Reminders for Purity

January 15, 2023 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: First Thessalonians

Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

Throughout our study in this section, I’ve pointed out to you that sexual sin is nothing new, and it is not going away anytime soon. Every generation has had to deal with it, and every generation will have to deal with it until Christ comes.

If we fast forward to the end of the world, before the triumphant coming of Christ, the system that dominates the world at that time is known as the great harlot, or the great prostitute. Revelation 17 says she will lead the rulers of this world into great immorality. She is known as “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations.

We’re seeing glimpses of that now in our own society which will grieve us and disturb us, but what we see shouldn’t surprise us. As the end approaches, this world will be united in its rejection of God and of His plan. That’s where this world is headed. And for us, that means the battle for holiness is only going to get more difficult.

We see an example of that battle in the life of Abraham’s nephew Lot. Because their families had grown too large, Abraham and Lot decided to separate, and Lot chose a portion of land that was more fertile. He ended up living in a city called Sodom. The men of that town were Sodomites. They rejected God's design and were given over to their own lusts. If you remember, a group of men was stricken blind by a couple angels for their wickedness.

That punishment was simply a foretaste of a greater judgment, because the very next day the entire town, along with the city of Gomorrah, was destroyed by sulfur and fire from heaven. That’s a story I think most of you are familiar with.

What may not be as familiar to you is the biblical description of what it was like for Lot to live in such a wicked city. How did that affect him?

The answer to that question comes to us in Second Peter chapter 2. You can jot the reference down if you like; I’ll just read it to you. Second Peter 2:7 says “righteous Lot [was] greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked.” And then it adds, “for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard.

That’s what it’s like for someone seeking to honor God while they live among those who are running full-speed after their immorality. It’s distressing, it’s painful.

One side of that pain is going to be the pain of seeing the glory of God’s and the dignity of men and women be ignored and rejected. That was how Paul felt when he arrived in Athens and saw all the idols in the city. Acts 17 says his spirit was provoked within him.

Another side of the pain of living among a sinful generation is the pain of temptation. There is a rejection of sin because we belong to Christ, but there is also an attraction to it because we haven’t been completely freed from this body of death. David writes about that in the psalms. At times, he was envious of the wicked, and he needed the truth of God to bring him back to a proper understanding.

If you’re seeking to honor Christ, you should be able to sympathize with that. Fighting sin is a daily battle, and it’s going to be a battle until the day we see Jesus. We have a personal responsibility in the battle, and we are also responsible to help one another through encouragement and prayer.

How do you do that? What can you do to help yourself and to help one another in the battle for purity and holiness?

In this section, we’ve seen Paul call for holiness at the level of our hearts, at the level of our bodies, and at the level of our relationship. And now, as Paul brings this section to a close, we get three final principles to help us.

Number 1, you remember God’s holy punishment. Remember God’s holy punishment. I won’t spend too much time here because we already discussed it last week. But it’s important to remind ourselves.

At the end of verse 6, when Paul is warning us against taking advantage of someone else sexually, he remind how serious that kind of violation is because the Lord is an avenger in all these things

God will not ignore those who have lashed out against another person in that way. There is no excuse for rape or sexual assault. And this is especially important for us men to understand. Women are made in the image of God. Our strength as men was not given by God to intimidate or to threaten. Whether you’re married to the girl or not, that woman is made in God’s image, and if she’s a Christian, she is a sister in the Lord. It doesn’t matter what she says. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing, you have no excuse to cross the boundaries God has placed for sexual intimacy or to pressure her to do so.

As a man, our strength was given to protect and to provide, not to subjugate. The true expression of manliness is not in your ability to force a woman to do anything, but in your willingness to lead for the glory of God and to love sacrificially for the good of others. That’s what it means to be a man in the eyes of God.

To abuse the power or the strength God has given us, particularly in the area of sexuality, is a gross misrepresentation of the love of God, and His vengeance will come. It can come in the form of legal consequences. It can come in the form of divine discipline. But for those who prove to be false believers, it will come in the greatest form of eternal wrath of a holy God.

