Series: 1 Thessalonians: Waiting for Salvation

Called to Holiness

  • Jan 10, 2021
  • Tommy Johnston
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Good morning, Castleton Church family. I know it's on many of our minds. So I'm going to take a moment to address the events that happened on Wednesday at Washington, DC. We were sobered and saddened by the violence that unfolded as protests turned into a riot that broke into the Capitol Building. It's tragic what unfolded. Five people lost their lives, lots of property damage and inflamed tensions across our country. A lot of us are wondering what's going to happen next.

Now at this moment, I want us to realize as Christians, we have a unique concern in this situation, because if you may have even seen, the name of Christ was actually attached to those events. There were rallies leading up to the day where people explicitly tied their Christian faith to this movement, but even more than that, there are pictures and videos of people carrying banners that said, Jesus 2020 on them, as they were breaking into the Capitol Building, and even the Christian flag itself was one of the flags that was paraded through as they trespassed.

Now, brothers and sisters, we need to think carefully about how to respond to this. We need to remember the words of Jesus in John 18:36. When He was Pontius Pilate, He said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, but then I might not be delivered over to the Jews, but My kingdom is not from this world." Jesus there very explicitly makes clear that there can be no conflation, no bringing together of political action and violence with the kingdom of God.

This movement of Christian nationalism that is blending together Christianity and a particular political ideology is a dangerous thing, indeed. We also need to realize that violence is never the answer to advancing the kingdom of God. So how should we respond to this? Let me say there's three things, I think we should be able to agree on.

First, it's that political violence and anyone who calls for it is obviously out of step with the Christian faith. That's not something that a Christian should support or be part of and we should be quick to denounce anyone who calls for such action. Second is that it's vitally important that we keep clear the message of the gospel from our political opinions. I preached a sermon back on October 18th that went into depth on how to do that, but let's just make it a goal that we have together that we want to make sure that we separate the message of the gospel of Jesus from the matters of our opinions about what should happen in the political arena.

Third, this should be a reminder that our nation is greatly in need of prayer. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 reads, "First of all, then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." Now more than ever, we need to not trust in princes or chariots, but to our God who is King over us all and we need to, on our knees ask. Ask for peace so that we can live peaceful, quiet lives, but ask for peace for our neighbors so they can hear the good news of Jesus and come to know Him themselves.

Brothers and sisters, these are trying times we live in. So I think there's no better way for us to act at this moment than for us to pray together. Would you pray with me? Father, we ask You to show mercy to our nation. Would You grant us even more so than we deserve. Would You grant us peace and tranquility and would do You allow for there to be room for our neighbors to be able to hear the gospel of Jesus. Would you protect us from violence and from the unrest that is threatening to shatter our nation. We ask these things, not just because we want to live comfortable, safe lives, Lord Jesus, but because Your word instructs us to pray for them. Our trust is in You, and we know You will sustain us for whatever days we have ahead to follow You. So we ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Parents, this morning, our message will be on a topic that is rated PG. So if you're in the habit of listening to the sermon maybe at home with your kids in the room, I invite you to maybe consider watching the recording of it later or asking them to leave the room, if you deem that appropriate. Our passage this morning is from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. I'll read the passage and then we will feast on God's word together.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. "Finally, then brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you receive from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you were doing, that you do so more and more, for you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality, that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. Not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God, that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter. Because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand, and solemnly warned you.

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this disregards not man, but God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." Brothers and sisters, this is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. I remember a college student coming and very earnestly asking me, "Tommy, I need to know what God's will is for my life." I'd been doing college ministry for several years at this point and had heard this question a number of times. So I had an answer prepared for him. I got a smile on my face. I said, "I've got good news for your brother. I can tell you exactly what God's will is for your life." His face lit up. He was so excited. I said, "Yeah, let's just open our Bibles look. He has it right here in 1 Thessalonians 4:3." He was shocked. "I didn't know that that could be in the Bible. What is it?"

I said, "Well, verse three, it says, 'That this is the will of God, your sanctification.'" He got a puzzled expression on his face. "Sanctification. What does that mean?" I told him, "It means God wants you to be more like Jesus." Well, the disappointment on his face was not hard to read. I understood why, I knew what he was asking. He, like so many others, want to know God's secret providential will for their lives. Who to marry, what college to go to, what fast food joint I should go to for lunch. I remember one Christian author writing the importance of knowing this secret will of God saying, that you should never even come to a fork in the road if you're on a horseback ride without seeking God's will, whether you should go left or right.

