"God's Will: Our Sanctification"
(Delivered Sunday, December 31, 2000 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
We begin a new year tomorrow. As a matter of fact, for those who are really in the know, we actually begin a new millennium tomorrow too. It's a good time to recommit ourselves toward progress in our walk with the Lord over the coming year.
Over the past few weeks, we've already been introduced to some things that can help us in our progress with the Lord during the new year. For example, we distributed copies last week of a guide that can help you read all the way through the Bible this year. I believe that one of the greatest things we can do to advance our walk with Jesus is to cultivate a habit of daily study of the Scriptures; and hopefully that guide will help.
Each of us have also been challenged, through our study of the book of Colossians, to pray daily for one other person in the church over the next year. We distributed copies of a suggested commitment to pray for another church member along the lines of Paul's prayer in Colossians 1:9-14; and several in the church family have embraced this commitment. Personally, I've been thrilled to see several folks form partnerships with each other to pray for one another in this way. It's exciting to think of what God will do in our church family over the next year if we keep on faithfully praying these things for each other.
I don't apologize for introducing these things to our church family, and calling upon each individual believer in our church to take up these challenges. These things aren't new or novel; rather, they're essential to our Christian walk. And this morning, I have felt very strongly led by the Lord to introduce one more challenge for the coming year - this one having to do with our personal holiness and moral integrity before God. To introduce it to you, I'd like to ask that you open your Bible to 1 Thessalonians 4.
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1 Thessalonians is an awesome letter. Paul wrote this letter to a group of Christians that he loved very much, and for whom he had the highest esteem. He once wrote a very harsh letter to the Galatian Christians in which he expressed his frustration over them; saying that he was concerned that all his labor among them had been in vain (Gal. 4:11), and that he had serious doubts about their spiritual standing before God (v. 20). But he had no such doubts or frustrations when it came to the Thessalonian believers. He was as sure of their salvation as he could possibly be; and he was thrilled to see the definitive ways Jesus Christ had changed their lives.
He starts his letter right off by telling them how confident he was concerning them; saying, "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God" (1 Thess. 1:2-4). And then, after such a wonderful greeting, he spends most of the next three chapters of this short letter - and much of the last two chapters - talking about how thrilled he was over all that God has done with them. He gushes over how God had radically transformed them, and over how their faithfulness and zeal for the Lord Jesus Christ had become a testimony to all those around them. (Read this letter sometime! I'd love it if our church could have a reputation in the Lord like the Thessalonian believers had!)
As much as they had been established in Christ and had grown in their walk with Him, however, Paul wanted them to abound more and more. His prayer for them was summed up in the closing words of chapter three;
Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (3:11-13).
Paul had been used by God to make an impact on a lot of people; but of all the things God did through him, I believe that he was most thrilled about the Thessalonian church. For Paul, his greatest moment of reward in heaven was going to be that of seeing these believers standing before the Father in a state of holiness and blamelessness in Christ (2:19). And so, looking to that glorious day, he prayed earnestly that, now - while they had the opportunity, they would make further progress in their faith in Christ and in their love for one another.
His longing for their future glorification in Christ compelled him to urge them on to growth in practical holiness. And that brings us to this morning's passage. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, we read:
Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 4:1-8).
As the pastor of Bethany Bible Church, I can identify with the way Paul felt about the Thessalonians. I'm excited about our church family, and am thrilled with the growth we've made together in the Lord. I'm grateful for the way our church family values prayer, and for how it esteems the study of God's word together, and for how its members genuinely love and care for each other.
But I want more. I don't want us to grow comfortable with the way things are; rather, I want for us to make further progress, and to "abound" in these things. One of the areas in which I hope we'll make further progress in the coming year is in our personal holiness before God with respect to sexual issues; and that's what this passage calls us to do.
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Let's be clear on something from the very start: Sexuality, in itself, isn't wrong. It may seem shocking to some that we would talk about sexuality in church; but it's not at all inconsistent with our faith to do so. Our sexuality is a significant part of our humanity; and it's something very good. It's something that God Himself has made as a blessing for us; and the expression of our sexuality is to be gratefully enjoyed in its proper, God-ordained context - that is, a legal, life-long marriage between a man and a woman. When it's enjoyed according to God's design, it's a very good and wonderful gift.
