1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”
Salvation happens all at once. Nobody gets converted a little bit at a time. The instant you place your faith in Christ, you are completely, totally, and eternally saved. What a great reality this truth is and a comfort to our souls! However, sanctification is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once, but rather takes place over time as we allow the Spirit of God to work the process of sanctification in all three dimensions of our spirit, soul, and body. God wants you to be sanctified “wholly”— that is to be completely surrendered and dedicated to Him. Even at that point, we will still never be perfect while on this earth, but we will be in one accord with God’s will for our lives.
God’s ultimate purpose for your life is that you will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We can be like Him in truthfulness, integrity, love, compassion, and graciousness. We will never fully accomplish that in this life, but that should be our goal. If we have been saved for any length of time, there should be a noticeable distance between where we started out and where we are now. When we were lost, we were like our father, the devil (John 8:44). We were living in the world and living like the world. When we get saved we acquire a new Father, and we need to allow our conduct to be changed to match our new identity. Along the way we will be at various stages of the process.
In the book of First Thessalonians we see five different stages, or levels, of sanctification at which our lives can be. The first stage of people are unsaved. At that point there is no sanctification at all. First Thessalonians 2:14 says, “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews.” Notice here not the believers but those who opposed them. Paul said that those who trusted Christ were suffering persecution from their own countrymen. There are some lost people who are basically indifferent toward Christians, but there are some who are downright hostile. If you have not trusted Christ as Savior, I urge you not to believe the lie of Satan that you can become good enough on your own to be accepted by God. Jesus died for your sins. Repent of your dead works, believe the Gospel, receive Christ, and get saved today.
The second stage is a saved person who is not making any progress toward sanctification. In fact, they may even be going backward and moving in the wrong direction. Paul knew that the believers in Thessalonica were going to face great challenges and persecution. So he sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them: “That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know. For this cause, when I could no longer for- bear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.”
The third stage of sanctification is what the Bible calls standing fast in the Lord. These are people who are saved and enduring suffering, but are not being moved by what they are enduring. “For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?” (1Thessalonians 3:8-10) These people were not yet fully sanctified—there was still progress that needed to be made. There were still things lacking in their faith that needed to be fixed. But they were steady. They were not going backward. People at this stage deserve credit for standing fast in the face of persecution. However, notice that while this is good, it is not enough. Paul said he was “praying exceedingly” that he would be able to get back and minister to them so that they would continue moving forward. The truth is that you can’t remain standing still for long. You will either begin to move forward or start going backward.
The fourth stage Paul describes is people who are struggling with sanctification in a particular area of life. Now you know that the Roman culture was very sensual. Many of the temples to the various false idols the people worshipped used immorality as part of their very worship. Believers who had been saved out of that background were struggling with doing right in this particular area. This is such an important warning for us today because our culture has also become very immoral, and temptations to sin abound.
The final stage, and I think this may be the saddest and most pitiful state of a believer, is those who are saved but are asleep. “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-7). There are some Christians who are simply oblivious to their spiritual condition. The state of their relationship with God never crosses their mind. They are not concerned with whether their will is surrendered to God’s will. They are asleep.
I urge you to consider your spiritual condition today. Which one of these stages of sanctification best describes you? Are you still unsaved? Have you gotten saved but allowed the struggles of life to drag you backward? Are you standing fast but not moving forward? Are you struggling with control over a particular area of your life? Are you asleep spiritually? You can change things for the better as you allow the Spirit of God to work sanctification in your spirit, soul and body, making you more like the precious Son of God.