Have you ever stared at a Care Label in dismay at all those cryptic symbols--that tidy row of do’s and don’ts, all laid out in code?
Every vehicle, appliance, gadget and piece of clothing comes with instructions for its rightful use and care and a profusion of don’ts and warnings for the user unaware: Don’t submerge in water. Don’t drive drunk. Keep out of reach of children. Don’t bleach.
Is there anything you can legitimately do with this device?
Christianity in a past era particularly was often seen as a religion of DON'Ts. In an effort not to be ‘worldly’ some groups established long lists of do’s and especially don’ts. I grew up in such a sect. Many were the rules, mostly unspoken, associated with holiness. They would at least mark the user as holier than the rest of Christendom’s worldly folks! We were the ‘faithful few’. We kept the rules. Sanctification was seen as do-able, or more accurately, as achievable if you didn’t do a number of things.
For instance, playing cards with real ‘playing cards’ was taboo. (Somehow ‘fake’ cards like Crazy Eights and Fish and Old Maid were ok, at least in our house.) Going to movies was frowned upon so that the debut of The Hiding Place caused great struggles of conscience. Dancing and drinking were completely shunned and wearing jewelry and make-up, suspect. Though not explicitly stated, it did seem more saintly to avoid looking stylish, cutting your hair or wearing pants. And it was the ideal in the generations before mine to wear a dark navy uniform. This even included the bride at her own wedding! as though to be beautiful, even attractive, was at odds with being holy.
This sort of rule-making and keeping was well intended-- thought to be an aid toward attaining holiness and maintaining separation from the world. The unforeseen effects were often pride and an odious self-righteousness which proved to be ‘of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.’ Col.2:23 It isn’t my intent here to mock these practices but only to point out how their application has distorted my own concepts of holiness and the process of sanctification, which to this day are under reconstruction. [That is not so say that there were not many truly godly people modeling a genuine faith to me within the constraints of this strict system. My own precious kith and kin were among them and I truly do treasure my unique God-given heritage.]
That being said I welcome reminders that the process of sanctification isn’t a row of DON’T symbols dependent on my diligence, but a walking in dependence on the Spirit to accomplish God’s will in my heart. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal.5:16)
I’ve been studying I Thessalonians today. Sanctification is a recurring theme, as is Jesus’ Second Coming. The two go together really. The hope of the One assures the ongoing process of the other until the day we will be presented blameless before our Saviour.
I am struck by the succinctness of Paul’s concluding instructions—a compact set of DO’s and DON’Ts that if followed will,
I suspect, accomplish our sanctification quite nicely.
And if followed they will definitely set us apart from the world. Imagine it:
Rejoice Always. The world knows nothing like this, having nothing so unchanging as our Lord to guarantee sustainable joy!
Pray without ceasing. “The way to rejoice evermore is to pray without ceasing. We should rejoice more if we prayed more” –Matthew Henry
Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. This kind of gratitude will test and strengthen our trust in God’s sovereign care and provision. If He has arranged all the circumstances of our lives for our good and His glory, how can we complain?
And tacked onto these, an essential DO NOT, essential because this is the source of our ability to rejoice, to pray and to give thanks:
Do not quench the Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit within us not only makes us holy but is interceding for us according to God’s will (Romans 8:27). How reassuring is that! No wonder we are told not to silence His voice by our own obstinate refusal to listen.(Cf.Heb.4:7)
And a wise caution: Do not despise prophecies but test everything. Hold fast what is good. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians has been strewn with prophecy—a warning to expect suffering, a 'heads-up’ about the Lord’s coming, and instructions on how to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. We are of all people most fortunate to have the living and abiding Words of God at our disposal. They are essential to our sanctification!
And lastly, Abstain from every form of evil. May we cultivate appetites for what is truly good and recognize that holiness is far more beautiful and desirable than evil’s fleeting allure can ever be.
Now best of all the wonderful paradox with which Paul closes:
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it. (I Th.5:23,24)
Our sanctification is ultimately God’s business. He calls us to it and oversees its completion in us. We have only to take note of the Care Label’s instructions:
Pray without ceasing
Give thanks in all circumstances
for THIS is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Don’t quench the Spirit
Don’t despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
Abstain from every form of evil.
Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. Ps.29:2
Walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory… not in the passion of lust like [those] who do not know God ….For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. ( I Thess.2:12; 4:5,7,8)
And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Rom.8:27)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit…(5:16-19)