Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pleasing God with Your Purity

The believer’s life is to be spent walking so as to please God. Pleasing God is not a matter of personal preference. Pleasing God is a divine imperative! 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 help us to understand that truth, and the first verse of that passage is crystal clear - "we beseech you, brethren, and exhort [you] by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God." Passages such as Galatians 5:16and Ephesians 5:1-2 reinforce that truth. Not only do we have the example and exhortation of Paul to walk pleasing unto God, but this was also the pattern of the Lord Jesus: “For I do always those things that please Him” John 8:29b.

God does not exist for us. He does not exist to grant us our wishes. Instead, we exist for Him; we exist to bring praise and glory to His name! Striving to please God with all that we think, say, or do is the bedrock foundation upon which Christian ethical behavior is established. But do not think that living to please God means taking on a Pharisaical mind-set of observing a long list of “do’s & don’ts”. And do not think that living to please God means that you must lead a monotonous life which is bereft of any joy or pleasure.

That just is not true. Living in order to please God is a radical principle of pleasing the Law-giver; not living to appease the law itself. God is not opposed to your pleasure. He is committed to it, and true pleasure is something that only comes from God. Do not think that God created man only to make man miserable. Instead, the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever!

Now let’s talk in very practical terms; terms which are relevant to our text. One clear and obvious way in which you can walk so as to please God is in the area of sexual purity. God has provided you with His standard in regards to your physical urges and your natural drives. That standard is this: “abstain from fornication”. This standard was repeated in Ephesians 5:3. There is to be not even a hint of immorality in the life of the believer!

You may be thinking, “That’s impossible! Living with ‘not even a hint of immorality’ in this culture is just not realistic. Maybe in Paul’s day when everybody was basically moral this type of standard was doable, but not today!”

“Abstain from fornication” is the standard, and has always been the standard, and will always be the standard, and do not think that Paul’s day was one of moral restraint. Instead, it was a time of licentious debauchery and promiscuity. The Greco-Roman world in which the early churches ministered, and during which time the New Testament was written, was even more debased than our 21st century culture. Immorality was accepted, condoned, and even encouraged. Do not think for even a moment that Paul gave this standard of abstaining from fornication; of living without even a hint of immorality; in some chaste, prudish historical era. The culture to which this letter was originally written viewed immorality as neither immoral nor illegal; it was customary!

From such a lifestyle and culture the Thessalonians had been redeemed. They had been freed by Christ, and were now a new creation, and as such they were to “put off…the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and…put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Have you ever wondered why “lust” is “deceitful”, as Paul said there in Ephesians 4:22? Why do we think that indulgence equals freedom and pleasure? Indulging in your lustful desires will not grant you freedom; it will actually rob you of freedom and true joy and pleasure. When you indulge in a life of sin (“deceitful lusts”) and do whatever feels good, you’re not free. You’re enslaved to your sin. Only the power of the gospel can free you from that prison. Once you are saved God’s Holy Spirit emancipates and empowers you to “abstain from fornication” and to live with not even a hint of immorality. The gospel enables you to do what you were originally created to do: enjoy and glorify God with your life. The gospel frees you from both legalism and indulgence, and because of the Holy Spirit you are able to resist sin and apply God’s Word. A Spirit-filled, Spirit-led life is not one marked by being a “rule-keeper” or by being a “rule-hater”. Instead, it is the life of one who is submitted to the direction, agenda, values, and priorities of God’s Word; walking so as to please God, and thereby enjoying life to the fullest.

In regards to our text, I want to briefly ask and answer three questions.

What Kind of Sexual Conduct Does God Require?

The answer is simple and straightforward: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification…abstain from fornication”. Let’s define some terms. Sanctification is the process of being separated from sin and set apart to God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, through the power of His Word, and through fellowship with other believers whereby God peels away our desire for sin, renews our minds, and changes our lives.

The word abstain means “to hold back and refrain from”. The Greek word translated fornication is porneia and from it we get the English “pornography”. This term is used to describe any kind of sexual immorality. Therefore, the idea here is to stay completely away from any thought or behavior that violates God’s plan for sex. Any activity, whether physical or mental, which deviates from the monogamous relationship of a husband and wife is not pleasing to God!

