But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
As so often, Paul packs much into these few lines. We are offered a powerful summary of the entire Christian experience. Thanks to God’s gracious embrace of creation, through all Christ has done, Paul can write and a fledgling church can receive his writing. Paul reminds them and us that Christ’s redeeming work, which Paul proclaimed, has rewritten our identities such that we are now children of God together, embraced in the Church as family. But we remain works-in-progress; treading our way towards a future glory.
In the midst of this tightly woven text comes “sanctification.” I wonder how often we reflect upon our pilgrimage as a progress in sanctification? The word carries the sense of a developing, dynamic holiness; a growing up into the fullness of life God intends for everyone. Paul is careful to keep God as agent in this life-long journey rather than let us imagine this is some great task we accomplish for ourselves in our own strength. It is the Spirit who sanctifies.
Rather than a list of tasks for us to do, sanctification can be treasured as gifts from God to uncover and enjoy. Paul gives us some. Belief in the truth suggests our continuing delving into scripture and thinking about our faith so that we grow in understanding and confidence. Standing firm and holding fast to traditions suggests our appreciation of the faith handed on to us, not least in our little bit of the Church. Receiving comfort suggests to me the importance of prayer; that continuously surprising conversation with God that ebbs and flows across our years. Above all, as we notice how Paul concludes this section, sanctification is a journey into joy; into the abiding and abundant joy of knowing that we are loved by God and that we are agents of that love in the world for God’s sake.
I give to you this day, Lord. I give to you my tasks and encounters, my plans and my surprises, my hopes and my fears. Let your Spirit be them all. I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Rev’d Neil Thorogood, Minister, Trinity-Henleaze URC (Bristol) and Thornbury URC.