Biblical Perfection and Sanctification

1 Thessalonians

Biblical Perfection and Sanctification

March 2nd, 1958 @ 7:30 PM

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

1 Thessalonians 5:23

3-2-58    7:30 p.m.



Now we turn to the last chapter of the [first] Thessalonian letter, [First] Thessalonians 5 – the first Thessalonian letter, the last chapter: First Thessalonians 5.  Now, we begin at the sixteenth verse and read to the end.  First Thessalonians 5, beginning at the sixteenth verse – do we all have it?  You can follow the sermon tonight easily, and it will be profitable if you willdo it: First Thessalonians 5:16.  Now let’s all of us read it together:


Rejoice evermore,

Pray without ceasing,

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 

Quench not the Spirit.

Despise not prophesyings.

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.

Brethren, pray for us.

Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.

I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

 [1 Thessalonians 5:16-28]


Now look at the twenty-third verse.  "And God Himself – and the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Thessalonians 5:23].  And I am to speak tonight on perfection and sanctification – that is, the Bible doctrine of perfection and sanctification: "And God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you wholly" [1 Thessalonians 5:23].  And I have waited to deliver this message on sanctification until this text, but it is by no means the only place here in this brief, little Thessalonian letter that it is mentioned by the apostle Paul. 

In the third chapter and the tenth verse, he says that he is praying night and day for their sakes, "that we might see your face and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith" [1 Thessalonians 3:10].  And this is his prayer: "That the Lord make you to increase and abound in love . . . to the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints" [1 Thessalonians 3:12-13].

Look in the next chapter, the fourth, and the third verse: "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification" [1 Thessalonians 4:3].

Over here in the second Thessalonian letter, the second chapter and the third verse: "God hath chosen" – the thirteenth verse – "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" [2 Thessalonians 2:13].

Now, you have here in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 the word "perfect."  One of the tragedies of translation is this: that in no language are there exact words to designate what is meant in this language, and one of the flagrant and unhappy instances of this concerns this word "sanctification" and "perfection."  There is a very clear doctrine of holiness going all through the Bible, but it is almost exactly the opposite of what people think that it is. 

Now, this word translated "perfect" – there are two words in the New Testament that are translated "perfect."  The first one is used here, built around the Greek word artios, and it means "fully equipped" – has no reference to sinlessness or sinless perfection at all.

The best way I know to illustrate the meaning of the word is to look at it in the Bible.  In Second Timothy, the third chapter, and the sixteenth and seventeenth verses, Paul writes – and we’ve quoted it from this pulpit a thousand times: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" [2 Timothy 3:16-17].

There is that Greek word artios: "That the man of God may be perfect" [2 Timothy 3:17] – has no reference to sinless perfection at all, but it means "fully equipped."  For example, in the Greek, a house would be referred to as being artios – what you translate "perfect" – if it were completely equipped: it had furniture, and rugs, and stoves, and everything else that it takes to make a home.  It is fully equipped.  That’s what he means here: "that the man of God may be fully equipped for his task" [2 Timothy 3:17].   And the way to be that, Paul says, is that the man of God give himself to the study of the Word of the Lord [2 Timothy 2:15].

Now, there is another word that is translated "perfect," and that Greek word is teleios, teleios, and practically all of your Greek words translated "perfect" are teleios.  It has no reference at all to sinless perfection.  The Greek word teleios means "mature, fully grown."  For example, a boy into a youth into a man: when he became full grown, the Greek word would be teleios.  He had reached the goal for which God had intended his life.  He is now full grown.

You will find an instance of the use of that word in Hebrews, and I’ve lost the place here – in Hebrews 4 and 5, I think it is.  Paul, the author of Hebrews, says that we are no longer to be babes, but we are to be full grown, eating strong meat [Hebrews 5:12-14].  Now, there’s the word teleios.  When we are immature, we’re not perfect according to the Greek.  When we are babes in Christ, we haven’t obtained the goal for which God hath called us.  So the word "perfect," in this second instance, means full grown, mature. We have attained that thing for which God hath called us.

Now, that same doctrine is in these words that we translate "sanctification" and "saint" and "holy" and "holiness," and "hallowedness" and "hallow," and "consecrated" and "consecration."  These things in the Bible have no reference to sinless perfection, but they refer to something altogether else and different.

