Called Unto Holiness

November 26, 2017 / No. 3908

Dear Radio Friends,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory! And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried!” “I am the Lord, the Holy One of Israel!” “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One of Israel.” “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”
Scripture testifies everywhere that God is a holy God who dwells in the light of holiness unto which no man can approach. He is a consuming fire in His holiness. Likewise, everywhere Scripture demands of you and me to be “holy as God is holy.”
Holiness is the subject of the verses we consider today. We consider I Thessalonians 4:3-5: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” I am going to add two other verses to these as well, verses 7 and 8. These two verses read, “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.” I know that is quite a few verses to consider in a short broadcast, but we will make the attempt as best we can. We do so because these verses clearly teach something that is all but forgotten in today’s immoral society. If you recall, two weeks ago we spoke of holiness at some length in our broadcast. Paul continues that subject of holiness with the verses we consider today. But this time he applies it specifically to the sin of concupiscence, that is, unbridled passion and lust. We consider therefore the calling of every believer to abstain from fornication! And that because God has willed and called us unto a life of sanctification.
I. A Holy Purpose
The heart of the admonition of the passage before us today is given us in verse 4: “Every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor.” In order to understand what it means to possess our vessel in sanctification and honor we must understand the work of God in sanctification. The term sanctification is used twice in the verses we are studying. Paul tells us in verse 3, too, that “this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” God wills the sanctification of His people! That God wills our sanctification does not mean simply that God desires or wants us to be sanctified. The idea of God’s will for us goes much deeper. Paul is speaking here about the sovereign, unchangeable will of God’s decree or counsel. In many places in Scripture God’s eternal plan for all things is referred to as His will. It is so because all that God has from eternity planned to accomplish is indeed His will or desire. It is God’s good pleasure to perform what He has planned. Our sanctification is rooted in God’s eternal plan. From eternity, before the world was created or we were given earthly existence, God purposed to bring glory to His name by choosing a church unto Himself. The purpose of God in choosing an elect people is that He, through their praises, might bring such glory to Himself. For that reason God calls that people out of the darkness of sin, works in their heart salvation in Christ, and cleanses them. God cleanses or sanctifies them in order that they might bring praise to His name by means of a walk of holiness in this world. So, it is God’s will, His divine purpose, to sanctify and cleanse an elect people unto Himself that He might through them bring glory to His name. Believers rejoice in the knowledge of their salvation. They offer themselves a living sacrifice of praise to God for that salvation. In this way they fulfill God’s will.
But in that will of God is also included all the gifts of salvation God pours out upon us in Christ. In other words, we may say in a general and broad way that it was God’s will to save us in Christ. But we may not overlook the specifics of this will in our salvation. According to God’s will, we have been called unto sanctification, Paul teaches us! Verse 7: “God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” Sovereignly, graciously, and efficaciously we have been called by God. Graciously out of no merit of our own, and powerfully through the work of the Holy Spirit, God has called each and every one of His children out of the darkness of unbelief and sin. God called us out of the sin in which we had fallen in Adam. He then worked in our hearts the principle of a new life. In this way God separated us unto Himself. He separated us from darkness in order that we might be His people. When God did this He called us unto sanctification!
The term sanctification means literally “to separate from things profane, and to dedicate and consecrate to God.” This term is used in reference to the office of the priests and Levites in the Old Testament. First of all, the entire nation of Israel was sanctified of God. God had separated them out of all the nations of this world to be a people dedicated and consecrated to the worship of Him. In the second place, out of the nation of Israel God separated unto Himself and His service the priests and Levites. These were separated from things profane and dedicated to the worship of God in Israel.
When the Bible speaks of our sanctification, therefore, we must apply to ourselves what we read of the church of the Old Testament and in particular of the Levites. We as members of the church of Jesus Christ in this world are those separated by God from the worldly lusts and earthly goals of this present world. We are those who have been called by God, on the other hand, to holy service! We have been separated to do the service of the Lord—not in the temple, however, but in our lives! God has willed that we be those who dedicate our lives as living sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving unto him each day anew. He wills to have us offer up the sweet-smelling incense of a godly and holy life in worship of His Holy name. That is our calling and lot in life. God willed it for us from eternity and He called us unto holy service for that end too! That is the very purpose of God in the salvation of His people. That is why God saved us! He saved us to be holy as He is holy!
