To God Be the Glory!

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

25 Brothers, pray for us.

26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28 ESV

As Paul wraps up his letter, he provides a brief summary of its content. He has covered a lot of territory, but when all is said and done, what Paul has been trying to emphasize is their sanctification. This has been the primary point of his letter. Remember, back in chapter four Paul stated: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). According to Paul, the divine will is that the life of each and every believer reflect their status as having been set apart by God for His use. It’s an obligation and not an option they can choose to ignore. 

The apostle Peter made this non-optional aspect of God’s will quite clear when he wrote: “…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). The Greek word for “holy” is hagios and the Greek word for “sanctification” is hagiasmos. Followers of Jesus Christ have been set apart or consecrated by God, and their lives are to reflect their status as His possession. They are no longer free to do and think as they please. Which is why Paul told the Corinthian believers:

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NLT

And Paul told the Thessalonians something very similar and linked it to their status as having been sanctified by God.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

With this simple, yet profound sentence, Paul eliminates any thought the Thessalonians may have had about maintaining a semblance of their old lifestyles. Paul is emphatic when he states, “run from sexual sin!” He leaves no room for debate when he demands, “abstain from sexual immorality!”

Paul warned Timothy, “Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22 NLT). In another letter, Paul reminded Timothy that he belonged to God and he was to love like it.

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 NLT

From Paul’s perspective, the sanctified life that God willed for His children was non-optional and required constant attention and effort. But the goal of all this effort and energy is so that we will be useful to God. Which is exactly what Paul told Timothy.

So if anyone cleanses himself of what is unfit, he will be a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21 BSB

But when it comes to the topic of sanctification, there is a very important part we tend to leave out, and Paul brings it up as he closes out his letter. He knows that God’s call to live set apart lives is a daunting one. He also knows it will prove impossible if attempted without God’s help. The life of holiness is not something we can pull off on our own. Which is why Paul offered this short prayer on behalf of his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV). Their sanctification was not only God’s will, but it was His responsibility. God didn’t provide for their salvation and then leave their sanctification up to them. God doesn’t didn’t adopt them into His family and then leave them to fend for themselves. Paul wanted all those under his leadership and care to live with the assurance “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6 ESV).

And Paul continues his prayer on behalf of the Thessalonians, stating, “may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NLT). Notice that phrase, “be kept blameless.” Paul uses the Greek word, tēreō, which means “to keep or preserve.” It could be used metaphorically to refer to “keeping one in the state in which he is.” Paul is assuring them that God is the one who will maintain their set-apart status. But he isn’t suggesting that God is going to keep them just like they were when He saved them. Notice that Paul addresses the whole nature of man: spirit, soul, and body. And he asks that God preserve every aspect of the believer’s life as faultless. He isn’t speaking of sinless perfection, but of a life where sin no longer enslaves and controls one’s actions.

A blameless man was an individual whose life was no longer dominated by sinful habits. He lived under the control of the Spirit of God, and his life reflected the fruit of the Spirit. That is why Paul demanded that all elder candidates be blameless men – men who were above reproach. No one could point a finger at them and cast dispersions on their character. Their reputations, while not perfect, were expected to be free from sinful habit or questionable behaviors.

And, according to Paul, it is God alone who makes that kind of life possible. That is what he means when he says, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24 ESV). But again, that doesn’t leave the believer with no role to play or any responsibility to pursue Christlikeness. Paul’s point is that if sanctification is God’s will for us, it should be our will as well. We should desire what God does. If He has sanctified us – set us apart – we should pursue a life that reflects that reality. But here is an often overlooked aspect of the sanctified life. IT ISN’T ABOUT US.

In other words, if we are not careful, we will pursue holiness for our own glory. We will attempt to live godly lives so that God will be pleased with us and others will think more highly of us. But that kind of approach to sanctification is missing the point altogether. Paul would have us remember that we exist to bring God glory. And when we live set-apart lives, in the power of the Spirit, we bring Him glory. And our sanctification is to influence every area of our lives. Which is why Paul said, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). Even in the mundane, everyday things of life, our goal should be God’s glory, not our own. And according to Peter, when using the gifts given to us by God, our focus should never be receiving glory but giving glory to God.

If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. – 1 Peter 4:11 BSB

Peter also reminds us that our pursuit of holy conduct and character should be less about us and more about the lost around us.

Conduct yourselves with such honor among the Gentiles that, though they slander you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.
 – 1 Peter 2:12 BSB

God wills our sanctification. He makes possible our sanctification. And He will one day complete our sanctification. All for our good and His glory. And with that assurance in mind, we should make it our highest priority to desire the good that God has willed for us. Not so we will look good in front of our believing friends. But so that God will be glorified before a lost and dying world. To God be the glory, great things He has done.

To God be the glory, great things he has done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life-gate that we may go in.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood!
To ev’ry believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus forgiveness receives. [Refrain]

Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
but purer and higher and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father thro’ Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he has done!

lona– Fanny Crosby (1875)

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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God’s Will: Your Holiness

1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ESV

The chapter and verse designations found in our English translations were not In the original letter sent by Paul to the Thessalonians. So, the rather abrupt break we find between the close of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter four would not have been there. And that artificially imposed structure on the letter can cause some unnecessary confusion when trying to determine Paul’s intent and meaning.

Chapter three ends with Paul expressing his strong desire that God increase the love of Thessalonian believers for one another and for those outside their fellowship. And his prayer is that God would “establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV). Paul’s concern is that they live loves marked by love and godliness. He longs to see their inner heart transformation manifest itself through external expressions that give evidence to their holiness.

