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Bible Commentaries

Wells of Living Water Commentary

1 Thessalonians 4

Verses 3-7


1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:15-28


The doctrine of sanctification has been abused, but that does not mean that we should steer clear of God's message concerning this great definite work in the believer's heart and life.

There are so many who excuse all kinds of actions among Christians. They seem to think that a Christian, since he is saved by grace, can live any way he may desire, and get away with it.

God never permits us to use "grace" as a leeway for lewdness. He says, "I write unto you, little children, that ye sin not." The Apostle Paul, on one occasion, said that he had no confidence in his flesh; but he did not mean by that that the new man which was begotten of Christ Jesus was left a dupe to the power and sway of the flesh. The Lord Jesus rather taught that, "Sin shall not have dominion over you." How can he who is dead to sin live any longer therein? The Christian may stumble, and fall, but he has the promise of every victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil.

1. Sanctification does not mean the improvement of the Adamic nature. The old man, the carnal nature, received by natural birth is corrupt. Its works are described for us in no uncertain terms. Sanctification does not mean that this old man must be cleaned up and beautified.

On the other hand, sanctification is the impartation of a new man which is begotten in righteousness and true holiness.

Sanctification, therefore, is the putting off of the old man, and the putting on of the new. It is the empowerment of this new man by the Holy Ghost.

We heard some one compare sanctification to an egg, which takes twenty-one days to hatch. During the three weeks, this preacher said, there was less of the viscus every day, and more of the chick. We could not accept this statement. Sanctification is not the gradual purification of the old man, but it is the rule and reign of the Spirit in the new man.

2. Sanctification is not regeneration. Regeneration is the creating of a new man, and not the rebirth of the old man. Regeneration, therefore, while distinct from sanctification, certainly paves the way for sanctification. Sanctification recognizes regeneration. It closes its ears to the voice of the old man, and its lusts; it opens its ears to the new man, and its Holy Spirit domination.

It is the purpose of this message to impress the deep Scriptural meanings of the word, sanctification, and also the method by which sanctification may be realized.


Where is he who does not desire the will of God more than anything else which is obtainable in this life? Jesus Christ said on one occasion, "Who is My mother? and who are My brethren?" "Whosoever shall do the will of My Father."

Epaphras was a mighty man of prayer, and he prayed for the saints that they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

It was David Livingstone who said, "I would rather be in the heart of Africa in the will of God, than to be anywhere under Heaven out of that will."

The will of God is widely inclusive, but there is one thing that is distinctly stated: "This is the will of God, even your sanctification."

God does not want us to walk in the desires of our flesh. He does not want us to follow after the ways of the world. He wants us to know how to possess our vessels in sanctification and true holiness.

It is the sanctified Christian alone who can give real honor and glory unto his adorable Saviour and Lord.


Perhaps the best way to understand any great Scriptural term is to study its use throughout the Bible. When we come to the word "sanctification," we find that it is used throughout the Bible with one chief purpose. Let me give you a few suggestions.

1. "God * * rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it." The word here certainly suggests that He set the seventh day aside from the other days of the week. He hallowed the seventh day because on that day He rested.

2. We read that the Tabernacle was sanctified. The various utensils used in its rites were sanctified. The word here includes their being cleansed; it also suggests that they were set aside for holy and Divine service.

3. Jesus Christ is spoken of as being sanctified. We see this in our text. He was, of course, holy, but the word suggests that, being holy, He set Himself apart in behalf of His people.

4. The Church is spoken of as being sanctified: "That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word." Cleansing is included in the sanctification, but along with the cleansing is the separation of the Church by the Lord unto Himself.

Cramer, in his Greek lexicon, says that the word sanctification comes from "hagios," which means "clean, free from stain." He admits, however, that the use of the word carries with it the thought of dedication. Webster's new International Dictionary says that sanctification means "the state or quality of being sacred or holy." He also says that it is the act or process of God's grace by which the affections of men are purified. Webster gives the truth, but not all of the truth, because sanctification, beyond doubt, goes farther than mere holiness or purification.


To our mind one of the most beautiful Bible definitions of the word sanctification is our present text, in which there are three suggestions:

1. "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate."

2. "And touch not the unclean thing."

3. "And I will receive you."

The first call is to separation; the second is to cleansing, and the third is to a dedication, received and accepted of God. Our part is to speak of separation. In the context of 2 Corinthians 6:17 , the Spirit is asking, "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" He also asks, "What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?"