Nor may we forget how God has accomplished the sanctification of His chosen saints. We are sprinkled with the pure water of purifying, that is, Christ’s blood. We are washed and cleansed in the blood of our Savior. Through the death of our Savior, God’s saints have been cleansed from the corruption and the filth of sin. The depravity that once pervaded our being—heart, mind, soul, and body—has been washed away in the blood of Christ. Not only did Christ go to the cross to save us from the guilt of our sins and earn for us righteousness. Not only did Christ justify us at the cross. Christ sanctified us, that is, He saved us from the corruption and depravity of our flesh. By means of that washing in Christ’s blood we have become pure and holy in God’s sight. Such is the result of the work of Christ in sanctification. Believers have become “holiness unto the Lord.” The church is a holy nation of priests, consecrated and set apart for holy service. This is true because the Spirit of Christ has been sent forth into our hearts and has applied to us the holiness of Christ Himself. Paul tells us in verse 8 of I Thessalonians 4 that God has given that Holy Spirit to us, and that Spirit dwells in us. We are vessels into which the Holy Spirit is poured out. If we find in us no desire to do God’s will or to keep His commandments or to show forth His praises, then we have not been called and sanctified. That means we ought not to think we are saved. Those saved in the blood of Christ have the desire to serve God and to dedicate all of their lives to His service.
II. A Timely Admonition
On this basis we receive the admonition of the Word of God before us today: let every one of us know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor. Now, a sanctified and holy life extends to many different aspects of Christian living. We are skipping verse 6 because this verse addresses another aspect of Christian life: that we not defraud or cheat a brother, neither seek vengeance upon him. The Word of God we consider focuses on our calling to abstain from fornication, a sin that has totally enveloped the unbelieving world around us. This is the meaning also of verse 5, where God says that we must know how to possess our vessel in honor. By vessel is meant our person: our body and soul. As such we are a holy vessel unto the Lord and we have had the Holy Spirit poured out into us. We, in our bodies and in our souls, are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are told in verse 5 that we must know how to possess our person in honor and holiness. That means we must know how to acquire control over our hearts and souls, as well as over our bodies. As sanctified and holy people who are saved in the cleansing blood of Christ we exert power over ourselves in order to remain holy and honorable in God’s sight. That is our calling as far as abstaining from the evil lusts and desires that yet remain in our sinful natures. We must take control of our vessels in order that we might wrestle against sin and use our souls and bodies in the service of God.
We have before us a timely admonition here. We do. We do because our text addresses itself to a problem, a sin, that pervades the society and culture in which we live. Our standards in the society of America today are very similar to the standards of the Roman and Greek society of Paul’s day. Just as there are very few standards that discourage, outlaw, or punish sexual sins of today, so also was this true in the society in which the Thessalonian church found itself. So when this admonition is given to the church of that day it comes to the church of today as well: abstain from fornication!
Paul calls attention to the uninhibited pagan culture in verse 5: “Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” The Gentiles here refers to ungodly unbelievers outside of the church and not to the Grecian race. After all, many of the Thessalonian believers were “Greeks” or “Gentiles” according to their nationality. The reference is to the heathen people who are without God. “They do not know God,” Paul tells us. It refers to the wicked world and society in which this little church in Thessalonica was called to live and be a witness.
This world, Paul says, is characterized by the lust of concupiscence. “The lust of concupiscence”—accurate terminology, though used very little today. It refers to the emotions of unbridled passions. To the feelings of forbidden cravings. This is exactly the sin that characterizes the wicked world at any given time in her history. The wicked of society are obsessed with feelings and emotions. Feelings rule life. Not reasoning, but unchecked feeling. Feelings are what seems to set the standard in an evil culture. Not only that, but many times those feelings themselves are governed by concupiscence, that is, forbidden and unbridled passion. This is true of those who know not God. God has not worked in their hearts by His Spirit and grace. They are still lost in the darkness of unbelief. What God’s law forbids without a doubt and without an exception in the seventh commandment the world comes to accept and promote as good and right. We live in a society that thrives on the passion of sex. It is in the advertisements on signs, television, and radio. The programs to which even our youngest children are exposed on television are filled with sexual content or innuendos. Our society puts out magazines filled with immorality and sex. Pornography is on the rise on the internet. It is at one’s fingertips on the mobile phones. Our society is obsessed with it, so much so that even the deepest of sexual sins are openly advocated and accepted in society. Our world is totally engulfed with the sin of fornication, that is, sexual perversions inside and outside of marriage.
