I Thessalonians 4:3 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.”
If I were to ask you about your goals for life, my guess is that your answers would revolve around several general topics: education, family or relationships, career, finances, lifestyle, volunteerism, and retirement. Which ones you emphasize depend to a large degree on your age and place in life.
If I were to ask you about your spiritual goals, my guess is that you would have to think about your answer a little longer. Many Christians don’t think about their life of faith as something they proactively plan and manage. You go to church. You try to behave yourself…sort of. Maybe you get involved in some program or class. Maybe you don’t. You believe God is important. You just aren’t sure what to do about it.
Let’s approach your life of faith from a different direction. What do you suppose God wants? What are his goals for you? Here, perhaps, the answers are a little easier. God wants me to have faith. That’s where everything starts. Maintaining that faith means time in his word and prayer. That means I go to church, and probably get involved in some kind of Bible study, too.
God wants me to serve. “Love,” we know, is the one-word summary of everything God wants in his commandments. This is not romantic love, though it may have many family applications. It is love like Jesus had. It offers assistance, it forgives, it treats others with dignity, it sacrifices.
In his letter to the Christians who lived in Thessalonika, Paul brings up another desire God has for your life. It is a central part of Christian life. Almost two hundred years ago, an entire movement in American Christianity was built around it. But it doesn’t get so much attention anymore. The plan is holiness. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” “Sanctified” is the same thing as being holy.
That is something more than living life free from sin. Holiness goes to the root of how we understand our identity as Christians and our whole relationship with God. When God makes something holy, he sees it as completely consecrated and dedicated to himself. It now exists for his special purpose. It is not like everyone and everything else. He wants us to be different.
This isn’t limited to people who have chosen to become pastors, or Christian teachers, or missionaries, or some other kind of full time church work. This applies to every Christian, and to all we do in every area of life. In another letter, his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds them, “You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” Later in that same letter he says, “Whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” Nothing we do is too small, or too personal, to be holy to God. Our entire existence becomes a tool for him to use to carry out his plans and purposes.
God made us holy when he called us to faith and made us members of his family. He paid a purchase price for us when Jesus died as our substitute on the cross. This paid for the guilt of all our sins and took them all away. In one sense, this set us free. It made us free from punishment, free from trying to pay for sin ourselves, free from spending eternity in hell. It set us free from the power and control of the devil, and free from our own corrupt will and desires that live inside of us.
At the same time, it makes us holy. We now belong to God, but not in the sense that we are prisoners who have been captured and forced into slave labor. We have been miraculously transformed, lovingly elevated, changed into new and better creatures fit to work with God as his partners.
Holiness is a goal worth pursuing. The Lord may have little to say about the level of education we attain, the career we choose, or the standard of living we reach. But alongside our salvation and the life of love we lead, he wants us to be holy. It is part of his plan.