First Thessalonians 029 – Our Power1 Thessalonians 5:23a • Dr. Andy Woods • June 11, 2023 • First Thessalonians
First Thessalonians 029 – Our Power
1 Thessalonians 5:23a – Dr. Andy Woods – June 11, 2023
Father, we’re grateful for today and grateful for these summer months. We do pray that the Holy Spirit would have His way this day at Your church, Sugar Land Bible Church. We do pray that the Holy Spirit would take the words that are spoken from Your Word and apply them at the deepest level to those that You would have listening. We pray for the illumination of the Spirit, whereby we can understand the things of God, in particular the deeper things of God, that we need to go on into maturity with an understanding of. In preparation for that ministry of illumination, we’re going to take a few moments of silence for personal confession, if need be, not to restore position, but to restore fellowship, so that we might receive everything that You have for us in Your Word today.
We remain grateful for the promise of 1 John 1:9. We’re thankful, Lord, that You have made provision for us for every area. And with that being said, we lift up this time to You. We lift up these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said amen.
All right, well if you could locate 1 Thessalonians 5:23 in your Bible, and those of you watching online are probably saying this is going to be a great lesson. Look at all the props the pastor brought in to illustrate his points. Well, maybe we might refer to some as we go, but this is all set up as you know for Vacation Bible School which begins bright and early tomorrow morning, Monday morning, June 12, and will go all the way through Friday. A lot of work has been put into Vacation Bible School, so I would just invite you to keep the whole week in your prayers that the Lord might use it in the lives of very young children to advance His eternal purposes.
I’m really glad though that it says here, USA. If it didn’t say that, we’re going to have some fighting words, you know. So that kind of reminds us that we’re coming up on the 4th of July too. So this is like a prefigurement to 4th of July, I guess, when you think about it.
1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul the apostle in the first three chapters of the book has defended his apostolic authority to speak. Something that he needed to do because he had detractors in Thessalonica who were trying to kind of wean Paul’s audience, his church, away from Paul saying, you know, he’s a phony, he’s just in it for the money. He’s not a real apostle. So it’s hard to correct somebody when you have no credibility to speak. So the first three chapters he’s defended his credibility.
Then you have the hinge of the book, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally then, …” so now he’s moving into actual correction. He’s dealing with issues in the thriving Thessalonian church that he had planted on his second missionary journey. He’s dealing with issues that he had come to learn about as issues had been reported to him. He deals with the subject of immorality (4:1-8), laziness, people using the doctrine of the return of Christ to be lazy (4:9-12), and then he lays out a proper understanding of the end times. Deals with the rapture of the church at the end of Chapter 4, and then the tribulation period that follows (4:13–5:11). And then beginning about Verse 12, he starts to deal with other subjects like ministry imbalances (5:12-15), and then finally in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-28, he gets into the subject of their progressive sanctification. He’s here not dealing with their birth in Christ, but he’s dealing with their growth in Christ.
Here’s how to be a growing Christian. How do you know if you’re a growing Christian or not? Well, Paul says, first of all, you’re fulfilling three positive commands. This is like a real simple barometer to see if we are really growing the way we should.
- Are we rejoicing always? (5:16)
- Are we praying without ceasing? (5:17)
- Are we giving thanks in all things? (5:18)
It’s amazing how simple Paul is with his teaching. It’s amazing how simple Christianity is. And then he says here are three negative commands. Three things to stay away from.
- Do not quench the Spirit (5:19)
- Do not despise prophetic utterances (5:20-21)
- Abstain from evil (5:22)
Now you get to the end of Verse 22, and you say, “Well, this is a hard teaching,” as many people said of Jesus’ teachings, you know, this is a hard teaching. I mean, who can follow this? And the answer is nobody. Our fallen human nature has no ability to fulfill these commands.
DIVINE ENABLEMENT (1 Thess 5:23-24)
But these commands become achievable as we rely upon divine enablement. Divine enablement is the ministry of the Holy Spirit within us. So that’s why he gets into a brief discussion here about divine enablement, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.
