I often unconsciously live as if 1 Thessalonians 4:3 was not in Scripture, and, if you’re not careful, you may do the same.
In just a few simple words, Paul answers the question on so many minds today: “What is God’s will for my life?” Paul writes to the Thessalonians,
For this is the will of God, your sanctification…
1 Thessalonians 4:3
Sanctification. That may not be what you had in mind when you asked God about your future plans, but that’s what Paul highlighted as of the utmost importance. God’s will for your life, over and above all of the particulars, is that you would be conformed to the image of Christ. Furthermore, Paul was confident in God’s ability to carry out this plan, writing elsewhere,
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
The God who began the work of sanctifying you at your justification will continue the work until it is complete in your glorification. Because God is sovereign, he can accomplish this purpose through every aspect of your life, both because God causes all things to work together for good for those who love him and who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28) and because God can specifically work through suffering to bring about growth in his people (Romans 5:3-5). No matter what you face, good or evil, God can use it for your growth in godliness.
Such truth is profoundly comforting, yet is also somewhat terrifying. While we can now rest in the assurance of growth, we can no longer fool ourselves into assuming that God will placate us in our comforts. His will is our sanctification, not our happiness or our job security or our relationship goals or our perfect physical health or our stress free life or any number of things that we expect him to give to us. These are all good things, and God may give us any or all of them in this life, often using specific callings and vocations to further his kingdom in this world; yet we cannot forget that his ultimate goal is our sanctification. If any good thing does not advance our sanctification, he may well remove it from us in order that we may grow.
As God shapes us and grows us, we can easily forget to trust in his process. He’s currently working on my heart, and he’s revealing roots of sin that I didn’t realize were still so strong and so deep. As his surgeon’s knife cuts deeper and deeper, I’m realizing how desperately wicked my heart is apart from him, and I’m learning afresh how reliant I am upon his grace for every aspect of my life. He’s revealing arrogance and selfishness, bitterness and judgmental attitudes, feelings of entitlement, self-pity, and many other issues I never realized dwelt within me. All were revealed because he kept me from pursuing a longtime goal, and, as I reacted to his call, he began to reveal the underlying issues and to fix the problems. As he increases the heat and the impurities rise to the surface, he cleanses and purifies me.
Sanctification can be an incredibly painful process. God often has to break our hands to remove our idols. He often has to crush our plans to refocus us upon his own. He wounds that he may heal. Through all of this, however, he is faithful. We can count it all joy as we meet these trials of various kinds, for we know that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness within us (James 1:2-4). We can rejoice even in our sufferings, for we know that he is working greater good within us than could be worked otherwise. God is our good shepherd, our faithful father, and our loving Lord. This week, trust him. Trust his will, resting in the knowledge that he is making you more and more like Christ. Encourage those around you who feel lost in the difficulty, reminding them that he works all things for good. Let us be people who shine brightly for his glory, showing through these jars of clay the surpassing greatness of our God (2 Corinthians 4).