Atoning Sacrifice: Nuts & Bolts

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Background
1 Thess 5:12 – 28 narrates Paul's closing requests for life in the church and final greetings to the Thessalonians. This portion of the letter has been referred to closing remarks between friends. Verses 25 – 28 demonstrate evidence of friendship, by indicating communal prayer, greeting with a holy kiss, and encouraging all to read the letter. In addition to the friendship elements, as previously noted, Paul instructs the Thessalonians on Christian living. He first identifies the appropriate attitudes toward leaders. He proceeds to exhort them to warn those who are weak spiritually, not repay others with evil, as well as maintain spiritual piety and sanctification. Paul's last statement imparts grace to the Thessalonians, which closes the letter with encouragement.
Context
As Christians, we constantly receive messages about righteous behavior. In our behavior, we are expected to maintain the strictest moral code, while helping others. In our efforts to abide by the standard in the Bible, it is very easy for us to think that we are earning our salvation. We may think that I did well being the good Christian today and therefore I made God happy. In our attempts to make God happy, we may also think we became worthy citizens of Christ's salvation. For instance, when I was a younger Christian, I felt better about myself when I read my Bible daily and prayed. When I did not do these things, I thought that I was not being a good Christian. I thought that the more I accomplished in God, the more He noticed me. In essence, I attempted to earn my salvation. Paul challenges this way of thinking by revealing that the Thessalonians' righteous actions occur in parallel to God's sanctification. This sanctification happens with Christ's atoning sacrifice.
Purpose
Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians by providing final instruction for their behavior as a body of believers. He addresses behavior for respect towards ecclesial leadership, respect with care for the spiritually weak believers, spiritual piety, and Christian prophecy. In verse 23, he concludes the list of specific behavior, by praying for them. Within his prayer, he separates God’s behavior of sanctifying them from their spiritual behaviors. Ultimately, God’s sanctification represents a new action separate from their human actions or efforts. Sanctification is not man’s moral action, but a divinely effected state. This state occurs by Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Christ achieves sanctification for the sanctified by his offering on the cross. His sanctification will also be consummated in the future during final judgment.

 

Paul continues to expound upon Christ's atoning sacrifice in his final declaration to the Thessalonians. In verse 28, Paul's closing statement indicates his desire for the Lord’s grace to be upon them. His desire indicates an understanding of Christ’s atoning sacrifice in the lives of the Thessalonians. God’s sanctification through his son allows them to continue to receive the Lord’s favor in their lives. In addition, Paul provides a similar final declaration in Rom 16:20. He not only requests that grace remains upon them, but he also acknowledges that God will crush Satan under their feet. Satan being crushed, but more importantly, rendered idle or powerless occurs with Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross. Therefore, Paul leaves the Thessalonians with the hope of their continued favor in Christ's sacrifice and redemption over Satan.

Application
As I read the final verses of 1 Thess, it is clear that I am called to be different from those around me. Like the Thessalonians, I am charged to have personal righteous behavior. This behavior addresses my spiritual community and actions toward God. Previously, I mentioned my difficulties in separating my righteous behavior and God's saving grace. No matter how good I am, I will never earn God's salvation. God saved me through the atoning sacrifice of his son. I did not save myself, but God saved me. As I pursue righteousness, God works along side of me for my good. Therefore, Paul's encouragement to remain in the saving grace continues for me and other believers. We are called to possess piety and reverence for God. We are called to maintain accuracy with the spiritual gifts. All of these actions do not equal God's single action of sanctification through the atoning sacrifice of his son. Therefore, the real call is for us to respond and receive God's grace through his son. Without the sacrifice of Christ, we will not only miss salvation but will also miss the ability to render Satan powerless in our lives. Jesus represents everything, but will we allow him to have a divine effect in our lives.