So let’s tackle, if we could, just Verse 23 first. He says, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God of Peace (1 Thess 5:23)
Notice that he refers to God as the God of peace, Verse 23. That’s a tremendous description of God. He is the God of peace. In fact, I realize we’re a long way away from Christmastime, but you might think back six months or so to everything that was on our Christmas cards late December, mid to late December, and a lot of times a Christmas card would quote these verses from Isaiah. It would say, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, [and look at that last descriptor there] Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
He is the only one that’s really ever going to bring peace to the earth. Isaiah 9:7 says of the peace that he is going to bring to the earth one day, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, …” The rest of this verse and you know this verse well, it says, ” … The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this. On the throne of David and over his kingdom, …” So He’s not yet reigning in this time of peace yet. He’s not yet on David’s throne, but he will be one day.”… On the throne of David and over his kingdom To establish it and to uphold it with justice …” Boy, we need some of that today, don’t we, justice. “… justice and righteousness From then on [until the next election cycle. Sorry, it doesn’t say that] and forevermore.”
So we’re looking forward to that time period. So this is why Paul the apostle calls God the God of peace. That name is so appropriate for God that His first order of business with you and with me the moment we trusted in the provision of Jesus is He made peace between us and God.
Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace …” It’s the Greek word eirēnē where you get the female name Irene. Can I still say female names today without being hauled off to jail? Eirēnē, peace, it’s the opposite of pólemos, war. When you say someone is polemical, they’re war-like. When someone irenic, they’re peaceful.
So we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. So the first thing Jesus did for us, the moment we trusted in the provision of the Savior, is He called off the state of conflict between us and God. And you say, “Well, was there really a state of conflict between us and God before we got saved?” Most people don’t look at it that way, but that’s what the Bible says.
In fact, Romans 5:10 says prior to our conversion to Christianity, we were God’s enemies. That’s why we need peace with Him. Romans 5:10 says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
So there’s a state of animosity. Enmity between us and God before we trust in Christ. And the reason for that is I have inherited, and you have inherited from our forebears, Adam and Eve, this is one of the repercussions of original sin, a nature that hates God. We have a very nature that’s war-like against God.
Romans 8:7-8 says, “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
So I’m living my life B.C., before Christ, in a state of hostility against God. It doesn’t matter where I go to church. It doesn’t matter how religious I am. It doesn’t really matter how many good deeds I think I’m doing. I’m at war with the God that made me. It comes naturally.
So the first thing God has to do is He has to forgive that sin debt, and that’s only possible through Jesus Christ. And once that sin debt is forgiven, then there’s now peace, eirēnē, no longer pólemos, war between us and God.
Our Old Nature
Our old nature is so corrupted that God doesn’t try to rehabilitate it. He doesn’t try to slap a coat of fresh paint on it. He doesn’t say, “Okay, here’s how to make the sin nature try harder to be good, because it can’t be good.” What He does is He gives you a brand new nature, 2 Peter 1:4, in the new birth.
And then the goal of growing in Christ is to learn, as long as we’re in these physical bodies, to live according to the yearnings of the new nature through God’s power, and reckon dead the desires of the old nature. Which, by the way, the old nature hasn’t taken a vacation. Have you guys noticed that in your life? I mean, you could be saved for years and years and years and still get enticed by that old nature, the sin nature, the flesh.
A lot of people teach that once you get saved, your old nature disappears. Not so. It will disappear in glorification, at death or the rapture, whichever comes first. But as long as we’re in these bodies, it’s one of your three enemies that you wrestle with constantly. The other enemies being Satan and the demonic realm, and then also the world system.
Three-dimensional warfare, the lust of the flesh, the world system, and Satan himself are your enemies until your dying day as a Christian. And your success in your maturity in Christ is learning what each of those enemies are, how they work, because they all work differently, and then understanding the specific aspects of the Bible where you can reckon those things dead. Because although they’re alive in the sense that they can tempt you and test you and discourage you, they’re dead in the sense that you don’t have to obey them anymore because you’re a new creature in Christ Jesus with new resources.
