As a church we’ve been going through a series called “Abiding faith” from 1 Thessalonians. Today’s we are going to see how this kind of abiding, enduring, long lasting faith produces holiness.
“Escaping sexual sin” is the title of the message. But some of us may ask, “how relevant is a message on escaping sexual sin during this time of a pandemic and a lockdown? People can’t even go outside!”
Even in the letter to Thessalonians so far, Paul has spoken about suffering and love and concern, why suddenly shift gears and talk about holiness especially in the area of sexuality? One of the reasons could be due to the challenging context of the Thessalonian believers.
After all they were living in a trading centre, commercial hub, progressive city like Thessalonica. It had easy accessibility to a lot of stuff which also has its downside – sexual immorality was open and prevalent.
In the midst of severe suffering and isolation, the believers could be tempted to let their guard down by saying to themselves deceiving things like:
i) “I’m going through so much pain and loneliness right now. Sexual sin allows me to escape & forget what I’m going through now”.
ii) “Paul who is my spiritual father in the faith – he shared the good news about Jesus to me for the first time is not here right now. He’s far away in another city. So no one will even get to know if I mess with sexual sin”.
iii) “So far I think I’ve been doing great spiritually. In fact all over the Christian world, churches are talking about my faith and radical testimony. I probably can take it easy spiritually. Take a break from my spiritual life”.
And even as we’re hearing this, we realize that this is not too distant from our experience in this COVID-19 pandemic with social distancing and lockdown imposed in many parts of the globe.
We are in no way exempt from these thoughts and temptations. And it’s in the midst of this context, that Paul earnestly pleads the church & us to strive for holy living unto God all the more! It’s almost like he’s saying “It’s not the time to take it easy. It’s not the time to let your guards down.
Now more than ever you need to pay attention on how you’re living your life”.
Why should we do all the more?
V3 For this is God’s will for you -> your sanctification.
Sanctification means being purified to be used by God. God’s will for us is purification so that we can be used by Him. One of the key areas that requires purification in our lives is our “Sexuality”.
That’s why he follows that up with – that you abstain from sexual immorality. That word “sexual immorality” comes from the Greek word “pornea” which describes every kind of sexual sin that we engage in outside of the commitment of marriage – fornication (sex before marriage), adultery (sex outside of marriage), lustful thoughts, homosexuality, incest, bestiality etc. God’s will and command for us is that we abstain from sexual immorality!
I remember that this was one of the first bible passages that I read when I started following Jesus some years back. At the time I thought this area of sexual sin was only something I had to deal with only for a few years.
Little did I know and expect that this was going to be something to fought against throughout my lifetime. Brothers and sisters, if you can relate or if you’re experiencing despair or hopelessness in your fight with sexual sin, I’d invite you to look at the “help” that is made available for us in this passage.
We’ll look at the commands off course, but also spend some time trying to understand what is the “help” that God provided for us & I’ll close with 3 applications at the end.
The first help available for us:
- New Desires
God’s given us “new desires for Him”. (v4, 5)
4 that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
In these two verses, Paul is contrasting believers of Jesus with those don’t believe in Him. He is saying that believers “can and should control their body in holiness and reverence” while Gentiles/people who don’t believe in Jesus are incapable of doing that because they are controlled by their sinful desires.
What’s the difference here? Because believers in Jesus Christ “know God” and have a new relationship with God, they also have new desires for God.
Some years back while having a conversation with a brother in Christ on this topic, and he said something that I thought has been immensely useful. He said what helped him was questioning his heart “do I love Jesus more or do I love this sin more?”
That’s an important question we need to constantly ask ourselves because that determines our responses to temptations.
In Genesis, we are told an account of Joseph while he was at Potiphar’s house. God had given Joseph favour in the eyes of his master and he became the overseer & in charge of everything he had.
Now Potiphar’s wife had her eyes on him and Scripture says “day after day she tried to lure him by telling him to lie with her”. But he refused her repeatedly. Now to the world this might seem stupid.
“She’s throwing herself at him day after day! Joseph is a fool & an idiot. Here’s an open opportunity that no one would’ve even come to know of”.
But we know why he refused repeatedly in his response to her. Joseph said “how then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” At the point of his vulnerability and utmost weakness, his desire for God is what kept him from falling.
Many times we get into that thought process thinking that sexual desire is so strong that we have no option but to succumb to it. That’s an absolute lie and the deception of sin!
John Piper has this saying “if the stakes are high like someone threatening to kill you at a moment of great sexual desire or the reward is great like someone giving you a $1 million cheque at a moment of great sexual desire, from somewhere or the other you will muster the strength to control yourself because of the greater emotion of fear or greed controls you”.
And this is just an example at a physiological level. How much more will we be able to control our bodies in holiness and honor, because God has replaced our dead desires with new desires for Him!
- New name (v7)
7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
God “calling us” gives us the image of God the Father calling and inviting us into fellowship with Him – God calls us by a new name – a better name.
Obviously, I’m not talking literally changing our human names. It’s not as though God literally puts the word “saint” in front of our name for ex. By putting St. in front of my name that I become “holy”!
