“He is Risen: What Now?”
1 Thessalonians 5:5-24
Last week we celebrated Resurrection Sunday and it was awesome! Almost 220 folks gathered to worship the risen Savior. It is what the apostle Paul calls of First Importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3 NIV). Like Peter to the crowds at Pentecost, we cry out, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” No, we didn’t see firsthand Jesus die and rise from the dead—as Peter and many others did—but we see through the eyes of faith which has been passed on to us for two millennia.
On Resurrection Sunday, we celebrate new life in Jesus Christ where sin has been defeated and everlasting life is the new reality for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. So that’s it, right? Mission accomplished. We were sinners, but now we have been saved by faith. We have been found blameless through justification and we have been given new life in the new birth. We are good, right? We are saved. I can say, AMEN, we can have breakfast and get on with our lives. How’s that sound?
Intuitively, we know that’s not true, don’t we? We know that God has more in store for us than simply professing Jesus as Lord, then sitting back in security and watching the world burn, waiting for Jesus to return. We know this because the Bible places demands on our lives from cover to cover, and we know we have been commissioned to go into the world and make disciples of all people groups, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them the things of Christ.
And even the worldliest of believers among us understand that following Jesus calls us to leave some pieces of our old life behind. So, it would be crazy to say that we’re done once we accept Jesus into our lives.
And yet, so many of us do just that. We might not say it with our mouths, but we all know that actions speak louder than words. The late Brennan Manning, a defrocked Franciscan priest, an author, and a recovering alcoholic, famously said “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
So, while we might profess with our mouths, often we are just paying lip service to our commitment to Christ. How do we know this? Just count the crowds on Sundays following Christmas or Resurrection Sunday…or our involvement in Bible study and prayer…
or listen to our conversations on Monday…or our commitment to right the wrongs of this world…or peek into our homes to see what we’re watching on TV or the web.
He is risen! What now? Who it is that God has called us to be now as believers and followers of Jesus Christ? That’s what we seek to learn each and every Sunday, NOT just the Sunday following Resurrection Sunday. So this morning, let’s look at one passage that speaks of who we are called to be because of Resurrection Sunday from Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:5-24 NIV
II. Children of the light
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote to a church that seemed to have it all together. In Acts 17, we read that Paul and his companions visited Thessalonica to preach the gospel, and their words had fallen on ready ears and hearts…“good soil,” as Jesus would say. The Thessalonians had fully embraced the good news of Jesus, even amid persecution, so much so that Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:7, they had become “a model to other believers.”
We know from some of Paul’s letters to other churches that problems often arose after he left them. In fact, many of his letters were sent to offer correction and exhortation. But apparently, things were going so well in Thessalonica, that when Paul sent Timothy to check on them and he returned with a glowing report, Paul’s response was to tell them how he was encouraged by their faith. Throughout the short letter, he often would just encourage them to continue in their Christian faith and practice “more and more.”
You would think that since the Thessalonian church had their act together, nothing more needed to be said or done. But Paul didn’t see this healthy church as a mission accomplished; he saw it as a fertile field for the sowing of the Spirit. And so he encouraged the church to remember who they are called to be in Christ, and he urged them to remain alert and self-disciplined, so that they might be kept blameless – mind, soul, and body – until the coming of Jesus (5:23).
Kept blameless. What does that mean? We know that we have been declared blameless, justified by the blood of Christ the moment we received him by grace, through faith. So what does it mean to be kept blameless? It means simply this : that we do not return to the ways of those who are still guilty of sin and deserving of God’s wrath. It means living into the new birth that we have received from above, thinking and acting as though we are children in the Father’s household. It means remembering that we are “children of the light,” as Paul said in verse 5, and living in such a way that we demonstrate with our lives that we belong to the day (v. 8) and not the night. This was Paul’s greatest hope and desire for the church, and it should be ours too.
The Bible has a word that encapsulates what it means to be “children of the light.” That word is sanctified. In 4:3, Paul says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified;” We don’t use that word “sanctified” much, but earlier this year we explored sanctification by another word: holiness. Peter quotes Leviticus 19:2 in his first letter to God’s chosen people, believers and followers of Jesus Christ, when he says, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” Throughout the Old and New Testaments we are continually reminded that God expects and demands holiness from his people.