And Paul carries that thought into the next paragraph. The word “finally” is translated from the Greek word loipon, which can have a wide range of meanings, depending upon the context. It could be translated, “in addition” or “moreover.” Paul is expanding on what he has just said. He’s adding to his thoughts by providing his readers with further counsel regarding the link between their status as believers in Jesus Christ and the behavior that marks their lives. Paul had previously provided them with instructions in how “to walk and to please God,” and he commends them for having done so. But he also encourages them to “do so more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV). They were not to grow complacent or content. This was no time to rest on their laurels or to become satisfied with the current condition of their spiritual lives. 

And it must be noted how Paul weaves together two very important aspects regarding the Christian’s spiritual maturity. At the close of chapter three, he expressed his firm belief that it was God alone who could increase the level of their love and cause it to overflow. And only God could make their hearts strong, blameless, and holy. The inner transformation of their lives was totally dependent upon divine power, not human effort. It was impossible for them to manufacture, through human means, the kind of love God demanded. There is no way that they could repair the sin-damaged condition of their own hearts through self-renovation. Man is incapable of seeing the true state of his inner life. As the prophet Jeremiah put it, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). And even if he could see how wicked his heart is, man is powerless to do anything about it. That’s the meaning behind a comment made by God regarding the people of Judah and recorded in the book of Jeremiah.

“Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots? Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.” – Jeremiah 13:23 NLT

God asked two rhetorical questions that shared the same obvious answer: No. The people of God were powerless to change their behavior because they couldn’t change their hearts. Their actions were nothing more than an outer expression of their inner condition.

So, Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that it is the power of God that has transformed them and made them His children. Their newfound status as sons and daughters of God was His doing. But that didn’t mean God was finished with them. Otherwise, Paul would not have prayed for God to increase their love to make their hearts strong, blameless, and holy. They were works in process. Which is what Paul meant when he wrote to the believers in Philippi:

God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6 NLT

But Paul’s reference to God’s work in them doesn’t mean that God expects no work from them. And he makes that point perfectly clear when he states, “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). This little verse packs a punch and yet is easily overlooked or ignored by most Christians. It provides a remarkable glimpse into God’s divine will for the life of the believer, and it is all summed up in the one word, sanctification.

The Greek word Paul used is hagiasmos and, like most Greek words, it is rich in meaning. It is sometimes translated as holiness, consecration, and purification. And it can be used to signify a position (a holy nation) and a process (be holy). In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul provides them with a list that describes the unrighteous, or those outside of Christ. It includes the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. Then Paul makes an interesting statement.  

…such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV

Notice that he lists the Corinthian believers as having been sanctified. In this case, he is referring to their having been set apart by God. In the process of their salvation, their sinful condition was cleansed by the righteous blood of Christ, making them pure and acceptable before God and able to be set apart for His use. Like the utensils used in temple worship, they had to be cleansed and purified before they could be deemed worthy of use for God. Which is what Peter meant when he wrote:

you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy [hagios] nation, God’s very own possession. – 1 Peter 2:9 NLT

Don’t miss what Peter is saying. He tells his readers that they are a holy nation. They have been chosen by God and set apart as His very own possession. They belong to Him. Which is exactly what Paul told the believers in Corinth.

You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

They had been declared holy by God and set apart for His use. Which meant that they were to honor God with the entirety of their lives. And that is the whole point behind Paul’s admonitions to the believers in Thessalonica and Corinth. Notice the similarities between his comments in the two letters.

He tells the Thessalonians, “stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways” (Thessalonians 4:3-5 NLT). And his words to the Corinthians were similar.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? – 1 Corinthians 18-19 NLT

In a sense, Paul is commanding both groups to live their lives in a manner that matches their calling. They have been set apart by God for His use, and their lives were to reflect it. They were not free to live according to their own desires anymore. They had been bought with a price and belonged to God. And it was His will that they live sanctified, set apart lives.

And, as it to make sure the don’t miss his point, Paul states, “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7 ESV). There’s that Greek word, hagiasmos again. It is the very same word that is translated as “sanctification” in verse 3. Paul is emphasizing that the believer’s calling by God is for the purpose of holiness or sanctification, not impurity.

There is a very important truth revealed in this verse that is easily overlooked and underappreciated. Paul says that God has not called us for impurity but in holiness. Those two prepositions are critical. The first one conveys a destination or activity. The second has to do with status or position. Holiness is not to be viewed as a process, but a positional reality. Holiness or sanctification is not to be viewed as a progression towards something as much as a revelation of something. We are already holy in God’s eyes. So, we are to live as what we are. We have been set apart by God in holiness. That is our new status or condition. We have been set apart by God for His will.

But there is going to be a constant war between our will and that of God. And one of the areas of life where the battle will rage the hottest is in regards to sexual sin. It was obviously a problem among the Thessalonian believers, or Paul would not have addressed it. While they enjoyed status as sanctified saints, they were going to have to live lives that gave evidence of who there were. And Paul reminds them that they had the indwelling power of the Spirit of God available to them. This was not about will power and self-effort. But it was about a willingness to make God’s will for them their highest priority. And Paul minces no words when he tells them, “this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Live Like It.

17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.  – 1 Peter 1:17-21 ESV

Peter has appealed to his readers to see themselves as holy, because God has chosen them for salvation. They are His children and heirs of His Kingdom, so they should act and behave accordingly. In making his appeal to holy behavior, Peter is referencing an Old Testament passage found in the book of Leviticus.

44 For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. So do not defile yourselves with any of these small animals that scurry along the ground. 45 For I, the Lord, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy. – Leviticus 11:44-34 NLT

This had been a recurring theme in Leviticus.

“Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. – Leviticus 19:2 NLT

So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep all my decrees by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord who makes you holy. – Leviticus 20:7-8 NLT

God’s gracious favor on them should produce godly behavior in them. So, Peter warns them that, if they are able to call on God as their Father, it is because He has chosen them to be His own. And that same loving Father will examine their behavior, impartially and without any signs of favoritism, “according to each one’s deeds” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). There is a common misconception among believers that, because we are God’s children, we are free from judgment. We look at verses like Roman 8:1 and make some false assumptions.