People tend to think that our sexuality is, something "secular"; and that it's somehow outside the realm of Christian faith. In fact, unbelieving people often think that they own exclusive rights to speak authoritatively on the subject. But I believe that the opposite is true. I believe that when people reject their Creator, and are out of fellowship with Him, they're incapable of either understanding or experiencing full satisfaction and fulfillment in any aspect of their humanity - including their sexuality. Sexuality, apart from God and outside of His design, is a dreadfully confusing, harmful and dissatisfying thing. By contrast, the Christian faith provides the greatest and most fulfilling context for sexual fulfillment; because, as believing husbands and wives, we have the greatest potential of anyone to express our sexuality according to our Designer's wise instructions!
I stress this because, in dealing with sexually immoral issues, Christians have often, unfortunately, swung the pendulum too far, and have turned their noses up at the whole idea of discussing sex altogether - as if sexuality itself is sinful. But that's a distorted way of handling the subject. Sexuality is a gift from God; and, as someone has wisely pointed out, it's certainly not honoring to God to despise the means by which He has brought us into being!
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Now; that having been said, it also must be admitted that we live in a day and age that celebrates sexual immorality. I'm careful not to say that our culture celebrates "sex"; because that would suggest it celebrates sex as God made it to be enjoyed. (I only wish it did!) Rather, I say that our culture celebrates "sexual immorality" - it very definitely does not celebrate sex as God designed for it to be enjoyed. In fact, illicit sexuality - in open rebellion against our Creator and the great Designer of our sexuality - permeates our culture at almost every level.
It used to be that you'd only encounter sexually illicit and immoral themes in certain movie houses, or in certain magazines. But now, most of the television programs and sit-coms are filled with it - whether displayed blatantly or eluded to suggestively. The main theme of most popular songs is nothing less than the gratification of illicit sexual desires, and the relishing of immoral sexual fantasies. The unrestrained gratification of sexual lusts is one of the main selling points in most advertisements and television commercials - even when it comes to products that have no logical connection with sex whatsoever! (I was personally shocked when I saw sex being used to sell a fast-food chain's newest cheeseburger! The commercial featured a hamburger patty on a bun, with hot cheese being poured over it, while sensual saxophone music played in the background and the smooth, deep voice of pop singer Berry White whispered such suggestive lines as, "Oh, yea ...! Pour it on, baby! That's the way Berry likes it, baby!" I felt like I was watching something I shouldn't be seeing - and it wasn't anything but a cheeseburger!!)
Now, no one is suggesting that our moral life will go down the tubes by watching a cheeseburger commercial. But the cumulative effect of being subject to the constant bombardment of the visual and conceptual elements of a lust-driven culture can't help but be degrading to our walk with Christ. This is particularly so when we find ourselves making an increasing number of little compromises with the sexual values of our culture, and allowing ourselves to fit in with the sexual practices of our the world around us.
I read a very old story recently that illustrates this. A pastor was once walking around in a farming community; and he saw a man strolling down the road with a herd of pigs following behind him in line - like sheep behind a shepherd. The pastor was struck by this very unusual sight; because pigs, ordinarily, are self-centered, independent creatures that never follow anyone. So the pastor asked, "Sir; how do you get those pigs to follow you around like that?"
"Oh, it's easy;" the farmer said. "I have a sack full of peas in my pocket; and I just keep walking along, occasionally dropping a pea on the road behind me. The pigs follow behind; gobbling up the pea wherever I drop it - never caring one bit where I'm taking them."
"That's very clever!" said the pastor. "By the way; where are you taking them?" And the man said, "Why, to the butcher's shop of course."
That's precisely the strategy the devil is using on most people today. He doesn't walk around wearing a sandwich board that says, "Follow me to hell." He's not shouting through a megaphone, saying, "Come one and all. Follow me; and I'll lead you down the path to a wrecked marriage; and to a life-time of guilt and shame; and to the contraction of a debilitating disease; and to an unwanted pregnancy; and to a horrible sexual addiction that will imprison you and poison your soul. Follow me; and I'll contaminate your mind with thoughts you'll never be able to get rid of; and turn everything you say, think and do into something filthy." The devil wont do that; because he knows people wouldn't follow him into damnation if he was that direct.
