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

We are Set Free to be… Holy?

Holy is an interesting word. I always think of the 60’s Batman television show where every exclamation by Robin started with “holy” and your choice of a normal phrase that was intended to be a pun on the situation. Like “holy kidnappers, Batman” or “holy bank robbery, Batman”. So is Holy just an exclamation in a bad joke? The second thing I think of is the 70’s movie Monty Python and the quest for the Holy Grail that also included a skit with a holy hand grenade. In this scene King Arthur calls on the Church and all its formal rules to help him slay a wild animal that is terrorizing the adventurers. Maybe holy is just part of a funny joke at the expense of church formality? So what is 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

What does it mean to be “holy”? Holy in all my conduct, does that mean being a good person? I need to be a holy roller? I know those people; holier than thou types. I do not want to be part of that group so I hope that is not what holy is all about. Peter is quoting what the Lord told Moses in Leviticus 19:2 we, the people of God, need to be holy because God is Holy. So maybe this means I need to be more like God. I need to be like God in my thinking and my actions. How can this be? I can’t be omniscient, or omnipresent. I can’t be like the atheist who thinks of himself as God. How can the imperfect and finite like me be like the perfect and infinite God?

Hold on it is time to dig deep. I need to know and understand what it means to be holy and to conduct life as holy if that is who God is and what he wants of me. The Hebrew word in Leviticus 19:2 for holy is קָדוֹשׁ (Qadowsh) and the root meaning is “set apart”. Let me retranslate 1 Peter 1:15-16 replacing “holy” with “set apart” and see if any new meaning comes to light.

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

God has called me to be set apart in my conduct and He wants me to be set apart because He is set apart. “Set Apart” is an interesting phrase and since life is motion then that leads to the question “set apart for what purpose”? How do I conduct myself as set apart? Whatever that purpose is it must be very special since God has set himself apart.

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:14-15 NIV

The author of Hebrews tells us why God wants us to be set apart (holy). I am to be holy so that I may serve the living God. Jesus died to give me a new life and eternal inheritance. Jesus has set me free from my sins that caused my death and set me free for one purpose. That purpose is to be set apart to serve God now and for eternity.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 ESV

Holy servant of God, Batman. My purpose in life is to serve God because he saved me? Maybe I need to reevaluate all that serving myself that is going on.