1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
God’s Will Is Our Sanctification
Paul’s letters generally begin with a fair amount of doctrinal content and then move to matters of living the Christian life. This letter to the Thessalonians is somewhat different in that the first part of the letter is more personal (1:1-3:12) while the latter part of the letter speaks to the doctrine (4:13-5:11) of the Second Coming. Squeezed in between these two sections is Paul’s exhortation to holy living and how it is the necessary fruit of a regenerated life.
Paul may ask, but he does so on the authority of an apostle of Jesus Christ so that what he says is not optional: They must walk in a manner pleasing to God. They were doing so already; interestingly, Paul does not commend them for this but urges them to “do so more and more.” Commending a believer for walking in a manner pleasing to God would be akin to congratulating someone for being saved—the work was God’s, not theirs. And though He is the Spirit who “works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), still God expects us to work with Him in this task such that Paul can say, “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” Of all the purposes for which God saves us (to glorify Him, worship Him, tell others about Him, etc), none surpasses this: To be ever more purified and blameless in our walk before Him, to look less like ourselves and more like Him, until the day we stand before Him sinless when He finishes the work begun with us in this life. Indeed, we are even now covered with the blood of Christ as to appear sinless before Him, but that is not what we are talking about now. We are talking about growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord such that we put to death that which is of the flesh and put on that which is of the Spirit. God wills our sanctification.
And it is no surprise that the first sin that Paul warns his beloved Thessalonians about is sexual immorality, given the laxity of the ancient world and the propensity of humankind to this sin. We’ve seen this again and again. Each of us is to control his body (literally, “vessel,” perhaps referring to genitals) in holiness and “not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles” or unbelievers. To do so is not only sin against God but to defraud one’s brother by taking his wife or one’s future spouse by the sacrifice of one’s own virginity. Our culture scorns such “scruples” and currently demeans rearing our sons and daughters to the blessings of purity. Let them laugh. The believer knows that God avenges such sin (Romans 1:18ff). So let us keep our bodies pure, for God wills this: Our sanctification.