It’s kind of interesting that in Paul’s master treatment of salvation, the book of Romans, where he outlines all of these subjects, he gets to the very end of the book and in Romans 13:14 he says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
Meaning that the flesh in regard to its lusts is still there in the Christian. If it weren’t still there Paul wouldn’t reference it at the end of his treatment of salvation, explaining to the Roman Christians that they’ve been justified, sanctified, on their way to glory, they have promises which cannot be broken. But then at the very end of the book he says, “Oh by the way, make no provision for the flesh.” A statement that makes no sense if the sin nature just disappeared.
Over in Romans 12:21, very end of the chapter, Paul says to Christians, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Because there’s a lot of people that will tell you that a Christian can never be overtaken or overcome by evil. Well, of course a Christian can be overcome by evil. That’s why Paul at the end of the book, to Christians says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” A statement that would make no sense. There’s no need to write that if you’re in a situation where you no longer have a sin nature to go back to.
Positional Peace – animosity between us and God has been called off
So the wonderful thing about Christianity is this state of animosity between us and God has been called off. We call this positional peace.
Internal Peace – given by the Holy Spirit
There’s another type of peace or eirēnē that the Holy Spirit seeks to give His children, and only His children have it. It’s not just positional peace, it’s internal peace. Jesus described it this way in the upper room, John 14:27, “”Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
So Jesus says I’m offering a peace that the world system can’t offer you because the peace that the world system offers is always based on external circumstances. If things are favorable in your life, then the world says okay, enjoy peace. But once the economy takes a downturn and your job is on the line and prices in the grocery store are much higher than they used to be, and you’re wondering how you’re going to make ends meet, the world will never let you have peace in that kind of situation.
Jesus says you can have the peace that the Spirit of God offers in that situation, because it’s not based on externalities, external circumstances. So how do I know if I’m walking in that internal peace? Well, there’s a very simple test, John 14:27, “… Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
So if you’re here today and you’re troubled and you’re fearful about all these things happening in your life, then you’re living beneath your privileges. God doesn’t want you simply to have positional peace, He wants you to be able to walk through life’s circumstances with internal peace. The world is looking for it in different places: drugs, the bottom of a bottle, any number of circumstances, but they can’t find it, and the reason they can’t find it is it only comes from God. And you know that you’re walking in it [internal peace] as a Christian when fear and internal anxiety is starting to take less and less of a role in your life.
Paul the Apostle in Philippians 4:6-7 talks about the same thing. He says, “Be anxious for nothing …” Not even the rent money, Lord? No, can’t even worry about that. Not even car payments and mortgage payments? No, can’t even worry about that. Not even college tuition? No, can’t even worry about that. Not even your 17‑year-old that’s learning how to drive? No, can’t worry about that either.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer …” Oh, that’s the reason we’re so worried. Because we’re not taking our circumstances to the Lord.
“Be anxious for nothing, but everything by prayer and supplication [supplication means you’re asking God to supply something] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And, in other words, if you do what’s in Verse 6, there’s a conditional promise given to you in Verse 7. “And the peace [that’s our word eirēnē] the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension …” Why does it surpass all comprehension? Because Jesus told us in the upper room, it’s not as the world gives. It doesn’t make any sense to the world.
So your life is falling apart externally, and you’re experiencing the peace of God in the midst of it, and your unsaved friends and family cannot figure you out at all. I mean, why aren’t you upset? Gosh, if I was in your shoes, I’d be upset. You’re not upset. Well, you’re not upset about it because you’re experiencing something that they can’t experience. You have the Spirit of God in you that gives you this. They don’t have it, and so it’s sort of something to them that is odd. It doesn’t make any sense to them.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard …” That’s a military term. It’s kind of nice God is standing guard over us, isn’t it? “… will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, if you’re in Christ Jesus, here’s your resource. If you’re not in Christ Jesus, you’ve got to get in Christ Jesus to get this resource, because it’s not something that the world system can bring to pass.
