Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Our Sanctification

Part 6 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality (v. 3). 

A Culture Resistant to Holiness 

In 1 Thessalonians 4, the apostle Paul addresses the sin of sexual immorality. Many Christians probably think that living a holy life (i.e., living the way God wants us to live) in our culture is more difficult than it was for Paul in his culture. Not true!

Paul’s world was dominated by the Greek culture. And the attitude of the Greeks toward sex can be summed up in a statement made by Greek statesman and orator Demosthenes: “Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of our persons, but wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.” What was immoral according to God’s word was normal according to the culture.

Living a holy life has never been easy!

Being Different

Paul had received a good report from Timothy concerning the Thessalonians (“just as you are doing,” v. 1), but it appears that some in the church were disregarding Paul’s teaching on sexual ethics (“whoever disregards this,” v. 8). So Paul writes, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (v. 3).

Our “sanctification” is our holiness (cf. vv. 4, 7). To be holy, we must live as God commands us to live, which results in us being different [1] from the world. [2] To the nation of Israel, God commanded, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). This command is repeated to us, the church: “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). [3]

Being holy isn’t limited to abstaining from sexual sin. “Sexual immorality” is specifically mentioned by Paul because that sin was a problem in the church at Thessalonica. The Greek word (porneia) that has been translated “sexual immorality” refers to any sexual act outside of heterosexual marriage.

What Paul Says About Sanctification

In verses 3-8, Paul gives three facts about sanctification.

1. Our sanctification is the will of God. 

“This is the will of God, your sanctification” (v. 3). Paul goes on to say that it’s God will that “each one of you know how to control his own body [4] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God [i.e., be different]” (v. 4). “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (v. 7).

2. Our sanctification is a continual process. [5]

Sanctification isn’t a one-time thing. Even though Paul had received a good report about the Thessalonians, Paul didn’t want them to become complacent (“that you do so more and more,” v. 1; cf. v. 10). 

3. Our sanctification requires Spirit-empowered self-control. 

God told the prophet Ezekiel, “I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezek. 37:14). The NT calls the Spirit the Holy Spirit. If we have the Spirit within us, we have the desire to be holy. However, that doesn’t mean that holiness is easy for us; it’s a struggle.

Not Disregarding God's Will

To those who were disregarding Paul’s teaching about sexual ethics, he warns, “Whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God” (v. 8). It’s one thing to struggle to obey God’s commands; it’s another thing to disregard God’s commands. 

Will we refuse to do the will of the God who is the all-powerful creator? Will we refuse to do the will of the God who chose to die for us?


[1] To be “sanctified” means to be “set apart.” 

[2] However, we are not to be different from the world in every way. Paul tells the Thessalonians not to take advantage of the charity of wealthy believers, “so that [they] may walk properly before outsiders” (v. 12). 
[3] In the previous verse, Peter writes, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14).
[4] A literal translation of the Greek is “how to possess his own vessel.” The three most popular interpretations of “vessel” (skeuos) are (1) a wife, (2) one’s body, and (3) the male sex organ (cf. 1 Sam. 21:5-6). 

[5] Gene L. Green writes that “sanctification” (hagiasmos) means “the process of sanctification” (The Letters to the Thessalonians, 190).