Now, let’s take these words that are translated in the Bible by "saint, saintly, sanctified; holy, holiness; hallow, hallowedness; consecration, consecrated."  All of those words, every one of them, come from a root word, and the same identical meaning of that word is in Hebrew as it is in Greek.

Now, let’s take the Hebrew word first.  The Hebrew word is qadosh or qadash, and it refers to something that is set apart for God: anything – a day, a season, a year, a feast, a fast, an object, a thing, a person.  Anything is sanctified – it is holy – if it is set apart for God.  For example, in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus and the second verse, the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: "Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both the man and the beast; it is Mine."  That’s a good instance of the word sanctify: "Sanctify unto Me the firstborn.  He belongs to Me" [Exodus 13:2].  It has no reference to sinless perfection – has no reference to it at all.  It belongs to God.  The firstborn is sanctified.

Now, turn again to Leviticus 8 and the tenth verse: "And as the Lord commanded Moses, Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was therein, and sanctified them" [Leviticus 8:10].  He anointed the table, and it was sanctified.  He anointed the seven-branch lampstand.  He anointed the veil.  He anointed the altar.  He anointed the court.  He anointed the curtain.  Every object in the tabernacle he anointed with oil and sanctified them [Leviticus 8:11]. That is, it was set apart for the use of God.  It belonged to God – had no reference to sinless perfection at all.  How could a table be sinlessly perfect?  Yet they sanctified the table, the altar, the lampstand, the showbread.   All, that is, they set it apart for God.  It was sanctified.

Now, look again in the Book of Jeremiah: "This is the Word of the Lord that came unto me, saying" [Jeremiah 1:4] – now, he’s going to speak of a man: "Before I formed thee in the womb I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" [Jeremiah 1:5] – has nothing to do with sinless perfection at all.  "Before you were born," God says to Jeremiah, "I sanctified thee."  That is, "I set thee apart for Myself.  You belong to Me.  I’ve ordained you."

Now, that same thing is in the New Testament.  The New Testament word for qadosh, "holiness, sanctity" – the New Testament word is hagiazō, and every instance it means the same thing.  There’s no deviation from it.  It never refers to sinless perfection, but it refers to the setting apart for God.  For example, and in order to conserve time, I’m going to take one, just one. 

In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of John, in the nineteenth verse, in the holy, high priestly prayer of Jesus, He says: "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself" [John 17:19].  Now to you, sanctification is getting rid of sin, and, finally, we beget holy and saintly.  There’s no idea of that in the Bible!  That is a doctrine that is alien and foreign to the Word of God!  God’s Word teaches that there is sin in you, and fault in you, and lack in you, and shortcoming in you as long as you live in the body of this death [Romans 3:10-23, 7:1-24].  We’ll see that later on.

"For their sakes," says Jesus, "I sanctify Myself" [John 17:9] as though that were progressively to be getting rid of sin.  No sin in our Lord [Hebrews 4:15], and yet He prays: "For their sakes I sanctify I Myself" [John 17:9].  That is, "For their sakes, I consecrate Myself to this holy and God‑given task."  The Lord sent Him into the world with a great mission: to die for our sins [1 Timothy 1:15].  "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself" [John 17:9].  Has nothing to do with sin, doesn’t refer to sin.  But qadosh, hagiazō refers to what belongs to God.  This is the Lord’s.  It’s taken out of the world and consecrated, sanctified, dedicated for the uses of God.

Now, knowing the meaning of the word, let us turn to the apostle Paul and see what he means when he uses those words in these epistles.  In the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians and the third verse: "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" [1 Thessalonians 4:3].  Your sanctification: that’s God’s will for you. That is, God has a purpose for your life – every one of you – that is, if I can believe the Bible.  "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" [1 Thessalonians 4:3] – your dedication, your consecration.  There is a holy purpose in heaven for you – for you.

Now, may I illustrate that?  In the days of the apostle Paul when he penned that sentence there, the temple was there in Jerusalem.  And Paul, as many others upon many occasions, went into the temple and brought an offering of gold and dedicated it [Acts 21:23-26] – consecrated, sanctified it to the Lord.  The gold wasn’t changed at all, just its purpose.  Heretofore, it had been coined in the realm of the world, but now it is set aside.  It is sanctified.  It is for the use of God.  Though the coin is just the same before or after, but now its purposes are different.  Its use is in a different way.  In the Bible, according to the Scriptures – according to Jesus Himself – that money is sanctified: it belongs to God.