You need to understand this about eternal judgment: Hell is not just a place where sinners go because of some cosmic law. Hell is the place where Christ Himself sends sinners because they have rejected the glory of God. Read the book of Revelation. All those awful things that happen aren’t accident. They’re not the result of global warning; they are the wrath of God against those who have opposed Him.

Like I said last week from Psalm 94, we serve a God of vengeance, and those who prey on the weak will be punished eternally by a holy God. Don’t forget God’s holy punishment. Remind yourself about that, and remind one another. If you continue pursuing your sexual sin, you may condemn yourself to eternal judgment before a holy God. Remember God’s holy punishment. Let that godly fear keep you on, or restore you to, the path of holiness.

Now, as we come to verse 7, we see a second principle to help us in the battle for purity. Principle number 2: Remember God’s holy purpose. Remember God’s holy purpose.

Look at verse 7. It says: For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Paul connects his instruction with a reminder about God’s purpose.

That word “call” is an important word in Paul’s letters. The Greek verb is kaléo. It’s not a generic call or a general call. When Paul uses this word for the life of a Christian, he’s talking about God’s saving call in their life. It’s not the human call of evangelism; it’s the divine call to salvation.

For example, in Romans 8:30 it says those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This call was part of God’s eternal plan for those who belong to Him in Jesus Christ. You need to understand this about salvation. Listen to this: Salvation is about much more than whether you go to heaven or hell. Did you get that? God’s plan of salvation is about more than whether you go to heave or hell.

If all God cared about was that you went to heaven, then right at the moment you were saved, he could take you up to be with Him. But that’s not what He does, right? Why not? Because salvation is not ultimately about you or me. Salvation is about the eternal glory of God. Through sinners like you and me, God is making His glory known in this world.

And part of the way God makes His love and power known is that once we are freed from the penalty of sin, God also beings to deliver us from the power of sin. He gives us a new heart, and He starts transforming our lives. God wants to use us to showcase what He’s like.

We are here as lights in a dark world. We’ll come back to Thessalonians in a bit, but flip back for a moment to the book of Ephesians. I want you to see how this idea gets unpacked in the book.

Look with me at Ephesians chapter 1, verse 3. Paul writes: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.

And why did God choose us? What was His purpose? That we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

And behind our call to holiness, what’s the greater purpose? Why did God do it? Verse 6 says it’s all to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Underline that in your Bible if you want. Because we have been called to salvation for the praise of God’s grace, we were called to be holy. Verse 12 repeats that same phrase as verse 6—we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. And verse 14 says it again. It’s all to the praise of His glory. This is not about you and me, ultimately. This is all about God. It’s all from Him and through Him and to Him.

Skip over to Ephesians 2, verse 7. Paul reminds us that we used to be dead in our sins. We belonged to Satan; we were his slaves. But God, who is rich in mercy and love, gave us new life in Jesus Christ. Why? Look at verse 7—so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

The greatest goal of your salvation is that God’s glory would be put on display. That’s the reason behind verse 10, which remind us that God created us for good works. He created us for holiness.

Understanding that reality, Ephesians 4 makes even more sense then. Look at Ephesians chapter 4, verse 1. Ephesians 4:1—I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

You belong to a holy God, so walk in holiness. Fulfill the purpose for which God called you. We see it again in chapter 5. Ephesians 5:1—Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

You’re a child of God now, so act like it. your heavenly Father is holy, and so you need to be holy. Verse 8 says: for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

You can go back to 1 Thessalonians 4 now. This is what Paul wants to remind the church about. You were called out of the filth of this world. That stuff only led to death.

Jesus didn’t save you so you could go on sinning. He called you out of your impurity, and He called you to share in His holiness. You have a holy calling. Don’t forget that. Remember God’s holy purpose in your life. You belong to Him, and He called you for His glory.

When you and I start taking the path back to our immorality, we are ignoring the holy punishment of God, and we are working against His holy purpose in our lives. And if we’re working against God’s purpose for our lives, we aren’t going to experience life the way God intended. When you forfeit God’s holy purpose for your life, you forfeit the joy and the peace He intends for you to live with. If you want to take the battle for purity seriously, and if you want to help others, don’t forget God’s holy purpose.

