Bob's Sermon for Sunday, November 26, 2017

 

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“Will you be blameless in the judgment?”

 

 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24 NIV

 

      (1 Thessalonians 5:23)“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.”

 

     These verses provoke many questions. Finding the answers is challenging. An even harder problem than understanding what these verses mean confronts us. Many church leaders have spread misinformation about them. 

 

     Suppose a doctor tests you for a serious condition and expertly diagnoses it. The doctor judiciously writes advising you what you must do to fully restore your health. At the same time, imagine that several armchair practitioners give you their opinions of what the good doctor prescribed. Most of them garble and distort the doctor’s prudent orders. Too many people believe what “armchair” religious experts tell them, without reading God’s Word, which contains the only valid remedies.  

 

     What does God’s Word tell us in our text? A surplus of quack opinions hides the truth. What does our text really say? The Apostle Paul did not use everyday terms in these verses. These are not Fun with Dick and Jane words. But Paul was not trying to impress people with his language skills, either. He did not use fluffy, high-sounding terms. He wrote accurate, truthful, life-saving words.

 

     In our text, God’s Word tells how to prepare for Jesus’ return and the world’s end. Will you be ready to account for your talents, gifts, and opportunities? Will you be faultless on that day? The word translated “blameless” is a good example of a carefully-chosen expression. As best I can tell, the word means “no strokes” as with a marker of some kind.

 

     From grade six to eight, I attended a new Christian school in Portland, OR. L.D. Webb, who founded the school, preached for the Central Church of Christ, and classes were held in the church building.[1]My 7th and 8th grade teacher was a recent graduate of a Christian college in the south. Miss Harmon was conscientious, fair, pleasant, and well-trained. The principal’s office was on one side of our classroom. The church used the room on the other side to store clothing for the needy.  Miss Harmon used that storage room to apply discipline. She did not tolerate misbehavior. When a student got out of line, she put a mark in the upper left  hand corner of the chalk board beside that student’ name.

 

     Further infractions meant additional marks. When class was over, she took the student to that clothing-storage room. She used a firm paddleboard to the student's backside; one stroke for each chalk mark. Miss Harmon was several inches taller than I ever was. She was a gentle woman, but she left strong impressions on mischievous students. I must confess; I was not always blameless. The marks she used on the chalkboard, not the impressions she left on our backsides, are the strokes the word “blameless” indicates.

 

     The final exam for our earthly learning session will come. The Bible makes this very clear: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”[2] Do you know what will be due you when you stand (actually kneel) before God in Judgment? Do you expect to be found blameless—no marks against you? Many preachers deceive folks about the Judgment and what will occur.

 

     The world assumes that after a few years on the planet, all but terribly reprehensible folks develop wings and flit off to a better place. You might want to verify that assumption. I grew up being a Boston Red Sox fan. After the kids were on their own, Norma and I sometimes got box seat tickets to see the Red Sox play the Angels in Anaheim, CA. One Tuesday evening, I listened on the radio as the Angels and Red Sox teams played a memorable game. I looked forward to Wednesday evening. We would enjoy a game in those near-third-base seats for which I paid extra money. Wednesday, when I got the tickets out, so we could leave, I nearly cried. I discovered that they were for Tuesday’s game, the one I heard on the radio, the night before. Someone else would be enjoying those seats Wednesday evening.

    

     Jesus warned that Judgment Day will bring many surprises.[3]       

 

     The Book of Hebrews advises this: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” That is strikingly similar to our text: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.” The word “holy” in Hebrews and “sanctify” in 1 Thessalonians are from the same Greek term. The words “sanctify” and “sanctified” suggest to some extreme, fanatic religion. Many religious teachers say that once God sanctifies you, you cannot be lost. He gives you those heavenly wings and will never take them away from you. You are forever saved and end-time ready. Whether that is extreme, God will judge, but I think you will agree that it misleads folks. God does not select certain folks, overpower them, and choose them to be saved regardless.

 

     Setting these two Scriptures side by side helps us see that salvation is a two-sided event.

On one side, Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, made it possible for all to be saved. Christ paid the cost of our sin, and by his death, he reversed the death penalty under which we all stand. In Christ God lovingly invites all of us back to life. God did something for us we are unable to do. If you are drowning in the middle of an ocean and ready to go down for “the third time,”[4] you are a goner—unless a ship and rescue people come along to help you. Without the ship, you are sunk.

 

     The world is drowning in greed, selfishness, hate, lust, and bitterness. No fellow human has ability, righteousness, knowledge, or power to rescue us from the failure and madness oceans surrounding us. Only our merciful Creator can help us, and He did. We repent of selfishly neglecting God, accept his call in Christ, and live to please him. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.” The only thing predestined is that salvation is in Christ Jesus, God’s only son. God’s Word (Christ) and His Spirit then supply us with supernatural benefits enabling us to serve Him. We cannot do this on our own.

 

     Here’s the other part of our two-sided salvation. Once the Lord throws the lifeline to us, we must hold on and keep holding until we are safely on the ship. If we are smart and have any scrap of goodness, we shall shout constant “thank yous” to the captain and his crew. We are so grateful that if our friends hear us yell, “Praise God,” we feel no shame; By thinking and acting in faith according to the pattern Christ set is how we hold onto that lifeline.