What I mean by God giving us a new name & better name is that he doesn’t look at us and refer to us as “unholy sinners” or “impure enemies” but instead He calls us His very own children who like Him reflect holiness!
But how can we be considered as His holy children? We might assume – “Well it must be my best efforts and my good works. The sum of all the righteous things that I do in this life is what makes me holy.” Isaiah 64:6 tells us that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”!
So if we were to put together the best of our works, they would at the most qualify as soiled and dirty rags. Why because? The standard of measurement of holiness is not among ourselves but with God.
So how then does God give us a new name “calling us His holy children”? He does that by sending His perfect and pure Son into the world (Jesus).
In the history of the world there has been only one person who by God’s standard has lived a 100% holy life and that is Jesus.
Two weeks back we remembered Jesus’ suffering and death on Good Friday – why did the only person who lived a holy life then die brutally on a Roman cross? It’s because He willingly and lovingly took on the punishment by dying for our lust, our abuses and our immorality.
Three days later he rose from the grave to give us a new name so that whoever who turn from their sins and themselves and would turn toward Jesus and what He did for them, they would now receive the gift of a new name as His holy children!
John 1:12: Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
And this name is a permanent name because it no longer based on my failing performance but on Jesus’ perfect performance. This new and permanent name is the key motivation to living holy lives.
I once heard a pastor mention of how his parenting radically changed over the years as he grew in his understanding of God’s grace. Initially whenever he needed to discipline his son, he would tell him – “Don’t do this. You’ll be a bad boy if you do this”.
Now for many of us this is a normal statement. But when you think about it – in essence what it communicates is that what the boy did (good or bad) defined who he was and defined his relationship with the parent.
Over the years as the pastor understood God’s grace deeper, it started impacting his parenting as well. Now every time he disciplines his Son, he tells him “Son, I don’t want you to do this because you are my Son and because I love you”.
Just think about it – this will actually motivate the boy to do what the father wanted him to do because he is so secure in the committed love of his father. Similarly, and in a much greater measure, is God’s committed love toward us.
Through Jesus, He has given us the assurance that nothing will change the relationship equation – nothing will make God say to us “you are not my son or daughter” – “I’m taking your name of my name”. And that’s such a powerful motivator to help us live holy lives.
And that’s a powerful motivator to helps us with repentance! When we realize that God has given us a permanent name, it allows us to run back to him and repent sincerely.
This is not taking grace lightly. I’m not talking about regret where we feel guilty about the consequences of sin but genuine repentance where we grieve over what we’ve done against God and others & find healing because as His children we desire a relationship with God. We don’t want to live away from Him. He is our Father and He has given us a new name.
- His Spirit
8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
There is serious weight and authority in this instruction but also it provides us with help & hope by telling us that we’ve been given the Holy Spirit! In a sense, God is trying to tell us that He is so serious about making us holy that He has literally poured out His Spirit on us.
Ezekiel 36:26,27 – 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.[a]
The Holy Spirit that is placed within us will “cause us to walk in obedience to God in a manner that pleases Him”. Brothers and sisters –I want you guys to know that as I’m preaching on this topic, I’m not preaching from a standpoint of being a perfect believer who is preaching down on people.
I’ll be honest to say that I’ve seen and experienced the brokenness of this sin struggle myself in my thoughts, my actions and the way I’ve related with people. But from being in a place where I thought I was always going to live a defeated Christian life, God through His Spirit has brought me to a place where I see myself fighting today.
I’m by no means a finished product but I say this to testify on how the Spirit has been working especially in this arena of sexual sin and that’s why I’m passionate to help people who are struggling in this area.
I want to close by sharing 3 final applications which I hope can encourage anyone who is currently in a place of struggle:
• This temptation is not unique to us –
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. (1 Cor 10:13). For the longest time, I always thought I was alone in this struggle and that’s why I kept myself isolated and this sin hidden.
But when the Spirit opened my eyes to see that it isn’t unique, it allowed me to open up and be vulnerable to my brothers and sisters in Christ who would actually call me to repentance and remind me of the gospel when I need to hear it the most.
• Jesus faced every temptation that we’ve faced –
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15,16)
The Spirit opened my eyes to see that Jesus faced every temptation we’ve faced which includes sexual temptation yet without sin. And because He understands what I face, He can perfectly pray to the Father for me and also send the mercy and grace that I need.
• Spiritual disciplines are means of grace –
There was a season in my life when I erroneously assumed that if I practiced spiritual disciplines then I was a legalist and not living by grace.
The Spirit opened my eyes so that I could see that reading Scripture, prayer, having someone keep my life accountable with other believers and paying attention to what I watch and read were not so that God can measure my good or bad performance.
Rather these were gifts from God to know Him better and live in the freedom that He intended for me.
During this lockdown situation especially where we are being and being socially distanced from others – lets remember it is a ripe field for temptation.
He has actually provided you with the help you need – he’s given you new desires, he’s given you a new name and he’s given you His own Spirit which can help you fight sexual sins and live in holiness unto God!