So it’s because of passages like that that the apostle Paul refers to God here as the God of peace. Tremendous name for God, given His ministries to us.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely (1 Thess 5:23)
So he continues on here, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, and he says, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; … ” Now when he says sanctification, he’s dealing with the middle tense of our salvation. The presupposition or assumption is we’ve already been born spiritually, and now we need to grow spiritually.
God’s agenda for the Christian life is to see you grow in progressive sanctification entirely. It’s not for you to grow and us to grow 95%, and we hold onto some pocket of repeated disobedience. Because if that were the case, that would violate the Word entirely. He wants us to grow up in Him entirely. Meaning, He wants me to grow up in every area in which I can grow.
He wants my thought life to mature. He wants the conversations that I involve myself in to mature. He wants me to mature in the area of emotions. He wants me to mature in the area of how we speak, you know, how we communicate. So when He says grow entirely, He’s leaving nothing off the table.
It’s like looking at your own children. You want them to mature in every area. You want them to mature physically. You want them to mature emotionally. You know, you want them to mature vocationally. You want them to mature socially. I mean, when you look at your own children and you desire for them to become a functional, mature human being, as a parent, you don’t leave anything off the table.
That’s how God is with us. He wants us to grow up in all things, not in some things.
May Your Spirit, Soul, And Body Be Preserved Complete
Well, Paul, do you have some word pictures for growing up entirely? Yes, Paul says, I’m glad you asked. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit [Greek word pneuma] and soul [Greek word psychē] and body [Greek word sōma] be preserved complete, …” Pneuma, psychē, sōma, – may your spirit, soul, and body be preserved complete. That’s Paul’s description of the growth of the Christian.
Body [sōma] – relate to the physical world
As you get into the doctrine of anthropology, what the Bible says about human beings, what you start to learn as you move into that is there’s sort of a debate concerning humanity. One view is what’s called the trichotomous view of man, that what makes a human being human is they have a physical body, and you can think of all of the aspects that relate to one’s physical body, appearance, hair color, height, size, gender, that would relate to the body.
Soul [psychē] – qualities that you can’t see: conscience, intellect, emotions, will, personality, etc.
And then human beings don’t just have a sōma, they have a psychē, translated soul. That’s where we get the word psychology from, by the way, that Greek word. Psychology is essentially what it should be. Unfortunately, it’s sort of been hijacked in modern times by secularists that teach Freud and Jung and Skinner, and if you ever learned anything about Freud, Jung and Skinner, I mean, you wouldn’t even want these people teaching Sunday school in your church. Their lives are so totally messed up. Some of them were involved in just blatant occultism.
So modern psychology is trying to drag all of that in to help understand people, but psychology rightly understood coming from this word psychē is the part of us that is soulish that will live forever. This is why people live forever.
Every single human being within the sound of my voice will be alive somewhere 100 years from now and 1,000 years from now and a million years from now because God has set eternity into the hearts of men, Ecclesiastes 3:11, because He gave us a soul and a soul just doesn’t disintegrate and disappear. It’s eternal.
That’s why there’s this deep hunger in the human heart for understanding eternal things. You have that hunger because you’re a soulish entity. Now the world tries to find a spiritual interpretation for life through the wrong source, and they have a tendency to suppress the truth, but the appetite or the hunger or the drive is there. It’s called the psychē or the soul.
The soul would be the seat of the parts of you that I can’t see. The sōma I can see, but what about the soul? What about your intellect? Your emotions, you know, your will, your conscience, your personality. I mean, these are all parts of the soul, just as seeing, feeling, touching, tasting, hearing are all parts of the sōma.
Spirit [pneuma] – by which we relate to God Himself
So you have the body, you have the soul, and then the last one mentioned here is the spirit or pneuma, and that is the basic component of people that allows them to relate to God. Jesus said in John 4:23-24, but He says there, God is meant to be worshiped in spirit and truth. Why did he say truth? Because that’s who God is, you worship Him as He is. Why did he say spirit? Because the spirit is the component of us that relates to God.