We have a dual-purpose plant out here at Arlington [Arlington, Texas].  On this assembly line – if you go out there and look at it, on that assembly line, there are automobiles made now, but that plant really was built there for that other purpose.  If we enter into war, just like that, it can be consecrated, sanctified.  That is, it can be put to a new purpose and a new use and that is to build guns and tanks for war.  That’s why that plant was built at Arlington.  General Motors would never have built it there had it not been for the subsidy of the government, and the government subsidized it for the purpose of war.  And when the thing is changed, the purpose sanctifies it.  That is, it’s a new thing.  It’s going in a new direction.  It’s for another purpose.  That’s sanctification.

Same thing about a man.  He’s here in an office, and he’s figuring out and he’s doing all these things and the other – then in war!  Brother, he’s changed his purpose, his life.  He’s got new companions.  He’s got a new boss.  He’s got a drill sergeant.  He’s toting a gun.  He’s marching up and down.  He’s in a foxhole.  He’s – what is he?  He’s in a new thing.  That’s sanctification: a new purpose, a new master, a new lord, a new life, a new way.

Now, over here in Second Peter, it says here: "Knowing this . . . the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" [2 Peter 1:20-21].  Holy men of God, sanctified men of God – yes, sir.  Were they sinless?  My soul, do you know anything about Moses?  He couldn’t even enter the Promised Land because of the wrath and anger that welled up in his soul in violation of the commandment of God [Numbers 20:7-12, 27:12-14].  Do you know anything about David? [2 Samuel 11:1-27]  Talk about men being sinless?  No, but they are holy men of God.  The Bible says they were holy men of God [Exodus 33:11; 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22].  They were sinners, but God had called them [Exodus 3:1-10; 1 Samuel 16:1-13]and God used them [Acts 13:36; Hebrews 4:7, 11:24-29], and in that sense, they were sanctified.  They belonged to God, and they were doing God’s work even though they were full of fault and sin and failure.

In the first chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul addresses the church over there: "To the church of Corinth, with all the saints" [1 Corinthians 1:2] – "with all the saints." Then, in the third chapter of that letter, my soul, how he castigates the saints [1Corinthians 3:1-4].  Why, they were living in all kinds of sin and doing all manner of evil in the sight of God [1 Corinthians 4:18, 5:1, 6:1-11, 6:16-20,8:9-13,10:7-14, 11:17-34, 14:20, 14:23, 14:39-40], yet they are called saints [1 Corinthians 1:2].

My, my, how certain professions and certain denominations have taken away the whole doctrine of sanctification as though a fellow to be sanctified, to be a saint, is to be some kind of a theory of person.  Ah, nothing of that in the Book.  The doctrine of sanctification in the Book of God is the dedication of a life for the purposes of the Lord.

Now, may I illustrate that?  And then this message is done.  Here, in Second Thessalonians and the second chapter, Paul has said in the thirteenth verse – he says: "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit" [2 Thessalonians 2:13] – through sanctification of the Spirit.

Now, what is that "sanctification of the Spirit"?  Well, first, it is something God does.  No man can sanctify himself. It is something God does.  That’s the same thing as in my text: "God Himself sanctify you wholly" [1 Thessalonians 5:23].

You listen to me.  If God doesn’t want you, there’s no way in the world you could serve God or come into His presence.  You couldn’t.  If God doesn’t choose you, you can’t choose yourself [John 6:44, 15:16].  If God doesn’t put His hands upon you, you can’t put hands upon yourself.  Sanctification is something God does for us: "God hath from the beginning chosen you to sanctification of the Spirit" [2 Thessalonians 2:13], and, in my text, "God Himself sanctify you wholly" [1 Thessalonians 5:23].  Then it’s something that God does. 

But how does He do it?  That’s what he says here: "Through sanctification of the Spirit" [2 Thessalonians 2:13], and we’re told that plainly in the Word of God.  In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of John, and the ninth verse: "And He" – the Holy Spirit – "will convict you of sin" [from John 16:8-9].