When God called Abram to become His servant He called him out of Ur of the Chaldees. Later on, God called Israel out of Egypt. The message of the whole Bible is the message of the separation of light from darkness, of the saint from the sinner.

God has said, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." Again, God said, "Go not in the way of evil men." Yet again, "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not."

There is no affinity between the Church and the world, nor can there be any affinity between the saint and the sinner. Their lords are distinct and opposite. Their ideals of life are distinct and opposite.

We are not of the world, even as He is not of the world.


Hear the thunderous tones of God's Word: "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord."

God calls for separation, but He calls for more. He calls for cleanliness. He says, "Be ye holy; for I am holy." The Apostle could truthfully say, "I know nothing by myself," yet he added, "Yet am I not hereby justified."

A clean man, as we understand it, is a man who knows nothing against himself, a man who is not walking in any known sin.

We read in Isaiah 6:1-13 , "In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the Temple." Then it was that the Prophet cried, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, * * for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts."

No sooner did the Prophet utter his prayer and plea than an angel touched his lips with a coal from off the altar, and said, "Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." Do you marvel that immediately the Prophet heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?"

It was thus that David prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," and he added, "Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways." God demands cleansing of those who would be serving.


We well remember the old consecration services that were held in our home church in the days of our boyhood. They were monthly affairs, and every month the saints were supposed to reconsecrate themselves to God.

We have no criticism save this: that saints should make their consecration definite and decisive once for all.

Dedication, or, if you prefer, consecration, is included in sanctification. However, sanctification is a far bigger word than either of the others. The yielded life is a consecrated life. The sanctified life is also a consecrated life, but it is likewise a separated and a cleansed life.

We wonder how many there are who stand ready to bring their all and place it upon the altar. The Bible says that we should present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. The Bible also says, "Yield yourselves unto God, * * and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God."

Sometimes we may wonder why our gift is not acceptable unto God. We seek to bring our life, our body, and its members and give them all to Him. Then He seems to say, "Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." In other words, God will not receive us, if our lives are entangled in sin, and not separated from the world.

VI. SANCTIFICATION'S GREAT "HOW" (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 )

We have already learned that sanctification is the will of God. Now, we wish to emphasize that it is also the will of God, that we should know how to possess our vessels in sanctification and honor. A great many persons place all the work of sanctification upon the believer, as though we, of our own selves, could sanctify ourselves.

Our text says, however, "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly." The next verse adds, "Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it." We may take up the attitude of separation, but God must perfect it in us. We may stand before the Lord desiring to be clean, but God must cleanse us. We may want to yield ourselves unto God, but God must give us the enabling.

If we would know how to possess our vessel in sanctification and honor, we must know the Spirit's power in our life.

God has said, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." He has also said that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.

If we would seek to follow God in the energy of our flesh, we would utterly collapse in the attempt. Our defeat, however, may be turned into glorious victory the very moment that we recognize in Christ the power of the new life, and see in the Holy Spirit the power of that life made effective in us.

Try as we may, and strive as we will, we will still drag with us a body of death, until we have learned that Christ is made unto us sanctification. When we would do good, evil will be present with us. When we would refuse the evil, we will find ourselves bound down to the evil, until we cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Remember, beloved, that sanctification is made possible and practical only in the God-empowered life.


Our verse tells us that in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work."

He who would become a servant of the Living God must flee youthful lusts: and "follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."

When God is looking for a vessel which He may use, He seeks primarily for a vessel that is clean. Whether it be a vessel of gold, or of silver, of wood, or of stone; whether it be a believer with oratorical power, and rhetorical phrases, is not the main thing. These things do not matter so much. However, the vessel must be clean, and the believer must be clean. "For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, * * therefore thy camp shall be holy."


This story is told of J. Sterling Morton, President Cleveland's Secretary of Agriculture: "When Mrs. Morton died her husband had a tombstone erected on her grave, and on that stone he had this inscription: 'Caroline French, wife of J. Sterling Morton, and mother of Joy, Paul, and Mark Morton.' Then he took his three sons to the cemetery and as they stood by the grave of the mother of the boys, J. Sterling Morton pointed out the inscription and read aloud: 'Mother of Joy, Paul, and Mark Morton,' and then he solemnly said, 'If any one of you boys ever does anything that would cause your mother grief or shame if she were alive, I will chisel your name off the stone.' I am glad to say that the newspaper reported that the names were still on the stone." The Moody Institute Monthly.

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Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". "Living Water".