1 Thessalonians 4:7 | Impurity vs Holiness

Holy is a word very specific to religious imagery especially in the Christian church. I wrote about this word and that is means to be set apart, here. Anywhere in scripture where the word holy appears one may rightly substitute the words “set apart” to get a better understanding of what the author is communicating. In my previous post’s example, I looked at Peter’s command for Christians to be holy.

but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV

Then everywhere Peter used the word holy I replaced it with “set apart”

but as he who called you is set apart, you also be set apart in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be set apart, for I am set apart.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

The full implication begins to emerge that God is apart from the creation. He is not held to the same constraints as creation and he does not participate in conduct, sin, that is contrary to the original purpose of creation. In the same way God is Holy he has made a way in Christ for his people to not be like or act like what is normal in this world. He has called Christians to be holy and apart from the way the world acts (He has not called Christians to separate themselves from the world). Paul makes a similar statement about being holy.

7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 ESV

While Peter tells us to be Holy, set apart, in all our conduct Paul here tells us the same but he adds a contrast. Paul tells us we were called to be holy as opposed to being called to be impure. The Greek word here ἀκαθαρσία (akatharsia) means unclean and impure in both the physical and moral sense. God did not call us as Christians to remain impure in the physical or the moral sense. When Paul tells the church that they were not called to be impure he means they were not called to think or act in the same way as the world. Christians were not called, saved, by God to lust and chase after the power of this world. Or to live lives of entertainment and distraction. Christians were called by God to be Holy, set apart, focusing on things like self-control, hard work, compassion, and putting others before our own needs. What God has called Christians to be is not an easy task. For example, in these same verses Paul targets something in this early church that our own culture struggles with.

3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 ESV

To abstain from the current sexual ethic and live a life of measured self-control will set one apart. I took my family to the beach. We dressed in current fashion but modestly. An older gentleman approached me at the pool area and asked if I and my family were Christian. When I responded yes, he said he could tell based on how my family interacts and by how we were not dressed. When you are living a life set apart it does not go unnoticed. God ordained sex as part of marriage. The world says live with abandon without self-control. In my early years I struggled with self-control and realizing my weakness in this area I had to put some personal rules in place regarding dating. I did this to remain set apart as God impressed on my heart. It was not easy. Now that I am married, I have personal rules in place in how I interact with members of the opposite sex so that I limit the opportunity to live life out of control. In what ways might the Holy Spirit be speaking to you about being called way from impurity to holiness?

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you 1 Peter 1:3-4 ESV

Look at the Virgin Wearing Mixed Fabric and Eating Shrimp

laws

The Bible has some very clear definitions of right and wrong and sets standards for morality. Increasingly those standards and morality are not in alignment with western culture. For example sex and intimate relationships outside of marriage or before marriage should not be acceptable to a Christian that wants to be in right standing with God and the Church. Alignment with the Biblical text will place one outside the popular culture anything goes sexual worldview. Christians are attacked as hypocritical for wanting to maintain a moral standard when it comes to sex because they ignore other rules from the Old Testament like mixing fabric or eating shrimp. Here are a few quotes that I have seen attacking Christianity along these lines…

Why do Christians wear clothing of mixed fabrics when the Bible said not to? (Deuteronomy 22:11)

Why do Christians eat shrimp when it’s an abomination, according to Leviticus 11:9-12 and Deuteronomy 14:9-10

Any time spent on twitter or in the comments section of publications will turn up these arguments and others like them as a way to discredit the Christian worldview. For those that like to use this line of attack please take a few moments to see this response. For the Christian that does not know how to respond please dig in, ask questions, and be prepared to provide reasoned answers to the problems and challenges of the day.

When looking at the laws and rules of the Biblical literature there are some ordinances and laws in the Old Testament that do not apply to Christians living in the western world. These scriptures are not mistakes or part of selective adherence by the contemporary believer. These rules within context are not applicable and it becomes obvious when one reads and understands the context. Essentially there are three different types of laws, rules, or expectations communicated by God in the Old Testament and only one of these three still apply to the contemporary Christian.
1. Laws of the Nation State of Israel in antiquity. For example Leviticus 20:10 NIV states “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” So why do I not demand the local police arrest my neighbor if he or she commits adultery? In America adultery in not illegal let alone qualified for a death penalty. In America capital punishment is carried out in some states and only within a very specific set of procedures for certain crimes. This verse in Leviticus does not apply to the contemporary American because the contemporary person does not live in the nation of Israel as organized at that time. Taken in context this verse is part of civil law and part of the function of organized governance that has no authority over the modern reader.
2. Ceremonial laws that governed how the worshipers of Jehovah were to live before their God. I love the Jewish people, but I am not Jewish, and I do not practice Judaism. Christ when He died on the Cross as the perfect lamb sacrifice ended the ceremonial rules needed to approach God. Christians do not need to sacrifice animals in Jerusalem and they do not need to keep the ceremonial laws intended to make Hebrews holy and presentable to God. Jesus fulfilled all those rules on the behalf of His followers as the perfect and final sacrifice. The ordinances that were put in place to separate and distinguish God’s people are not applicable to the contemporary Christian. What kind of food one eats, how one cuts their hair, or what clothes they wear are part of that ceremonial law and do not apply today.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:14 NIV

3. Moral laws that are true for all people, in all places, at all times. Finally the question everyone wants to know… why then do we need or follow anything written in the Old Testament and the answer is the moral character of God is revealed there and that character applies to all people who are created in God’s image (every person regardless of color, gender, or culture is created in God’s image). That moral law as seen in the Ten Commandments like do not murder and do not lie are behaviors that are wrong in all places, at all times, and are true for all people.

While adultery may not be against the law or a capital offence in America that does not mean that adultery is acceptable to God. Jesus demonstrated this truth when challenged to pronounce a death sentence over an actual adulterous woman. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:11 NIV. Jesus did not uphold the defunct Jewish Civil law as the Pharisees wanted (if he had he would have violated Roman law the true government authority at that time) but he did uphold the moral law by asking her to stop the life of adultery. While there may be no dress code in western culture that does not mean that people should abandon modesty in public. While one could be a less than truthful salesman and stay within the bounds of the law there is still a moral law about honesty that applies to interactions with other people. The freedom that comes from Christ also holds a responsibility to seek the morally correct path because that path aligns with the nature and character of God. Here is Paul’s warning on this newfound freedom for followers of Christ…

All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV

The Christian can be free to eat meat or be vegetarian and still be in right standing before God. The Christian however can be in broken fellowship with God for continually overeating. The same approach applies to sexual relationships. God has a defined standard for sex and living a life outside of that moral standard is living outside of God’s moral character as confirmed even in the New Testament scriptures. Sex is a moral issue between God, the Church, and the follower of Christ. And that is why many lifestyles promoted by society at large may not be honored by God who has set the standards of right and wrong.