Now, I'm not saying it's not important, that we should not pray or ask God for guidance. That's a very important thing, and I did in fact do that with the student, but I'd come to the conviction after answering this question enough times that what we need is not so much God's will for us, particularly. More often, what Christians need is to know God's will for all of us, His revealed will, like what we have in 1 Thessalonians 4:3. Paul was writing a letter to the Thessalonians and as he did so, we come to a bit of a crossroads in that letter. He's shifting from talking about, in the past, what has occurred, his relationship with them and him writing this letter, to now in chapter four, talking about what he hopes will happen in the future.

He reveals what he hopes most in verse one. "Just as you are doing that, you do so more and more." What he wants more than anything is for them to be more pleasing to God, more like Jesus each and every day. It turns out that's not just a desire the apostle Paul had for a church 2,000 years ago, that is God's desire for each and every Christian, and that means for you and I this morning. These next three Sundays, we're going to look at different aspects of how that plays out, specific instructions for different arenas that we please God more and more, becoming like Jesus.

This morning, the emphasis is on holiness. The message God has for us is this, God wants you to live a life that is holy, holy, holy. It doesn't take a PhD in New Testament to see that this is what this passage is about. There is a three times repeated that God expects for us to live holy lives in one way or another. In verse three, that word for sanctification is the word holiness. That's what God wants for you. Holiness. You can see the same thing in verse four, that you are to control your body in holiness and honor.

Then in verse seven, "You were not called in impurity, but in holiness," but how actually achieve it? Well, how do we live it out? Well, this passage has a pattern of threes running through it. So of course, with a pattern was so many threes, I will give you two points this morning, two points. First, how to live a life that is holy, holy, holy. That's the steps you take to become come holy, verses three through six, and then second, why to live a life that is holy, holy, holy. That's in the second half of verse six through verse eight, and all of this we'll that God wants us to live a life that is holy, holy, holy. Let's begin with that first section. You,

They do it. How to live a life that is holy, holy, holy. There are ... As I mentioned, there's a pattern of threes running through this passage. There's three instructions that are given in these verses of practical steps to take toward holiness, specifically in the area of sexual holiness. In verse three, you see it ... Paul giving a bit of a summary of it. "For this is God's will, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality." The word that will clue us in for each of these three steps. That first one, that you abstain from sexual immorality has a bit of wordplay going on in it in the original Greek.

The word used for abstain is to separate from. That ties into the concept of holiness. Holiness is a concept of separation. If you remember back to the temple that Solomon built, Solomon made holy or sanctified, a series of articles, a furniture and tools to be used in the temple. He set them aside so that they would only be used for service to God. You can think a little bit like when you're in the kitchen, maybe you have two different cutting boards. One that you use while you're cutting the raw meat and a completely different one and a different knife you would use when you're cutting the vegetables. You set one aside so that you don't bring the infection from the meat over to the vegetables.

Well, in a bit of a wordplay in this passage, that idea of separation is applied to believers. One commentator put it this way. It's as if Paul is saying the separate ones, that's Christians, must live separately from all this sexual immorality. Now, you may ask, what sort of sexual immorality does Paul have in mind? The word used for it is porneia. That is where we get our word for pornography from. It's really a catchall term to describe all forms of sexual activity outside of the bonds of marriage. It's saying, anything outside of God's design for one man and one woman in holy marriage.

Paul says, "Christians, they must separate themselves from all of it. They must be other, different, completely apart from any sort of activity." Well, that gets even more radical with the second instruction you see in verses four through five. He instructs them to have radical restraint. Verse four, you see the second instruction starting with that, "That each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor." Paul says that they must learn to control or to master or reign over their own bodies. There is a need for Christians to know how to control and restrain, even the appetites that are intrinsic to being human.

In other areas of life, it's obvious that you need to learn to control yourself. One time I was serving at a Christian camp and I was called to a cabin because someone was feeling ill and they needed to call their parents. So I went over right away and sure enough, there was a boy laying down on his bunk and he did not look good. His face was pale and I could tell he was not feeling well. He said, "Can I please call my mom?" I said, "Sure." So I gave him my phone and he called and then I overheard what he said to his mom.

He said, "Mom, I feel terrible. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I guess I ate a little bit of candy. How much? I guess I ate two pounds of candy." Well, in addition to hearing some very loud instruction happening over the phone, it was pretty obvious what had happened. This boy's lack of restraint when it came to eating candy had resulted in him having a gigantic stomach ache. If you lack restraint in your ability to limit how much entertainment you watch, you end up binge-watching Netflix. If you lack restraint in your finances, you end up in debt, but we live in a day and age that doesn't think much about what lack of restraint when it comes to our sexual appetites will do.

