“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; “ (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4)
A vessel without Sanctification and in Dishonor
Imagine you possess a canteen. You put the canteen into a pot of boiling water and sterilize it for an hour. Once it's sterile, you take it out of the boiling water and carry it with you until you find pool of infected and diseased sewage, at which time you fill it. You take the canteen with you on a journey. At some point in the journey, you become thirsty. However, you can't drink from the canteen. Even though you spent an hour sterilizing it, the canteen and it's contents are unusable because of the environment it has been exposed to. You must now find more water, another pot, create more fire and spend more time cleansing the canteen in order to make it useful for the purpose to which it was intended. And, you must go thirsty until you have rectified the situation. In addition to that, you are in a very precarious situation: you could, at some point, be overcome by thirst and die. In the least, your journey has been extended and you might not receive the blessings that were due to you because of the necessary delay.
This is an illustration of how dishonoring the work, time and effort one has cleansing a vessel can affect you in the future. It is an example of how not to possess a vessel in sanctification and honor.
A vessel in Sanctification and Honor
Imagine you possess a canteen. You put the canteen into a pot of boiling water and sterilize it for an hour. You then find some pure, distilled water and fill the canteen. You take the canteen with you on a journey. At a certain point in the journey, you become thirsty. Since you know the canteen was sterilized and you know that the water came from a pure source, you open and drink from the canteen. The canteen was available for the use to which it was intended because you employed the time and effort necessary to maintain the cleanliness of the canteen, and you made the effort to find a clean and pure source of water in which to fill the canteen. Furthermore, your thirst has been quenched and your strength renewed. You can complete the journey and receive the blessings that are due to you at journey's end.
This is an illustration of how honoring the work, time and effort one has cleansing a vessel can affect you in the future. It is an example of how to possess a vessel in sanctification and honor.
Living in dishonor
You will reap what you sow
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:7-10)
Who is in control of your life? This is an important question because God did not design our soul to function as master.1 Selfishness is about being in control, it's about adding some type of perceived value to yourself. Therefore, as Jesus said, you are either severing wealth or you are serving God.2
So what does this look like? The deeds of the flesh are evident:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
This is certainly strong language and as such, it must be taken in context of the original intent and audience, other wise one could be lead into false doctrine regarding the eternal security of the believer. However, the core principles remain the same whether you are a saint or a sinner. These things enumerated are not of the spirit of God, they are not pure, and they defile the spirit of man that God works to sanctify.
These actions, when committed by a saint, serve to destroy the work that God has wrought in your life. Satan is a destroyer, a deceiver and a lier. He will use what ever means possible to tear you down and thus hinder the sanctification process:
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
As a saint, we must constantly be on guard and review our actions and responses to those things that are set before us (regardless if they are of God or of the enemy), and we must evaluate our motives for our actions and responses. We must evaluate whether or not our actions and responses are of the flesh or of the spirit of God.
The deeds of the flesh are the fruit of sin. If you resist the sanctification process and instead continue in sin, you will bear the fruits of the flesh. One of the hardest things for a man to break himself free of is an addiction to sex or pornography. These addictions are very similar to alcoholism in that they are both consumption addictions. In the beginning, the feed a desire, but in the end, they create more desires that seemingly need to be fed with the very same activities that created them. All addictive behaviors begin in selfishness. A person feels a certain way and participates in a given action that, for the moment, makes them feel better. The only problem is that the activity breeds more desires to participate in the same or similar activities.
This is why the world says, “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” For the saint, this does not have to be true. God can so break the bonds of addiction that the substance will never again hold the power of bondage over them again. Obviously, one can choose to participate in the thing they have been delivered from, but that is clearly resisting the process of sanctification. Participating in the process of sanctification however is relying upon the power of the Holy Spirit to die to the flesh and live to the spirit.
Living in honor
You will reap what you sow
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:7-10)
Our other option is living in the spirit. Living in the spirit is participating in the sanctification process that God is working in all of His saints. By living in the spirit, we bear the fruits of the spirit:
"For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. "For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. (Luke 6:43-44)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)
The process of sanctification results in the bearing of the “fruit of the spirit”. However, you cannot make yourself bear fruit anymore than a tree an prevent itself from bearing it's fruit in due season. Once the tree has taken root, it will eventually and naturally bear fruit. As long there is water and nourishment, the fruit is going to spring forth. This also reflects the law of sowing and reaping, and it is the picture of what happens in our lives when we chose to obey God and submit to the sanctification process.
Pruning, Discarding, Bearing
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:1-10)
The Saint the bears no fruit: Discarded
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1)
Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. (1 John 2:28)
There are several different tracks one may take when attempting to understand John 15:1. Of all the ones I can think of, I would have to say they're all correct from their own point of view and contextual limits.
The context in which relates to this discussion revolves around the saint (who is in Christ), but refuses to participate in the sanctification process. Eventually, this saint will be sanctified3, but clearly the saint is not useful to the Kingdom of God as long as he or she refuses to submit themselves to God. Eventually, God will give them over to their lusts and they will be put on the shelf of uselessness4.
However, there is another contextual light to which this may be viewed:
The Saint that bears fruit: Pruned and Used
and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
The things that God prunes out of your life are those things that don't look like Him. We all have dead weight that we're carrying around that needs to be discarded. God may be using us, we're may be bearing fruit, but we're like everyone else on this planet: imperfect. The difference is that we've submitted to the sanctification process. Unfortunately, the pruning process doesn't always seem to be pleasant. However, we're told to persevere, and when we come out of the process, we'll be better equipped for the work of the God5.
The bottom line is this: don't resist the sanctification process. Don't resist the call to purity. And don't be lured away by your own lusts, by those shinny things that look so good that only serve to enable you to set your self up as the worship object of your life. Keep yourself clean, and when you do sin, “... [you] have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)
1 Neil T. Anderson, Restored: Experience Life with Jesus (Franklin, TN: e3 Resources, 2007) 96
2 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:24)
3 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2)
4 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, (Romans 1:28)
5 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)