Instead, the devil works subtly. He drops apparently harmless little sexual temptations in front of us - a little compromise here, and a little compromise there. And we follow along, picking them up wherever they're dropped and thinking, "I can handle this. This isn't so bad. It's just a little pea, after all. It tastes good. Who's it going to hurt? Who's going to care? Who's going to know?" The whole time long, we never stop to consider that those "peas" line up in a direction; and that they're leading us away from God's good will for our lives, and down a slippery slope and into destruction and loss. We keep gobbling those peas up one by one, never paying attention to where the devil is taking us.
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The morality of the world in which the Thessalonian Christians lived was very much like our own. The standards were lax. The common man, as a rule, accepted fornication and adultery as a part of normal, everyday life. The public worship of most of the gods in the Thessalonian culture were closely tied to ritualistic acts of sex; so that sexual sins of every imaginable sort were rarely considered "sinful".
These Thessalonian Christians were called by God to live for Him in the midst of such a world; and Paul wrote to urge them to remain holy in the midst of it all. His words of exhortation and encouragement are meant for us as well. It's God's will that we - as His people - be "sanctified" in the area of sexuality. It's His will that we keep ourselves from sexual sin.
Consider, first of all, that ...
1. WE'RE TO BE GROWING IN OUR WALK WITH CHRIST (vv. 1-2).
Paul wrote, "Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus."
Paul and his co-workers weren't with the Thessalonians for very long. They only ministered to them, in fact, for three weeks (Acts 17:2-3). But they were dramatically converted to Christ; and though he was with them for only a short time, Paul imparted a lot of strategic truths from the Scriptures to them. By the time he had left, he was able to look back and say that he had taught them how they ought to walk with Christ. He taught them how to live the kind of life that is pleasing to God; and made sure they knew the commands and specific instructions that Christ taught His disciples to follow.
The word that Paul used to describe the "commandments" he gave them through the Lord Jesus means something similar to what we would think of as "an order" - and what Paul had done was very much like one soldier passing on specific military orders to another soldier that came from the top-brass down. He was confident that these Thessalonian believers understood what their orders were. He said that they had "received" those orders from him, and that they "knew" - that is, understood in a full and sufficient way - what they were to do about them.
And so, what Paul called them to do is to "grow" in these things. He urged them and exhorted them to "abound more and more" in them - that is, to not let themselves level-out and become comfortable with were there are, but to go 'over and above' in these things.
Paul himself did what he was calling them to do. He believed that he needed to continually grow in his walk with Christ too; and so, he served as the great example of growth in the faith. He wasn't content to remain where he was, but sought to "abound more and more" in the things of Christ. He said,
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12-14).
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By the way, dear brothers and sisters; if the great apostle Paul wouldn't allow himself think that he was beyond the need for growth, should we? We, like him, should be continually on the grow in our life with Christ. We should be growing in our knowledge of and familiarity with the teaching of the Scriptures. We should be growing in our effectiveness in prayer. We should be growing in our ability to share our faith with others. We should be growing in our service to the body of Christ. We should be growing in our love for our spouses, and our children, and our other brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be growing in the depth of our worship of Christ. And we should be growing in our personal holiness before God, and in our renunciation of the sin in our lives.
Growth is the normal pattern for the child of God. Are you growing? Are you increasing in your knowledge of the commands of Christ for your life; and are you increasing in your obedience to those commands? Are you adding the things into your life that promote your spiritual growth? And more to the point of our passage this morning, are you avoiding those things, places and practices that hinder your growth in Christ?
We're to be "growing" in Christ. And this leads us to the next thing we need to notice; that ...
2. SUCH GROWTH INCLUDES "SANCTIFICATION" (vv. 3-6).
Paul says, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (v. 3).
"Sanctification" sounds like a very hard word to understand; but it's not. The Greek word that Paul uses simply means "holiness". It's the idea of being separated from what is common or sinful, and set apart as special for God's use and pleasure.
At the closing of his letter, Paul wrote, "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it" (1 Thess. 5:23-24). And so, here we see that sanctification is - first and foremost - a work in the believer that is performed, empowered and superintended by God. The Dutch theologian Louis Berkhof defined "sanctification" as "that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works" (Systematic Theology, p. 532). In other words, it's the process by which God Himself makes us more holy in our lifestyle and practices, and makes us to live more and more like His Son Jesus.
