Are You Getting a Call from God?JANUARY 5, 2017
Imagine a young person who is considering doing something wrong, when suddenly he receives a cell phone call from a Christian friend inviting him to do something right. Now, imagine yourself facing temptation and at that very moment getting a call from God. That is essentially what Paul is teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8. Fundamental Baptists have a lot in common with the believers in Thessalonica. They understand what is involved in salvation and spiritual growth. As one devotional commentator has put it, “the Thessalonians were exemplary in their conversion,” (1:1–10). They were “exemplary in their evangelism,” (2:1–16). Then, they were “exemplary in their discipleship,” (2:17–3:13). Having reminded them in chapters three and four how they were saved, Paul then teaches in chapters four and five, how they should live.
And, thankfully for us, in doing so, he taught them about holiness and admonished them to it. Fundamental Baptists know what to do, but they too need an exhortation to actually do it. When Paul begins (4:1) with “Furthermore,” he is saying, “All that remains now is this exhortation that follows.” He “asks,” yea “pleads” in “the authority of Jesus Christ,” that “as they have been taught, so they would live.” His appeal is earnest: “Please, in Christ, you know what to do; now do it!” Moral failure is rooted in disobedience more than ignorance. Rather than developing impure habits, Paul pleads for habits of holiness, that “ye would abound more and more,” in right living.
Admit it—you already know what to do. “For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus” (4:2). You already know what the will of God is in Christian morality. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (4:3). God does intend to make His people holy, but the language here does not present that promise. This statement requires a life of holiness. Holiness is what God expects. Thus, we must not separate the requirement for the condition from the requirement for human compliance. This word “sanctification,” also used in Romans 6:19, and 1 Corinthians 1:30, refers to “purity of life,” which involves ceasing to do evil and learning to do well.
That same concept is developed here in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 4, as we are taught to “abstain from fornication” and “know how to possess [our bodies] in [holiness] and honour.” This we know: we were born into a fallen condition and still live in sinful flesh, facing temptation to sin, but, now that we have been saved and are being sanctified, we participate in our sanctification by not sinning and continuing to grow in the knowledge of Christ. The very immature must hear it often; “Stop doing that wrong thing; do this right thing.” Those who are growing to maturity are learning to say it themselves; “I will not do that wrong thing; I will do this right thing.” Full maturity rehearses it almost unconsciously, making the right choice out of habit as the selfishly immature make the wrong choice out of habit.
Gaining increasing mastery over lusts and appetites is not just for those who have fallen into the embarrassing sin of moral failure. It is a basic responsibility of all Christians. The old nature has as its essence the attitudes that bear fruit in moral failure. Selfish, indulgent carnality is the essence of the flesh. We are commanded to restrain it—to abstain from its outward expressions. But there is not just an appeal here to behave properly; the appeal is to believe properly. It is fairly easy to understand that gross gratification of lust, here called “the lust of concupiscence,” is completely inappropriate. When we see it in the world, we recognize it immediately (4:5). But the Christian must see it in himself and realize that his requirement to do right goes much further. It is inappropriate to create any expectation that cannot be righteously satisfied.
Even sinful cultures set up barriers to behaviors that tend to destroy those cultures. American culture mocks the sanctity of sexual relationships and amuses itself with childish attempts to “cross the line” with its humor. But there would be nothing to laugh about at all if there weren’t an admission that there is a line to be crossed. The basest man who imagines or engages in immorality with another man’s daughter is outraged that it could happen to his own daughter. Men sear their consciences, but they have consciences to sear. Paul draws the line; “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter” (4:6). Don’t put a temptation beyond the obvious barrier so that a man overreaches his own restraints to have it. Don’t encourage a desire that cannot be righteously fulfilled. God deals with that kind of thing because “the Lord is the avenger of all such.”
Be “forewarned” because this has been “testified” clearly. It is not popular to preach on modesty, propriety, and standards. Holding the tempter or temptress responsible for his or her part in another’s sin brings scoffing and ridicule, but 1 Thessalonians 4:6 forbids “defrauding” of any kind. This is a barrier that no believer is to “go beyond.” It is “out of bounds.” That is God’s will for Christian purity. It is contrary to God’s will to cross that line. There is a fence far enough away from moral failure that should not be climbed. The Holy Spirit has every right to treat those inside the fence as trespassers.
Because purity of life is the will of God, purity of life is the call of God. God calls us out of worldliness altogether. He calls us into moral purity, not just the purity of the body, but of the heart. The choice is clear: “uncleanness or holiness” (4:7). If you reject holiness, you choose uncleanness; if you reject uncleanness, you must choose holiness. The man who is not enthusiastic about practical holiness is warming up to uncleanness. “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit” (4:8). This is not unclear: “If you reject purity in your life, you are rejecting the God who requires it.” If you do not train your eyes to close the instant they fall on a temptation and then look elsewhere before you open them, you are not rejecting the temptation.
When temptation is “received” it brings forth sin (James 1:15). It is not enough to explain, “I didn’t mean to.” You have to mean not to. If you would not fall into sin, don’t lean over its edge for a look. Paul’s argument is profoundly simple: God requires this; He has given you the Holy Spirit to help you (4:8); don’t do the things that will tempt you, and don’t do things that will tempt others. You are called to purity of life: answer that call.
John Vaughn is the President of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.
(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2007. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)