The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Monday, January 21, 2013

Called To Be Saints (Part 5): Called to Purity

By: Thomas Clayton Booher

1 Thessalonians 4:7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.

In our call to be saints, we are called to be holy. This is undeniably fundamental to the concept of being a saint, but how many of us can say precisely what ‘holy’ means. Take a moment to ponder that question. What does it mean to be holy, for as our text states, God has called us in holiness. Holiness is the sphere into which we have been called. It is the realm in which God has placed us. While living physically in this present evil world (Gal 1:4), we have been transferred into the holy (cf Col 1:13).

The Old Testament high priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement. Once a year, a mortal, sinful human being entered the holiest place on the planet, the place where God was present in all of his fullness, though not fully visible as he is within the intra-Trinitarian fellowship. In that finite cubicle chamber, there was the theophanic presence in the glory cloud and pillar of fire, sure signs of God’s attendance, but as signs, they were also a veil. Though the high priest did not see God in his fullness, it is true that all of God was present at that singular location as certainly as the fullness of God resided in the incarnate Jesus whose appearance was like that of sinful human flesh (Phil 2:6-8; Rom 8:3; Col 2:9).

The way into that holy compartment was through the blood of an animal, which God accepted because it pointed to the sacrifice that was yet to be offered once and for all giving access to the Holy of Holies in the heavenly realm (Heb 9:12).

Whatever it means to be called in holiness while living in an unholy world, we know that our final destination will be the same heavenly Holy of Holies that Jesus entered into through his own blood. Jesus bore the sins of his people, those whom he has called to holiness, who have come to repentance and faith in Christ. By that blood, he has opened the way for us to enter with him, which we will do in that day when the present evil world will be destroyed and all of God’s people will dwell in the Heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 21:2, 3). It will be a place where nothing can enter into it that defiles (Rev 21:27).

When Paul says we are not called to uncleanness, but in holiness, he is saying that we have been called into the realm of the holy, and because our final destiny is to co-dwell with God in the Holy of Holies par excellence, our presence now in this sinful world should not be an occasion to tarnish us. It is line with Peter’s admonition, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1 Pet 1:15), and John, And everyone who has this hope in Him [the hope that we shall be like Him when he appears] purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).

But Paul is not speaking of uncleanness in the abstract. Nor is uncleanness simply an aberration of socially or culturally approved behavior. It is specifically sexual immorality from which we must abstain. There follows the reason why abstinence is mandatory, so that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor (v 4). The ESV translates the word ‘vessel’ as body, and the word ‘possess’ as control (hence, to control his own body so as to avoid sexual immorality). The NET retains the word ‘possess’, but also translates ‘vessel’ as body. However appropriate this translation is to the context, the word ‘possess’ is more in line with the idea of obtaining or acquiring rather than controlling. What is acquired is a vessel, and it should be done a) not in the way the unbeliever does it, which is in the passion of lust (v 5), and b) not in a way that defrauds his brother (v 6).

This points away from a reference to one’s own body but to something else. Peter uses the word vessel to describe the wife - the weaker vessel (1 Pet 3:7). There is good reason to think that Paul is using vessel as a metaphor for wife or spouse. Assuming Paul is warning against acquiring a wife through sexual immorality, he goes on to give the reason why, so that one may not take advantage of and defraud his brother (v 6). Again, if Paul is giving his reader directives on how singles are to obtain a spouse, this defrauding would refer to such things as taking the wife of the brother, or behaving immorally with his sister. Wife swapping and the lending of one’s wife to another man were common practices in the ancient Roman world. In addressing the immorality in the Corinthian church where one had his own mother, the defrauding of a brother seems to be in mind, because Paul describes the situation as that of a man who has his father's wife (1 Cor 5:1).

Given these considerations, we see how this interpretation coheres. I think the translation, Each of you should know that finding a husband or wife for yourself is to be done in a holy and honorable way (v 4, GW) is closer to Paul’s meaning. We are not to obtain a spouse in the passion of lust, or as a “try it before you buy it” approach. This is the way of the unbelieving world who does not know God (v 5). The implication - we know God and therefore we know better.

Sexual impulse or sexual attraction has to be one of the most powerful bents that God has put into our human nature. It is with us everywhere we go. It intrudes into every situation of life. It seduces us into impure thoughts which, if unchecked, by and by lead to impure behavior. Yet, God does not give any flexibility. We are to be sexually pure in all our behavior. Even our thoughts must be pure (Matt 6:28).

Who among us can claim such purity? Who among us can cast the first stone? (John 8:7). It is the bane of us all, the albatross that hangs around our necks. What shall we do when tempted?

The biblical answer is not to stay around and wait it out, but to flee.

Paul advised young Timothy to flee also youthful lusts (2 Tim 2:22). One of my Old Testament heroes is Joseph. He suffered patiently the terrible rejection of his brothers and the abject humility of slavery and imprisonment. When things seemed to get better, disaster was around the corner. Joseph endured daily overtures from the wife of Potiphar to sleep with her. With raging hormones, he continually resisted, and when that moment came when she seized him by his clothes, he did not try to talk her out of it or hold out until she gave up. He ran. What a godly man! What faithfulness to his God!

David should have averted his eyes the moment they fell on Bathsheba and fled from the rooftop. But he hesitated, and it was too late. Not only did it defraud Uriah her husband, but at the bottom of a downward spiral, David murdered him.

All of us who are called to be saints are called to sexual cleanness. It is a fight that we must wage to the last ounce of energy God has given us. It is walking circumspectly (Eph 5:15), looking about how we might avoid the temptation. For the vast majority of us, it is a fight we will have to wage until our last breath. But we must fight to the end. It will be worth it (Rom 8:18), for a day is coming when in the heavenly Holy of Holies the fight will be over, and we will enter an eternal rest (2 Thess 1:7; Heb 4:1; Rev 14:11).

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