Paul tells us that we as Christians must be the sort of people that can put a bit in [bridal 00:16:53] in our sexual urges. That we can control them, master over them so they would not, in fact, lead us into sin. Your appetites, if you leave them unchecked, they will lead you down a road you don't want to go on. What starts off giving you satisfaction will one day lead you to addiction, and then finally, after its course is run, it will lead you into destruction. Realize that what Paul said would have been radical in the day he lives and it's radical today as well. We live in a day where there are not many people that think that restraints on sexuality in almost any arena are popular.

That to restrain yourself is to repress your truest self, and yet more than ever, we need the word that Paul had for the Thessalonians and they knew a thing or about sexual expression and sexual freedom. The Thessalonians were obviously living during the ... Paul was writing to them to while the Roman empire was in power, and at that time there was quite a bit of what we might say, sexual sin that was going on in that day. We have a writer, a very famous writer by the name of Demosthenes. He said this, he said, "Mistresses, we keep for our pleasure, concubines for our day-to-day physical wellbeing, and wives in order to barest legitimate children and to serve as trustworthy guardians over households."

I hope you are repulsed by that quote. That is awful. That is evil, and yet that was exactly the thought of the day that was alive in the Roman empire, and in Paul's day. The Thessalonian church, Thessaloniki, they had no shortage of temptations to draw them into this sort of sexual sin. There were actually cultic ... There were temples where you could go to and blend your religion with sexual activity.

There were prostitutes all over the place. It was a really, really dark time for the sexual temptation. In this light, Paul tells them there needs to be a contrast between the way everyone else lives in the way that you as a Christian lives. Look at verse five. He says, "Not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God." Their ignorance of God outside the church and the world, it leads them to pursue other gods. Yes, even the god of pleasure, of pursuit of sexual satisfaction, but it's not supposed to be so in the church. We know the true God, the Holy God and we are to be Holy as He is Holy. That sort of contrast would have stood out in ancient Thessaloniki, it still stands out today. So brothers and sisters, I hope you want to have that witness in the way you conduct yourself, that people will look at your life and say, "Why do they live that way? Why don't they indulge the way we do?" And as they answer that question, maybe they would even find out something about the God that you serve.

There's a third step that Paul gives. It's found in verse six. It's to be careful not to do harm to other Christians. He says, "That no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter." The word transgress has the idea of someone who has crossed a boundary. You might say someone who is trespassing. They've entered somewhere they have no business being. Now, the fact that this is specifically against a brother, very likely means that there is, in addition to the sexual sin itself, there is damage done to the relationships within the Christian community.

Maybe it's the sin of adultery that harms both the two people involved, as well as the spouses that have been wronged, or maybe it's someone that's under your spiritual care or a member of your family that is in some way wronged, and therefore you are harmed as well. You see brothers and sisters very often sexual sin doesn't just harm the person who engages in it. It actually harms those around them as well. We got a vivid reminder of this over these last few weeks with the revelations of the life of Ravi Zacharias. I know so many of us looked up to him and benefited from his ministry, and yet I'm very sad to say, it appears to be true, that he engaged in a regular pattern of horrendous, evil, sexual sin.

Ravi's actions didn't just harm his own soul. There were women that were greatly harmed by his actions. Think of the damage that has been done to his family, to his ministry, with a worldwide reach, to the witness of Jesus around the world. Maybe even you find yourself feeling outraged and wounded, discouraged by that news that broke. You're not wrong to. Sexual sin by Christians harms those that they're connected to, and if we're in the body of Christ, we're connected to quite a lot of people.

Brothers and sisters, there's a warning here to all of us. We should never want to be the cause of stumbling to another believer, and let me just say, there's a warning here, particularly to mature believers. You could do this. It's not because of lack of knowledge or lack of understanding of what God wants that leads people into sin like this. You could still do this, even if you've walked for Christ for decades. May that never be true of us. Would we do whatever it takes to keep our lives Holy and to prevent ourselves from harming other Christians with our sin.

Now rules are one thing. Paul gave them three sets of instructions of what they are to do, but I don't know if you've noticed this in your life, rules can only take you so far. Now you need sturdy motivations if you are to carry out a difficult task, and that's exactly where he turns next. From the how to live a life that is holy, holy, holy, to the why to live a life that is holy, holy, holy in verses six through eight, because there's three reasons that we should live a life that is holy, holy, holy. Each of them attached to a different member of yes, the Holy Trinity.