 

     The words: sanctify, holy, consecrate, and saint all come from the same Greek term. That term describes something or someone set aside to serve God. When you make a commitment to accept and follow Christ, you set yourself apart to serve God in every circumstance. You are “holy,” a “saint,” “sanctified,” “consecrated.” That is why the Book of Hebrews advises: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Once we humbly grab the lifeline, God sets us apart to serve him, but we must continue living as “set apart” people.

        

     Thus Hebrews further urges: (15) “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (16) “See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. (17) “Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.[5]

 

     This and numerous other New Testament passages make it evident that people who tell you that you cannot lose your salvation are misleading you. Our relationship with God requires holding the lifeline with proper actions and thoughts. What Peter wrote confirms this: “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this (heaven), make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.[6] In respect to “blameless” and “spotless,” some first century church people in Corinth, Greece behaved like Hollywood actors and various congress people lately in the news. Christians in Corinth were clueless to what God expects from us.

              

     Many modern Christians are as well. They have the idea that the building where they worship is sacred, but their bodies are theirs to do with as they please. Thus Paul asked: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; (20) you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”[7] If we are not honoring God with our bodies, we should be extremely concerned.

 

     Reviewing what we have so far learned; it is evident that we do not have the resources to save ourselves. God owns the ship and throws the “Jesus lifeline” to us drowning, helpless, offenders. We joyfully, thankfully grab and hold on to the line. We respond to God’s mercy by gratefully seizing the opportunity He gave us: “May God . . . the God of peace, sanctify you (set you apart) through and through.”

 

     Most translations neglect to reveal what “through and through” means. “Through and through” gives us vague notions but not enough details to help. Our old friend Gardiner Blackman used to say that “the secret of long life is to keep breathing.” Many English translations mention only a single characteristic: “May the God of peace sanctify you entirely (NRSV). If nothing else, the NIV’s “through and through” seems to intimate that two connected qualities are in play.

 

     I spoke earlier of the accurate words Paul chose to convey the Holy Spirit’s intent. A pair of compound words is connected by “and.”  Each begins with a Greek term that means whole-complete. If you would like the details, I shall gladly share them; but it is more important that you understand what this duo of terms reveals.

  

     Two examples: Norma and I set out two apple trees about 25 years ago. This year they produced abundantly and we tried to share as many apples as we could. Early in the season, friends and neighbors used the fruit to bake delicious pies. Because they had some green on them, they were not fully mature. One friend tried eating the early apples; he found them so sour, he did not want any more.

 

     Many years I look for a perfect apple to give Norma.

 

     What makes a perfect apple?

·         First, it has to be completely fleshed out, fully developed, and whole.[8]

That wholeness, maturity—becoming what something is designed or meant to become—is the concept to which the first of our two words points.

 

·         The second word defines whole or complete in another sense.[9]

Using our apple analogy; the perfect fruit is not only fully mature, it has no worm holes, bird peck flaws, or bruises. 

We are familiar with most organisms so we recognize when

they and what they produce are full-grown or fully developed.

 

     What about human wholeness? God has a plan for making each of us complete and mature. You have great potential; there is a mature, complete you, which God wishes you to attain; it is reachable. We accomplish that completeness—reach that fullness by following God’s will. When we get on line with Jesus, by his Spirit and Word he shows us what we can become. “He (Christ) is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”[10]

             

     Becoming Christ-like is our goal. Every one of us who is of age is obligated to become like Jesus. When we fail to believe in God and fully imitate Jesus, we compare to those imperfect apples. How does this affect the way we act and think each day? If we are still sour pusses after 40 years of church, we have some maturing to do. If we carry malice, bitterness and hate toward anyone, we are imitating the world, not Jesus. If we are several decades old and still act like rebellious junior high kids, it is time to put on our adult shorts and panties. We cannot blame society or government or corporations or rich people or poor people or spouses anyone else.  

 

     God called Israel and gave that nation great laws and tremendous future. They had unlimited potential. They preferred to follow the world’s way. Isaiah 1:6 describes Israel’s condition after decades of rejecting God: “From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness      [11]only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.” They were not sound and complete as they could have been had they followed God. Instead they were no more than bruised, bird-pecked, wormy apples. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

 

     “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.”

 

     Will you be blameless, complete, and mature in Christ when God calls you to account?

 

 


[1] I am told that building was located where Portland’s Lloyd Center parking lot is

   now. 

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV

[3] Matthew 7 & 25 for e.g.

[4] Medical experts tell me that the” third time expression” is mythical.

[5] Hebrews 12: 14-17 NIV

[6] 2 Peter 3:14 NIV “Make every effort” means to work very hard. 

[7] 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 NIV

[8] ὁλοτελεϊς

[9] ὁλόκληρον

[10] Colossians 1:28 NIV

[11] In The Septuagint or LXX, the word soundness is from the same term as the second word for wholeness in our text.

 

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

 

 

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