Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. (1 Thess. 4:1)
Two questions the Christian can ask the Holy Scriptures are, “What is complete in my Spiritual life? And, what is ongoing in my Spiritual life?”
Your justification is complete. When Jesus says, “It is finished,” from the cross – all things are finished so that He can declare you saved for the sake of His death. You received all the benefits of His death in your baptism. God is completely at peace with you. You are declared completely clean. You are declared completely holy.
Your sanctification though, God growing you in that holiness and you in great weakness growing in that holiness, is ongoing and will be ongoing until you die.
It’s like when your child graduates from the fourth grade –
“Great job! God be praised. I’m so proud of you. We worked together and we got through the fourth grade! Now, let’s keep going. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep listening and studying and reading and learning and respecting and showing up and do so more and more!”
Paul praises God for the Christians in Thessalonica for good reason. The Thessalonian Christians were surrounded by people so different than them. Thessalonica was seaport. You’ve heard the term “they curse like a sailor,” right?
Thus, the Thessalonian Christians stuck out like a sore thumb in the manner that they spoke. They were different in the way they were generous to the Church and to the poor instead of being greedy. They were different in the time they set apart to hear God’s Word and receive His Son’s body and blood and pray the Psalms and sing hymns and receive God’s blessing and pray for the whole Church and the whole world – they were different – light in the dark world.
Regarding the rest of the reading, we can see that there was a huge difference in the way they respected the gift of marriage and sexuality –
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness (1 Thess. 4).
They were walking in holiness and yet still were urged to so more and more.
So, dear saints, holy ones of Mount Calvary, I thank God for you.
You’re different than the world. You set aside time to publicly hear God’s Word, receive His Son’s body and blood.
You set aside time to sing God’s praises, pray to Him for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
You received from God how you ought to walk and please Him, and you’re doing it, and keep doing so more and more.
You’re different than the world. You suffer well. When you get sick, when there are troubles, when there is death, when there is loss of the good and gain of the bad, you suffer, not as the world suffers, but with faith and hope in God and love toward others.
What you are doing is pleasing to God, and keep doing so more and more.
You’re different than the world. You love children and bring them to Jesus to be blessed by Him. You care for them. You provide for them.
Husbands are loving their wives and sacrificing for them.
Wives are loving their husbands and respecting them.
You serve in your vocations as parent, spouse, worker, citizen, friend and the like not as people pleasers, but as God pleasers.
You forgive. You pray. You support the preaching of God’s Word with your money.
In all that, you are walking in a way that pleases God, and keep doing so more and more. God be praised.
Now, though, can you also begin to see how much growth in holiness you have to go? Please say, “yes.”
In this growth, you need to be reminded that there’s a difference between you and the person next to you. You struggle with that and the person next to you has a different cross to bear. You struggle with anger, they struggle with lust. You struggle with contentment with the money you have, they struggle with contentment with the family they have.
And there’s a difference between you today and you tomorrow. Today, the love and trust in God you have seems firm but tomorrow you’ll be full of fear and anxiety again.
Today you held your tongue, but tomorrow it will seem like the gossip and criticism of other just built up and has to overflow.
And, we are terrible measuring our growth.
If it would be up to us to grade ourselves, we sometimes would give ourselves an A when the reality is we’re getting an F! It’s why we shouldn’t measure our growth.
We would also sometimes give ourselves an A and look around to show everyone else how great we’re doing with this weird hope that they aren’t doing as well! It’s why we shouldn’t measure our growth.
And sometimes, we would give ourselves an F when in fact it is the Lord who disciplining us to make us stronger – make us wiser – make us stop relying on ourselves and increase our faith and hope in Him.
For example, the Canaanite woman seemed like she was getting a big fat F from Jesus. He was seeming to ignore her. He called her a dog. And yet she kept clinging to God’s promise and love and mercy and she responded, Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table. Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire!” And her daughter was healed instantly (Matthew 15:27-28).
Don’t grade yourself. Just keep clinging in faith to Jesus.
Our faith receives holiness as we come into contact the only Holy One – God. God puts His Holy Name on thing. His Holy Word, Holy Baptism, the Holy Body of Jesus and the Holy Blood of Jesus, the Holy Blessing of Jesus (In this way, put my name upon the people – “The Lord bless you and keep you”)
As this all is constantly received in faith, He declares you holy, you receive holiness from Him, and grow in holiness as the branches grow from the vine. This growth in ongoing, imperfect.
But what is perfect is our justification – God’s declaration that we are holy for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Your Jesus, before that report card got back to God the Father and He really saw how you were doing, erased your name and put His name. He received God’s wrath for the failure that we are by nature and failure we have been towards God and others.
He also erased His name on His perfect report card and put your name. A+ dear saints, perfect, clean, holy.
The Canaanite woman would have been satisfied with a crumb and Jesus gave up His body for her and for you and He shed His blood for her and for you. You receive more than a crumb. You receive Holy Communion, you receive His blessing, His name, adoption by grace. You receive blameless hearts, His Kingdom, His call into glory. You receive access to God, the gift of prayer and the strength to persist in prayer when God’s answer seems to be “no” you hear all the promises “yes’s.” You receive Gods holiness and help to grow in holiness more and more.