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1 NLT

But notice that it says, “there is no condemnation”, not “there is no judgment.” As believers in Jesus Christ, and sons of daughters of God, we no longer face the condemnation associated with our former sins. We face no death penalty because of our rebellions against God. But that does not mean we are free to live as we want and to sin with abandon because we are forgiven. The apostle Paul kicked that misconception to the curb in a powerful, no-holds-barred way:

1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? – Romans 6:1-2 NLT

We may be free from condemnation, but we are not free to live as we wish. So, when Peter says that God is impartial, it is a reminder that He does not treat us any differently when it comes to judgment of our behavior. He is impartial. Now, it is true that, as believers, our sins have been paid for, in full, by Jesus Christ. We stand before God as righteous because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. God sees us as holy because His Son paid our sin debt with His own life. John will speak of this in the first of his three letters.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. – 1 John 2:2-3 ESV

God has been satisfied. Our debt has been paid. But that does not mean we are no longer required to live in accordance with the laws and commands of God. Look at what John says. The proof of our position as God’s children is our obedience to His commands. John drives that point home in a powerful way.

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:4-6 NLT

Back to Peter’s letter. He warns his readers to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). Remember, he has already told them that they are exiles, living here on earth as they wait for their future inheritance. In the very next chapter, Peter will refer to his readers as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). He will warn them “to abstain from the passions of the flesh.” He will tell them to “get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech” (1 Peter 2:1 NLT). Peter will remind them that, while others in their community may reject Christ as Savior, they have not.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:10 NLT

They are chosen. They are set apart. They have been deemed by God to be His holy nation, His possession and kingdom of priests. And it should show up in their behavior. Their salvation was not just a designation, a stamp of godly authenticity, but it was to be a way of life. Back in verse 15 of chapter 1, Peter told them that because God is holy, they were to be holy in all their conduct.

15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:15 NLT

And Peter reminds them that God paid a high price so that they might be set free from their former lives of sin.

18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

Jesus spilled His blood so that they might be purified from their sins and set free from future enslavement to sin. He died so that they might live new lives, no longer captive to their former lusts. That’s why Peter had warned them:

Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

They knew better now. But Peter wanted to drive that knowledge deep into their hearts, so he refuses to take his foot off the gas. He keeps pressing home his point, in an attempt to get them to understand the gravity and greatness of what God has done. He tells them that this remarkable salvation was not a new idea or something God came up with at the last minute.

20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:20 NLT

God had not been caught off guard by the fall of man. He had known it would happen, even before He had created mankind. The incarnation of Jesus, His coming to earth as a man, was not a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part, attempting to remedy man’s ongoing sinful state. The Ten Commandments were not a last-ditch effort on the part of God, to provide sinful men with some rules to follow, hoping they could get their spiritual act together and obey Him. God gave the Law in order to reveal to sinful men just how sinful they really were. The Law provided a black-and-white, no-questions-asked, not-to-be-argued-with description of the kind of life God required. And no one could live up to His holy standards. That is, until His Son came to earth and lived a sinless life, fully obedient to every command God had ever given. And His sinlessness made Him the perfect, sinless sacrifice and the only acceptable means of atoning for the sins of mankind. Remember what John said in his letter?

He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. – 1 John 2:2 NLT

That was God’s plan, from before the foundations of the world. Christ was revealed to mankind in order that men might be made right with God. And Peter reminds his readers “Through Christ you have come to trust in God” (1 Peter 1:21 NLT). It was their faith in Jesus that had made their relationship with God possible. Had God not sent His Son, they would still be living in their sins, with no hope of ever reconciling themselves to God. But, Peter points out, “you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory” (1 Peter 1:21 NLT). And that faith and hope should show up in a desire to live differently. It should reveal itself in godly behavior, in lives of holiness and set-apartness, and in a desire to obey God out of gratitude and love for God.

For Peter, the bottom line was that, if God had been powerful enough to raise Jesus back to life after three days in the tomb, could He not also raise us up to new life, right here, right now? Could He not give us the capacity to act and think differently, even while we live as sojourners and strangers in this land? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” He could. He has. And we should.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Therefore…

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 ESV

Based on all that God has done for them, Peter now gives his readers some specific actions they are to take in response. God has elected them. He has caused them “to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV). He has prepared for them “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT), that is being kept in heaven for them. On top of that, while they live on this earth, God is protecting them by His power, preserving them until the day of salvation, the final glorification of their bodies. Yes, in the meantime, they are having to endure various trials and troubles that come with life. They are experiencing the persecutions and difficulties that accompany living as a follower of Christ in a fallen world. But even those seemingly negative circumstances have positive consequences, because they test the genuineness of their faith, revealing the increasingly purified nature of that faith. The trials don’t destroy them, they perfect and strengthen them.

So, with all that in mind, Peter starts the next section of this letter with the word, “therefore” – a term on transition. It is the Greek word, dio, which means “consequently” or “with all that in mind.” Everything Peter has said thus far was meant by why of preparation and to provide a foundation on which his readers were to build their lives. All that God has done for them was meant to be a point of comfort and confidence. That’s why Peter says, “prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control” (1 Peter 1:13 NLT). I love the way the King James Version translates this verse: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind.” The words Peter used would have been very familiar to his audience and carried a strong visual image to which they would have easily related. To “gird up the loins” was something they would have done every day of their lives, a normal part of their daily activities, especially anything that required work or quick action. The long outer garments they wore, while comfortable and perfect for the intense heat common to that part of the world, could prove cumbersome when hard labor or quick movements were required. So, they would “gird up their loins” by pulling the lower part between their legs and tucking it into their girdle or belt. This would free their legs and provide them with more mobility and less restriction, making work easier to accomplish. In essence, Peter is telling them to roll up the sleeves of their mind. They were to get ready for action – mentally. They were to be sober-minded. The Greek word Peter uses is nēphō, which conveys the idea of not only remaining free from drunkenness, but maintaining a control over your mental capacities at all times. Paul provides a great explanation of this in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