We can certainly praise God that He's the one in charge of our sanctification, and not we ourselves!! But as we can clearly see from this morning's passage, it's also a work for which we're to take an active and involved part.
By the way; many Christians wonder what God's will is for their lives. Well - here's some good news. In this verse, we're not really left with any question about what God's will is for our lives. God's will for your life and mine, among other things, is that we be "sanctified" - holy, set apart from sin, and devoted to God's use and pleasure.
So then; are you walking in God's expressed will? Are you growing in sanctification?
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We're not left to ourselves to figure out what "sanctification" means, either. Paul, in this passage, specifies what he means by saying that God's will is our "sanctification". First, we see that it involves an abstinence from sexual immorality. Paul said, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality" (v. 3).
The Greek word that Paul uses for "sexual immorality" is one that will probably be recognizable to you. It's the Greek word "porneia", (We get our English word "pornography", in part, from this word.) It's a word that's very broad in meaning; and in this case, it would refer to immoral sexuality in any form - whether an illicit sexual act (such as sexual intimacy apart from marriage, adultery, homosexuality), or thought (such as voyeurism, the use of pornographic literature, viewing sexually explicit movies or photos or websites, or fantasizing about sexual sin), or words (such as phone sex, or the telling of sexually explicit jokes or stories).
The Bible tells us that we were not made for "porneia"; and that it is always harmful to us. Paul used this same word when he said that "the body is is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Cor. 6:13). The Bible says,
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:8-11).
Sexual sin is such a serious thing that it will exclude from heaven those who are committed to its practice in their lives. Followers of Jesus Christ are to have nothing to do with sexual sins. Paul wrote these words to the Christians in the city of Corinth;
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's (1 Cor. 6:18-20).
Please note how the Bible tells us to deal with sexual immorality. It doesn't tell us to "stand up against it and resist it"; nor does it tell us to "ignore it and wait for it to go away". It tells us, in clear, unambiguous terms, to "flee" from it - to run from it! "Now flee from youthful lusts", as Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 2:22, NASB Updated). To "flee" from sexual immorality means to run from it like you would run to save your life. And here, in our text, it tells us that our "sanctification" - which is God's will for us - means that we are to abstain from sexual immorality in any of its forms. We're to abstain from it with a sense of seriousness and urgency, as though we were doing so to protect our very lives.
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Secondly, "sanctification" means that we're to exercise self-control over our sexual passions. Paul further explains our sanctification by saying, "that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor ..." (v. 4).
The Greek word that's translated "vessel" simply refers to anything that is meant to hold something else. And here, Paul uses it as a figure of speech for our bodies. The Bible teaches us that our bodies are not our own; but that they belong to God. They are "vessels" - designed by God not only to hold our own precious spirits, but also to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit abides in us; and whatever we do to our bodies, we do to the temple of the Holy Spirit. And so, we're to use this "vessel" - our bodies - only for sanctified and honorable uses.
When we were apart from Christ, we were not motivated to use our bodies for any "sanctified" and "honorable" things at all. Instead, what drove us at that time were our fleshly passions and lusts. We did what "felt good"; and in the process, we sinned. Paul said that, apart from Christ,
... you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath ... (Eph. 2:2-3).
And among the "lusts" we "walked in" were sexual sins. He wrote to the Galatian church and said,
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).
But now, in Christ, we're not to allow ourselves to be driven by the lusts of the flesh any longer. Our sins have been forgiven in Christ; and we've been set free from our slavery to the lusts of the flesh. And so, as Paul wrote to the Roman believers,
... Just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness" (Romans 6:19).
And you can also see from our text that sanctification is the responsibility of each individual believer. Paul says "each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor".
As the pastor, I could get together with the leadership of our church, and put together a list of "no-nos". We could print copies of this list of "things to avoid", and pass it out after church. It would tell you all the movies you should not see, all the television shows you should stay away from, all the songs you shouldn't listen too, and all the websites you should never visit. But I believe it would be a dreadful mistake to make such a list. (Besides; we'd have to update it every week; and who's got time for that!)