In verse six, he tells us because Jesus will judge us, because Jesus will judge us. So I'll read the first part of the verse again, "That no one transgress and wrong his brother in the matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand, and solemnly warned you." Paul had apparently told the Thessalonian believers of the second coming of Christ, that great day of accountability. A meeting that we are all heading to, and none of us can reschedule. He warned them that on that day, they will meet Jesus, not meek and mild, but Jesus in all the glory and the authority as Judge over all humanity.

On that day, they, and all of us will give an account to Jesus, the Judge who sees and knows all. That reminder by Paul is meant to help motivate them to restrain themselves from indulging in sexual sin. Do you notice how accountability helps you to restrain yourself in other areas of life? That maybe you're driving along on the highway and everyone's going the same speed, which is yes, it's over the speed limit more often than not. Then suddenly everyone, at the same time, as if it's choreographed, slows down 10 or 15 miles an hour, and lo and behold, there's a police car on the side of the road.

Just the thought that you might get caught speeding causes you to lower the speed of your car even for just a short amount of time. Accountability can provide motivation for you for restraint in some areas, but recognize that accountability is only helpful as far as it extends. Once you feel like you're out of the police cars' eye shot, you speed right back up many times, right? But what does it do to know that every single action you take, every thought that you have, every desire in your heart is known by the One that will judge you on the final day?

It should bring a sobriety to the way you live your life. You realize, you might be able to fool your spouse. You might be able to fool your accountability partner. You might even be able to fool me as your pastor, but there is zero chance that you will be able to fool Jesus Christ when He asks you to give an account for your life. Writer of Proverbs told us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and a healthy fear of judgment day is a great motivator toward holiness. Now, let's recognize though that fear and accountability only take us so far. Well, that's why we have a second motivation in verse seven, because the Father has called us, because the Father has called us. "For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness."

Paul reminds them what happened when they came to Christ, there was a status change that occurred. They went from being sinners to being saints, from being heathens to being holy, and none of that was anything that they did for themselves. That was all God's action. They were called by the Father, chosen in eternity past and received as a gift, all the treasures that are in Christ. Forgiveness, adoption, and yes, a new holy perfect life clothed in the very righteousness of Christ. Paul reminds them of all of that and says, "That's who you really are. So live like it." That's who you really are. So live in line with it. Maybe you're listening to this sermon this morning, and you're not a Christian.

Many times, people believe that Christianity is like all the other religions in the world. That in some sense, it's a creed or set of rules to follow that will allow you to improve yourself and your standing with God. It's true. The Bible does have many, many instructions in how we are to live our lives. This passage is one of them, but the message of the Bible of how we're to be right with God could not be more different than that. Now, the message of the Bible is that you have already failed to live a life that is worthy of God, that if you were to be ushered into God's presence and He were to make a judgment about whether you are pleasing to Him or not, that you along with all the rest of us would be found wanting.

Bible teaches that God is Holy. That He's perfect. There is no sin in Him and each and every one of us, we have sinful hearts within us and we live in a way that is frankly, it is disgusting in the sight of a Holy God. But the good news is that God, that you could never measure up to never live well enough to please on your own, is also a God full of grace and mercy and He sent His Son, Jesus to do what you could never do, to live a perfectly holy life and to make a way for rotten sinners like you and me to actually be in a relationship with Him of love. Jesus came and lived a perfect life. He never gave into temptation. He never did anything to harm anyone else, sexually or otherwise and anything but the purest of action. He was the perfect man and fulfilling all of the law of His Father, He gave up His life as a substitute.

By His death on the cross, Jesus took the punishment that our sins deserve and He promises that if you believe in Him, that you can have your sins forgiven and you can actually know God without dread. You can look forward to the day where He will return and bring everyone into a relationship with God, without end. If you put your trust in Him, if you turn from your sin and trust Him, instead. Something vitally important to understand is that while keeping rules and morality, doesn't make us right with God. That if we do, in fact, truly know God through Jesus Christ, it will change the way we live. I hope you've had Christians around you that have done that, that have lived the life that's different that you can notice.

And if you haven't, if you've had people that have claimed to be Christians, but have lived lives that are frankly not pleasing to God ... Let me just say that that is not the way it's supposed to be. I ask you to search out what the Bible says for yourself. I hope in this church that you will find people that genuinely and earnestly seek to live in a way that pleases God with the power that God gives them. There's a third motivation to holy living, and that is in verse eight, because the Spirit is in you. The Spirit is in you. "Therefore, whoever describes this disregards, not man, but God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. The Spirit is here given the title of Holy Spirit, as He often is, fitting with the theme of the passage.

