You are probably familiar with the concept of the bell curve. A bell curve is quite simple. Take people who play golf over the course of any given year. Those on the right side of the curve will be really good. Those on the left side will be dangerously bad. But the majority of people are neither really good or really bad. They are just in the middle.
Take Michael Jordan. When it comes to dunking a basketball, he would be on the far right side of basketball bell curve. Then there’s nerdy guys like me — on the far left of the bell curve. Millions of Michael Jordan wannabees would be in the middle.
But here’s the problem: every day we are bombarded with the best of the best – it’s either the greatest, the funniest, or the biggest. But where do I live most of the time? In the middle.
Unfortunately, we’ve become conditioned to believe being exceptional is new normal. This has created what author Mark Manson has called a type of “psychological tyranny” — the sense that we must always be proving that we’re special and unique and exceptional ALL the time.
If you are a normal person, you might not feel like your life matters unless you are doing something spectacular. You might be saying …
- I’m just an accountant – I haven’t cured cancer.
- I didn’t attend an Ivy League school.
- My kid wasn’t the valedictorian (he did beat up the valedictorian so that must count for something).
You beat yourself up for not being on the far right side of the bell curve in every area of life and forget one important thing: the majority of life is lived in the middle.
The heroes in the Bible – the men and women that God used in great ways – weren’t made of better material than you or me. But they had experienced the power of the gospel – the message that God had created them, loved them, and had a purpose for them.
Let me put it this way: Christianity isn’t about turning over a new leaf; it’s about the power of a new life.
That’s been the underlying theme of our current series.
Contrary to popular opinion, life is about more than just sex. For the follower of Jesus, it’s about bringing glory to God.
That’s what we see in today’s passage. It’s written by the apostle Paul to a church he founded in Thessalonica (modern day Greece). What we’re reading is a letter he wrote in response to their questions.
1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. — 1Thessalonians 4:1
Did you hear that? Sometimes we think the point of Christianity is to avoid certain behaviors or adopt strange practices like fasting or tithing. It’s even more fundamental than that: It is to live in such a way as to please God. Or, let me put it another way: I want to make God smile.
It’s the satisfaction of a parent who sees their child make the right choice – not because they were afraid of getting punished, but because they simply wanted to.
If the goal is to live in a way that pleases God, the question becomes how? What does that mean? According to Paul, a person dedicated to God should act in a manner consistent with the character of God.
2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. — 1 Thessalonians 4:2-6
People often ask me, “How can I know God’s will?” and it’s usually about buying a home or whether to quit or take a job. In this case, knowing God’s will is straightforward: be sanctified. But that’s a strange word … what does it mean?
It’s a theological term referring to our pilgrimage, our spiritual progress from earth to heaven. Think of it as a spiritual growth pattern. The moment you became Christian, God set you apart for his purposes. His purpose is your holiness. Sanctification is about moving forward and higher.
The process of maturity is partnership between you and God. This is where religion gets in the way.
Religion says you should not, while the gospel says you need not. Religion is constantly shouting …
- You shouldn’t sleep with your boyfriend!
- You shouldn’t get drunk!
- You shouldn’t lose your temper!
Honestly, that’s not very good news to people struggling with those issues. It’s better called condemnation. On the other hand, the gospel says …
- You don’t have to sleep with your boyfriend because God’s love will never fail you.
- You don’t have to get drunk because Jesus is a better refuge from life’s struggles.
- You don’t have to get angry because God is in control.
Christianity teaches something fundamentally different than every other religion. Other religions say that if you change, you will be accepted. Jesus, however, says “Because you have been accepted, therefore change.” Jesus doesn’t proclaim good advice, but good news. It is the good news that transforms us from the inside out.
7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. — 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8
Do you struggle with feeling insignificant? Inferior?
Let me conclude by simplifying your options. First option: you can choose to live your life in a horizontal fog. If that is your choice, the results are predictable. You will continue to drift in a fog of moral uncertainties. Your choices will result in a series of rationalizations that will leave you empty. Guilt and grief will be your companions.
But there’s a second option. Paul described it like this: “God did not call you to be impure, but to live a holy life.” You can choose to live your life vertically — on target and for God.
When you do, your obedience will result in greater confidence and you’ll build the habits of holiness. You’ll be doing more than turning over a new leaf – you’ll be experiencing the power of a new life.
Life is short, and you only get one shot to leverage your life for the glory of God.