Paul ends his letter to the Thessalonians with final instructions for the community. His directives culminate in verses 23 and 24: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”
It is easy to focus on the behaviors Paul mentions: keeping the peace, helping others, being patient, praying constantly, and more. Our first instinct is to roll up our sleeves and start working at them. That is not Paul’s intent. He is describing how our new nature, the spirit of Christ, conducts Himself. We need to know what to expect so we can discern what is Christ and what is not. As people, we are accustomed to what is not Christ; it is normal. Paul is helping us see what the new normal is.
Even so, growing into the new normal in Christ is a process conducted by God, not our will power or obedience. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely….” To be sanctified is to be set apart—separated from self and our natural course, separated to Christ and the norms of His life within. God accomplishes this Himself, and He does it completely. One of the norms of our fallen nature is striving to accomplish the desire of God by our own will power. Part of sanctification is being separated from this norm. Instead, we are separated to God, who acts to accomplish His desires in us.
Verse 24 is often translated, “And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This puts us in a mindset of behaving and waiting; behaving to please a God who has expectations of us but no connection with us. The subtext is also that we can expect rewards or punishments for our behavior when Jesus returns. So, we’d better behave. This is all captured by a tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker: “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” In other words, put on a show for the boss.
This kind of thinking would be amusing were it not so prevalent. Paul intends that his readers are kept sound and blameless in the presence of Jesus; we participate in living connection with Christ. Through this connection, the spirit of Jesus within becomes more dominant. His Spirit separates us from old patterns and draws us into new ones. We are involved in this process but we don’t direct or drive it. We trade will power for the Spirit’s power.
“He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” Will He or won’t He? Is He faithful or isn’t He? How we live answers these questions. Do we live in fear, working hard to impress the boss? Or do we live in faith, secure that “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3)?
Jesus is coming. One day every eye will see Him. At the same time, Jesus has come—within us, within the community of those in His presence. We are part of the King’s entourage. We herald and participate in His coming. We are the bards and trumpeters who walk ahead of the King, whose arrival begins through us. Even if we await a fuller coming of the Lord, His coming in us now is no less a fact. Jesus is coming and has now come (c.f. John 4:23, 5:25).