15 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit… – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT

The obvious antonym to soberness is drunkenness. It is a lack of self-control and an altered state of consciousness that is negatively impacted by an outside influence. When one is drunk, they are out of control. They lack discernment and clear decision-making capabilities. Their reasoning capacities are clouded. Their ability to think clearly is diminished. So, Peter calls for an attitude of sober-mindedness, and he tells them exactly how to do it: “Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world” (1 Peter 1:13 NLT). In other words, they were to keep their minds focused on the incredible reality of their future glorification. Staying sober-minded in this life requires keeping our minds focused on the life to come. This has everything to do with identity. Peter wants them to know that they are citizens of a different kingdom. This world is not their home. Their lives on this planet are not intended to be the end-all, but the means to an end. They are to see themselves as on a journey to somewhere greater and better. That is why they are to “gird up the loins of their mind.” In this life, they have work to do. This is a time for sober-minded effort and focused attention on the job to be done. Remember what Peter has already said: God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). He has an inheritance prepared and preserved for us. This world is NOT our inheritance. This life is not the end of the road, it is a pathway to the life to come. So, we are not to get distracted by the cares of this life or detoured by the troubles that come with life. Peter tells us we “must live as God’s obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14 NLT). Our allegiance is to Him, not to this world. He is the one we should want to please, because He is the one who has chosen us and prepared an incredible future for us. And, as far as Peter sees it, the worst thing a child of God could do would be to “slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires” (1 Peter 1:14 NLT). And yet, that is a daily temptation for each and every one of us. When we take our eyes off the prize, we lose our focus. It becomes all about us again. Which is why Paul said, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT). In essence, Paul is saying that he girds up the loins of his mind so that he can run the face of life unhindered and freed up to get to the finish line unhampered by the cares of this life.

And Peter gives us a powerful admonition that can either leave us feeling debilitated or exhilarated.

15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT

These verses have long intimated believers. They sound so impossible. How in the world am I to be holy like God is holy? What was Peter thinking? The answer is really quite simple. He was letting his readers know that, having been chosen by God, they were to live lives that reflected their new relationship with God. They were His children, so they should act like it. They had been “set apart” by God, which is what holiness means, so they lives should reflect a change in behavior. In fact, the word Peter uses is anastrophē, which means “manner of life.” Their set-apartness by God was to be all-encompassing. It was not just spiritual, but physical as well. It was to influence their entire life – from their actions to their attitudes. They belonged to God, so they were to act like it. But the key was keeping their focus on the reality of that calling. It has a future-orientation. It is our life-to-come that should influence our life in the here-and-now. As Paul said, he kept his mind focused on the finish line, not the particular part of the race course on which he currently found himself. Mile ten of a marathon is NOT the finish line. Being in first place at the halfway point of a race does not make you a winner. Standing at the halfway point of a race, admiring how far you have come, will only keep you from getting where it is you need to go. That’s why Paul said, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize.”

We are on our way to somewhere else. We are passing through this place, with our eyes focused on our true destination. That is why, in the very next chapter of this letter, Peter will remind his readers of this very fact, using very stark terms to explain their new status in this world.

I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. – 1 Peter 2:11 NLT

The danger we all face is the tendency to become comfortable in this world. When we find ourselves wanting to make this world our home, we stop running the race set before us. We start taking in the sights along the way, and forget that the finish line is the goal. We start making success in this life our destination. We end up making comfort our goal. We turn the various “mile markers” of life into the finish life of our life, convincing ourselves of having “arrived” and contenting ourselves with all that we have accomplished. But there is no prize for getting halfway to the goal. There are no true blessings that come with only partially running the race.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Contaminated.

Thus says the Lord:
“Behold, a people is coming from the north country,
    a great nation is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.
They lay hold on bow and javelin;
    they are cruel and have no mercy;
    the sound of them is like the roaring sea;
they ride on horses,
    set in array as a man for battle,
    against you, O daughter of Zion!”
We have heard the report of it;
    our hands fall helpless;
anguish has taken hold of us,
    pain as of a woman in labor.
Go not out into the field,
    nor walk on the road,
for the enemy has a sword;
    terror is on every side.
O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth,
    and roll in ashes;
make mourning as for an only son,
    most bitter lamentation,
for suddenly the destroyer
    will come upon us.

“I have made you a tester of metals among my people,
    that you may know and test their ways.
They are all stubbornly rebellious,
    going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron;
    all of them act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely;
    the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
    for the wicked are not removed.
Rejected silver they are called,
    for the Lord has rejected them.” Jeremiah 6:22-30 ESV

 

The enemy IS coming. God has ordained it and nothing is going to stop it. Unless of course, the people were to change their minds and return to Him. But God gives a bleak prognosis when it comes to any future repentance on the part of the people of Judah.

“They are as hard as bronze and iron,
    and they lead others into corruption.
The bellows fiercely fan the flames
    to burn out the corruption.
But it does not purify them,
    for the wickedness remains.” – Jeremiah 6:28-29 NLT

They were contaminated by sin. It permeated their very existence. And it didn’t seem to matter how much God brought the heat of His judgment against them, they remained unrepentant and polluted by sin. So, God tells Jeremiah that He will now refer to them as “rejected silver”. They had inherent value, but their unrepentant sin had diminished their worth. At one time they had been declared holy to the Lord.