So the basic understanding of it would be trichotomy: body, you relate to the physical world; soul, there’s those qualities about a human being that you can’t see but they’re there, conscience, intellect, emotions, will, personality, those kinds of things; and then there’s the spirit by which we relate to God Himself.
Overlap Between Soul [psychē] and Spirit [pneuma]
So at one point in my life I was a very strong, what you call trichotomist based on the explanation that I gave here. But the problem with it is you start to see things in the Bible where soul and spirit start to overlap. And once you start to see that they overlap, you start to see that this nice, neat category that you’ve carved out may not be exactly what you thought when you first heard it.
Hebrews 4:12 is a very famous trichotomy passage. It says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul [psychē] and spirit [pneuma], of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
So Hebrews 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 are really strong passages that I would rely on to argue for trichotomy. The problem is as you start moving through the Bible, you start seeing it’s not a nice and neat categorization as you once thought.
For example, in John 12:27, Jesus, God in human flesh, said just prior to His death, “”Now My soul – so that’s psychē. “”Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” So there in Chapter 12, Jesus says His soul is troubled.
And then you go to John 13:21, which is the next chapter to the right, and it says this, “When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit [pneuma] and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.””
Well, Jesus, are you troubled in your soul or are you troubled in your spirit? Which one is it? And I think what’s happening is Jesus there is acknowledging an overlap between the psychē category and the spirit category. So that’s probably the two verses that I started to look at, ’cause I taught at the College of Biblical Studies every semester, “Man, Sin, Salvation.” And in the subject of anthropology, you have to get into the subject of trichotomy. Are we trichotomous?
So because of that overlap, and I’m not sure if I’m completely right on it, and I don’t know if it’s something worth starting a new church over. We’re the first church of the trichotomous view of anthropology, might be a little…
But what I’m seeing in people is basically two things. There’s the material, the body, but there’s within us a soul which is designed to live forever. Now it’s sometimes called the soul, and it’s sometimes called the spirit. So the two are not necessarily completely separate. They’re sort of synonyms. Different words, same meaning. So in other words, when you’re talking about people, you have to basically see them as basically, there’s two parts to them. There is an outward physical part.
But the reason people matter to God is God just didn’t design them as an outward physical part. They have within them an immaterial characteristic that you cannot see that’s designed to live forever. Sometimes it’s called the soul. Sometimes it’s called the spirit. But both words are describing what we’re like on the inside: intellect, emotions, will, conscience, personality, tastes, preferences. Those are all things God gives us at the point of physical conception.
Spiritual death – “… for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17)
When Adam and Eve were in the garden, actually Eve hadn’t been created yet, but God gave a stern warning. And He said this in Genesis 2:16-17, it says, “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.””
Well, we know how that story ended. It didn’t end well. They ate from the tree. God says, in the day you eat from it, you’ll die. But they didn’t die that day. Adam, according to Genesis 5:5, lived until the ripe old age of 930 before he died. So why didn’t he die that day when the Lord said, “When you eat of the tree thereof, you will surely die.” Well, he did not die physically. His body was put in a process through which he would ultimately die physically.
From dust you are to dust you shall return. But he didn’t die that split second physically. But I’m here to tell you something, folks. He died that day spiritually. Death in the Bible means separation. He, until he was made right with God, and he may have been made right with God when he received the animal coverings at the end of Genesis 3, but until that provision was made and until he received it, he was dead in the sense that he was separated. Something in him died the split second he made the decision to rebel against God.
He was separated from God. He was alienated from God. He wasn’t even seeking God. God started to seek him. And what happened is the life of God was snuffed out. The spirit was snuffed out. He was alive at the soul level. He still had intellect, emotions, will, conscience, taste, preferences. He was alive at the physical level. Sōma, his body was working fine. I mean, it was starting an aging process that would last 930 years, but the respiratory system was working great. The cardiovascular system was working great. The circulatory system was working great. He was alive at the soul level. He was alive at the physical level, but he died at the spiritual level because the life of God disappeared.