III. How do we become sanctified?
When something is sanctified (made holy), it is consecrated, set apart, purified, and made morally acceptable. How can we be sanctified? First of all, we can’t “MAKE” ourselves holy just because we want to. A lump of clay can’t decide it wants to be a bowl and make it so. Instead, a Potter has to shape the clay into a bowl. Then it has to be burned in a kiln in order to remain that shape and reflect the beautiful properties of the elements that lie deep within the clay. When it cools, it is a work of art . That’s you and me in the hands of God, the great Potter. That’s why Paul can say in 5:23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.”
Secondly, being sanctified is placing ourselves in a position for God to do these changes in us. Listen to the way Paul puts it in Romans 12:1-2 , “1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
We are to present ourselves to God, like the clay is present in the hands of the Potter. For the Christ-follower, that means putting ourselves in the right places and circumstances for God to make the transformation that needs to happen so that we can be conformed into the image of his Son.
So, when Paul declared his desire to the Thessalonian church that they become sanctified throughout, he was calling them to live as people who had been consecrated by God, set apart as his special possession, purified from their sinfulness, and made morally acceptable to him. And this reality was to be exhibited in every aspect of their lives – mind, soul, and body.
But here is where we need to be careful. Sanctification is not obeying a set of rules; it is a complete transformation of our hearts and minds. Paul expresses his desire for this change by encouraging them to love one another, to give thanks to God in all situations, to seek good and avoid evil.
Notice that he didn’t repeat the Ten Commandments to them or give them a lengthy list of things they couldn’t do. Instead, he encouraged them to seek that change of mind, soul, and body that can only come through the work of the Spirit and which makes it possible for them to keep God’s commandments in the first place. As that internal change takes place, Paul knows that true faith will be demonstrated by obeying God’s word, because following the commands of God makes us holy and pleasing to him.
IV. Application: What does this mean for us today?
We know from Scripture that it was Jesus’ desire that his followers should be sanctified by God, and Paul echoed this desire in his letters to the church. Why, then, do we often find ourselves stuck wondering what comes next after we have received Christ as our Lord and Savior?
I think it is because we have forgotten what God’s purpose has been all along. Since the time Adam and Eve fell into sin, God’s one aim for his creation has been to restore humanity to the perfect relationship we once had with him. God’s plan of redemption is more than just a get-out-of-jail-free card; his plan is for us to become fully remade humans, reflecting his image—his character and nature—to the world. Salvation is both a present and future reality for those who trust in Jesus as Lord.
Our salvation in this present life can never fully be realized if we continue to resist the work of sanctification in our lives. God’s ultimate desire for us is not that we would learn to follow a set of rules, but that our hearts would be fully transformed…that we would be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. But only God can sanctify us, and he does this as we follow Jesus in the way of faithful obedience to God’s commands.
So, how can we know whether we are pursuing the holiness that God desires from us? How can we know whether we are moving forward in our sanctification? I have a few test questions we can apply to ourselves right now that will help us to see whether we are following God or whether we are putting up barriers that impede our progress. As yourself these questions:
Do I see evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in my life? When I examine my actions and attitudes, do I see evidence that I am filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?
Am I actively doing the things Jesus did? Am I following the commands of God in scripture? Am I avoiding evil and seeking good, am I loving the people Jesus would love, and am I sacrificing the things Jesus would sacrifice?
Am I still struggling with sin in my life? Am I still engaging in patterns of behavior that would identify me as a child of darkness instead of a child of light? If I’m not sure, I should ask myself if I would be comfortable sharing all my thoughts and behaviors openly with my family and friends? [STOP! That thing that just popped into your head – that might be sin for you, because it is the nature of sin to remain hidden.]
Finally, what sorts of things am I consuming on a regular basis? Do I run on autopilot when it comes to the things [and the amount thereof] I consume, like entertainment, alcohol, tobacco, or even food?
We are called to be set apart, to be different than the world around us. This means carefully choosing which things will hold influence over our hearts, our minds, and our bodies…what we watch, read, listen to, eat, and drink. Like the old adage says, “garbage in, garbage out.”
[PRAYZNMOR] A life lived for Jesus will place us at odds with the world. When we allow God to sanctify us, it means we look different than the world around us that doesn’t know Jesus. Truth is, If we aren’t meeting any resistance from the world about the way we live, that might be an indication that we are living as a citizen of the world, rather than a citizen of God’s kingdom.
He is risen! What now? We live like it. Paul’s charge to the Thessalonian church still stands for us today. In Christ, we are called to live as children of the light, to put away those things that held us in bondage to darkness and to seek out those things that lead to holiness. By God’s grace alone, we can do this, because the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. AMEN.