Written by James Kinzler – Pastor, Church of the Nazarene, Santa Barbara, California, USA
1 Thessalonians 5: 23-24
There was a classmate of ours back in college that my friends and I affectionately referred to as “Guy”. That wasn’t his name, and we actually did know his real name…but he didn’t know ours. Instead of being offended or hurt by him not knowing our names, we just had some fun with it. Whenever we would see him we would call him by his real name, intentionally and clearly. Then, he would respond with a sort of sheepish “hey…Guy.” He tried to act like he knew us and be chummy, but the truth was obvious. Maybe this wasn’t real nice of us.
We were what you might call, “surface level friends.” Right? The truth is that maybe some of us would have to say that our relationship with God has been more of a “hey…Guy” relationship to this point. We’re familiar with each other, but it’s been a surface level thing for quite a while now, and in a lot of ways, we have just been going through the motions.
In his amazing grace, God has extended to each of us an invitation to go to new levels in our relationship with Him – to move beyond the surface level and go down into the deep. Just as there is so much more to an iceberg than what is visible above the surface, there is so much more to a relationship with God than what so many of us often experience on the surface. It is my conviction that God wants to do things in us and for us and through us which go so far beyond the surface level relationship in which so many of us get stuck and for which we so often settle. It is my belief that there is something more for each of us. If we will dive a little deeper below the surface, we can begin to understand and experience all the fullness of this life.
The Hope We Have…
I want to talk with you about the hope that we have as we move deeper in our relationship with God. I want to talk with you about the hope we have, not only for the next life, but also for this one. Believers through the ages have been good at talking about the hope that we have for heaven, and that is a real one, for sure. However, I want to talk some about the hope that we have right here in the midst of this human life, with all its trials and tribulations, with all of our human faults and infirmities. Could anybody use a little hope today?
The hope we have is that as we go deeper in our relationship with God, we can experience the total transformation of our hearts and lives. That is, we can become, through our interaction with God, not only better people, or improved people, or more refined people – we can become new people! The hope we have is that not only can we be forgiven of our sins – those particular acts of disobedience to God that we have committed – but even more than that, we can be filled with love for God and others and freed from the grip of sin on our lives. The hope we have is that we can live lives that are pleasing to God, not just some of the time, but all of the time. We can live lives that are more about victory over sin than struggle with sin because we are living not under the authority of sin but under the authority of the Spirit of God. The hope we have is that our natural self-centeredness and pride can be replaced by a supernatural focus on others and a humble spirit. The hope we have is that our lives really can take on more and more of the qualities and characteristics of the life of Jesus. This is the hope we have.
1 Thessalonians 5: 23-24
Does it sound like I’m overly optimistic? Does it sound like I have claimed too much? Let me share an outstanding and astounding passage of Scripture that gives me reason for this hope about which I have spoken. Actually, this passage is a prayer, prayed by the Apostle Paul for the Thessalonian church, a group of Christians to whom he wrote for the purpose of encouraging and guiding them in their relationship with God.
God Longs to See Us Grow
This prayer of Paul’s tells us that we can hope for total transformation because, first things first, God longs to see us grow. Paul makes it clear that it is “God himself, the God of peace,” who will be the one to “sanctify you through and through…” to transform us and make us new. There is a real sense that we can only experience this total transformation as we first offer ourselves completely to God and submit our will to Him. We must hold nothing back and give our lives and our future totally to Him. There is certainly a part for us to play in this process. But Paul is clear in that even when we must decide to lay ourselves completely before him, it remains that it is only God who can transform us or sanctify us. It is only God who can initiate and continue the process of making us into a new person in the likeness of Jesus.
There is nothing I believe God wants more than to see all of those who would follow after Him become sanctified through and through; that is, to be freed from the grip of sin and to be filled completely with a love for God and for others. There is nothing He wants more than to answer this prayer and to see us grow into the people He created us to be!
When my son Thomas was four years old and he had done something pretty cute, I remember my wife Kyla and me looking at him and, as parents sometimes do, asking if he could just stay four forever. In many ways, that sounded like a pretty good idea. He was pretty cute (most of the time), and we really enjoyed him. But in reality, if five years or ten, or twenty years down the road Thomas is still looking and acting like a four year old we will be pretty concerned. It is our desire to help him to grow, develop and become the boy and the man he was created to be. Really, we’ll do whatever it takes to help him grow in this way.
