The Priority of Purity

To some people who have been looking for the will of God for a long time, this is going to seem quite obvious. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thes. 4:3–7). God desires every believer to be sanctified. What does “sanctified” mean? Let’s use the word pure instead. Paul is talking in this passage about practical purity and he gives four principles.

Abstain from Fornication
Stay away from sexual sin. It does not say to avoid sex; it says to stay away from sexual sin. Of course, this means we must not get involved in sexual acts that are wrong. It also means we should stay clear away from those things. Some Christians who wouldn’t dream of doing those things sit and watch somebody else doing them or read about them in some book and call this entertainment. We should have no part in those things.
I am not a prude; I think sex is a glorious thing. God invented it. If He invented it, it is good. But He designed it for the beauty of the marriage relationship and nowhere else. For a person to think that he can cheat God and get kicks out of sex apart from marriage is to believe the devil’s lie.
It is absurd for a young person (or anyone else) who is living in sexual impurity to say, “God, show me Your will.” Such a person is not even doing what this text of Scripture says is His will. Why should God disclose some further will?
Stay away from immoral sex. That is a simple principle. Someone inevitably says, “How far away?” Far away enough to be pure. Sanctified. Set apart wholly unto God.
Am I saying that you can’t hold hands with the one you love? That is not the issue. Do I mean that you can’t kiss? I don’t mean that, either. The Bible says, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12). You can be blessed by God only so long as you are controlling what you do for His honor. When lust controls you, you have crossed the line. It’s a simple principle.

Control Your Body
The second principle concerning practical purity is expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4:4. “Every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor.” In the Greek, there are two possible meanings of this word vessel: “wife” or “body.” In the context, I take it to mean “body.” What Paul is saying is that we are to control our bodies. That is purity.
We ought to keep our bodies in subjection to insure that we are honoring God. That includes controlling the way we dress and the things we do with our bodies. This principle covers the whole area of the lust of the flesh, and not just sexual things. A person can dishonor God by overdressing to attract attention to oneself. Gluttony also puts one in the position of dishonoring God and committing sin because it is obvious to everyone that the glutton cannot control the desire to eat. Nothing which gratifies the body to the dishonoring of God can have a place in the will of God.

Subdue Your Passions
The Christian is not to live “in the lust of concupiscence (evil desire which has to do with sexual things) even as the Gentiles (heathen) which know not God” (1 Thes. 4:5). What is Paul saying? Don’t act like the rest of the world acts—they are guided by their passions.
A young lady of 16 came up to me one time with tears streaming down her cheeks. She said to me, “John, I can’t take any more,” she said. “I am going to kill myself.” I asked her why, and she replied, “I have been involved with so many boys since I was 13 years old that I can’t look at myself in the mirror.” We sat down and talked about God’s love and complete forgiveness. That teenager invited Jesus into her life. Later her eyes sparkled through the tears as she said, “You know something? I feel forgiven.” I assured her that she was. She went out from that place no longer to live in the gutter but to set her affections on things above.
One of the great, liberating things about Christianity is that it takes you out of the gutter and lifts you up. Stay up! Don’t act like the godless.

Treat Others Fairly
No man is to “go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter” (1 Thes. 4:6). In other words, don’t take advantage of people.
Some people step on others’ necks to get what they want. Some people use others in a sexual way to gratify their own desires. Others use people in a business way. There are many ways to use others. Don’t do it for “the Lord is the avenger of all such.”
You may say, “I don’t like those rules. God is narrow-minded.” Then verse 8 is for you. “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit.” If you mistreat people, you really mistreat and despise God.
In verse 7, Paul sums up what we have been saying. “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” God’s calling—God’s will—is that we be sanctified, holy, pure.
Robert Murray McCheyne spoke at the ordination of young Dan Edwards in the 1860s. He said something like this: “Mr. Edwards, … do not forget the inner man, the heart. The cavalry officer knows that his life depends upon his saber, so he keeps it clean. Every stain he wipes off with the greatest care. Mr. Edwards, you are God’s chosen instrument. According to your purity, so shall be your success. It is not great talent; it is not great ideas that God uses; it is great likeness to Jesus Christ. Mr. Edwards, a holy man is an awesome weapon in the hand of God” (see 2 Tim. 2:21). McCheyne was right, and God’s will is that you be holy—sanctified.

John MacArthur

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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