Paul, in the book of Ephesians 2:1-3, says that is our condition without Jesus. Ephesians 2:1-3 puts it this way, it says, “And you were dead [separated in other words] in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
Condition prior to coming to Christ: Dead, Depraved, Demonically Energized, Doomed
So that’s our condition prior to coming to Christ. We are dead, we are depraved, we are demonically energized and influenced, and we’re doomed. That’s not just 3D, that’s 4Ds, right? Dead, depraved, demonically energized, doomed.
What does that mean? In addition to being under the judgment of God because of original sin, in addition to that, I’m alive at the soul level. I still have tastes, intellect, volition. I am alive at the body level. Respiratory system working, cardiovascular system working, circulatory system working. But until I come to know Christ as my Savior, I am separated at the spirit level in terms of a relationship to God.
The natural man – Alive in the body/sōma level and alive at the soul/psychē level, BUT dead at the spirit/pneuma level
This is why the Apostle Paul speaking to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2:14 said, “But the natural man …” Who would the natural man be? Someone that’s alive at the sōma level, someone that’s alive at the psychē level, but someone that is dead or separated at the spiritual level. That’s the natural man. “But the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, …” Well why can’t the natural man understand the things of the Spirit of God? “… for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
The natural man really doesn’t have much of an ability to understand things at the spirit level. The Bible is a mystery to him. In fact, all this time that we’re spending in church studying the Bible, they really can’t understand why we do that. That doesn’t make any sense. Because they’ve tried to read the Bible. I tried to read the Bible before I got saved. It made no sense to me. It was just a strange book of people going out and killing each other. It was just, it made no sense.
But is it not interesting that when a person trusts in Christ, now they become alive, not just at the body level and the soul level, they already have that, but now they’re alive at the spiritual level. And suddenly they can understand the things of God.
I remember coming to the Bible as a saved person, first of all having a desire to read it, which I did not have before. When I read the Bible as a person who now had the Holy Spirit inside of them, it was if this Book was talking directly to me. It was not talking directly to me before I had the Holy Spirit in me. But now that I’m a live body, now that I’m a live soul, I’m a live spirit, and now the Bible is actually communicating to me. Communicating to me when I would read it on a very personal level.
What happened to me? Did I just get really smart all of a sudden? No. I had something coming inside of, coming into me, which was greater than me. Which is what God always intended for human beings to have. Adam had it before he sinned. He had a body alive. He had a soul alive. When he sinned, he died. Not physically that day, but a wedge was driven between him and God, where the life of God, i.e., spirit, was snuffed out.
How to communicate with lost people
It’s the spirit that a person needs to understand the things of God. And this is how you communicate with lost people. You tell them this. You don’t try to argue them into Christianity. They can’t even understand what you’re talking about. You tell them that here’s what you need. You need the Holy Spirit in you, because once the Holy Spirit is in you, you’ll understand very clearly what I’m speaking of.
And so in your evangelism, you have to communicate this some way, somehow, that you’re only alive at the two levels, and you need that third one to come alive. Adam had it prior to sin. He lost it after sin. All of us are born into the world, alive physically, alive at the soulless level, but we don’t have the Spirit of God, whereby we can communicate to God, understand God, have God communicate to us.
So, you know, using that illustration of the missionary who was out doing missionary work and came to an unsaved person and told them about the good news of Jesus, and the unsaved person said to the missionary, “Okay, I will accept Jesus as my Savior if you can answer for me ten questions.” These are ten questions I’ve always had about spiritual things, and I will not trust in Christ as my Savior until these ten questions have been resolved in my mind. So the missionary looked at his watch because he had another appointment, and he said, “Okay, I’ll tell you what. Let’s make a deal. Why don’t you trust Christ now, and tomorrow at this same time I’ll come back and answer your ten questions.” So the guy said, “That sounds good.” So he trusted in Christ.
The missionary comes back 24 hours later and says, “Okay, I’m ready to answer your ten questions.” And the guy says, “Oh, I don’t have those questions anymore. I understand them all now.” What happened to him? He became alive at the level God intended pre-Adam’s sin is what happened. He now had the Spirit of God within him, whereby he could relate to God and understand the things of God.
