In our continuing study through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church, we find the apostle in chapter 4 getting down to the nitty gritty of what it means to live the Christian life — particularly for those who are brand-new believers, as those in the Thessalonian church were.
The first phrase to notice in verse 1 is “how you ought to walk.” And the Greek word for “walk” here and throughout the Bible means how we live — our conduct. For Christians our walks aren’t about lists of dos and don’ts that we live by legalistically and then cross off to determine how well we’re living; it’s about freeing ourselves up — leaving our sin behind — to be completely on the cutting edge of availability in service to God.
There’s a sense of mission in how we walk — how we live — as Christians. And Paul reminds his brothers and sisters in that he’s already gotten them started on exactly how since they “received” (verse 1) such instruction from him already. Much like the Israelites who “received” the Law and the Ten Commandments from the Lord in the Old Testament, when we “received” Christ into our lives — as the Thessalonians did — it signaled the beginning of forward movement. The start of a walk. The opening up of our hearts to Jesus and trusting him — as verse 1 says, “more and more” each day. And that pleases God.
And on that note, exactly how else do we please God? On Sunday we discussed several examples in the Scriptures outside Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians: First, we must have faith (Hebrews 11:6). Second, we must be spiritually minded (Romans 8:6-8). Third, we must fear God (Psalm 147:11). Fourth, we must follow Christ’s example (Matthew 17:5). Fifth, we must obey God (1 Samuel 15:22). Sixth, we must give God the sacrifices he wants (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Now here comes Paul’s first point in our passage: Our sanctification is God’s will for us (verse 3). And what does sanctification mean? Well, as you might expect, it’s literally the essence of our Christian walk. It’s the process of becoming holy. It’s not having reached it or mastered it — it’s about the journey, the movement forward. And while that certainly means change, it’s something all of us can do and should embrace.
What’s Paul’s next point in verse 3? “That you abstain from sexual immorality.” Pretty straightforward. When it comes to sexual purity, God wants to be right in the midst of our efforts in this area. In other words, since sexuality and purity are big and powerful issues in all of our lives, the Lord wants all the more to help us. And part of that happens when we’re being sensitive to God’s leading and instruction — because if we’re not, and we blow off God’s voice, we very well may veer into the carnal, the worldly ways of “anything goes” sexuality. But if we’re listening for God’s leading and desiring to follow him, God will empower us to grow and become strong in the area of sexuality.
Holiness sometimes can be a difficult concept to completely understand. Of course, walking in holiness pleases God — and that’s always a good enough reason to keep our steps going in that direction. However, the Lord himself says that walking in holiness also is “for our own good.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13) Holiness is also for you and for me. What a gift!
So, as we journey on our walks, remember that even when we trip and fall, we can get up. If we become out of step with God, we can listen to his voice, make an adjustment, and get back in rhythm with the Lord. Because the Christian life lived to the hilt, to ultimate, is an epic journey, an adventure to end all adventures — but if we’re not seeking after holiness on our walks, we miss the most amazing stuff the Lord has for us. And by all means, don’t miss it.
“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.”—1 Thessalonians 4:7-8