Jesus is coming back to consummate His kingdom, and although we do not know exactly when that will happen, we do know that it could be at any moment. Paul reminds us of these great truths in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:3, and in 5:4–8 he unfolds what that means for Christians here and now. We are not to be like drunkards or children of the night who stumble about, unable to see what is coming and engaging in sinful behavior. Instead, we are to live as children of the light, men and women who understand that Jesus’ return is on the horizon and who put on the armor of God, growing in faith, hope, and love as we become more and more like Christ.
Importantly, while Paul exhorts us to lives of moral sobriety and to act like children of the light (v. 6), he tells believers that we already dwell in the light (v. 8). Here we see again the grounding of the imperative—what God commands—in the indicative—what we already are. The Christian ethic does not command us to make ourselves something that we are not, to become saints through our own efforts. Instead, we are set apart as God’s holy people in Christ (1 Peter 2:9). Our job is to follow the Spirit and live by the Word of God so that we become in our practice what we already are—children of the light—in union with Jesus by faith.
It is fitting that we live in holiness in light of our eternal destiny. Paul emphasizes this in today’s passage when he says that we have been destined not for wrath but for salvation (1 Thess. 5:9). In one sense, we have already been saved, for we have been justified—declared righteous—in Christ, and that guarantees that all the benefits of the saving work of Jesus will be ours (Rom. 8:29–30). Yet, there is a sense in which we are waiting for the fullness of salvation, for we have not yet been glorified and we still war against sin in our bodies and spirits (Rom. 7). In Jesus, we are destined for salvation—for the full reception of redemption’s blessings—and since we will certainly enjoy these things if we are in Christ, we are to start preparing for that day now by striving for “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
We are destined not for wrath—eternal punishment—but for salvation because Christ has died for His people. And because Christ died and rose again, we will live with Him—be conscious of His blessing—whether we walk the earth or our bodies are in the grave. There is no truth more encouraging (1 Thess. 5:9–11).