It might surprise you to know that God has described quite plainly what His will is for you and I. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 we read,
For this is the will of God, your sanctification:
God’s will, or desire, is your sanctification, or holiness. Or, to put it another way, God wants us to look and act like Jesus.
Broadly speaking that is what sanctification is: to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). In this letter to the Thessalonians, however, Paul goes into some detail about what this sanctification looks like. He says that a person becoming more like Jesus will be someone who
- abstains from sexual immorality, (4:3)
- will know how to control his or her own body, and (4:4)
- will not be controlled by lust like those who do not know God (4:5)
It follows, then, that the person who is sexually immoral, cannot control his or her own body and is controlled by their lusts (desires) is not conforming to the image of Jesus Christ and therefore outside of God’s will for their lives. Paul goes on to say in this same passage that God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness, and therefore
whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you (1 Thess. 4:7-8)
There was a time in my life where I was enslaved to the desires of my body. I could not say “no” to what my eyes wanted nor to what my heart desired. I would wake up each morning hoping that today would be a “sober” day but deep in my heart I knew that it most likely would not. If the opportunity presented itself for me to act out in some way I knew resistance was futile.
What kept me from finding real freedom for so many years was in large part due to my acceptance of the lie that I suffered from an addiction. I bought into the wisdom of this world which convinced me that I was an addict and if I would accept this, I could find ways to manage that addiction through programs of recovery. But I would always be an addict. Sobriety became the goal of my life, and my identity was wrapped up in what I was running from. “Hi, my name is Chad, a sex addict.”
The reason this sounds so right is because it’s partly true. I was an addict. But it wasn’t to pornography or sex or anything else. It was to sin. I was addicted to myself. The Scriptures speak to this in Ephesians, where Paul describes those like myself who walk (read: have a lifestyle) in the “futility of their minds.” Such people are darkened in their understanding and have been “alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” He writes,
They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Eph. 4:17-19).
That was me. Here Paul describes everyone who is addicted to something. We are addicted to sin, and we love the darkness more than light (John 3:19).
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.
But I am a pastor! I spent 7 years of my life in theological training! I adopted 2 children! I visited the sick and fed the hungry! Surely my addiction to pornography is not that big a deal to God, right? How easy it is to convince ourselves that our good deeds will in some way cover up the unholy lives we live in private. I was, at my core, a “worker of lawlessness” and though I said, “Lord, Lord,” I had no right to lay claim on Jesus, nor to expect he would claim me as his own (Matt. 7:21-23).
Realizing my plight – that my addiction is sin, and sin separates me from God – was the beginning of freedom. Realizing I was not a good person who sometimes does bad things but a worker of lawlessness, ignorant of the things of God and greedy to practice every kind of impurity opened me up to receive grace. Not the mushy sort of grace that is so often sold to us today but the rugged, transforming, powerful grace of God which was in Christ, who “destroyed the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
The glory of this revelation is this: God’s will for us is that we be holy. God’s desire for us is that we be freed from our enslavement to the desires of our flesh and walk in newness of life. “For everyone who has been born of God,” says John, “overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). Jesus did not die on a cross so that you and I can be maligned by an addiction for the rest of our earthly lives but so that we, broken people, might become saints and manifest the glory of God in our bodies thereby showing a disbelieving world that God has in fact defeated sin and death.
The introduction of children of God should never begin with “Hi, my name is ___________, a ____________ addict,” but with “Hi, my name is _____________, a new creation!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The degree to which we self-identify with the former vs. the latter is perhaps the degree to which we doubt God’s will for us is our sanctification, or that it could possibly take place here, today. By the powerful, rugged, transforming grace of God I can say I have been set free from an addiction to sin and empowered by God’s Spirit to be made holy. I still have a long way to go, but I see now how I wasn’t even getting off the starting block when I was unable to say “no” to my desires. If God can do that for me, I know He can, and desires, to do it for you, too.
His will for your life is your sanctification. Thanks be to God.
Postscript: An important read by Steve Gallagher, founder of Pure Life, distinguishing the difference between the person who is truly wrestling with habitual sin vs. the one who just gives over time and time again: How Can I Be Saved And Still Be Doing This?
Also, by Kevin Watson: What Does the Bible Say About Sanctification?