Third Week of Advent
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
“Blameless at the Coming of Our Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)
In this three-part Advent series, we have been looking at, and looking forward to, the coming of our Lord. And by that, I mean his Second Coming, the Last Day, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns on clouds of glory to render judgment on the earth. Accordingly, we have been speaking of the need to be “Awake until, Waiting for, and Blameless at the Coming of our Lord.” This has been our series theme.
We began two weeks ago by hearing Jesus’ parable from Mark 13, about the servants whose master went away but who could return at any time and how they need to be “awake until” his coming. Then last week we went to 2 Peter 3, and we talked more about what it is we are “waiting for,” what will happen on the Last Day, both the terrifying judgment upon unbelievers and the wonderful salvation waiting for us who believe–the new heavens and the new earth, where righteousness dwells.
“Awake until,” “Waiting for”–and now today our message is–“Blameless at the Coming of Our Lord.” Will that be you? Will you be ready? Will you be found blameless? After all, that’s the only way you can get in, is by being blameless. As we read a few minutes ago in Psalm 24: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” Likewise, Psalm 15 states: “O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right.” Dear friend, if you want to dwell in God’s presence, you need to be blameless.
Now if I look at my life in the light of God’s commandments, I don’t fare too well. My hands are not all that clean. My heart, not all that pure. Sad to say, my outward acts are soiled with sin. My inner thoughts and desires, polluted with impurity. I must confess, I have lifted up my soul to what is false–false gods, the idols I have worshiped with my time and attention, the values of this world, which do not line up right with God’s ways: lust, pride, selfishness, disobedience to rightful authority, hatred toward my brother or sister. And I have sworn deceitfully. With my mouth I have said many times that I would walk in God’s ways, but then I go out and do otherwise. My walk does not match my talk. And I have used my tongue to do other things that likewise betray my Lord, when I have used my tongue to tear down my brother or sister, to hurt and wound them, to harm their reputation, out of my own desire to look good and feel superior. No, I do not have a blameless record, far from it. And I suspect that is you, too. Not so blameless, when judged by God’s just and holy law.
So what do we do? Where do we go? How can we ever hope to be found blameless at the coming of our Lord? Here we must flee for refuge to the infinite mercy of our God, for there is no hope in ourselves. Yes, God must do it, if we are to be found blameless.
And he does! This is the good news in our text today from 1 Thessalonians 5. Listen again to the blessing and the promise that the apostle Paul gives us there: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
“He will surely do it!” We can’t. He will. Keep us blameless, I mean. God has washed away our uncleanness and our impurity, cleansed us in the blood of Christ. The law was pointing its accusing finger at you and me, and yet Christ stepped in and took the blame. He took all of the blame, the whole lot of it, when he ascended the hill of Calvary and there was lifted up on the cross. His holy blood was shed for you and me, the Son of God dying for sinners, the purely innocent one sacrificing himself so that we would be saved. This is how we are reckoned blameless, because of what Christ Jesus did for us. He took the blame, and he gave us his righteousness in its place.
God’s judgment now, his verdict, is “Blameless.” The spotless Lamb of God satisfies God’s justice, and we are declared righteous for Christ’s sake. This gift is received by faith, faith in Christ worked by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. And the Holy Spirit will keep us in that faith. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh will be tugging at us, trying to tear us away from Christ, trying to convince us that we’re better off returning to the old ways. But God will strengthen us, keep us in the faith, keep us blameless at Christ’s coming. Now we can speak the words of Psalm 18, where we read: “For who is God but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?–the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.” Likewise, earlier in 1 Thessalonians, in chapter 3, St. Paul prays that the Holy Spirit would establish our hearts “blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus.”
That is how it happens. That is how God does it, keeps us blameless at Christ’s coming. It is the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification, keeping us strong in the faith, close to our Lord, and walking in his ways. This is what Paul means when he says in our text, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely.” God sanctifies us, that is, he makes us and keeps us holy. To be “holy” means to be set apart for God’s purposes, set apart exclusively for his use. We are God’s holy ones, his saints, set apart to belong to him alone.
Dear Christian, God would sanctify you completely, through and through, your whole spirit, soul, and body. We do not compartmentalize our lives. “Well, I’ll give God an hour on Sunday, and maybe a little extra time during Advent and Lent, but the rest of the time, my life is mine, for how I want to live it.” No. No compartmentalization. God has redeemed the whole you. No dividing up of your time or your person. The whole you he has saved. The whole you he will raise up and restore on the Last Day. The whole you, spirit, soul, and body, will live together with the Lord and with all his saints for eternity. And so the whole you is what God is sanctifying even now.
Friend, God is calling you to a blameless life. Oh, to be sure, you will still stumble and sin, and you will always live solely by God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness. But at the same time, you are called to live a blameless life. It is the life described in our text: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
This blameless life has both a negative side and a positive side. Let me explain. On the one hand, it is defined negatively, you might say, that is, by what we are to avoid: “Abstain from every form of evil.” This means to resist temptation, to flee from it, to not do things that conflict with God’s commandments. Where do you need help, the Spirit’s help, to do this? Ask God for help to avoid those evil ways of thinking and speaking and doing. And perhaps God will provide you with a fellow Christian, a brother or sister in Christ, to help keep you accountable in those areas. However he helps you to do this, God would have you “abstain from every form of evil.”
Then, on the other hand, the blameless life is defined also by what we do, positively: “Hold fast what is good,” our text says. Find out what are the good things that God would have you do, and do them: Works of mercy toward your neighbor. Kind words. Loving deeds. Worship and praise to our God. More regular church attendance. Bible study. Home devotions. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Look at that healthy, wholesome trio: Rejoice, pray, give thanks. This is a good, enlivening, practical pattern for us to live by, every single day. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This is God’s good and gracious will, is it not? This is how God would have us Christians live in communion with him.
“Blameless at the Coming of Our Lord.” Will that be you? Yes, it will be. And the reason I can say this so confidently is this: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”