God gives us, not just a set of rules to follow, but the help we need to be able to follow them. He sends His very Spirit to come live inside us. The third member of the Trinity. He comes and inhabits each and every one of us as our helper and as He does so, He brings God's very presence into our hearts. The Father and the Son come and they live within us through the Spirit's presence, and even more than that, He provides us with the power we need to live a life that God has called us to. Yes, even a life of holiness. Now there's a danger, of course. It's possible to silence the work of the Spirit within you. You see how Paul described that, to disregard God. You could think of it like when you get a phone call from someone you don't particularly want to talk to and you send them straight to your voicemail.

It's possible when you feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit or a prompting from Him, that in the desire to live out whatever temptation it is that you're considering that you silence Him in that moment. When you do friend, you are doing more than ignoring a book you read, you are doing more than disregarding something you heard in this sermon. You are doing more than disregarding even someone God has put in your life like a mentor or a pastor. You are disregarding God Himself. That is a sin on top of a sin. Friends, listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He is put there by your Father for your good. He will help you in your moment of temptation.

He will show you the way out. He will bring to mind sections of scripture and bits of wisdom to help you fight back against the temptations that make war in your body. Don't silence Him, seek after Him and follow His lead out of temptation. Now, those three motivations matched with the three instructions should have us all convinced that we need to, and we can live a life that is holy, holy, holy. That's what God wants for us, and that's with His help, what we can in fact do as Christians. Well, let me just address some things that this sermon may have stirred up in you this morning.

For some, anytime we talk about sexual sin, it will stir up painful memories of things that have been done in your life that should never have been done. If you're listening to this sermon and maybe someone has sinned against you greatly in your past, let me just say that you do not deserve to have that sort of wound inflicted upon you, but even more than that, I hope you draw comfort that from passages like this one, that God takes seriously the sins that are committed, yes, even by Christians. One day, Jesus will come back and even if whoever harmed you is never brought to justice in this world, they will not escape the justice of our Lord Jesus.

I hope you take comfort in the fact that God cares. He knows your wounds, and He knows the wrongs that were done against you and one day, they will be made right. Second, some of us will ... Listening to a sermon like, this will have our own sins brought before our mind's eye. We may be made uncomfortable by the fact that there are things in our lives that are not, in fact, in step with what a Christian should have in their lives, and if that's you this morning, the fact that you would feel conviction or guilt is in fact a gift from God. Don't silence the Spirit in this moment.

No, use His warning to lead you to repent, to turn from the sin. While it may seem like it's going to give you satisfaction, it's only going to lead to your destruction. Listen, and turn and find again, the joy of serving Jesus with a clear conscience. For some of us this morning, messages like this will bring to mind, not active sins, but ones that we've long repented of, things we wish we could undo, but we have no power to go back and undo. Sometimes even you may experience a great feelings of shame thinking about those moments.

A word for you this morning, there is, there is something more true of you than the sins of your past. You weren't called to God in impurity. You were called in holiness. That's what's most true of you. That's who you are. When Jesus wipes away your sins, it means there's no condemnation left, and even if the tempter and your flesh seek to remind you again and again of the ways you have failed, know the way God sees you. If you're clothed in Christ's righteousness, you are a holy one. So live like it and do so with the confidence that on the final day, you will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

To all of us, there should be a renewed sense of the weight of our sins, of what harm they can cause in our own souls and to others, but even more than that, the weightiness of the price that was paid to redeem us from those sins. Brothers and sisters, as the Lord would have it, He has given us a reminder of both those things and what we get to partake of together now in the Lord's table. May He reminds us that we are called to be a people that is holy, holy, holy, and by His Spirit and by His grace, may He help us to live such a life.

Let's pray. Father, we are sobered by how easily we could, ourselves, transgress, how we could live a life that is a walking contradiction. Would You keep us, help us to restrain our urges in our bodies in a way that is fitting in honor. Would You by Your Spirit, in Your word, even now, would You help us to be more and more like Jesus, even in the way that we ... Even the way that we separate ourselves from all forms of sexual immorality. Jesus, I pray that anyone that might need to turn away from their sin and back to You, that they might use this time at the Lord's table, this meeting with You, that they might use this as the time to restore their joy and find a renewed sense that they are living a life pleasing to You. We ask You to do that and much more than we could think to ask or imagine in Your mighty name. Amen.

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