Remember that the LORD rescued you from the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt in order to make you his very own people and his special possession, which is what you are today. – Deuteronomy 4:20 NLT

For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

They held the distinct privilege of being God’s own possession. Not because they had deserved it, but simply because God had chosen to make them so. He had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt, where they had been undergoing intense testing under the tyrannical hand of the Pharaoh. God had freed them and set them apart as His own. Not because they had deserved it, but simply because God had chosen to do so. And as a result, they belonged to Him, and their lives were to have reflected their new relationship as God’s chosen people. But over the coming years and throughout the successive generations, the people of Israel would prove to be anything but holy.

“Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

They had gone from holy to profane. That word, “profane” has very strong connotations. It refers to something that has been polluted or desecrated. But it is directly tied to the idea of holiness. God had set the people of Israel apart or deemed them holy. They belonged to Him. But their constant sin and rebellion had left them profaned, like damaged goods. Rather than being pure silver, they were marred by sin. And it didn’t seem to matter how hot the fire of God’s judgment got, they remained unchanged and unrepentant. The people of Judah had sat back and watched the destruction of their neighbors to the north in the kingdom of Israel. They had seen the devastating impact of the Assyrians as they had swarmed the northern territory, destroying its cities and wiping out its people. But now that they were faced with the same fate, they remained unchanged.

Oh, they were concerned. Jeremiah describes their reaction to his messages of coming destruction:

“We have heard reports about the enemy,
    and we wring our hands in fright.
Pangs of anguish have gripped us,
    like those of a woman in labor.” – Jeremiah 6:24 NLT

They were scared, but they weren’t repentant. They were wringing their hands in worry, but not lifting their hands toward God. They wanted to escape God’s judgment, but weren’t willing to obey His commands. So, Jeremiah warns them that they are going to mourn one way or another. They could choose to repent and come before God in sackcloth and ashes, expressing their sorrow over the rebellion against Him. Or they would find themselves mourning over the loss of their entire nation.

“Oh, my people, dress yourselves in burlap
    and sit among the ashes.
Mourn and weep bitterly, as for the loss of an only son.
    For suddenly the destroying armies will be upon you!” – Jeremiah 6:26 NLT

God reminds Jeremiah of his role. “I have made you a tester of metals among my people, that you may know and test their ways” (Jeremiah 6:27 ESV). His words of warning and his constant calls to repentance were going to reveal the exact nature of the people of Judah’s moral and spiritual state. So far, Jeremiah’s messages had fallen on deaf ears. His warnings had been rejected. His threats had been ignored. His prophecies concerning God’s coming judgment had been contradicted by false prophets who promised nothing but peace and prosperity. And God assesses the true nature of His people as being “stubbornly rebellious” (Jeremiah 6:28 ESV).

It’s essential that we keep in mind that the people of Judah were not pagans who knew nothing about God. They were not ignorant of who He was or unfamiliar with His ways. They were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They knew the stories of His rescue of their ancestors Egypt. They had heard about His miraculous miracles as He led them through the wilderness. They had been told of the fall of the walls of Jericho and the ultimate rise of David to the throne of Israel. They were proud to be Jews. But none of this seemed to keep them from turning their backs on God. They had taken His many blessings and turned their noses up at them, acting as if God was not enough. They turned to false gods and sought help from foreign nations. They treated God’s laws as optional. The prophet Ezekiel records God’s less-than-flattering assessment of them.

The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have wronged the poor and needy; they have oppressed the foreigner who lives among them and denied them justice. I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one.– Ezekiel 22:29-30 ESV

They were thoroughly polluted, from top to bottom. From the princes in the palace to the peasant in his hut, everyone was stained by sin and polluted by immorality and injustice. They had become profane and, in the end, they had profaned the name of God. Their behavior had given God a black eye. As His representatives, they had done damage to His holy reputation. And that was not something God could or would tolerate. That is why they would end up in captivity. And even there, long after suffering the shame of defeat and deportation, the people of Judah would continue to profane God’s name. The prophet Ezekiel describe what was going to happen and how God, in spite of their continued unfaithfulness, even after their punishment by Him.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake that I am about to act, O house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy reputation which you profaned among the nations where you went. I will magnify my great name that has been profaned among the nations, that you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the sovereign Lord, when I magnify myself among you in their sight.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

God was going to protect the integrity of His name. He would prove to the people of Judah and the nations around them that He was faithful and that He was all-powerful. He would redeem His people once again. He would restore them to favor. He would make them His holy nation once more. Not because they deserved it, but simply because is faithful, loving, gracious and merciful. And He keeps His covenants.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Grace For Godliness.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. – Titus 2:11-15 ESV

Paul has just given Titus detailed descriptions of the kind of conduct he is to expect from those who have been exposed to sound doctrine. But now, Paul makes it clear that it is not the teaching of sound doctrine that produces life change. An understanding of theology doesn’t save anyone. A good grasp on doctrine will never earn anyone a right standing with God. And it can’t truly transform anyone’s behavior. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day knew doctrine and theology, but Jesus regularly referred to them as hypocrites. They knew the Hebrew Scriptures, that prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, but failed to recognize Him when He stood right in front of them. The reason Paul emphasized the teaching of sound doctrine was because he knew that God had equipped each and every believer with the capacity to apply that doctrine to their lives and experience true life change. And it was all because “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11 ESV). This is a clear reference to the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. Paul made a similar reference when he wrote his second letter to Timothy.

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. – 2 Timothy 1:9-10 NLT

God showed us His grace by sending His son to provide us with a means of salvation. And notice what Paul says: God saved us and called us to live a holy life. That is exactly what Paul has just finished describing to Titus: what a holy life looks like for each and every believer in his local congregation. From the oldest to the youngest, male and female, and even bondservants, there was an expectation of godly behavior made possible by the grace of God. Jesus came, not only to bring salvation, but sanctification, and Paul describes it this way: “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV).

