The proliferation of pornography in our culture is alarming to say the least. What was years ago considered to be deviant is now mainstream and what was difficult to obtain years ago is now available with the click of a mouse button. We face a scourge today. Consider that in 1998, over thirty percent of the sites on the Web were pornographic. One wonders what the figure is today as close to one-thousand porn websites have been added daily since that time.
This scourge is not relegated to the world but has swept into the church on a wave. In 2002, a New Man Magazine online poll reported that 75% of Christian men have viewed pornography in the last three months and that 43% have done so repeatedly. 37% of pastors, in a Christianity Today survey, admitted that they struggle with Internet pornography. A local newscast highlighted the rampant sexual activity among teenagers in our high schools. When interviewed, the general tenor expressed by the teenagers was simply this: "if you think your child is not involved in sexual activity, then you are truly in the dark."
Because of this proliferation in our society, the theme of this year's International Association of Biblical Counselors annual conference was The Narrow Road. A clarion call to sexual purity was issued to Christians. This call to purity is part of God's call to us in salvation. Three exhortations are inherent in this call.
First, regarding sexual purity, don't reject God's call. In 1 Thes. 4:7-8, Paul is completing his thought in regard to the Christian's obligation to be different from the world, particularly in the area of sexual purity: the Christian is to be sexually pure. He now conveys this obligation in theological terms connected to God's operation in the believer's life as well as to God's person. In other words, He connects the Christian's obligation to who God is. Thus, Paul affirms, "For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness."
The apostle refers to God's call. The particular call in view here connotes a two-fold dynamic. God effectually calls persons out of darkness and into light, that is, out of spiritual death and into spiritual life. He makes them alive by His Spirit in the act of regeneration. This dynamic is a work of God wrought in the individual's heart and life. Quickend by the Spirit, the individual is then enabled and willing to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ unto justification before Holy God.
Moreover, the effectual call has real consequences. God not only calls us out of darkness but He calls us to Himself. As He does so, He calls us to a lifestyle that is reflective of Him, that is, His power in our lives, His grace in our lives, and His character in our lives.
This call is both a reality and a responsibility. We are called to reflect God's glory in the sense that we will by virtue of the operation of the Spirit within us. He who does not reflect God in his life does not know God. At the same time, this reality places the onus upon us to make sure that we live to God's glory. God commands us to glorify Him.
Further, it is the reality of who we are that motivates us to live as who we are. Elsewhere, Paul says, "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts Rom. 6:11-12)." That dynamic is in the mind of the apostle as he writes these words.
To what did God call us specifically here? He did not call us to uncleanness but to holiness. That is, He did not call is to impurity but to holiness. In context, Christians are not to engage in sexual immorality. They are called to something different and to be different than the world. Again, to be holy literally is to be different. Christians are to be different from the world in that they are not to be given to sexual impurity. They are effectually and obligatorily called to a lifestyle of purity reflective of the character of God.
Note further that God calls believers not merely to holiness, but "in holiness." The Christian is removed from the sphere of unrighteousness spiritually speaking. He is placed in a sphere or context that is holy. The Christian is no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit. He/she is no longer in Adam but in Christ. He/she is no longer in impurity but in holiness. That holiness, by virtue of union with Christ, surrounds the believer's mind and life in such a way that he/she must be different from the world. That does not mean that a Christian cannot stumble from time to time. But, it does mean that a true believer cannot live as the Gentiles. True believers are in holiness.
Second, regarding sexual purity, don't reject God's person. In v. 8, Paul draws a conclusion based upon the Christian's calling and makes plain what was previously implied. He explains, "Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit." A few implications emerge.
The first implication is that the one who rejects Paul's teaching does not merely reject man, that is Paul the teacher or apostle, but he rejects God's word. In so doing, he rejects God Himself. Obviously, such a rejection is deadly serious, figuratively and literally.
The second implication is that the one who rejects "this" rejects God's call. No one can reject the effectual call of God. However, prior to the effectual call is the general call. He who rejects that call rejects God.
The third implication is that he who does not live a lifestyle of sexual purity proves that he has rejected God's call and therefore God Himself. He who rejects the obligation to purity rejects God Himself.
The fourth implication is that God has given genuine believers His Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who sanctifies the Christian and then calls and enables the Christian to live a holy life free from sexual immorality. The one who does not live that way does not have the Spirit of God.
Third, regarding sexual purity, don't reject God's messenger. While it is true that genuine believers have the Spirit of God and that reality is implied in the foregoing, Paul's meaning in saying that God has also "given us His Holy Spirit" is otherwise. False teachers had indeed questioned Paul's apostleship and integrity as noted in previous verses. Paul is here defending his ministry once again. As with the first implication above, Paul is saying that those who teach believers that sexual freedom is acceptable to God are not merely rejecting Paul the man's teaching, but they are rejecting God. Paul concludes by saying that he and his companions have the Spirit of God. Because God had given them His Spirit, what they were and said was representative of God. When God's representatives call persons to sexual purity, they speak for God.
Last week in Denver, the IABC called people to purity. Don't reject God's call, God's person, or God's messengers. As always, His messengers are biblical counselors who will point you to the Word of God and the fact that it is more than enough to help individuals overcome sexual impurity and anything else not pleasing to the Lord. As Dr. Ed Bulkley, President of IABC noted, only when one sees Christ for who He is and by virtue of seeing Him in that way is given to love Him with all of his/her heart, will that person truly have peace and joy. May God grant you such today.
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