John 3:3-5 – Nicodemus
This is why Jesus said things like this in John 3 as he’s speaking to Nicodemus, the famous, as we call it, Nick at Night discourse. Nicodemus being a religious leader, being alive soul, being alive physically, but not understanding who Jesus was, and he couldn’t really put the pieces together. He knew there was something special about Jesus on account of His signs and wonders. People don’t do those regularly around here. And so he sort of secretly came at night wanting to know what’s the story.
I mean, I, Nicodemus, am the religious leader of the nation of Israel and you’re functioning outside of my box. What’s going on here? And it’s interesting to me, Jesus doesn’t get into some big discussion with him about philosophy, apologetics, and all of these things that we focus on. Not that philosophy and apologetics don’t have a place. I mean, they do. But philosophy and apologetics don’t fix the problem. The problem is what I’m describing.
Someone is alive physically, alive at the soul level, but it’s separated from God at the spiritual level. That’s the problem. So Jesus said this, John 3:3-5, it’s verses you know very well. “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again …” What does that mean? You need a new birth in the sense that the Spirit needs to come in you. Because right now you don’t have it. Physical birth, what did that give you? That gave you a body and that gave you a soul. But because of original sin, there’s a component of you that’s missing.
“Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom …” The word “see” there is to perceive. You can’t even see, you can’t even understand, you can’t even figure out spiritual things. There’s an inability there. “Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man …” See how foolish his question is?'” I mean, if you were talking to Jesus like this in a conversation and you’re already born again, you would understand exactly what He’s talking about. Poor Nick at Night can’t understand it because he doesn’t have the tool kit yet to understand it. But he’s only alive at two levels. You’ve got to be alive at three levels to understand this.
“Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old?” He completely missed the point. You almost feel sorry for him. Yet that’s what we’re like without the spirit in us. We’re just sort of, you know, kind of grasping at things, not really able to connect the dots.
“How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water …” Now, water, there’s a debate on what that means. I’m sort of the view that that’s speaking of physical birth. The, what is that? I’m no biologist. The amniotic sac is that what it’s called, that surrounds the child. When the child’s getting ready to be birthed, the sac breaks, water comes forth. It’s a synonym for physical birth.
Very personal verses for yours truly. Because when I became a Christian in 1983, at the age of 16, with all of the questions in the world about spiritual things, these were the verses that the gentleman that led me to Christ showed me. And it was almost like God stuck His hand right out through the Bible and just slapped me right in the face. Because, and I didn’t know all this trichotomous, dichotomous, soul, spirit, being born of water, no clue. But I understood that spiritual birth is something I didn’t have. I did not have that.
Now, why did I understand at least that much? Because of John 16:7-11, which is a ministry that the Holy Spirit does with unsaved people, where He convicts them of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He will not cause them to be born again independent of their choices, but He will take them to the point of decision. So when you’re evangelizing someone, you just have to understand this process that God is taking people through. He is convicting them of their need to be saved, but they will not understand the deeper things of God until they have the tools to do it.
And right now they have of the three tools God wants to give them, they only have two. They’ve got to trust in Christ and get number three. Once they get number three down, and the Holy Spirit comes into them, that’s what changes everything. That’s what puts us pre-Adam sin. See that? That’s what puts us pre the day you eat from the tree thereof is the day you shall die (Gen 2:17). That’s what puts us outside of Ephesians 2.1 which says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,”
Now you’re alive physically, you’re alive at the soul level, and the Holy Spirit is in you, and you’re functioning the way God created you to function. And so now you’re understanding the things of God. You don’t have the toolkit to relate to God, which you didn’t have before.
“… unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). So unless this happens to somebody, they can’t see, they can be convicted, but they can’t really grasp what’s happening. The things of the Spirit to them are foolishness, and they certainly can’t enter. You can’t see or you can’t enter.
As you are looking at all the angry people in the world today, you’re dealing with people that are functioning at two of the three levels that that God has for them.