Instead, I believe the best thing to do is for each of us to individually surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit as His "instruments of righteousness". If we surrender our bodies to Him daily, carefully follow His commandments from the Scriptures, and allow Him to make us His instruments of righteousness, then He will let us know the things He wants us to stay away from. This may mean different things to different individual believers; which is why the individual leading of the Holy Spirit is much better than following a legalistic list.
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Because we need to be individually led by the Holy Spirit in our sanctification, this leads us to a third thing that "sanctification" involves: our concern for the sexual purity of others. Paul says, "that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified" (v. 6).
As believers, we have a duty to guard and protect not only our own sanctification, but also that of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a duty to guard our actions toward others, and make sure that we don't lead them down the wrong path. Paul says we should not "take advantage of" our fellow believer. The word Paul uses means, literally, "to over-step" or "to trespass"; and he means that we should not "step out of bounds" or "go into forbidden territory" with another. And he also says we shouldn't "defraud" a fellow believer; meaning we shouldn't "take advantage" of them. And when he uses the phrase "in this matter", he makes it clear that he's talking about areas of sexual immorality.
I believe that this would forbid the obvious - someone seducing another into illicit sexual activity. But I believe it also forbids doing things that would cause one another to stumble in the areas of the thought-life as well. We should never encourage a brother or sister to see a movie, or read a book, or share a story, or anything else that might harm their sanctification before Christ,
I'll never forget something that happened to me once. I was working as a volunteer in a food distribution warehouse. It's a Christian organization; and so, worship music is often played over the sound system while everyone is doing their work. On one particular day, I was having a great time with the Lord as I was working there. It was beautiful day; and the music was causing me to turn my thoughts to the Lord as I worked. I was thinking about Him and thanking Him for how good He was to me. I was enjoying a time of meditating on Christ; when, suddenly, another man who did some work there walked up to tell me something. Before I realized what he was doing, he had repeated a sexually explicit joke to me.
There I was, thinking about the Lord and loving Him - with my thoughts up high on heavenly things - and this man came and yanked them down and wallowed them in filth. It greatly upset me. It hurt me. But it also reminded me of this verse; and how important it is that we take seriously our responsibility toward each other. As the Bible says, "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Eph. 4:29). We're to do nothing that will, in any way, intentionally defile our brother's or sister's sanctification to Christ.
We should take this very seriously. The Lord Jesus Himself certainly does. As it's translated in the New American Standard Bible, Paul sternly warns that "the Lord is the avenger in all these things". In fact, Paul apparently warned the Thessalonian believers about this more than once.
It's no small thing to the Lord when someone causes one of His precious people to stumble into sin. He said, in some of the harshest words recorded in the Bible as having come from His lips;
... Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (Matthew 18:6-7).
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It's God's will that we be sanctified; and that sanctification involves three things (1) an abstinence from sexual immorality, (2) the exercise of self-control over our sexual passions, and (3) an active and cautious concern for the sexual purity of others. This leads us to our final point; that ...
3. THEREFORE, THE BELIEVER MUST GROW IN SEXUAL PURITY (vv. 7-8).
There is no option in the matter. It's an absolute necessity that we, as believers, grow in personal holiness with regard to sexual matters. It's absolutely necessary that we "flee sexual immorality", and that we be devoted to sexual purity with respect to ourselves and others. And in these closing verses, Paul gives three reasons why it's an absolute necessity.
First, it's a necessity because of God's calling for us. He says, "For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness" (v. 7).
Jesus died in order to make us holy. He demonstrated His love for the Church by giving up His life for her, "that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:26-27). He shed His blood for us in order to make us into a glorious and beautiful Bride for Himself on His great wedding day. And when we refuse to sanctify ourselves in the area of sexual purity - when we allow ourselves to indulge in the sort of sexual immorality from which He died to save us - we're like a beautifully adorned bride who, just before the wedding ceremony, goes out in her glorious wedding dress and wades through the sewer.
The Bible tells us,
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11- 14).
That's what Jesus saved us for. That's our destiny. That's His calling. And so, we must grow in sexual purity, because God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.
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Second, we must grow in sexual purity, because of God's authority over us. Paul says, "Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God ..." (v. 8). Jesus Himself said something similar to His apostles, whom He sent to teach in His authority: "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me" (Luke 10:16).