Lastly for today, we have principle number 3. The first principle was: remember God’s holy punishment. Principle number 2 was: remember God’s holy purpose. And now, principle number 3: Remember God’s holy provision. Remember God’s holy provision.

Look at verse 8. These are Paul’s final words on this subject—Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There are a couple things happening here. First, Paul is appealing to the divine authority of God’s word. Ultimately, this is not Paul’s message; it’s God. Sexual purity is not something church tradition came up with to keep people in line. Sexual purity is God’s will. He designed sex, and He has told us how we are to respond for His glory and for our good.

So, if you’re listening to this thinking, “Who cares? This is just what every pastor is supposed to be saying! Or what every mom and dad is supposed to be saying,” you’re missing something. You’re not just ignoring our church, or ignoring your parents, you are rebelling against the God who made you and has authority over your life.

Secondly, if you belong to Jesus Christ, if you’ve surrendered your life to Him, and if you continue in sexual sin, you’re working against what He wants in your life.

When you came to salvation, God forgave you. God cleansed you from your sin. He wiped your record clean through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God also gave you a new heart with the power to deny the sin in your life. But that wasn’t all, right? At the moment God called you to Himself, He also gave you a special gift. The Spirit of Christ came into your life, the Spirit of God.

Everyone who belongs to God has this Spirit. And more commonly, we refer to Him the same way Paul does in this verse. We call Him the Holy Spirit. We say that so much, that we don’t always think about what we’re saying. It is the Spirit of holiness. He is perfectly holiness, and He is working holiness in our lives.

Why did God give you His Holy Spirit? Because that’s the way He works in your life every day, from the inside. God has provided you with a Helper and an Encourager. The same Spirit that moved in men of God to give us the Bible is the Spirit working in your life to apply those truths. He makes them a reality at the level of your heart. And you can either cooperate with what He’s doing, or you can work against Him.

Imagine if there was some teenage boy who, every morning, had to either walk one hour to school or take the bus. And one day, when that kid turns 17, his uncle, who happens to be a mechanic gifts him a car of his own. Now, imagine that the uncle also said his nephew, “By the way, I’m going to cover all your expenses—the insurance, the gas, everything. Just bring it to my shop whenever you want, and I’ll fill up the tank. And by the way, make sure you bring me your car every three or four months, so I can change the oil and rotate the tires. I’ll take care of it for you.”

Do you think that teenager would listen to his uncle about how to take care of the car? He’d be a fool not to, right? This is the guy who gifted him the vehicle. This is a guy who knows how it works and has the means to keep it going. Why would someone want to work against that?

How do you think that would uncle feel if he saw his nephew walking to school again a week later? He’d be thinking: What are you doing? I gave you a car? I gave you everything you needed.

Well, it’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it’s close to what Paul is trying to say here. If God has mercifully saved you from your sin and called you to Himself, and if God has graciously given you His Spirit to guide you and empower you to walk in holiness, how can you ignore His work in your life and go following after your sin? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s foolishness, and it’s an offense to the God who has given you His Spirit.

At the end of Ephesians 4, Paul gives a number of sins we should stay away from. He says: don’t lie; don’t leave anger unaddressed in your life; don’t steal; don’t attack people with your words. And then He says: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

I think he’s making the same point there as he is here in First Thessalonians. When you pursue sin in your life, you grieve the Holy Spirit and you’re working against Him. Don’t do that.

God has made provision for your holiness in the Holy Spirit. He has given you the power of the risen Christ so that you can grow in love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. Don’t work against that.

Don’t try to feed your soul with the filth of this world, when God has so graciously and generously given us His pure and holy Spirit so that we can know Him. What an important reminder for us, and what an important reminder we can give to our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

As we spur one another on to love and to godliness, we can say: “I know the battle is hard. I have to fight it too. But if you continue down this path, you may end up in eternal judgment. Don’t go back to that filth. Remember God’s holy punishment. Remember God’s holy purpose in your life. You were called to something better. Sin was the old you; you’re a new creation. And, remember God’s holy provision in His Holy Spirit. We are not alone in this fight. We have each other, and we have the Spirit of God.”

More in First Thessalonians

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Purity in Relationships

December 4, 2022

Progressing in Purity

November 6, 2022

God's Design for Sexuality