Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:1–3a, esv).
Conversion is not the end of something; it’s just the beginning! When God forgives you and wipes the slate clean in your life at conversion, He begins a process called sanctification. This is the real work God wants to do in you. Conversion initiates the sanctification God will continue in you for the rest of your life on earth.
The Apostle Paul described the beginning of the process in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” As new creatures in Christ, we’re growing. We see this continual growth process in 1 Thessalonians 4:1: “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” We don’t please God perfectly or completely, but increasingly. That transformation should be ongoing so that we please God “more and more.”
“Sanctification is the process by which God takes sinful people and makes them holy.”
When you’re a new Christian, you begin with immense uncertainty. You make obvious, messy mistakes all the time. But over time you learn, as a follower of Jesus Christ, how to walk. Slowly, gently, and precisely, the Holy Spirit deals with your sin mess, and though you’ll never walk perfectly, you’re learning to follow Jesus Christ. That’s the process of sanctification. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification,” Paul explained (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Did you catch that? God’s will for your life is your sanctification. Pastors are bombarded with questions about God’s will: “What does God want me to do? Where does God want me to live? Who does God want me to marry? Which job does God want me to take?” The Bible doesn’t spend any time on those questions. God’s focus is on changing you—the real you, the inner you, not the outer trappings of your life. God knows if He changes you into the person He wants you to be, then all the other decisions will fall into place. God’s will is 98 percent about who you are, not where you are or who you’re with. The Bible clearly teaches that God’s will is your sanctification.
The word sanctify means to make holy, so sanctification is the process by which God takes sinful people and makes them holy. It’s not as churchy as it sounds. Holy is a powerful word; it means set apart or distinct, different from the world around us. Holy means being like God!
So when you wonder what God’s will is for your life, or you wonder what God’s doing in your life, the answer is simple—He’s sanctifying you. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). This clears up a lot of confusion. The next time you wonder about what you’re seeing or experiencing and struggle to know what God could be up to, remind yourself, “He’s changing me.” And you’ll be right. Next time disappointments or heartaches come (perhaps today, in this moment), you might be asking God, “What are you doing, Lord? This hurts!” As you look through your pain, try to recognize that God Himself is holding the hammer and chisel. When you ask, “God, what are you doing?” the answer is always the same: “I’m changing you, child.” Don’t bother arguing, “I don’t like this. I thought You would make me happy.” He wants much more for you than that; He wants to make you holy.
Lord God, thank You that Your will for my life is not a mystery. You want to transform me. Thank You that the painful circumstances in my life prove that I really am Your child. Please forgive me for resenting and resisting Your attempts to change me. I choose now to cooperate fully with Your desire to transform me. Anything You want to teach me, I am willing to learn. Anything You want to change in me, I am available to receive. Thank You for loving me enough to make me more and more like Jesus, in whose name I pray, amen.