God's Design for Sexuality
Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:3
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Election season is upon us, which means that most you have probably been seeing multiple campaign advertisements. You see them on people’s fences. You get them in the mail. You see them on TV and online and in social media. Candidates and parties are spending money trying to convince you to vote in their favor.
This is what it means to live in the United States which is a representative democracy. The people running for office are trying to get you to think they can provide whatever it is you want from them. They usually have a more elaborate way of saying things, but the basic message is, “Vote for me because I will do what you want.”
That’s the kind of idea behind the principle of democracy. The leaders serve the people. We call them public servants.
And while there have been many benefits to the form of government in this country, one major problem that has developed is that our culture has lost a proper understanding of authority. Many people live with an assumption that all authority should only exist if you approve of it. But that’s not the case.
There are some forms of authority you don’t get to vote into power. There are some forms of authority over you that do not rely on your input. One of those forms of authority is the authority of a parent over a young child.
Kids, your mom or dad might ask you for your opinion or your preference, but they have no inherent obligation to give you what you want simply because you want it. Within the sphere of the home and the family, they are the authority.
When a child doesn’t take that reality into account, he becomes presumptuous and entitled. We see more and more expressions of those attitudes in the culture as adults throw public tantrums because they don’t agree with an authority over them.
The greatest expression of true authority is the authority of God and of Jesus Christ. We don’t vote to make God the Supreme Authority of creation. We don’t vote to make Jesus Christ King of kings and Lord of lords. Those are divine realities. God the Father has all authority, and He has given it over to His Son. God will endure regardless of who agrees with or opposes Him. And He will never be overturned.
Contrary to what many people seem to think, God does not exist to do whatever we want. We exist to obey Him. He is our Creator, and He will be our Judge.
One of the most visible expressions of humanity’s rebellion against God is sexual immorality. What we see in our own hearts, and in the culture at large, is an arrogant heart that rejects the authority of God.
This morning, as we continue in a series talking about sexual purity and sexual immorality, I want to continue to move us in the right direction, and to do that I want to share with you three requirements for a life of purity, and they apply in every stage and facet of life. Children, teenagers, married couples, single people, grandparents—we are never too young, and we can never outgrow the need for these requirements.
The first requirement for us as we pursue sexual purity in a sinful world is a heart of submission. You need a heart of submission. This is the opposite of pride, arrogance, and autonomy.
We started talking about this idea last week when we looked at First Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 1 and 2. Paul indicated there that he had taught the Thessalonians, not just Christian doctrine, but how that doctrine translated into Christian life. He said he taught them how “to please God,” and that was our focus last week.
Today, I want to start by having you notice the opening line in verse 3. It says there—For this is the will of God.
Sometimes, when we talk about God’s will, we are talking about something He has ordained to come to pass. You could say it is God’s determined will. He has determined that something come to pass.
Anything that has already happened in the past is part of God’s determined will. We know it’s His will because He has allowed it to happen, or He has directly caused it to happen. And in terms of the future, we can know God’s determined will by what He has told us. So, for example, we know it’s God’s will that Jesus will return to judge the world.
A second category of God’s will is something that He takes pleasure in. This could be called His desired will. It’s something He wants to take place, but it may or may not happen. And the only place we can find out God’s desired will is by looking at His word. What does God want from you and from me?
So, you have God’s determined will, and God’s desired will. Sometimes these categories overlap, but they are helpful categories to think about. What kind of will is Paul talking about here?
Well, from the context of what we saw last week in verses 1 and 2, and based on what Paul goes on to say, we are talking about God’s desired will. There is something God desires from us.
Now, why in the world would Paul talk about God’s desires? Who in the world cares about God’s will? Who cares to know what God wants?
The answer is: those who want to please Him and obey Him. It’s those who want to submit to Him. Since Paul is talking to Christians, he is rightfully assuming that we have a heart of submission. And in God’s grace, He hasn’t left us in the dark about what He expects from us. He tells us exactly what He wants.
How many of you have ever thought to yourself, “I want to please that person. I want to do something that makes him or her happy, but I just don't know what to do.” Every husband knows exactly what that feels like.
We might feel that way about our wives at times, but we don’t need to feel that way with God. He has given us His word to guide us and to show us how to please Him. The hard part is not knowing; it is actually doing it. Why? Because we have a sinful, rebellious heart. The moment someone tells us what to do, we want to do it another way.
What we need, in order to combat that, is a heart of submission. True submission doesn’t require answers or reasons. True submission simply obeys because it recognizes the authority of someone else.
