less, but never nothing

It is never a question of whether "processing" happens when I spend time with Alejandra, but how much of our time will be spent opening Scripture and asking questions of the Lord. This past weekend was no exception. One of the zillions of processing thoughts floating around in our brains and souls and conversations was from this passage in 1 Thessalonians.

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8, ESV

Specifically, Paul's admonition in verses 4 and 5, "that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God." In this scenario, Paul equates the Gentiles with those who "do not know God."

Gentiles = do not know God = do not know how to possess their bodies in sanctification and honor = live in lustful passion = reject God.

So, this progression begs the question, "What is the alternative?"

Knowing God.

Do believers, who do know God and are being sanctified, eventually get "cured" of lustful passions and impurities? It might seem like our sanctification (sealed in our salvation) looks like the kind of progress that makes struggles like lust eventually obsolete in our lives.

Paul writes in verse 1, "Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more."

We know from Scripture how we ought to walk (Micah 6:8), what pleases God (Hebrews 6), and that our walk looks like actual steps (Galatians 5) and not just philosophies or cultural expectations. We also know that God promises to be faithful in sanctifying us from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we obey (not because we obey), in His grace He sanctifies and allows us to excel still more.

But, here we reach that cumbersome impasse.

If we are knowing God in increasing measure and living a life that reflects that knowledge, will our sin eventually disappear? Will we eventually be completely free, by way of sanctification, of the sin that tangles and ties us down?

I wonder if that answer is yes and no.

Yes, We must believe God when He says He is sanctifying us and that He will not stop until that work is completed. We must believe God when He says "excelling more" is possible. We must believe God when He says there is grace enough and strength enough to overcome whatever tools Satan wields against us. We must believe that His power is always greater, every time.

No, We must know that our sin on this side of heaven will never be nothing. I don't care if you are a pastor or a prince or a peddler - your sin will never be nothing on this side of heaven. No one will make weekly trips to church with nothing to confess.

But before we start taking a measuring stick to our spiritual success, let's consider where our eyes ought to be focused - on the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), on what is unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18), on the eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).

We do not believe God is faithful to sanctify us by fixing our eyes on our progress, but by fixing our eyes on the One who progresses us from one degree of glory to the next.

Should our sin become less as we are being sanctified? Yes, but we are not consumed by the amount of "less" sin because we are too busy being consumed with the amount of "more" life we have in Christ.

He said abundant and I believe Him for it.

Living in abundance feeds a hunger for more abundance - life gives breath to more life and our eyes are fixed on the Giver in the already, not yet part of this salvation story. Our sin can be less but never nothing on this side of heaven. Knowing God should mean less sin, but the measuring stick is always Christ. He accomplished (past tense) our sanctification, so none of our efforts can aim to accomplish anything. Our obedience is a testimony to His faithfulness, His provision, and His promise-keeping.

Just to be clear...

I'll add this little caveat that might be helpful as we process the idea of sinning less and enjoying Christ more. If we sin at all, we are in constant and desperate need of salvation. So, since we sin at all (less or more makes no difference) on this side of heaven, there is no room for boasting and no room for pride. Our boast is in the Lord alone, whose grace is sufficient to cover our sin even as we are believing God as He completes the sanctifies work in us. Our sanctification hangs on grace and not on our efforts - it depends on what Christ accomplished through the cross and not what we can accomplish by keeping the law.

Read Piper's thoughts in the sermon, 'This is the Will of God for You...' and then please share your own. The best part of processing is being challenged and sharpened!