Upsidedown Living: Purity (1 Thess 4:1-8)

In this week’s Severna Park Voice Darrel Mak writes, “The news continues to be bad, according to the latest report by the Magothy River Association [MRA], which presented its eight annual State of the Magothy report during its meeting on February 17 at Anne Arundel Community College. “I am disappointed to report tonight that the condition of the Magothy is falling, announced Paul Spadoro,” president of the MRA. [1] There is similarly disappointing reports of the home-life in America due to sexual impurity.

 During a recent SEC Media Day, Tim Tebow was asked if he was saving himself for marriage. He responded, “Yes, I am.” Following the quarterback’s response the reporter stumbled to ask any more questions. Tebow simply replied, “”I think you’re stunned right now. You can’t even ask a question. … I was ready for that question, but I don’t think ya’ll were.”[2]

Why is America stunned? Because what once was abnormal and even deviant, has now become normal and accepted. In fact, sexual morality has been redefined in society. Society used to blush and shame others when adultery was committed or when pornography was viewed and it was abnormal and sinful to have a homosexual lifestyle; those days are over. There has not only been a sexual revolution but an entire re-definement of viewing sexuality.


Paul gives the Thessalonians further instruction how to live in order to please God. He urges them to consistently walk (live) with the Lord Jesus. The Christian life is described as a walk or a journey because there is never an ending destination, it is an eternal pursuit of Jesus where we discover more of Him. And the more we discover and the closer we become the greater we realize He truly is and how much more of Him we desire. The psalmist would agree saying, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God (42:1-2).” Or “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (63:1).

God’s will is more concerned about your being than doing. We turn God’s will more into a discovery of doing whereas God wants to see His character being formed in us which will in turn result in doing His will. This removes the mystery of God’s will. Put simply, God’s will is your sanctification. So, Paul gives instructions – a military term used for orders, or an assignment given from a strict authority – from the Lord Jesus. Sanctification is understood in two levels:
1) Positionally. The believer’s position in Christ is permanent and complete. Sin is atoned for, forgiven and its eternal penalty has been met from the cross of Christ. Through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross a person is positionally righteous before God (Romans 3:21-26, 5:1, 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:4-8; Colossians 3:13-15)

2) Progressively: The believer’s position in Christ is perpetual and growing. The Spirit continues to conform the believer to the likeness of Christ and will do so until the Day of fulfillment when Christ returns. The Scriptures point to salvation as an ongoing work (Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 1:18; Galatians 2:20-21; Philippians 2:12, 3:13-14; Hebrews 3:13, 12:1-8; 1 John 1:8-10).

How does a believer become sanctified?

Avoid immorality (4:3).

Paul addressed living the Christian life in the Thessalonian context. Society was permissive of casual sex; whether it was in the secular world allowing men to have multiple partners, or whether it was in the ritual arena of temple priests employing prostitutes to indulge selfish desires and promote fertility. Christianity refused to follow secular or ritual standards and called its followers to live with a new sexual ethic – purity.

Randy Alcorn says,

“[Those who lust] swap God’s present and future blessing for something they can immediately see, taste, or feel. But that something never satisfies… Every day, Christian men and women forfeit future happiness for the sake of temporary sexual stimulation. Like drug addicts, we go from fix to fix, trading the contentment of righteous living for the quick hits that always leave us empty, craving more.”
“When God calls on you to pursue purity, you are not being asked to do what will deprive you of joy. In fact, you are being called on to do what will bring you the greatest joy! To choose purity is to put yourself under God’s blessing. To choose impurity is to put yourself under God’s curse.”[3]

Purity and holiness are not just character traits, they are rewards of those who pursue God. Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). Do you wish to see God? Do you desire God’s blessing in your life? If so, purity is the pathway to God – and to sexual pleasure! The reason is because God is the Creator of everything good. Sex is a good creation of God. Sexual desire is not evil in itself. Christians are not called to remove sexual passion but redeem it.

So, the way to avoid sexual immorality is to view purity as a greater joy. Sin and lust becomes unattractive when we truly see the greatness of God. The next key will help provide further application to your sanctification and avoiding immorality.

Add discipline (4:4).

Paul tells the Thessalonians to learn to control their bodies. In a word, ‘discipline’ is the order of the day. Self-control and patience are fruits of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:23) but they arise from a life disciplined by the things of God. Those things are not necessarily revolutionary but simple basics of the Christian faith – prayer, the Word, and accountability.

Appreciate others (4:6).

Paul’s third instruction for sanctification is for the Thessalonians to not take advantage or defraud others. In other words, treat others as those whom God created and intended for His purposes. By viewing others through God’s eyes we should stop short of manipulating or engaging in relationships that only indulge our selfish pleasures.

Before you consider immorality (lust or adultery) with another remember that she/he is someone else’s future or current mate. She/he is someone else’s child, parent; and even more, she/he possibly belongs to the Lord. Considering the relational consequences of your sin not only between yourself and the multiple layers of others but with God can be a hindrance to protecting you from making a painful decision.

Adore Jesus (4:7-8).

Before Paul changes the subject from sexual immorality he reminds them that God is the giver of His Spirit. The idea is that He keeps on giving His Spirit, He is lavish in His gift. This is a powerful truth that should drive us toward humility, brokenness and adoration. At the root, sin separates us from fellowship with God. However, the point of the gospel is that Jesus restores us. This is true not just for unbelievers but Christians. Forgiveness is possible no matter the sin. In fact, “Jesus was a virgin, His bride wasn’t but He loved us anyway.”[4] God’s love covers our sins if we turn our eyes away from self, idols and turn to worship the One who makes us holy and happy – Jesus.


  • Do you think the area of sex needs more or less attention in Christian circles? Explain.
  • How is sex like a religion in 21st Century society?
  • Is sexual sin worse than other sins? Explain.
  • Explain the difference between positional and progressive sanctification. How are these confused?
  • Explain each key to sanctification: Avoid Immorality, Add Discipline, Appreciate Others and Adore Jesus. Which one is easier to you? Harder?
  • Make a list of the relational consequences of sexual immorality in your life. With whom do you need to share this list?
  • Who do you know that needs to hear or read this message? Will you share it with them?


[1] Severna Park Voice, “Health of Magothy Declines”, Darrel Mak. March 11, 2010, A1.


[3] In “The Purity Principle”, pp. 12-13, .23.


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