The apostle Paul gave the Church of Thessalonica an exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 4 that I believe strongly is a warning to us today in the modern American church.
We are not separate from the Body of Christ throughout history. We have not outgrown these biblical passages. These are not old-fashioned just because we have filled our hearts and minds with “Sex and the City,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Modern Family,” and every other TV and movie out there that speaks the exact opposite message. There is something here for us all, if we won’t be afraid of the Bible.
We have a lot of issues happening in the American church right now, but the grace of God is here to help us, to deliver us, and to bring us into relationship with the Holy Spirit in a deeper way.
Let’s read this important passage — 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8.
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.
This passage says it clearly: the will of God for our lives is — our sanctification.
In simplicity this means that we would be like Jesus — Christlike. This is a high calling, and it should speak over us purpose and destiny each day of our lives. If we set our minds on higher things than what is in the world, then we have much to live for.
Colossians 3:1-3 says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
From the moment I was born again as a 13-year-old girl, I had a sense that God wanted to use my life for His glory. This is true for all of us. God wants to shine His light and life through each one of us. He wants us to walk with Him. That walking beside Him and intimately knowing Him changes us from the inside out. This is the work of sanctification. We are born again, and then our mind, will, and emotions start getting transformed into the image of God. This leads to a daily walk of obedience and great mission for our lives.
From the moment we are born again, we have the power inside of us to live a holy life. We can either yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit or not. This is the exhortation that the apostle Paul is giving these young believers here in this passage.
Let’s get Specific — Abstain from Sexual Immorality
We are having a lot of conversations in our culture about transgenderism, the LGBTQ+ lifestyle, biological men playing in women’s sports, and the issues of bathrooms and locker rooms being shared by both sexes and the need to protect our daughters and granddaughters.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.”
In biblical times, and yes, even today, this exhortation means abstaining from sexual immorality. It means not having sex before the covenant of marriage and not cheating on your spouse once you are married.
Marriage between one man and one woman is a covenant. Our bodies and souls come together for the purpose of procreation, mission in life, and joy in the journey.
When the gift of sex is used outside of that covenant, there is a tearing of our souls that causes deep pain and scars. God is warning us desperately to avoid that, and all its sad ramifications.
The world can say it is all fun and games, that it is casual, and it doesn’t affect us, but that is a big fat lie.
Talk to Anyone — Deep Down We Know the Truth
Talk to anyone who has had a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend “with benefits” and ask them after the breakup if they were okay.
Talk to anyone who goes from person to person for casual sex and see if deep inside they are happy and fulfilled.
Talk to anyone who has gone through an affair — whether they have been the adulterer or the one cheated on — and ask them how they are doing deep down inside and if they regret it.
Talk to anyone who has experienced an addiction to pornography and can’t seem to break free from it.
Talk to any woman who has been domestically abused, raped, or sexually abused at the hands of a man and ask them how these wicked and sinful actions have affected their lives over years.
Talk to any man or woman who has been changed by the sin of abortion — either paying or promoting abortion or having the abortion itself.
Talk to any man or woman who is experiencing sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, or issues related to pregnancy that are affecting their future because of decisions they have made.
Tell me why God is wrong that sex needs to be protected for the covenant of marriage and the culture is correct. If you are honest, you can’t.
If you really do an honest assessment of the pain, the scars, and the trauma of the world’s system — you can’t tell me that God is wrong.
Living Out the First Commandment
Possessing our own vessel, or body, in honor and not leaning to the passions of lust, in truth, demonstrates our love for God and for each other. We show that we love people by respecting them. We show that we love God by honoring Him.
Matthew 22:37-40 — “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
This is a strong statement — but if you are caught in habitual sexual sin, I can show you how the first commandment is not real in your life.
As 1 Thessalonians says, we don’t want to reject God like those who do not know Him, and we don’t want to defraud our brothers and sisters because we love them. All our actions lead to impacting others.
Story of Passion for Purity — Elisabeth Elliott
As a young person in high school, I read a book called Passion and Purity by a woman named Elisabeth Elliot. Her friend at the time in college, Jim Elliot, would later become her husband, and they would go on to becoming missionaries to an indigenous tribe in South America.
Jim became a martyr early on in their married life. He and several other men landed in a plane in this remote village, and were killed and cannibalized by the tribe they were trying to reach. Later, Elisabeth would go back to that tribe herself and bring them Jesus.
Early on in their relationship, Jim and Elisabeth, as friends, were both seeking the call of God on their life and weighing their real feelings for each other. Elizabeth wrote this book about her passion for purity and Jim’s real struggles, their conversations, personal letters, and thoughts related to this topic. It was so impactful for me as a young person that I pledged my life to be set apart in this way.
After Bible college, God gave me my husband as my best friend without us even going on a date.
Paul’s warning is clear: we don’t want to defraud others, say we’re Christians, yet hurt them and bring pain and abuse to their lives by not following what the Scriptures say. Sanctification is love for God and others and it is demonstrated clearly in this important section of our lives — our sexual purity.
The Work of HOLY Spirit
Let’s read verse eight again. “Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.”
If we don’t receive this word on sexual purity, we’re rejecting not just man’s words, but we’re rejecting the Holy Spirit Himself. That’s a heavy statement but is is what the scripture says. The Holy Spirit is after our lives. He wants us to be like Jesus, period.
Jesus said in John 16:7-9: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me.”
He is the Holy Spirit. His name is HOLY. Have you ever thought about His name being HOLY?
The Holy Spirit is a person and part of the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is the Godhead inside of me, and the Godhead inside of you, if you’re a born again Christian.
We think many times that we get saved by faith through grace — but then the work of sanctification is all up to us. This is a lie as well. The Holy Spirit wants to do the work of sanctification in our lives, but we must allow Him to change us. We must turn our will over to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to do His work.
The grace of God is here to bring us into Christlikeness and holiness. To not esteem the grace of God as that powerful is to cheapen its power.
What is the Holy Spirit after in your life? Where does repentance — a “turning away” — need to happen specifically in your life? How can Holy Spirit empower you to live more like Jesus?
This passage cannot be ignored even though we live in 2023.
Bunni delivered this message also in teaching form. Check it out this special episode last week on Conversations with Christians Engaged.
Bunni Pounds is president and founder of Christians Engaged — a ministry activating the Body of Christ to pray, vote, and engage regularly. Formerly a congressional candidate and 16-year political consultant, she is a motivational speaker and bible teacher. Her book, Jesus and Politics: One Woman’s Walk with God in a Mudslinging Profession comes out nationally on 2/6/24. Preorder it now.
Bunni is also the host of “Conversations With Christians Engaged,” seen here on The Stream each week — a podcast dedicated to helping believers continue walking in faith while navigating the muddy ways of politics and culture. Connect with her on Facebook @bunnipoundsTX, X — formerly known as Twitter @bunnipounds, Instagram @bunnipounds, or her personal website bunnipounds.com.