The entire Wash Me!
series was about holiness.
Yet if we’d called it Sermons On How To Be Holy . . . well, let’s put it this way: there have been no need for extra seating and extra parking.
So the series built and built and built until its conclusion yesterday. And I wanted to do a message on a Methodist teaching from long ago: Entire Sanctification.
Exactly. Though it was long at the core of the Methodist movement, very few talk about it anymore, much less believe in it.
So as I thought about how to make this teaching from I Thessalonians 5:23-24 relevant and understandable, I imagined what life might be like for the people of Good Shepherd if they were able to get rid of the stuff they used to try to get away with.
Instead of trying to get away with sin, we get rid of it. That’s holiness. That’s what God does. That’s what is at the heart of what it means to be Methodist. Here’s how it went:
In my line of work, I run into a lot of people who try to get away with stuff. Usually people feel guilty about – or exhausted from – trying to get away with a wide variety of things! How their feelings have changed towards their spouse. Try to get away with hiding their smoking habit (the mints really don’t work). How to get away with spending that day on the golf course that you were supposed to be meeting with clients. How to get away with seeing me at the Target one day when you’ve been slack & not been to church in a month. How to get away with hiding that eating disorder from people you love. How to get away with keeping that extracurricular relationship on the downlow. Some of you are doing one of these; others more than one.
And it really is just exhausting, isn’t it? You’ve got to hide, you’ve got to backtrack, you’ve got to cover-up. And a few of you live with or close to someone you suspect is getting away with . . . well, not murder, perhaps, but a lot. And THAT is why you go out and you hire yourself a P.I. Yep, there’s a high cost to the mindset that wants to get away with stuff.
But wouldn’t it be nice, wouldn’t it be great, wouldn’t my job as a pastor be a lot less complicated! if instead of wanting to get away with stuff, you were able to get rid of it? Wouldn’t your life be simpler if you stopped sneaking around, stopped looking over your shoulder? Wouldn’t you love a life where you no longer had heavy feelings of guilt or waves of regret or the need to hire a PI . . . or to have one hired on you? All because you were rid of the compulsion for marijuana, you no longer spent long & unholy hours on the computer, you weren’t slacking at church, you ended that extra curricular relationship. I know those of you in this church who earlier in your life were owned by your alcoholism an dnow you have extended sobriety, you know exactly what I am talking about. Yeah, how great it would be, how cool on a Sunday, if people came into this rood somehow able to get rid of all the dirt they used to try to get away with.
And so Paul comes along and speaks directly to our point of need. He’s not talking to us, here; he’s talking to the Thessalonian church; but he IS speaking to our point of need. And he gives us this improbable combination of command and promise. Now: the people he is writing to here are Xns. They live in the ancient city of Thessalonica (“niki”?). They are folks who, like a lot of you, have had the first blessing of getting saved. And, like a lot of you, though they have been saved and been declared righteous by God they ain’t living very righteous lives. Their deeds don’t match their declaration. So to these saved but struggling believers Paul writes this in I Thess 5:23:
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
Couple of things there. First, that word “sanctify” is a fancy word for “cleanse.” As in “may God cleanse you of the dirt you are trying to get away with.” Second, that “through & through” means entirely, completely, like what happens not at a drive thru car wash but a high end detail company who comes to your house washes and waxes and vacuums and puts a new car deodorizer in. Drive through wash: your car is a little cleaned. High end detailer: it is entirely sanctified. Some of you are driving in Entirely. Sanctified. Vehicles. And Paul says that can happen to our lives. Thoroughly. And to remove all doubt about the comprehensiveness of that cleansing, look at 5:23b:
May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now don’t parse “spirit, soul, and body”; just know that means all of you! Wash AND wax. Another way of saying “through & through” or “entirely”! Paul envisions that this total freedom from self-destruction, a deliverance from the exhaustion of trying to get away with stuff, this subsequent blessing to salvation IS THE BIRTHRIGHT OF EVERY XN.
The God who declares you righteous (good, holy) at your salvation even though you’re not, then does this second work in you where he makes you into what he has declared you to be. You get labeled “holy” at conversion and then God works in you to give that label some integrity. He does in you what he has declared about you. Look how he concludes the section in 5:24:
24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
Command / promise, command / promise. It’s about holiness & sanctification – and isn’t it true that most of us don’t really want that because being holy sounds like a synonym for being weird. I just want you to know today that your resistance to holiness just means you got stuff you want to keep getting away with. And that’s exhausting! Not to mention embarrassing when the PI catches you! An entirely sanctified life is so much better cuz you’re not getting away with stuff anymore; you got rid of it!