Now, God, in His mercy, has given us answers and He’s told us His purposes—and we’ll talk about that as we continue in this series—but even if that weren’t the case, a heart of submission obeys out of a desire to please. And that is the true desire of someone who follows Jesus Christ.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you simply make some changes in your life. True salvation is tied to regeneration; you are a new creation in Christ. And what God produces is a heart that desires to obey. Jesus’ death and Resurrection don’t just free you from sin’s penalty; they free you from sin’s power. To use the words of Romans 6, you go from being a slave of sin to a slave of God.
That’s what it means to call Jesus “Lord.” That’s why the Apostle John says, “whoever does the will of God abides forever.” “Whoever does the will of God” is just a synonym for a Christian, and if you read First John, you’ll see that more clearly. We are those who keep Christ’s commandments.
What that means is you can’t have a life that continually rebels against God without genuine repentance, and then legitimately call yourself a Christian. If you belong to Christ, the trajectory and the regular the pattern of your will be one of obedience.
This is a basic truth of the message of Jesus, and yet it is so vital as we talk about the issue of purity. We need a heart of submission. We need a heart ready to do God’s will.
Let’s move on now to a second requirement, and here it is. You need a desire for sanctification. A desire for sanctification. This is the very next phrase in verse 3. “Alright, Lord, I’m ready. I want to do what you want. What do you want from me?”
Verse 3—This is the will of God, your sanctification. Your sanctification.
The word sanctification is another word for holiness. God wants you and me to be holy. And to be holy means to be set apart, to be different. The word also speaks of purity. I’m not going to say too much here because we talked about it last week.
God told His people, "You must be holy for I am holy." God intended for His people to be distinct, different from the world.
In John chapter 8, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “I am not of this world.” And then in chapter 15, He says to His disciples, “You are not of the world.” You need to let that reality sink into your heart. We are called to submit to God, and we are not part of this world system. We are called to be different, to be holy.
One very famous passage that talks about this is Romans chapter 12, verses 1 and 2. And I’m sure a lot of you either know it or have heard it. Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
You are either going to be molded into who the world wants you to be, or you are going to be molded into who God wants you to be. And that transformation that honors God will come as a result of renewing your mind with His word.
But let’s get more specific. In what way are you and I supposed to be holy? How are we supposed to look different? Paul doesn’t make it complicated here. He simply gives one example—For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.
Here is how we can pursue sanctification and submit to God and please Him. Abstain from sexual immorality. This leads me to a final point for today, and this will be where we spend the rest of our time.
A third requirement for purity is a commitment to separation. A commitment to separation. So, we have three key words: submission, sanctification, and separation.
The verb Paul uses here, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is “abstain,” which is more of a negative term. It means “stay away from.” Keep a distance.
And what we are told to stay away from is “sexual immorality.” The Greek word here is porneía. Some translation will often use the word fornication, but that’s not the best way to translate it because this is a much broader term. What does that mean? What is immorality?
Here is what it means: Sexual immorality is any desire or activity that perverts or contradicts God’s design for sexual activity or sexual pleasure or sexual contact. So, whenever you want something or do something that is outside God’s design for sexual activity or sexual pleasure, that’s called sexual immorality.
And this only begs another question: What is God’s design for sexual activity and sexual pleasure? This is not some far-fetched theological question. It is one that gets answered very clearly in the Scriptures. The response for a Christian is the same as it has always been. God’s design for sexual activity and sexual pleasure is that it only be found within the context of a marriage between a man and a woman.
That’s God’s design: one man and one woman committed to one another as long as they both shall live. Sexual intimacy and sexual pleasure is a subset of marriage. That’s where it belongs, and that’s the only place it belongs. This isn’t rooted in tradition or in personal preference or in any kind of social convention; it is rooted in the word and in the design of God.
I’d like you to go with me to the book of Matthew chapter 19. Matthew chapter 19. Jesus is in Judea, and giant crowds are going out to hear him. Look at Matthew chapter 19, verse 3.
It says—And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Now, my concern right now is not Jesus’ teaching on divorce per se. But when asked the question, Jesus went back to God’s original design. He affirmed what we have in Genesis.
God created two sexes. They were both made in His image, but they were clearly distinct. Man was made first, and then the woman. That’s what Genesis 2 tells us.
And the same God who made the man and the woman also made a declaration. Notice again how Jesus responds in verses 4 and 5. The same one who made them male and female said something about them. God’s design is that a man step out of the authority of his father and mother and be joined to a woman. That’s God’s design, and He said it Himself: “It is very good.”
And in Genesis 2, right after the verse Jesus quotes about the two becoming one it says—And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
They delighted in one another’s bodies. They were designed to do that. They had been joined together in a divinely orchestrated ceremony, and God had given them a special gift. On the one hand, that gift would enable them to fill the earth by having children, but beyond that, it was also a means of enhancing and celebrating their unity. It was a gift that was intended to keep bringing them together.
