We hit chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians this week. It’s a section in which Paul turns his attention to the issue of sanctification. My habit when I teach these sections is that I tend to be very clear on the content of the holy life and less clear on the motive for the holy life. It’s a hard habit to break. But I sought to address this weakness in my own preaching with these three introductory sub-points.
1. The non-negotiable requirement of holy living.
We need to feel the weight of expectation upon us. God expects his people to be holy. Throughout this passage there’s a repeated emphasis that holiness is supposed to be an indispensable part of our Christian life. Consider the following verses.
(1) Paul reminds them that he has already instructed them that they ought to live in holiness and he urges them to do so more and more. This is an instruction that he repeats in (10&11). (2) He reminds them that his instructions for holiness carry the full weight of divine authority. They’re not simply his advice but the Lord’s requirements. (3) Holiness is God’s will. It’s what he wants for his people. (6) Un-holiness is so serious that God will punish it. (7) God’s call is to shun impurity and to live in holiness. (8) When we reject God’s instruction to be holy, we reject him.
We cannot but feel the weight of these commands. There is an unmistakable, unavoidable, non-negotiable expectation that God’s people will pursue his holiness. Holiness is what God is after amongst his sanctified people.
2. The divinely given resources for holy living
God is not expecting us to do anything for which we’re ill equipped. He’s not asking us to do something that’s impossible. Consider these verses. (1) Those to whom Paul wrote were living in holiness to some degree. Something had taken place in their conversion that had caused them to pursue godliness. (8) To make possible a life of holiness, God’s Holy Spirit indwells us to empower our desires.
Though the struggle for holiness is a demanding one, requiring the conscious and strenuous exercise of our wills, it’s not beyond our ability. God has given us a new will through regeneration and he has given his Spirit to us to help us put to death the desires of the flesh and fulfil those desires. Holiness is where God is taking us.
3. The heartfelt reason for holy living
What should our motive be for holiness? In our heart of hearts, what’s the reason why we should do what God says and depend on God’s help? It’s the desire to please God (1). And so if we want to put a smile on the face of God, then let’s pursue holiness. Nothing gives him greater pleasure than the holiness of his people. Why is that? Holiness is Godliness. It’s being like God. There is nothing that delights God more than himself. There is nothing more pleasing and satisfying to him in all of his creation than the perfection of his own character. And so when God sees in us an ever increasing conformity to himself, he is absolutely thrilled to bits. Of course, this smile is not a smile of acceptance. We have that already. Christ’s death has guaranteed God’s favour. But holiness brings a smile of approval. Our obedience to his will brings God pleasure.