Pleasing God More and More

Why Jesus Is My Hero #28 of 52


On Sunday I was preaching down in Hastings on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 – mostly all about sex. It’s a fantastic passage – at once raising the bar and reminding us how serious purity is in the life of a Christian, but also giving great encouragement to us when we fall short, and the motivation to carry on in the fight.

At its heart, it’s a passage all about the big question: “What is God’s will for my life?” It’s the kind of question that we can tie ourselves in knots over – frantically stressing over exactly what we should be doing and whether we’re making the right decisions. But the answer we find in this passage is really very simple: “This is the will of God, your sanctification“. He doesn’t much mind if we’re a baker or a barber, a tailor or a taxidermist: God’s will is that we should be sanctified. Simply put, to be “sanctified” is to be set apart, to be made holy. In other words, to have our characters conformed to the likeness of Jesus, the true model of humanity. Paul says that we are to live to please God, in all areas of life – perhaps our sex life is one of the areas in which many of us are most conscious of the struggle, but he also includes in this passage how we relate to others in the church, how we work, perhaps even how we use Facebook!

On the one hand, 1 Thessalonians 4 functions as something of a manifesto for the Christian life: let us strive for absolute purity and holiness. We are to avoid sexual immorality in all its forms – Christians are to be utterly uncompromising, despite all the voices from the prevailing culture which tell us that how we use our bodies is our own business and that nobody has any right to tell us how to behave, least of all God. We need to be clear that God’s design for sex is that it is to be enjoyed within the one context where it truly belongs: within a lifelong, faithful marriage relationship between one man and one woman. It perhaps sounds overly strict, maybe downright out-of-date, and no doubt ridiculously idealistic. But that’s the command we’re given by the God who designed sex and who designed us, with all of our passions and desires. Paul is adamant: “whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” To obey the maker’s instructions is for our good – he’s not just being stingy because he hates us having fun! Sex inside marriage is an experience to be enjoyed without regret and with thanksgiving, and to settle for anything less is downright foolish. The consequences of disobedience in this area are serious and far-reaching, hence his instruction that “no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” Even when it feels like our actions affect nobody else, it’s inevitable that there will be implications for how we relate to one another in the church, and in our future relationships.

But Paul knows only too well that Christians are far from perfect and that we all struggle to be pure and holy. And so on the other hand, there’s a great deal of grace within this passage, and encouragement for us to keep pressing on in the battle. After all, if he thought the Thessalonians were perfect, Paul wouldn’t need to be writing in the first place! He begins by encouraging them for all the little ways in which they are fighting – for all the little evidences of God’s grace already at work in their life. “You received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing“. Sinful as we are, and as hard as the struggle is, we need to celebrate those little victories of God’s grace in our lives. But Paul urges us that just as we are already aiming for holiness, “that you do so more and more“. The Christian life is one of daily repentance, daily confessing where we fall short, and daily striving to grow, in the power of God’s Spirit that he graciously pours out upon us.

Ultimately, the only thing that can keep us from being discouraged is a clear grasp of God’s grace. Look ahead to 1 Thes 5:9: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” On the cross, Jesus took all of our sin and shame upon himself. He died the death that we deserve – the price is fully paid!

And let’s keep clinging to that great promise: “This is the will of God: your sanctification”. God is utterly committed to our holiness. It is his great project in our lives. Every experience that God puts us through, every trial and every disappointment, all of it is God’s training regime to make us more like Jesus. We are not in this fight on our own. Our sanctification is his will even more than it is the longing of our own hearts. And God will complete that good work that he began in us.

The Good News That Someone’s In Charge

Why Jesus Is My Hero #27 of 52

In a messed up world, it’s good to know that someone’s in control. In recent centuries, the idea of a “meta-narrative” has somewhat gone out of fashion – the idea that there is some bigger story that everything is building towards. People today say everything “just happens”, that there’s no use looking for meaning or purpose in events, because there is none. We’re bumped around by blind chance like little pollen seeds moving about by Brownian motion.

Thankfully that’s far from my experience, and it’s certainly not what the Bible teaches. This weekend I’ve been so encouraged by various answers to prayer that have reminded me that there is someone in control of the world, orchestrating events according to his master plan for his own purposes. Things may look chaotic at times, and often we can’t understand how things fit into his plan, but the Christian is called to trust and have faith that they do.

We see this glorious truth presented in Daniel 7:13-14:

“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.”

The Creator God has crowned his son, Jesus Christ, as the ruler of the universe – the one with all power and dominion and authority. He rules. Not like some slightly incompetent British politician who does his best but whose hands are tied by the opposition party and his own unwillingness to upset the electorate. He rules with absolute sovereignty, which is glorious news because this king is good – supremely good. It is a rule that no tyrant can ever thwart or destroy, a rule that shall never be brought to an end by death.

The universe is in the hands of a mighty Saviour, and everything is working to further his plans. Hurrah.

The Ultimate Reversal of Fortunes

Why Jesus Is My Hero #26 of 52

We love tales of big reversals: the pauper who marries the princess; the Apple founder fired from his own company before eventually being hired back as CEO and going on to build it into one of the most valuable companies on the planet; the Jamaican bobsleigh team that’s never even seen snow and then manages to win the respect of their Winter Olympics peers. We especially loves such stories when they’re from real life.

Well nowhere is there a bigger real life reversal of fortunes than in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Several times in the Bible we find these glorious “but now” or “but God” moments – wretched humanity has managed to get itself into a complete mess, and God wonderfully and graciously steps in to save us. One of my favourites comes in Romans 3:21. After three chapters in the courtroom where Paul has been laying out his case, showing how all of humanity stands condemned before God, 3:21 is one of those moments that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end – “But now”. Paul summarises a few verses later in these words:

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:22-25)

The verdict is clear: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We have no possible excuse before God for our idolatry and rebellion against him. All of us have suppressed the truth and turned aside to worship created things in place of the Creator. All of us rightly deserve judgement for this ultimate act of treason.

So how wonderful it is then that God steps in to rescue us of his own free grace – not because of anything we have done to merit or deserve it, but simply because of his great love. The means of salvation totally strips us of any grounds for boasting or claiming to have contributed: it’s Jesus’s death that is the propitiation we so desperately need – that is, a sacrifice to turn aside God’s righteous anger. All we can do is humbly receive it by faith – there’s nothing we can do to add to his death or improve upon his sacrifice.

From being God’s enemies we are adopted into his family as his children – what a glorious reversal of fortunes! And for once it’s not one of the glib Disney “you can achieve anything if only you put your mind to it” kind of stories. It’s a reversal that came at immense cost to God – it cost the death of his only Son Jesus. But what a wonderful message of hope it is for those of us who are only too aware of our shortcomings. God knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he stepped in to rescue us – it was whilst we were still sinners that Christ died for us. So we can have confidence that he’ll stick by us and bring us safely to his New Creation.