In other words, the salvation provided for us by the grace of God and made possible through the death of His Son, is not to be viewed as some kind of entry ticket to heaven. It isn’t a future pass into His Kingdom that has no present significance. No, Paul makes it clear that the grace of God includes our present and ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. We are to grow in godliness – in the present age. Paul even seems to indicate that heaven is not to be our hope, but the return of Jesus Christ is. We are to “look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). It is the hope of that promise that should motivate us to live godly lives here and now. But it is the grace of God that provides us with the power we need to pull it off. The apostle Peter reminds us: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Jesus Christ died for us, not just to get us into heaven, but to redeem us from the power of sin. And that process begins in this lifetime, not the next. Paul clearly states: “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (Titus 2:14 NLT). Committed to doing good deeds when? In heaven? No, right here, right now. Jesus Himself stated: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). That abundant life begins at the point of salvation, not when we arrive in heaven. It is an ongoing process of transformation that takes place from the moment we place our faith in Jesus as Savior, and it will continue until He returns or the Father takes us home at the point of death. And Paul was so confident in God’s promise to transform each and every one of His children into the likeness of Christ, that he told the believers in Philippi: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Titus was to teach these truths to his people. He was to demand that they live lives of godliness, not in their own strength, but in the power and grace of God. Life change is possible. Character transformation is expected of each and every believer. And as far as Paul was concerned, a lack of change within the life of a professing believer was to be met with rebuke, not indifference. The author of Hebrews told his audience, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Hebrews 5:12 NLT). Paul had to tell the believers in Corinth, “when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). Spiritual growth in the life of a believer is not optional. Life transformation is an undeniable expectation and unavoidable outcome of the grace of God. Jesus did not die to leave us like we are. He set us free from slavery to sin. Paul provides the believers in Rome with these powerful words of reminder:

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. – Romans 6:12-14 NLT

The grace of God has set us free from the power of sin. We live under the freedom of God’s grace as provided by the death and resurrection of His Son. And Paul goes on to say, “Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living” (Romans 6:17-18 NLT). We have been given the grace to live godly lives. So, let’s do it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Improper Plowing Partners.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 ESV

There is a huge difference between being a conduit through which God’s redeeming grace can flow to the lost and becoming, as Paul describes, unequally yoked with them. It was Paul’s desire that the Corinthians would be gracious and loving to all, but he feared that they would turn the love of God into tolerance and His graciousness into an inappropriate excuse to associate with the ungodly. Paul had already witnessed their unacceptable handling of the man in their congregation who had been having an affair with his stepmother. Rather than mourning over this man’s immoral behavior, they had arrogantly approved of it, allowing him to remain a part of their fellowship. But Paul had read them the riot act, boldly stating, “You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.” (1 Corinthians 5:2 NLT). Paul’s concern is that the Corinthians would see his appeal to grace as meaning that they should accept anyone and everyone, regardless of their behavior or lifestyle. Paul knew that we must meet people where they are in order to share the gospel, but that the power of the gospel would not allow them to remain in that same state, unchanged. The good news of Jesus Christ is transformative and life-changing.

Associating with the lost is necessary in order to share with them the hope available to them through faith in Jesus Christ. But Paul differentiates between casual acquaintances and unhealthy associations. The issue here is one of a believer being in a close relationship with an unbeliever. Most often, this passage gets applied to marriage, and rightfully so. But it has more far-reaching application, covering everything from business partnerships and even close friendships. The imagery Paul uses is that of a yoke. It was a common farming implement that teamed two animals together in order for them to jointly pull a plow. The idea of being unequally yoked had to do with putting two different animals with two different temperaments in the yoke together, such as an ox and a donkey. These two different animals have different physical characteristics and personalities. They would not naturally associate with one another. So in putting them in a yoke together, they would pull at different speeds and actually fight against one another, making the process of the work inefficient and unacceptable to the farmer. Their efforts would be wasted and the farmer’s goal of plowing the field, thwarted.

This is what Paul has in mind when he tells the Corinthians not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. That kind of partnership is unacceptable. He compares it to light and darkness, righteousness and lawlessness. Unbelievers, by virtue of their unredeemed state, are under the control of Satan. So why would a follower of Christ willingly align themselves with child of Satan? Yes, that sounds harsh, but the apostle John reminds us of its reality.

Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God.So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God. – 1 John 3:7-10 NLT

Paul is in no way suggesting that believers have NO relationships with the lost. That would be impossible. In fact, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote:

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. – 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NLT

But he is warning about developing or maintaining unhealthy alliances with the lost. To do so is counterproductive and puts us in a position where our allegiance to Christ will be strained and hampered. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are the temple of God. Then he uses a variety of Old Testament texts to drive home his point. Just as God had chosen the people of Israel to be His people, believers had been hand-picked by God to be members of His family. They had been separated by and consecrated to God. So God expected them to disassociate themselves from the other nations that surrounded them. “Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:17 NLT). As Peter points out, we are to live as aliens and strangers on this earth, as if we don’t belong here, because our real home is in heaven. We are Kingdom citizens. We have a different homeland and answer to a different King. And while we are on this earth, we are to operate as His ambassadors, accomplishing His will by doing His work. And that will become increasingly more difficult, if not impossible, if we align ourselves with those who do not share our allegiance to Him. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter: “But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others” (1 Corinthians 2:14-15 NLT).

As children of God, we are to constantly submit ourselves to the will of God. We are to serve Him at all times. But if we allow ourselves to become unequally yoked to a non-believer, either through marriage, friendship or a business partnership, we will find ourselves in constant conflict. We will discover that our “plowing partner” has a different agenda. Rather than working together, we will fight one another, accomplishing little when it comes to God’s Kingdom work. It is one thing to share the gospel with a lost individual. It is another thing to share life with them. We must love the lost and be willing to share the hope of Christ with them. But we are never to forget that in their unredeemed state, they are still enemies of God, living in rebellion against Him. Our goal for them should be their salvation. Our purpose in associating with them is that they might know the love of God and be set free from their slavery to sin and death. But ignoring their sin in order to enjoy their friendship is dangerous for us and, ultimately, a sign of a serious lack of love for them.