And keep that in mind as you’re watching our world just go right down the tubes morally. You know, as you’re watching all these people wanting to take your kids and grandkids and transition them. As you’re watching, what is June supposed to be Pride Month, someone told me? I don’t think that’s going to end well when I read about pride in the Bible. I mean Satan had Pride Month, right? Got him kicked out of heaven.
So as you’re watching all these angry sort of, you know, Pride Month in your face, you have to understand that as you look at these people, you’re dealing with people that are functioning at two of the three levels that that God has for them. And they’re just trying to fix what they perceive as a void inside of them with the wrong artificial substitute. So when you look at them that way, you stop getting mad at them and you really start feeling kind of bad for them, sorry for them, because they don’t have all the equipment.
You know, there’s a, as we say of some, boy, so-and-so has a chip missing. There’s a big chip missing in unsaved people. There was a big chip missing in me from birth, conception really until age 16. I thought I understood spiritual things. I didn’t know anything. I was trying to appease the guilt that I had inside of me with more and more religious activity, and that’s how the world is. And they’re trying to fill this void with something. In fact, people are basically on a quest to do this.
If you don’t have a relationship with the God that made you, then the two best substitutes, really the three best, are religion, just more and more doses of good works. The next one would be power. And the one after that would be pleasure. Power, pleasure, piety. There we go. I got to have a P there. Three Ps. And the world system is on this just radical quest to get those three things, because in their darkened mind they think that whatever is missing, and they can sense that something is missing. It can be filled with one of those three artificial substitutes. That’s why the world’s so lacking in joy. Because an artificial substitute can’t fill that gap.
The only one that can fill that gap is a relationship with the God that made you. And that doesn’t happen until you trust Christ and the Spirit of the Living God comes into you and takes residence in you.
So this is basically what I think scripturally would be the root of the problem. We think the root of the problem is we got to argue with them more. I got to send them more texts. I got to, gosh, if they just, you know, I’ve got some awesome links that I found online. If they could just read these links and read these articles, everything would be fixed. No, it wouldn’t.
There’s a more fundamental problem, and it has to do with the fact that they are dead, separated from God at the spiritual level. And they are, in essence, dichotomous. They do not become, my understanding of it, trichotomous until they’re born again. So I can say, as an absolute fact today, that I am fully trichotomous. I’m alive physically; I’m alive at the soul level; and I’m also alive at the spiritual level, because I have a relationship with the God that made me, and that’s where our evangelism needs to move towards.
We have a tendency to try to deal with symptoms, don’t we? And not getting to the root of the problem. What I’m describing here is the most fundamental root of the problem. Once you understand it, human behavior suddenly becomes completely and totally explicable, explainable. It’s inexplicable if you don’t have this perspective. You cannot understand why people do the things they do.
They do the things they do because they’re on a quest to be made whole. Because they’re missing a chip, and they’re not going to be made, they think they can be made whole pursuing all these other things, but they can’t be made whole until they actually hear the gospel, receive the gospel, enter into a relationship with the God that made them, and now they’re functioning the way God intended, just as Adam was functioning and Eve prior to the rebellion.
It’s called the new birth. Regeneration. Titus 3:5 says, “He [that’s God] saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,”
What’s God’s agenda for people? To be regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit so that they can have the Holy Spirit inside of them so they can become fully trichotomous. Because right now, given the overlap between Spirit and soul in the Bible, I think they’re dichotomous, but they will become trichotomous at the point of faith alone in Christ alone.
So that’s why Paul, I think, designates these three terms. 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And so in my notes I had planned to get through Verse 28. Instead we made it through half of verse 23. So we’ll finish Verse 23, Lord willing, next week. Let’s pray. “Father, we’re grateful for Your Word, grateful for Your truth, grateful for how it speaks to us. Help us here at Sugar Land Bible Church, Lord, help us to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is people need a new birth whereby they can relate to You as You designed them. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, God’s people said amen.
 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. 1995. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, unless otherwise noted.
 “”But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”” (John 4:23–24)
 “”But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” (John 16:7-11)