"Well, I thought sanctification and holiness had to do with sins."  No!  No!  "And He will convict you of sin."  And then, it describes what it is: "of sin, because they believe not on Me" [John 16:9] – on Christ.  You’re not going to hell because of sins.  Brother, we all sinners. There’s just this difference between us: some of us are saved by grace – some of us confess our sins, own our sins, admit our sins, ask God to wash our sins away – and some of us live and shall die in unforgiven sin, and no man shall ever see the face of God who dies in unforgiven sins.  Our salvation has to do with whether or not we confess our sins and trust in Jesus or not [John 3:16-18; 1 John 5:11-13].  Even though I’m saved, I still have the weakness of the flesh [Romans 7:14-25].  I stumble and stagger where I ought to be straight and strong.  I doubt where I ought to have faith.  There are a thousand areas where I fall short, but I’m trusting Jesus.  And that’s the difference in a man that’s saved and a man that’s lost.

And the Spirit will convict you of sin because you believe not on Him [John 16:8-9]. There’s only one sin that will damn you – only one.  Name all the sins in the world.  God forgives them.  God never forgives the sin of a man who rejects Christ.  There’s not any other way [John 14:6]; there’s not any other salvation [Acts 4:12]; there’s no other blood [Hebrews 10:4].  There’s no washing away of sins save in the atoning mercy of Jesus Christ [1 John 1:7].

We are saved by trusting Jesus.  The sanctification of the Spirit is first: the conviction of our hearts of sin, trusting Jesus.  And if we don’t trust Him, we’re lost, lost.  The work of the Holy Spirit of God is to bring us to Jesus [John 16:7-15], pointing to Him, pleading with our hearts to trust Him.  When I’m up here in this pulpit asking a man to take Jesus as his Savior, the Holy Spirit is out there whispering to that man that this is the very truth and gospel and message of God.

Then, the second part of it is "of righteousness":  "And He will convict the world of sin and of righteousness . . . because I go to the Father and the world seeth Me no more" [John 16:8-10].  Righteousness: that is, the Jesus kind of righteousness, the God-kind of righteousness, not your kind of righteousness.  Your kind of righteousness is, "I pay my debts.  I’m honest.  I live an upright and moral life."  God says that righteousness is filthy rags in His sight [Isaiah 64:6].  But the God-kind of righteousness is an imputed righteousness [2 Corinthians 5:21].  That is, it is a righteousness that is given to us by faith [Romans 3:22].  It was bought for us by Jesus on the cross.  He died that our sins might be washed away.  The God-kind of righteousness is a faith; it’s a mercy; it’s a free gift of God [Romans 6:23].  You can’t buy it.  You can’t work for it.  You can’t cry for it.  You can’t mourn for it.  You can’t repent for it.  You just take it by faith and by trust in the Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 2:8-9].

And what the Spirit does for us, the sanctification of the Spirit: He gives us a God-kind of righteousness.  That is, the Spirit takes us out from under the condemnation of the Law, out from under the judgment that is to fall upon the children of old man Adam – He takes us out from under that condemnation and places us over here on the Rock [Romans 8:1-4; Colossians 1:13].  We’re now in Jesus.  We have a Savior.  We have a Lord.  We have a new hope, a new vision, a new song.  The sanctification of the Spirit: it’s something God does for us.  It’s by faith, and the Spirit of God changes us out of the old condemnation into the life of a new hope in Jesus.

Then there’s the third thing that it does, the sanctification of the Spirit: then the Holy Spirit comes and He makes His temple our bodies [1 Corinthians 6:19].  He lives in our souls, in our minds, in our hearts, in every faculty of our life.  That’s what Paul meant when he said here – and this is the nearest approach to a psychology that you’ll find in the Bible – "I pray God sanctify you wholly, your spirit, your soul, your body" [1 Thessalonians 5:23], your whole pneuma, your whole psuchē, your whole sōma.

Now, pneuma, your spirit, that’s the part of me that can know God.  The psuchē, that’s the part of me that feels, and it’s the animal life.  An animal can feel and be angry and love and live in this world.  That’s psuchē, the sentient life; and the sōma is the corporeal body, corporeality.

Now, Paul says that in the sanctification of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us, and He uses all of our faculties.  If you’ll give yourself to God, the Book says you’ll be thinking God thoughts in your mind [Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:16].  You’ll be loving the Word [1 Peter 2:2] and love to think about the things of the Book, and your heart will be filled with the love of God [2 Corinthians 5:14-16].  You’ll be interested in the church, and you’ll be interested in the singing of the songs and the hymns [Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16].  And it’ll mean something to you – the feeling part of your life and your body.  And that belongs to God: the holy temple.  He refers to it.  "You’re not your own.  You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit" [from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20].