No One Said It Would Be Easy.

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? – 1 Corinthians 7:12-17 ESV

This is an extremely difficult passage and there are as many opinions concerning it as there are commentaries written about it. First of all, when Paul says, “To the rest I say, (I, not the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:7 ESV), he is not implying that what he has to say concerning these matters is simply his personal opinion and not divinely inspired. He is merely indicating that this is not something he heard taught by Jesus Himself. But as an expert in the Old Testament and an apostle of Jesus Christ, and due to the fact that he was divinely inspired by the Spirit of God, the words he writes must be considered as coming from God.

His emphasis in these verses shifts from addressing married couples who are comprised of believing husbands and wives. Now he is addressing those who find themselves married to an unbeliever. This was probably a very common issue in the church in Corinth. There were likely a good many who had come to faith in Christ apart from their spouse and who found themselves in a potentially difficult and compromising circumstance. If there were children involved, the situation was even more complicated. There were obviously those who were counseling that it would be better for a Christian to divorce their unbelieving spouse than to remain married. Paul would even give what appears to be similar counsel in his second letter to the Corinthians:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? – 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 ESV

And while this passage has been used to defend the ban on Christians marrying non-Christians, that was likely not Paul’s original point. He was addressing the need to avoid the kinds of relationships with unbelievers that might lead to spiritual defilement. This obviously applied to marriage, but was not restricted to it. Paul was not counseling or sanctioning that Christians separate themselves completely from the world. That would be impossible. In fact, earlier in this letter he referred to another piece of correspondence to the Corinthians in which he told them, “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1 Corinthians 5:9 ESV). But he clarified what he had meant by saying, “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). So Paul was in no way a proponent of Christian isolationism.

So what is a Christian to do who finds themselves married to an unbeliever? The main point here has to do with divorce, and Paul would say that it is wrong for a believer to divorce their unbelieving spouse. Rather, they should see themselves as a godly influence on their home. Their very presence within the home sanctified it or set it apart. This is where some of the difficulty comes about when interpreting what Paul means when he says, “the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:14 ESV). It would be inconsistent with the rest of Scripture to say that Paul means the believing spouse “saves” the marriage and converts the unbelieving partner. The lost spouse is made “holy” only in the sense that he or she finds themselves benefiting from the presence of a believer living within the same walls. Living in close proximity with a Spirit-filled believer could not help but have an influence on them. And this is true of the children in the home as well. They are not automatically saved as a result of having one believing parent, any more than those children who have two believing parents would be. But in a sense, they would be set apart by God by virtue of His having called one of their parents to saving relationship with His Son.

The real point of these verses seems to deal with what a believer is to do if their unbelieving spouse chooses to divorce them. The truth is that the very presence of a Christian in the home could drive the unbelieving partner away. As Peter indicates in his letter, there is a chance that a godly wife could have a positive impact on her unbelieving husband.

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives. – 1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT)

But there is also a good chance that her presence could result in conviction and conflict. The same is true of a believing husband. There is no guarantee that a lost spouse will be led to the Lord by a believing partner. I think that is what Paul means when he asks, “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16 ESV). So Paul’s counsel is that if a Christian finds themselves served with divorce papers by an unbelieving spouse, they should not fight it. But at the same time, they should not be the instigators of it. Paul simply says, “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved” (1 Corinthians 7:15a ESV). His bottom line goal was peace, not conflict. “God has called you to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15b ESV). God receives no glory from a marriage in which two unequally yoked individuals fight and feud with one another. If the marriage is relatively conflict-free and the unbelieving partner is willing to remain married, the Christian should in no way seek divorce. As Paul will write in the following verses, “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20 ESV).

These are difficult words. But they deal with the reality of the gospel entering into a difficult and depraved world. When light shines in the darkness, there cannot help but be conflict. When believers come into contact with the lost, there will be tension, testing, and the potential for trouble. Jesus warned us that the world would hate us. Our redemption as believers places a target on our back and makes us prime candidate for persecution by the enemy. The life of a believer is not an easy one. Our call to live set apart in a world that is set against us will not be a cake walk. We will be misunderstood. At times we will be mistreated. But we will never be abandoned by our God.

Living His Way.

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:7-11 ESV

Paul understood well the necessity of marriage. He knew it was ordained by God and, when treated properly, could provide believers with the full benefits of their sexuality as intended by God. As far as Paul was concerned, marriage was the only appropriate context for sexual expression between a man and a woman, because that was how God had planned it. But Paul had a personal appreciation for singleness. Evidently, Paul was unmarried at the time this letter was written. We do not know if he had ever been married. But when he writes, “I wish that all were as I myself am,” he is stating a personal opinion, not the will of God. He is in no signifying that singleness is better than marriage. He simply knew that marriage required a great deal of commitment and sacrifice, requiring each person in the relationship to put the needs of the other ahead of their own. For Paul, being single allowed him the freedom to dedicate all his time and attention to the spread of the gospel and for ministry to the growing number of churches around the world.

For Paul, singleness was a gift from God. He believed it was God who had given him the self-control to live as an unmarried man and to not, as he put it, “burn with passion.” He had a supernatural, God-given capacity to resist the temptations associated with lust. Even Jesus alluded to the existence of this gift. One day He was confronted by the Pharisees and asked whether it was “lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause” (Matthew 19:3b ESV). Quoting from the Old Testament, Jesus replied, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5-6 ESV). Jesus went on to explain that “whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:9 NLT). Marriage was a binding covenant. This statement led one of the disciples to state, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” (Matthew 19:10 NLT). And Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this statement. Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:11-12 NLT). Jesus Himself never married, for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). 

