When my sons were young I decided they needed to learn how to read a map. We’d go through the basics: find your starting point, find your destination point, trace the options you could find between the two points, decide on your route, and drive. Usually these teaching lessons would be met with this reaction: “Why do we need to know this?”
Looking back now they had a point. Little did I know that by the time they would start driving and taking trips there would be such a thing as a smart phone and an app called Google maps. It does most of the work for you. I know. The boys had to teach me how to use the app. As long as you know where you want to go you don’t even have to log in your starting point. It already knows where you are.
When someone calls you and invites you to a destination spot that you are unfamiliar with, you can just use a map app to get there. And when God calls you to a destination, he will help you get there too. Your destination? Sanctification. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”
“Sanctification” is a big word that you and I don’t use very often in day-to-day life. It can also be translated “holiness.” But we don’t use that word often either and even less when we think of ourselves. (Although sometimes, when I look in the mirror first thing, I exclaim “Holy Cow!”) We picture a holy person as someone in a robe living in the desert or somewhere no one else wants to be.
So let’s de-churchify the word for a minute. Sanctification, or “holiness,” simply means “set apart.” If something is holy, it is set apart from something else. Imagine some evening Karen is driving home from work. I’m at the house preparing a gourmet dinner. (I said “imagine.”) I’ve got her on speaker while I’m cutting up tomatoes when she tells me, “By the way, that new family from church is coming over. I invited them. We should all arrive in about five minutes.”
In my panic I twitch and slice my finger. At first I don’t notice the bleeding since I’m slicing tomatoes. But then I feel it. And when I look I see that I’ve sliced off the tip of my finger. I dig through the cutting board full of tomato slices and find it. I lift it up and I say, “This is sanctified. It is cut apart. It is holy.”
There you have it. That is what “sanctified” or “holy” means. God is holy because he is set apart from humans because he is set apart from sin. In just one of a multitude of examples, Leviticus 20:26 records God’s command to Israel: “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”
It’s a succinct passage that reminds us that God is holy and therefore, if we are following in his ways we are to be holy too. Paul is helping his readers know what direction they are walking in life. That direction is towards God’s holiness.
The problem is we sometimes forget where we are going, don’t we? Before we were taught Google maps Karen and I were walking in Rome on our 25th anniversary. We were enjoying the sights until we realized it was getting dark and we didn’t know where we were in relation to our apartment. We had to pull out our map and look like tourists which makes you feel a little more vulnerable to anyone that might want to take advantage of you. Now, you can just pull out your iPhone, stare at it, and look exactly like everyone else who is staring down at their phones when they could be looking at something like the Vatican or Coliseum.
We had to look at the map to remember our directions. Paul says the same, that when you need directions, remember. Paul reminds his first readers and us, “for you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus…” He is saying to go back to their roadmap, the instructions that told them how to walk. But they will need to remember they have those instructions to keep on walking toward God’s calling of them towards sanctification.
And we will too. Wherever you are right now you can journey towards God’s destination for you. Just pull out the instructions you’ve been given and remember your destination.
And start walking.
Question: When you are confused about your direction in life where do you go for help?