So what we do in our lives is given to God: that is the doctrine of sanctification – doesn’t belong to the world; it belongs to God.  My mind doesn’t belong to the world; it belongs to God.  My heart doesn’t belong to the world; it belongs to God.  My body doesn’t belong to the world; it belongs to God. Therefore, sanctify – therefore, sanctify your spirit and your soul and your body [from 1 Thessalonians 5:23]: all of it given to God.

Now, another thing of that Spirit of God dwelling in us: that is the seal of the Spirit unto redemption.  Now what does Paul mean by that in Ephesians 4: [30]: "The seal of the Spirit . . . unto . . . redemption"?  What he means by that’s this:  that the Spirit dwelling in us is the sign that God owns us.  It’s the sign that we don’t belong to ourselves; we belong to God.  The seal of the Spirit is God’s ownership.  He’s sealed it.  That is, He’s put His mark on it.  He’s taken the signet ring and stamped it, and this belongs to God – doesn’t belong to the world.

When you’re out there in a sinful place, when you’re at an off-color dance hall, the seal of God is on you if you are a Christian, and you don’t belong there.  You may be there.  You don’t belong there.  You may be at one of these stag parties downtown, and they’re having a striptease show.  The seal of the Spirit of God is on you; you don’t belong there.  You may be there; you don’t belong there.  You belong to God.  That is sanctification.  You may be out there compromised, and you may be out there in sin, and you may be out there where you ought not to be, but you don’t belong there.  You belong to God.  You are a saint of God, and the New Testament character of the saint is this: that you don’t belong to yourself [Romans 14:7; 1 Corinthians 6:19].  You’re God’s.  You’re God’s.

And the seal of the Spirit against the day of redemption is this [Ephesians 4:30]: that some of these days – some of these days – in the day of redemption, that is, when God shall give us our new bodies [1 Corinthians 15:50-53], we shall not only be regenerated in our souls, our spirits, but we shall also be regenerated in these corporeal bodies: the whole purchased possession [Ephesians 1:14].

Now, when is that to be? He says here: "The very God" – or God Himself – "sanctify you wholly . . . spirit, soul, and body . . . preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Thessalonians 5:23].  And he said the same thing in the third chapter: "That He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ with all of His saints" [1 Thessalonians 3:13].

Some of these days, we will have sin in no faculty, in no part of us: not in body, not in soul, not in mind, not in affection, not in desire, not in thought, in no way.  We shall be, then, wholly perfect, sanctified, given to God – no part of us withdrawn.  But in the day and the night and for all of the ages to come, we shall sing His praises world without end [Revelation 7:9-10].  That’s the doctrine of sanctification: longing to God, looking to God, receiving our election from God not in the world, but in Him.

Therefore, Paul could say those magnificent and meaningful passages: "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live" – here I am – "yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" [Galatians 2:20].  It’s a new fellowship.  It’s a new communion.  It’s a new delight.  It’s a new purpose.  It’s a new aim.  It’s a new love.  It’s a new life.  It’s in God.  It’s in Christ.

And while we sing this appeal, while we sing this song, coming to give your life in trust and in faith and in service to Jesus, would you make it now?  Would you make it now?  Turn around.  Turn around.  Been going down that road, and that road leads to darkness and night.  Turn around.  This road leads to God and to heaven and to home.  Turn around: that’s repentance.  Turn around: "Don’t belong to the church; I’m going to join the church.  I’ve never been baptized; I’m going to be baptized.  I haven’t confessed my sins to God; I do and will confess my sins to God.  Every day I will ask God to forgive me."  Come, come, come.  "Ho!  Everyone that thirsteth . . . come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" [Isaiah 55:1].  It’s the free gift of God.  It is something the Spirit does for you.  Come, come, come.

While we sing this song, down these stairwells, would you make it now?  In the great throng of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, would you come?  "Tonight, the best I know how, I’ll take Jesus as my Savior.  I want to be saved.  I want to see God’s face when I die.  I want my home to be in heaven.  I’ll take Him and I’ll trust Him now.  All of these things that are so high and deep and great, I am not equal, but He is, and I’ll trust Him for it.  I’ll receive them from His blessed hands."  Would you do it?  Would you make it now while we stand and while we sing?