Singleness has its advantages when it comes to ministry. But it is not for everyone. So Paul goes on to address those who were married. He speaks to the women first, reminding them that they should not divorce their husbands. Paul was simply repeating the words of Jesus. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12 NLT). Paul knew, just as Jesus did, that just because divorce was prohibited, it would not stop it from happening. So they both commanded no remarriage after divorce. To do so was to commit adultery. Paul states that if a woman divorces her husband, “she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:11a ESV). And then he adds, “and the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:11b ESV). Jesus seems to have given only one exception to His no-divorce mandate. When He stated, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9 ESV), He appears to present sexual immorality on the part of one of the married partners as the only grounds for divorce. In that case, it would seem that the offending partner has broken the covenant of oneness. But Paul emphasizes that whoever finds themselves divorced for whatever reason, should remain single or be reconciled to their partner.

It is important to remember that Paul is calling the Corinthians believers to live out their faith in the midst of a dark, pagan culture where virtually anything was considered acceptable behavior. Divorce was commonplace. Sexual immorality was rampant. Sexual sins of all kinds were prevalent and regularly practiced. He is demanding that the Corinthians live lives worthy of their calling as followers of Christ. They are to be distinctly different in their actions and attitudes. Their approach to life was to be determined by their faith, not their feelings. They were to be driven by a desire to please God, not their own desires. It is highly possible that there were some in the church in Corinth who were divorcing their spouses in order to escape having sexual relations altogether. More than likely, these individuals were influenced by the philosophy of dualism that flourished in Greek culture. It led them to believe that anything associated with the body was evil. Divorce allowed them to experience “freedom” from involvement with sex altogether. But their views were unbiblical and un-Christlike. While the culture around them was distorting God’s views on everything from marriage to human sexuality, Paul was reminding them that they were the church of God, “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV). Like the Corinthians, we have been called to live lives that are set apart from the world. We are to be holy, different and distinct. We exist to bring glory to God. We are His children, His workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).

 

The Mind of Christ.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV

The wisdom of God is foolishness to men. The idea that a divine being sent His Son to live as a human being and die on a cross in order to pay for the sins of mankind is ludicrous to them. It is a delusional fable at best, a diabolical lie at worst. But Paul would argue that the problem lies not with the message or with the intent of the messenger. It is that those to whom the message is shared are incapable of receiving it. They can’t understand it. It would be like an American trying to understand a message spoken to him in a foreign language. The message and the messenger could both be accurate, but the meaning would be lost because the one to whom the message is being given doesn’t speak the language. The message of the cross is heavenly in nature. It is a spiritually based message that requires interpretation by the Spirit of God. Natural man, as Paul describes him, cannot understand the words and wisdom of God. Paul refers to him as “natural” simply to say that he is not spiritual or of the spirit. Anyone who has not placed their faith in Christ ia a natural man or woman. They lack the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God. And as Paul writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). The Spirit of God speaks wisdom from God. He reveals the mind of God. “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11 ESV).

It is impossible for natural man, under the control of his own sin nature, to comprehend the mind of God. Even those who have placed their faith in Christ as their Savior had to have help from God’s Spirit in order to believe. They had to have their eyes opened and their hearts regenerated by the Spirit in order to comprehend the life-changing nature of the gospel message. “The natural person can, of course, understand the gospel and experience salvation but only because the Holy Spirit illuminates his or her understanding” (Robert A. Pyne, “The Role of the Holy Spirit in Conversion,” Bibliotheca Sacra 150:598 (April-June 1993):204-5).

And the second the Spirit illumines the eyes of the natural person so that they can see and accept the wonderful message of God’s gracious gift of salvation through Christ, He comes to dwell within them. They go from being natural to spiritual. The word Paul uses is πνευματικός (pneumatikos) and it means “one who is filled with and governed by the Spirit of God” (“G4152 – pneumatikos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Because of the Spirit’s presence within them, they have the capacity to understand the things of the Spirit, or as Paul refers to them, spiritual truths. It is not the wisdom or eloquence of men that make the things of God accessible and understandable. It is the Spirit of God. It is not human wisdom that makes spiritual truths discernible to men, but the Spirit of God. Even Paul admits, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT). Even a spiritual person who attempts to speak spiritual truth without the Spirit’s help will end up relying upon human wisdom and his or her message will fall on deaf ears. It will lack power. It will be devoid of truth. It may be eloquent, impressive, even well-received, but it will not communicate the wisdom of God or contain the power of God.

One of the primary benefits of having the Spirit of God within us is the ability He provides to discern and evaluate all things. We have been given the Word of God and the Spirit of God in order that we might understand the will of God. Jesus told His disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 NLT). With the Spirit’s help, we can accurately evaluate and determine God’s will for any given circumstance. The Spirit guides and directs. He comforts and consoles. He provides strength when needed and patience when waiting is necessary. We have a supernatural source of wisdom that allows us to know the mind of God. In fact, Paul simply says, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16b ESV). With the Spirit’s help, we can know what Christ knows. We can see life as He does. We can live as He did. In other words, we can live Christ-like lives here and now. We have the capacity to live holy, righteous lives even though we still have our old sin natures and live in a fallen, sinful world. And the world will not understand us. Natural men and women will be incapable of discerning our ways. They will misunderstand us and be turned off by us. Our lives will make them uncomfortable. Our pursuit of holiness will leave them baffled. Our set-apartness will make them feel judged and so they will attempt to judge us in return. But because they are natural and not spiritual, they will never be able to understand what motivates and drives us. Our love for the Word of God will make no sense to them. Our trust in the will of God will seem naive to them. Our hope in our future salvation by God will come across as little more than wishful thinking to them. But we have the Spirit of God and, as a result, we have the mind of Christ.