I think God is the same way with us. I think He sometimes looks at us and sees the things that we do and says, “You’re cute. I love you just the way you are. But I love you too much to leave you that way. So, if you’ll let me, I’m going to help you grow, I’m going to help you become something that you perhaps never thought you would be.”
If my hope for transformation lies only in my own strengths, abilities, work and willpower, then I don’t have much hope at all. But since it lies in the grace and strength of God, it is a great hope indeed!
A Renovation of Character and Conduct
This prayer of Paul’s also gives me reason for the hope of total transformation because it focuses not just on changing this and fixing that, but speaks of a complete renovation of character and conduct. He says, “May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul expects that God’s sanctifying work in the life of a believer will have an impact on every aspect of that person’s life: the spiritual, the emotional, the mental, and of course the physical. This process will affect both the person we are – the character we possess, and our conduct – the way in which we live out our lives, day in and day out. Again, according to Paul, it is a renovation that takes place now and holds true until Jesus comes to be with us.
I don’t know about you, but I really do want my life to be pleasing to God. I really do want my character and my conduct to bring glory to God and to be an accurate expression of what God has done in my life. I really do want to live intentionally for Jesus all the time and not just occasionally, or by accidental luck. I really do want to experience more of God’s power and victory over sin and less of the struggle and disappointment with sin. When I come face to face with Jesus, I really do want to have become all that I was meant to be. And I think many of you here want these very same things.
But we know ourselves, right? And we know that if something like that is going to happen, it is going to take more than just a couple coats of fresh paint, new carpet and a can of air freshener. It is going to take a complete remodel, a total renovation of our hearts. We tinker a lot with our lives. We try to fix this and that, or improve here or there. We have become fanatical in some cases with tinkering. Do you know what tinker means? A tinkerer is defined as an unskilled mender – and that is just what most of us do with our lives. We try to mend things we have no skill at mending. Let’s face it! We cannot fix the deep down problem that we each have with sin and selfishness and pride if we tinkered for the rest of our days. But God can. He is the master builder, the renovation expert. And when we come to him in humble submission, he will be our master builder and renovation expert. What a great hope we have!
Real Change is Possible
Finally, Paul’s prayer gives me reason for the hope of total transformation because it makes clear that real change is possible. When he says, “The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it” – who are we to argue? To deny that total transformation can take place is essentially to say that God cannot do what he says he will do…and I don’t want to be guilty of that.
Some have called this the Optimism of Grace. Simply, this means that when the empowering, all-sufficient grace of God is in play, anything is possible in the life of a believer. If God is truly in this life, then who are we to say what can or cannot happen. Maybe you remember that feeling as a child, that if your dad was on the scene anything was possible. He could fix anything, make anything better, solve any problem, and protect you from any harm. The reality is that it wasn’t always true about your dad. But it is always true about God.
Because God is on the scene of our lives, because he is a part of this whole picture, we can believe that the Christian life does not have to remain one of perpetual struggle. We can believe that God’s loving grace can transform sinful human lives to the point where our own love for God and others becomes a free and genuine response. We can believe that Christians can aspire to take on the character of Christ, and to live out that character even within the constraints of our humanity. To deny this possibility would be to deny the sufficiency of God’s empowering grace—to make the power of sin greater than that of grace. If God says he’ll do it, if he says he will totally transform us, then he will, in fact, do it. And we can have that hope.
Believing that God will totally transform us begins with a relationship, and this relationship begins with a decision to let Jesus forgive you of your sins and become the leader of your life. If you don’t have a relationship with God today, it only takes this decision. You only need to acknowledge the sin in your life, believe that Jesus died on the cross to save you from that sin, and confess your need for him right now.
For others, the belief that God will totally transform us continues with a prayer of consecration of our whole being, spirit, soul and body, and an invitation for God to do this sanctifying work in you, through and through. Maybe some of you are being led to pray that kind of prayer, even today. If so, pray with me…
O God, I open the depths of my heart before you. Cleanse, by the fire of your Spirit, anything that is unlike Christ. Transform my attitudes, my spirit, and my affections. Consume all my sinfulness. Fill me with your love until I love even those who persecute or mistreat me. Make me a flame of divine love. Take all that is mine. I hold nothing back. I claim no right to my wealth, position, or reputation. I give you my body, my soul, my freedom, my friends, and my life. Do with me as you wish. I wish only to know you better and to serve you throughout eternity. In the name of Jesus my Savior I pray. Amen.