I have talked to people who were living in open sexual sin, and have shown them that the Bible calls them to repent. But I've often been very politely rejected. "Well, Greg; we understand where you're coming from and all. You have to say that sort of thing. But after all, that's just your opinion. We appreciate your opinion, and we respect your right to have it; but in the end, that's all it is. It's 'right' for you to follow the Bible; but what's right for you isn't necessarily right for us."
But Paul maintained that he wasn't just giving his opinion. Rather, he was passing on a command from God. He said that, if someone rejected what he was saying in this passage, then they're not simply rejecting his opinion on the matter, nor are they simply rejecting Paul as outdated and from a different culture than their own. They are shaking their fist at the living God. They are rejecting God's commands and instructions for their lives; and no one can do that without paying a serious price.
Paul's words in this verse won't allow his teaching to be dismissed in a casual a manner as that. God orders us to be sexually pure; and we must obey because of God's authority over our lives.
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Finally, we must grow in sexual purity, because of God's spirit within us. Paul says that those who rejected his teaching on this matter reject God Himself, "who has also given us His Holy Spirit" (v. 8). As believers, we are the vessels of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Godhead, has taken up residence within us. We are His temple - His dwelling place. And for us to use His dwelling place to indulge in sexual immorality is something deeply grieving to Him.
Think for a moment of the things you and I have already dragged the Holy Spirit through! He sees our thoughts; and yet, we've often allowed those thoughts to be dominated by images and fantasies that are an offense to His holiness. He hears our every word; and yet, we've often allowed vile and filthy words and stories and jokes to pass through the lips that are meant to be set apart for His praises. He is ever present with us in our actions; and yet, we've often given ourselves over to the lusts of our flesh in His holy presence. We've taken His temple, and have used its hands to handle vile things, or its lips to speak vile things, or its eyes to watch vile things, or its mind to think vile things, or its heart to love vile things. And the whole time long, it's only because of the deep love of the Holy Spirit for us that He doesn't abandon us in our sins when we abuse His temple like that.
God has given us His Holy Spirit as His "seal" for the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30); and may God help us to stop grieving Him with sexual sins! That's is another reason why it's absolutely essential that we who are in Christ should grow in sexual purity; because of the Spirit of God who dwells in us.
Having said all this, perhaps you have a sense that you've terribly failed the Lord. Perhaps you realize that you've fallen for the devil's bate; and you've gotten ensnared in sexual sins. Well; the good news is that you can be freed from it. You can be completely forgiven, washed clean by the blood of Jesus, and made to stand righteous and holy before Him - as pure and as holy as if you'd never sinned at all. You can leave all those things behind, and live a new life. Paul lists the sexual sins that would prohibit someone from entering heaven; but then he told the Corinthians, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11).
No matter how you may have failed in the area of sexual immorality, you can be a "were". You can have a fresh start. Jesus died to wash us clean of our sins, and to give us a new heart. Just turn to Him - right were you are - and ask Him. He will forgive you completely, and give you a brand new life. Praise God; He doesn't warn us of these terrible sins to condemn us, but in order to save us, and to make us pure and holy in His sight!
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Now, I'd like to say a word to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I began by telling you that I was going to lay another challenge before you for the coming year; and here it is. I challenge you to do just this one thing (and if you are reading this, I urge you to stop and do so right where you are): present yourself to God right now - this very minute - and simply invite His Holy Spirit to point out to you what ever it is of sexual impurity and immorality that He wants out of your life. Ask Him to show you these things; and to keep on showing them to you until you repent of them. Ask Him to make you a more "sanctified" believer in the area of sexual purity in the coming year - so that you are no longer watching the things He doesn't want you to watch, or thinking about the things He doesn't want you to think about, or laughing at the things He doesn't want you to laugh at, or doing the things He doesn't want you to do, or going to the places He doesn't want you to go, or reading the types of things He doesn't want you to read. Do it because He loves you and wants you to be sanctified unto Himself.
Pray about it. Ask Him to sanctify you completely in the area of sexual purity - body, mind and spirit - and to preserve you for "blamelessness" on the day when Jesus returns. Pray for this, and keep on praying for it repeatedly throughout the coming year. And as you do, be assured, with absolute confidence in His great love for you, that "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it" (1 Thess. 5:24).
(copyright 2000 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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