And . . . how? I’ve been looking at this command / promise, command / promise pattern in I Thess 5:23-24 and it hit me: Paul is talking about having uninterrupted desperation before God. That’s it. That’s how he sanctifies you through and through; washes, waxes, deodorizes: when you live in a state of continual desperation before and dependence upon God. Think of all the things we get desperate for! Time with that special person when we’re falling in love; food when we’re famished; water when are thirsty; sunshine when it’s winter (me & FLA). Well how about we get desperate for something that really matters: Lord I am so tired of trying to get away with stuff. Let me just get rid of it! You do it. Not as a one time thing, though it may begin there. But as a daily state of being. Uninterrupted desperation before God.
See, I am just so keenly aware of how it is that we get in trouble when we are prideful, self-reliant, or complacent. That’s when we get satisfied living a half-way Christian life AND it’s when we fall into the kind of sin we try to get away with. So the alternative is that daily reality where we confess to God: “Your love for me is the truest thing about me. I am MADE by the cross & rez. I need you to re-wire all my desires. Make me understand that heaven would never steal something from that earth wants to provide. Saturate me and fill me.”
What he provides is so much better than the lure of sin, the call of complacency loses its luster & appeal. I long for every person in here to have that second work of God (the first being your salvation) going on in your life. So that he fills you up from the inside out; he satisfies thoroughly what you usedto ask sin to do; and he so saturates you with his love that other people in your life get the overflow of it. It’s why one of the best names for a Xn band I’ve ever of was The Desperation Band (AV): that just says it all, doesn’t it?
Listen: if you are a Xn, God did NOT save you to get you out of hell. Your Xnty is not a Out Of Hell Free card. Nope. It’s a BRING HEAVEN TO EARTH card! Eternal life begins NOW. He saved you to make you more like himself in this life. He saved you to get rid of the stuff you used to try to get away with. He saved you to bring you to life and to free you, yes, from the shackles of sin REFRAIN.
It’s so funny. This idea, historically, is at the heart of the Methodist movement. There is this long thread of what they called “Second Blessing” teaching, much of it centered on I Thess 5:23-24. The first blessing is salvation & then the 2nd is the cleansing. Now: the reason for all the blank stares right now, even from lifelong Methodists, is that we forgot to / stopped teaching this a long time ago. In fact, the reason there IS a Church Of The Nazarene, the reason there IS a Salvation Army is because we forgot what used to be our heart! You could say Satan stole it from us. So today we’re stealing it back! You know why? Because I want you to stop trying to get away with what God wants you to get rid of! It’s not making you happy, one, and you’re gonna get caught, two!! I want a life for you with good night’s rest, with no regrets, with the clean simplicity of being in constant contact with your Father. With the beauty that comes from realizing that he is the blessing & you’ll never be satisfied with a pretender again.
Now: it’s not just Meths who have talked historically about a second, enduring work of God in the life of the believer. So have the Pentecostals. Same idea, different flavor. I think the closest understanding I’ve had to a 2nd work breakthrough was when God gave me the gift of praying in tongues. I’ve said this here before but in case you weren’t here yet, you heard me accurately: I’m a Methodist preacher, I pray in tongues at home, and the earth is still spinning on its axis. I don’t know if praying that way increases my holiness but I DO know it advances my intimacy with God. It improves my desperation before him. God may want to do that with you as part of cleansing you through and through. Or he may want to deliver you from some deceptive tendencies you have. Or he may want to empower you supernaturally for ministry – a ministry you didn’t even know you had until TODAY.
I think the most glorious thing that happens when you REFRAIN is that God re-wires your desires. To the point you recognize the way that sin overpromises and underdelivers and you just don’t want that. So that you’d never believe heaven is robbing you of some of earth’s joys. Goodness, I just want so many people here to move deeper into their living relationship with Jesus Christ. Let me ask you, parents: are you / were you satisfied when your toddler took their first step? Were you like, “Ah, done! That’s all they need!” No! It was a process for the first of many. God is the same with our salvation. You come to faith, heaven throws a party, but that just starts the process for a whole lot more God animating your life. You got saved by being desperate for the cross & heaven. You’ll get sanctified the same way. REFRAIN
You know this . . . but this is why recovery is so great for so many of you. Saying the same thing! Step 1: we admitted we were powerless. That same powerlessness empowers the next 11 steps! The desperation before God at conversion fuels the work of God in you so that you can get rid of what you used to get away with.
So today: all of you who realize how tired you are of trying to get away with the dirt in your life, take that first step to getting rid of it. Allow God to cleanse. 5:24 leaves no doubt he’ll do it if given space in your life. It’s why I love that guy who told a friend, “It took two to sanctify my life: me & God.” Friend: “What did god do?” Guy: “He sanctified me.” Friend: “What did you do?” Guy: “I let him.”
Would you let him today?