trust Him in every aspect of your life.

Second, Make a note of the people sitting around you today.  Write their names down and then make it a point to pray for these people this week.  If you don’t know their names, write down a description, (Lady in the blue dress, Man who fell asleep etc.  God knows who you mean). You may not know what their needs are but God does.  Pray the prayer that Paul prayed for the Thessalonians on their behalf.  Ask God to help them be set apart for His service.

Third, and finally, keep your eye on the prize.  Suppose a NASCAR race was 400 miles.  Because you are an excellent driver you get to the head of the pack.  At 350 miles you have a comfortable lead so you pull into the pit and get out of the car and start shaking everyone’s hands and start talking about what a great race it was.  Would that seem foolish?  Of course it would!  The next week you wouild be seeking a new sponsor! The race isn’t over until the 400 miles are completed!

Our goal should not be to become religious.  It should not be to be well-respected.  It should not even be to become a leader in the church.  Our goal should be to be like Christ.  Our challenge is to follow Him more closely today than we did yesterday and more closely tomorrow than we did today. If we lose sight of the goal, we will stop before the finish line.  We will miss out on the real joy of life.  And we may spend our lives walking with a limp.

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Scripture:

1 Thessalonians 5:23-28