So, this is an important starting place for our conversations about sexual desire or sexual expression—God created us for it. When you come of age, it is not a sin, in itself, to desire the companionship and intimacy of marriage. We were designed for that.
But, going back to the definition I already gave you, any time we desire or pursue or engage in sexual activity, sexual pleasure, or sexual thought that is outside of God’s design, that’s sexual immorality.
First Corinthians 7 talks about the sin of sexual activity outside of marriage, whether that is a married person seeking someone outside the marriage, or two unmarried people engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. Both are examples of sexual immorality.
For even more examples, you can read Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20. For His people, God prohibits incest. He prohibits adultery. He prohibits homosexuality and bestiality. All of those are examples of sexual immorality. They go against God’s design for sexual intimacy. They rip sexual joy out of the context in which God created it.
Now, why did God list all these kinds of sins for the Israelites? Leviticus 18 explains it. Moses is supposed to tell the people, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God.”
This is what they were seeing in the rest of the world. And it’s the same kind of things we see in our culture still. The world says it’s okay. It’s a part of growing up. It’s a part of finding yourself. And that’s a lie from Satan himself. The pursuit of those things only leads to heartache and ruin and death. That’s why so much space in the book of Proverbs is dedicated to sexual purity. Because the father knew how attractive and how destructive it would be in his son’s life.
I preached on those Proverbs already a few years ago, but I’ll probably be referring back to them as we continue on this topic.
God says, “Stay away from all of that which dishonors Me and distorts My design for sexual intimacy and sexual activity and sexual contact.” Do you want to please God? Do you want to submit to Him be holy? Stay away from that which dishonors God.
Well, how far away are we supposed to stay? Let me give you a few verses that should help answer that question. I’m not going to dwell on them very long. I’ll just read them to you, and then you can look them up later on your own.
First Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” Run away from it.
Ephesians 5:3 says this—But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place.
In other words, be holy in your conduct and in your speech. Sexual immorality is not be a characteristic of the people of God.
And lastly, as we come to a close, I want you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 5. Matthew chapter 5. Again, we are talking about the principle of separation. Positively, we are pursuing righteousness and holiness, but we also need to be staying away from something. We need to make a separation.
Look with me at Matthew 5:27. Here’s what Jesus said to the people who were listening to Him. Matthew 5:27—You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Jesus is speaking metaphorically here because of you cut off a hand or tear out an eye, it doesn’t work anymore. There’s no sense in throwing it away. But Jesus is talking about how extreme we need to be in fighting sexual sin. The battle is not just in our actions; it’s in our own minds.
Stay away from the things and the places and the activities and the times that will lead you to sin sexually in the mind and in the body. Don’t allow yourself to be captivated by that kind of thing. Stay away from that which dishonors God. Sexual desire, sexual contact, and even sexual thoughts are reserved by God only to be between a man and his wife.
This is God’s calling on my life and on your life. And the reality is that all of us have failed. We are bombarded by this world in music and in video and through other people and we give in with our thoughts and our eyes and our ears and our bodies. At no matter what level you give in at, you have fallen short of God’s standard. And Jesus says that sin deserves God’s eternal judgment. That’s the truth.
We need to let the seriousness of that reality sink in. Where the would have us feel liberated, where the world would have us feel guilty about our own shame—we need to say, “No! It is wrong! It is a sin against a holy God! It is a rebellion against His good design! I must repent!” We need to feel the burden of our wickedness.
And then, having confessed our impurity before the Lord, we can turn to the cross of Jesus Christ. Because that is the only place where we will find forgiveness and grace and the strength to fight against our sin.
If you have never trusted in Jesus and surrendered your life to Him and called out to Him for forgiveness, know that unless you do you will be condemned on the day of judgment. Every impure thought and every impure action, no matter how secret it was, will be laid out before the Lord and you will be condemned.
But if you call out to Jesus for salvation, if you believe that God sent His Son to die for your sins and be resurrected in victory, you will be forgiven. The power of sin will be broken in your life, and He will begin a lifelong process of making you more and more like Jesus Christ.
And part of making you more like Christ means helping you fight the desires and the impulses that dishonor Him. And part of the way we participate in that fight is by staying away from sexual immorality.
This morning was a lesson about what God has called us to do. We’re called to be holy. We’re called to stay away from sexual immorality. In the weeks to come, I will be getting more specific as we talk about how to do that. How do I abstain? How do I run away? How do I separate these things from my life? How do I drive out impure thoughts and impure motives?
God wants us to make progress in this. And He promises that we can, if we rely on His truth and on His Spirit as we walk in obedience to His word.
Let’s walk to please God. Let’s walk with a heart that submits to Him. He is in charge of our life. He has redeemed us. We belong to Him. So may He grant us a growing desire to be holy, and may His Sprit help us take any steps necessary as we separate ourselves from that which dishonors Him.