In opposition to this, God commands His people whom He has chosen and saved unto sanctification: be ye separate! I have separated you unto Me and removed you from the lust of concupiscence that characterizes the wicked. We are a holy people—called unto that end! Saved for the very purpose of revealing to the world the holiness of God and His will. Know then, with the spiritual knowledge that only a child of God has, how to possess (take control of) your body and soul in order that the passions of this world may not overcome you. Possess yourself, control yourself actively according to knowledge, in order to keep yourself holy unto the Lord. To that end God has called you—not unto uncleanness, sexual perversion—but unto holiness! Abstain from fornication! In body and in thought and in feelings.
This is so difficult, for the believer is a part of a society that stresses this sort of behavior! God’s people have sin in them too. They carry with them that sinful flesh, the old man of sin. What the world constantly throws at us as good and acceptable begins to wear upon us. We begin, slowly but surely, in our generations, to agree with this sinful sexual behavior. That shows in how much, even in the church world, immoral sexual behavior is accepted and permitted.
Young women and men who are listening, I know what is available out there in the world to your eyes and mine. I am not oblivious to it. What does God think of us when we give in to the passions of this world, in our dating or in our conversation with one another? I have called you unto holiness, God says to us! I have saved you for that purpose. That is My will for you: holiness unto the Lord. Dare we ignore the very purpose of our salvation and go out and seek the sinful passions of this wicked world? Dare we lie in the arms of a fornicator? Dare we even seek his or her company? Dare we say such things about the wicked, “His or her body is hot!” That is denying the very God that bought us. That is denying the very work of the cross, the abode of the Spirit in us, the work of sanctification! Know how to possess your vessel in honor and holiness. Young people, that goes for you too, despite that the wicked, unbelieving world around us thinks it is great fun and a legitimate activity. Be warned!
III. A Solemn Warning
We are given a solemn warning in our text as well. In verse 8 we read, “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath given unto us his holy Spirit.” You know, that is a welcome addition to this Word of God before us. I am glad that God’s Word itself adds this warning at this point. So often when the preacher warns his members against the worldly and wicked entertainment of this world, the response can be, “Why is he always pounding on that subject. He has got a real hang up on those things. I wish he would just put a lid on it once. Who listens to him anyway? He is the only one that seems to find anything wrong with that stuff. His point is weak.” With this verse I am able to repeat it all over again. God warns us, fellow believers, against the sin of fornication that is found in the music of today, on the television of today, and on the internet. He warns us of the bars and the parties that the wicked (and I do not care if these wicked go under the name of Christian or not) enjoy. Their drunken bashes. All this is done in the lust of concupiscence. It is all the emotional high of unbridled passion. God warns us. I have called you away from all of this.
Today we hear God say to us: He therefore that despises (this instruction), despises not man, but God! It is not the instruction of an overly pious preacher. It is not his warning. It is God’s! We can ignore it and pretend that God would never demand sexual purity of us. But God’s Word does not change! When we despise the instruction given us here in these verses, we do not despise a man but we despise the God who comes to judge every man according to his works. The warning implied is this: Those who despise the admonition of God to abstain from fornication do not have the work of the Holy Spirit in them! They are yet lost in their sin. They have rejected the warning to be holy as God is holy! These need to repent and plead for forgiveness!
That may be a hard word this Word of God presents. But it is so true! I know that I for one need to hear it! I need to sorrow and repent over the attraction this sin holds over my sinful nature. You need to hear it too! God grant us to know how to possess our vessels in honor and holiness! Then we will be following His will for our lives. And God’s name will be glorified. That is what we want as those who are sanctified. To God be the glory!