1 Thessalonians 4:1-10: Three Tools for Holiness
July 15, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Real biblical holiness is a topic that is often misunderstood, rarely discussed, and even less often pursued! On the one hand, there are those who seem to view holiness as the list of dos and don’ts. You must do this; you must not do that. These kind of list-gatherers can also verge towards legalism: the doctrine that we are saved by what we do, rather than what Christ has done.
But on the other hand, there are also those who seem to view that Christ’s grace is an excuse to sin, not a remedy for sin. But Christ saves us from sin; he does not save us so that we can sin. The aim of salvation is to present us to Christ as his redeemed people, holy and righteous. We are first declared right by grace in the righteousness of Christ. And then in that grace and by his power we called to live holy lives. It is to this calling that Paul here in this passage urges us: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” He gives us three tools for holiness.
First, Paul tells us that we must learn to control our own body. In other words, becoming holy with our physical bodies – including sexual immorality – is not, even for the Christian, something that is going to come easily or without effort. We must learn it. We must work at it. We must study how to be holy. Let me here then recommend two books on holiness. First is J.C. Ryle’s classic book on holiness called simply Holiness. If you haven’t read that book, then go across to Amazon and get it! The other book I would recommend is briefer, not quite as old, but still a classic: Jerry Bridges The Pursuit of Holiness. Again, if you don’t have that book or haven’t read it, then do what you can to get it and read it and learn how to be holy.
But perhaps you do not have access to either of those books: what can you do to learn holiness right now? First, make sure you really are a Christian. Holiness is a spiritual work, and it requires the power of God’s Spirit. Ask God’s Spirit to make you born again. Ask God to give you his Holy Spirit so that you might be holy. Then, second, get to work. Tackle that sinful habit, that disease, by going right to the roots. Ask yourself why you tend to sin that way. What is behind it? What is the sin behind the sin? Dig out that sin, look at it, judge it for what it is – a seed of hell to drown you in eternal perdition – and be done with it. Then, third, focus forward. Pursue peace and love and hope in the fellowship of the church. Think about what is gracious and righteous and true. Fix your eyes upon Jesus, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
Second, Paul warns them. Paul tells them that whoever rejects this instruction to be holy does not reject a human being, but is actually rejecting God. This is serious, in other words. It matters. You can’t play with sin, toy with sin, cozy up to sin. All sin has as its ultimate goal your destruction. And to reject this call to holiness is to reject God himself.
Third, Paul encourages them. They are good at loving each other. Well done, says Paul! Excellent! He notices what they are good at and then commends them for it. If you are a real Christian, you have God’s Spirit within you, then there will be good fruit at work in your life. Be encouraged! God has given you his love, and you are loving other Christians. That is a good thing! Well done! And therefore, says Paul, we urge you to love each other more and more. What you are good at, do more and more.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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