What Does 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Mean?

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;

1 Thessalonians 4:3(NASB)

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Having prayed very specifically that the Thessalonian believers would increase in faith, abound in love, and live blamelessly before the Lord, Paul urged each one towards practical sanctification and godly living: "For this is the will of God," he writes, "even your sanctification - that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality."

He exhorts each of us to live holy lives that are well-pleasing to the Lord and specifically identifies the importance of maintaining sexual purity and developing brotherly love. We are to be a holy people - for God is Holy. We are to be perfect, even as God Himself is perfect. We are to be separated unto the Lord and consecrated to Him. We are to be holy in all our conduct, spirit, soul, and body, for this is God's will for us all.

Paul particularly mentions that our 'sanctification' is the will of the Lord and it is important to know exactly what he means by 'sanctification'. Just as there are three 'tenses' of our great salvation (justification, sanctification, and glorification), so also the Bible identifies three 'tenses' of Sanctification; POSITIONAL sanctification, PRACTICAL or PROGRESSIVE sanctification, and COMPLETED sanctification.

It is vital to identify the type (or tense) of sanctification to which Paul is referring. As he is writing his letter to the saints at Thessalonica, he is addressing SAVED people - justified people - those who are already born again. Another term for 'justification' is 'positional sanctification' and we are positionally sanctified the moment we trust in Christ Jesus as Saviour.

The context of the verse in question is not positional sanctification but our ongoing, practical, progressive sanctification. It is our practical sanctification that Paul is writing about. It is our ongoing, practical, progressive sanctification which is God's will for our lives, and Paul calls attention to one specific area that can seriously inhibit our spiritual growth and ongoing sanctification - sexual immorality.

Abstaining from sexual immorality is singled out as vital in practical spiritual growth. Engaging in sexual sin separates us from fellowship with the Father. Sexual sin halts our spiritual progress, prevents us from growing in grace, and causes Christians to backslide into carnality. Every form of sexual immorality or pornography, whether it be heterosexual, homosexual, premarital, or extra-marital sex, is an abomination to the Lord and prevents any form of progressive sanctification.

Paul is not implying that abstaining from sexual immorality is the only sin that will inhibit the sanctification process. Every sinful thought, word, or deed erects a barrier to our spiritual growth and wreaks havoc on our practical sanctification. However, singling out sexual immorality in this verse reminds us how abhorrent it is to the Lord, and the spiritual devastation that will happen in the lives of those who participate in it.

May we seek to live holy and godly lives and consecrate our bodies and minds in service to the Lord. May we be pure in thought, word, deed, and motive. May we cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, and may we prove ourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, and appear as lights in the world.

My Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank You for Paul's important teaching on positional and ongoing, practical sanctification and the need to be holy and pure in thought, word, deed, and motive. Keep me from every sort of ungodly activity and any sexual immorality. I pray that I may dedicate my life to Your service and present my body as a living sacrifice to You - holy and acceptable in Your service. Thank You that I am already positionally sanctified, by faith in the sacrificial work of Christ on the Cross, and I pray for my ongoing, practical sanctification. Transform me, day by day, into the image and likeness of the lovely Lord Jesus. This I ask in His precious name and for His name's sake, AMEN.

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