Five Actions of Sanctification
By Anthony Casperson
You know those self-help type of books. The ones with titles like “10 Keys to Success” or “7 Habits of Productive People.” Those writings that boil down behaviors and attitudes that the author believes will help us with life. They promise that if you just do these X number of things, then you’ll be successful/happy/fulfilled or something like that.
Well, as I was reading for my morning devotions a week ago, I came a cross a few verses that made me think about these lists of key things to do for our benefit. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul lists out 5 things that he wanted the people of Thessalonica to keep in mind when it comes to their growth in holiness. Actions that will help the followers of Jesus to become more like our holy God.
As well, when we look at verse 12, we can see that there are a couple of other purposes for these actions. When we grow in sanctification by doing these 5 things, we also will walk in good form among those outside of the Church. And there should be no need among the people of God. A good reputation both inside and outside of the Church.
Though this list of 5 actions is certainly not exhaustive, it’s a concise place to look for a few of the actions that we followers of Jesus should do in our daily lives. So, we’ll take a quick look at the 5 actions here.
1. Abstain from Sexual Immorality.
This action is stated first by Paul. And has the most verses dedicated to it in the passage (verse 3-8). It includes all forms of sexual activity outside of God’s standard of human sexuality: one man and one woman within the bounds of a life-long marriage.
Paul tells the Thessalonians that it’s about having ownership and control over ourselves. Not to let the passions of our emotions or hormones drive us, like so many of the people who don’t follow Jesus do. And this is because we aren’t called to the impure filth of the world, but to holiness. Our sanctification calls us to be wholly devoted to God’s ways. In body, mind, and soul.
And it’s important to know, according to verse 8, that whoever disregards or calls to question the validity of this action of abstaining from sexual immorality doesn’t reject a concern of man, but the command of God. So we must keep this in mind as we followers of Jesus discuss the relationship of holiness and sexuality.
2. Love Your Fellow Brothers and Sisters in Jesus
Verse 9 tells us that this action concerns brotherly love. The camaraderie between fellow followers of Jesus. While we should have a love for all people made in the image of God, Paul’s specifically talking about how we treat our brothers and sisters in Jesus.
It is God himself who teaches us to love like he does. Jesus himself says in John 15:13 that no one can show greater love than to lay down their lives for another. Through the cross, we can see the self-sacrificial actions that showcase such love.
Paul doesn’t bring this point up because they’re failing at it. Actually, he says that the Thessalonians have been showing this love for the brothers and sisters in the whole Macedonian area. This call for continuing in the act of loving is to rally them to love even more.
3. Love the Honor of Quietness
Verse 11 speaks to all three of the final actions—though this doesn’t mean that they’re less important than the others.
The first of them is to “aspire to live quietly.” But this isn’t just a goal to aim for. It’s not some nebulous ambition that would be nice for us to possibly reach one day. Rather, the word translated as “aspire” is a smash up of the words for “love” and “honor,” which might be purposeful considering that the Apostle had just called them to love one another more and more.
This origin of the Greek is the reason why I listed this action as “love the honor of quietness.” We are to find value and honor in the peace of a life that doesn’t have to go running after every little thing. A quiet peace that is able to take regular time to breathe, instead of needing to accomplish everything that it can possibly squeeze out of a single day.
But also there’s an aspect of not needing to be at war with others around us. It’s a peace that doesn’t seek to push at others, hoping to press the right button and watch them explode for some sadistic sense of fun. We should be as peace with all people, at least as far as we are able to promote it on our side of the equation, if we take Romans 12:15 to heart.
4. Practice Your Own Affairs
And the quiet rest of the above action is especially important as we look to this action of practicing our own affairs. We could say “mind your own business,” but that doesn’t really get the fullness of the point across.
It literally is a command to practice the things that are your own. We should busy ourselves with the things that concern us, rather than what others are doing. We shouldn’t relish in flitting about hearing every dirty little secret of others.
Paul repeats some of this action (and number 5 listed below) in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 when he says that there are some among the followers of Jesus in the city who have been reported as being busybodies instead of keeping their bodies busy with their own work. He commands them—and us—again to work at what we can accomplish, without thinking about how it corresponds to the work of others.
5. Work with Your Hands
And speaking of work, Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica that it is a holy thing to work with your hands. We followers of Jesus should do everything in our power to be productive members of society. Plying a trade of some sort.
This shouldn’t surprise us that Paul—who so often supported his preaching and missionary endeavors with the tent-making/leatherworking trade that he’d learned—believes and teaches us to be willing to work. God may freely give us salvation, and has been known to feed some of his people through miraculous means, but he also provides our needs to us through the strength of our own hands and minds.
As a matter of fact, the Apostle speaks in Ephesians 4:28 about people who are able but unwilling to work as thieves. And commands them there also to work with their hands to do good things.
Now, that person referenced in Ephesians doesn’t regard those who are infirm, elderly, or otherwise unable to work. Absolutely not. In another of Paul’s writings, 1 Timothy 5, he tells the pastor of the Ephesian church to make sure that the older widows who have no other support structure are helped by the church.
And even the Old Testament law provides for the poor by commanding land-owning farmers to not harvest the edges of their fields so that the poor can glean food for themselves. But do notice that those in need were still supposed to pick the food themselves.
It is holy for us—and builds holiness in us—to do these five actions. So, if you want to know where to start when it comes to leading a godly and holy life, start with these five thing. Abstain from sexual immorality. Love your fellow brothers and sisters. Love the honor of quietness. Practice your own affairs. Work with your hands.
And think about it less as guidelines for self-help, and more as God helping us become more like him even in the daily aspects of life.