Sanctification, and the Nature of Man
1 Thessalonians 5: 23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. 25 Brethren, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (NKJV)
As Paul closes this letter to the Christians at the church in Thessalonica, he offers a prayer of sanctification (v.23a). This sanctification is to be complete, our “whole spirit, soul, and body” (v.23b). It cannot be complete though while we are in these mortal, sinful bodies. No matter how hard we try to cleanse our soul on this earth, we will not be made perfect, sanctified, in this lifetime.
Our sanctification will not be complete until the rapture, when our soul, and spirit, is reunited with our glorified body. Note that the rapture comes before the tribulation, which includes the second coming of Christ. So after the rapture we are then “blameless” in spirit, soul, and body. Our sanctification is complete. We will be “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 23c).
Also, note that God lists our nature in the order of importance, “spirit, soul, and body” (v.23b). Our spirit is most important because it is our way of communing with God. Our soul is our base of emotions, our personality, everything that we are. The Greek word translated “soul” is “psyche.” God created our “psyche”. Therefore He is the expert on it, not Freud, an atheist. Our soul is more important than our body because it continues living when our body dies. God lists our bodies as least important.
Hebrews 4:12 seems to give us the relationship of our spirit to our soul: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow”. The soul is said to be penetrated by the word of God, the Bible, down to the spirit, just as the bone of our joints can be penetrated down to the bone marrow.
This analogy seems to say that our soul is like our bone and our spirit is like our bone marrow. In other words, our spirit is encased in our soul and gives life to our soul just as the bone marrow is encased in the bone and gives life to the bone. If the bone marrow dies, the body dies. In the same way, if our spirit dies, our soul, everything we are, dies. Our bodies can be destroyed by man, but only God can destroy our spirit.
So, our soul contains our spirit, just as the bone contains the marrow. This further is evidenced by the Bible sometimes referring only to our soul, but meaning our soul and spirit: “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God” (Rev. 20:4). John is writing of the souls of Christians in Heaven. Our soul, propelled by our spirit inside, ascends into Heaven at the time of bodily death, and remains there in the presence of God until the rapture.
God, who has started this work of sanctification in us, will complete His work in us (v.24). We Christians, who constantly battle to be true “Christ followers” (the meaning of the word Christian) will someday reach our goal. But it won’t be in our own strength, or even in this lifetime.
We can approach our goal by allowing the Holy Spirit to control our thoughts and actions. In fact, we are called to be progressively more sanctified every day, as we die to ourselves and live for Christ.
After praying, Paul turns his attention back to the church in Thessalonica (vv. 25-28). He asks the church to “pray for us”, “greet all the brethren with a holy kiss”, and to read this letter to “all the holy brethren.” He then closes his prayer with a blessing that “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”
In summary, as we become more Christ like, allowing the Holy Spirit to control us, we are becoming more sanctified. On the other hand, when we take control, we sin, quenching the work of the Holy Spirit and delaying our sanctification. We need to let go, and let God be the boss of our lives.
The good news is that, in the end, we have the assurance that He will finish what he started in us. God is good!
Online Bible Commentary