Our good God has ordained that the only type of sexual conduct that is pleasing unto Him is within the context of marriage: the marriage of one man to one woman.
How Can a Believer be Sexually Pure?

First, a believer must control his own body – (1 Thessalonians 4:4). The slogans: “If is feels good, do it” or “It can be wrong if it feels so good” may be contemporary, but the philosophy behind them is ancient. And that philosophy directly opposes this passage. All Christians are to control their bodies, not be controlled by them. To control your body is to gain mastery over it, instead of it gaining the mastery of you. A believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and is to be a tool used in the Lord’s service:
“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
No Christian should ask, “How far can I go without sinning?” The desire and the passion must be to please God instead of treading the edge of sin. Your body belongs to God, believer; understand that and use it for His glory.

To be sexually pure you must control your body and you must not act like an unbeliever (1 Thessalonians 4:5). Passion and desire are good things if directed towards and for the right intentions and purposes. A husband and a wife having passion and desire for one another is good and pleasurable; anything outside of that may cause a temporal pleasure, but will only bring long-term shame and heartache (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Be pure by controlling your body, not acting like an unbeliever, and by not taking advantage of others: (1 Thessalonians 4:6a). No believer should gain pleasure at someone else’s expense; especially a fellow believer. You would expect the world to cause believers to stumble and sin, but believers should never be stumbling blocks for fellow believers. We must instead seek to be holy and to help others be holy.

Why Should a Believer be Sexually Pure?

God’s standard is to “abstain from fornication”; there is to be not even a hint of immorality about our lives. The means to staying pure is only through the enabling of the Holy Spirit who will empower you to control your body, not act like an unbeliever, and to not take advantage of others. But why should a believer be sexually pure?

Because of God’s Vengeance – 1 Thessalonians 4:6b

Thankfully, only the Lord has the authority and the ability to exact vengeance. The sobering reality is this “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord,” (Romans 12:19; cf. Deuteronomy 32:35). Sexual immorality is something for which God will mete out judgment:
“Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”
Because of God’s Purpose – 1 Thessalonians 4:7

Sexual purity is God’s will and God’s plan for all believers, all of the time, and everywhere. No culture, ethnic group, or era is exempt.
Paul’s usage of the word “holiness” is the third time in this brief passage that he has used that word; the other two times were translated “sanctification”. This emphasizes that fact that when God called you to salvation He also called you to holiness. The call to salvation is inseparable from the call to holiness
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
It is not for nothing that the Spirit God gives is called the Holy Spirit!

Because of God’s Spirit – 1 Thessalonians 4:8

To disobey this command to abstain from fornication is not to disobey your preacher, parents, or whomever; it is to disobey and disregard the Holy Spirit! This standard that we have been discussing is God’s standard, and He has given believers His Spirit to enable us to keep His standard. We have not been left alone to struggle in vain while attempting to hold to this standard. I’m enabled, moment by moment, to live in obedience to God’s Word. We are enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:27)

Whether you are single or married, young or old, you need to take this passage and be alone with it before God, crying out to Him for the grace to be pure in a culture that exults in impurity. Recognize the awesome implications of this passage as it relates to honor, sanctification, and holiness before God. This passage challenges all of us; irrespective of age or marital status. You may be challenged in the terms of failures from the distant past or the immediate present. You may be struggling with the issue of your purity right now; either physically or mentally. God requires that we be pure in both. This passage colors us all.

Beware of the Pharisee’s spirit which says, “I thank you Lord that I am not as other men are; that while this text may be interesting and pertinent to others; it doesn’t seem to have to do with me.” You’re in deep denial and deep trouble if you believe that. If you find yourself in denial or if you find yourself falling short of this standard, then claim the promise that is found in 1 John 1:19,
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We declare much about our Christianity by how we keep this standard. If you are committed to being sexually pure as God commands, then you must be prepared to be thought totally nuts by the culture around you.

Who are you living to please: the culture or the Christ?

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