Spiritual discouragement is when it has been years since you accepted the Lord as your saviour, but when you look back, you are doubtful whether you have spiritually grown to an extent that meets God’s expectations. An introspection should reveal to you that your spiritual growth is far from what God expects. Often, we get burdened and discouraged about our circumstances, loved ones and our health. But we fail to get spiritually discouraged. Spiritual discouragement is a sign of spiritual growth.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
“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.”
This verse reminds us of the old song lyrics that goes like this: He’s still working on me, To make me what I need to be, It took him just a week to make the moon and stars, The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars, How loving and patient He must be ‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me. God gives us a word of encouragement when we are spiritually discouraged; He says that His work in us is unfinished business, since we are all works in progress. Paul concludes his letter to the Thessalonians by saying “may God of peace sanctify you through and through”. This does not signify finished business, rather, it signifies a continuous process of sanctification that God brings about in you – a work in progress. Paul tells God that he has taught them everything that has to be taught. With his conclusion, he is telling God that without Him, they will not be complete, nor will they be sanctified. In our Christian life, there are 3 major things: 1) justification (when Christ washed our sins with his blood, thereby making us justified); 2) sanctification (everything that God does in our lives to make sure we turn out right); and 3) glorification (our nature post death and judgement). Whatever we go through, it’s all for God to sanctify us through and through. Every single experience that God allows in our lives is part of sanctification. Our worldly lives where we would probably live up to 80 years is not what matters to God, eternity is what matters to Him.
Once a man was passing down a street and came across a sculptor who was chiselling a stone near an unfinished construction. He enquired what the sculptor was doing and he replied that since a long time, he had been carving and shaping the stone, thereby smoothening its sharp edges. The man asked him why he was putting in so much effort carving the stone every day to which he replied that he is shaping it down here to fit it up there. The man realised that the unfinished construction was a church and that the sculptor was making the last stone to be set on top of it – the steeple. Similarly, God shapes us in the world through sanctification for glorification (to fit us up on top of the highest point of eternity). Thank the Lord for all the chipping, chiselling, hammering, and shaping, because God wants us to fit us up there in eternity.
We are very burdened about our children and their futures. We want the best for them; we worry and care so much about them. But why? Because we have invested so much in them in the form of life-blood that flows through us. Similarly, God cares for us and worries about us because he has invested his life-blood in us. He has invested his only son’s life-blood in us. Sanctification is the divine guarantee that God’s investment will not be wasted. When you face obstacles, it’s your guarantee that you are being sanctified. Your way of thinking towards others should be “please be patient, God is not finished with me yet”. Similarly, you should realise that God is not finished with those around you yet either, they are works in progress just like you. If we forgive others like how God forgives us, life will be easier for us.
Paul tells the Thessalonians 5 things:
- The guarantee that sanctification brings about depends on one who sanctifies – God
Since sanctification is not brought about by man and by God, it will never change; its guarantee is not subject to anything and will remain constant. Only God can make you a better person. He is the author and source of all spiritual progress. Sanctification starts with God; if God hasn’t started it, you haven’t started it at all. On the day of Christ, He who started sanctification will finish it.
- The purpose of sanctification is to bring about completion in us
Right now, we are fragments that are scattered. Although we have our body, soul, and spirit, they do not operate in perfect sync or union; we are not whole yet. Sanctification unifies the body, soul, and spirit, thereby making us whole and complete. Just like how constructing a building gives off a lot of noise, there is so much noise inside us when we undergo sanctification. However, upon attaining completion, there will be no noise; there will be peace. Finally, we will be handed over for glorification. In that day, we will stand holy before the Lord. One day we will look like Jesus. John Calvin terms sanctification as the complete renovation of man. Renovation is the process of repairing and improving everything that is old and rusty by replacing it with brand new things. We should strip off our old man (the unrenewed man, the natural man in the corruption of sin) and replace it with the new man (of the new creation, which is God’s old creation with the element of God added to it). This transformation can only be brought about by God. However, we must surrender ourselves for the same.
- The extent of sanctification
If we renovate ourselves, we would definitely start from outside – our bodies (physical appearance). However, God starts his work from the inside, since that is what matters in eternity. God does not want only our bodies to get sanctified. Instead, he brings about sanctification to the body, soul, and spirit, so that they are in union and will be kept blameless at the Lord’s coming. When God renovates you from the inside, he will find your inner blemish that is holding you back from getting sanctified and remove it. He will remove spirits of impatience, gossip, envy, discontentment, lingering resentment, financial mismanagement, guilt, overbearing, stubbornness, judgement, profound discouragement, short-temperedness, ungratefulness, disorganised nature, and inability to appreciate.
- The result of sanctification
The end-result of sanctification is to be blameless at the Lord’s coming. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says “it is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” God does not give up on you because sanctifying you is His will, it is what He wants. Our family members and those who live with us would have several faults to point out in us. However, once our sanctification is complete, God will look at the universe and ask all the creatures in it if anybody has a reason why we should not enter Heaven. However, no man or creature would have anything to point out because the sanctification that He has brought about in us is complete. If He has sanctified us to perfection, who can judge us? If we question our actions or words after executing it or articulating it, it is a good sign and indicates that our conscience is mindful of our actions and words. However, mindful conscience is not enough and God’s grace is necessary for sanctification. God wants us to depend on Him for everything in our lives. He designed life so that it works only when He is in charge of your life.
- The promise or guarantee of sanctification
When God brings sanctification, He will complete it because He is faithful. Our hope in this life and the life to come (of the world and eternity) must be in God’s faithfulness. We are all works in progress. Romans 8:29 says for those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. When the sanctification is complete, we will be conformed to God’s image. “David” is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo. This piece is considered to be the epitome of perfection. However, initially, two sculptors tried to sculpt in but failed; they put the blame on the block of marble provided to them, saying that it was hard to be carved and unworkable. Michelangelo took 4 years to complete the sculpture. When asked how he sculpted this masterpiece, he replied “in every block of marble, I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action”. Similarly, God sees perfection in our attitude and action even when we are far from it. Michelangelo said that he carved away everything that did not resemble David. Similarly, God carves away everything in us that does not resemble Christ. However, in order for us to be shaped and sanctified, we must surrender ourselves to Him and willingly agree to be sanctified.