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1 Thessalonians Series: Being Sexually Pure in a Promiscuous World (1 Thess 4:1-8)

Being Sexually Pure in a Promiscuous World


Finally then, brothers and sisters, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more. For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God. In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:1–8 (NET)



How can we keep ourselves sexually pure in a promiscuous world?


In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Paul addressed this as he transitioned to the ethical instructions of the letter. After praising the Thessalonians in Chapter 1 for their continued faith in God and love for the saints, amidst the persecution they were suffering, in Chapter 2, Paul revisited his ministry to them in the past and told them about his time after leaving them. Apparently, some in Thessalonica were attacking his motives and ministry methods, so he argued that he did nothing out of impure motives or greed but that he served them like a nursing mother and a godly father. He also declared how he tried to return again and again but Satan hindered him. Because of this, he sent Timothy to see how they were doing and to strengthen their faith in the midst of their persecution. Timothy returned with a positive message about their continuing faith and love; however, there were also some ways the Thessalonians could grow.


When Paul says, “finally,” in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, it is not the conclusion of the letter since he has two chapters left; but it is a transition to address the ethical areas they could grow in. It’s a continuation of Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, where he shared his prayer request for God to open the door so they could meet in person so he could supply what was lacking in their faith and his prayer for them to grow in love and holiness. However, since he was not yet able to return to them, he addressed the areas of their faith that needed maturing. Therefore, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2, he introduces this ethical section. Paul reminds them that he had previously taught them how to live for and please the Lord (v. 1), and in doing so, he had given them direct “commands” from the Lord (v. 2). The word “commands” is a military word used of an officer speaking to someone of lesser authority.[1] Paul had taught them many of God’s commands in the few weeks he was with them, and he was about readdress those areas. He wanted them to grow in their faith “more and more” by becoming holy or sanctified (v. 2-3). Holiness or sanctification means being separate from sin and set apart to God for holy use.


In 4:3-8, he addressed the first way for them to be holy and that is in the area of sexual purity, which we will cover in this study. In 4:9-12, he addressed their need to love the brethren more and their need to work for a living. In 4:13-5:11, he addressed the Lord’s return and the circumstances surrounding it including the rapture and the tribulation period (the day of the Lord) and called them to live in light of those realities. And finally, in 5:12-22, he addressed aspects of church conduct like honoring the elders, addressing the undisciplined amongst them, and praying and giving thanks always, amongst other things.


With Paul’s call for them to be sexually pure, he said this in verses 4-5, “that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles.” The word “know” in verse 4 refers to gaining knowledge or skill to accomplish a goal.[2] The NIV translates it, that each of you should “learn” to control your own body. Apparently, some in Thessalonica were struggling with sexual purity. The Graeco-Roman culture of that day had very loose sexual ethics. Men were not expected to be monogamous in marriage, as in many cultures today. Demosthenes, an ancient writer in Rome, said this about men’s view of sex in that culture: “We keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day to day needs of the body; we keep wives for the faithful guardianship of our homes.”[3] Furthermore, slavery made it very easy for men to have concubines, which were unofficial wives. To add to this immoral culture, the mystery religions made sex even more fluid. At the pagan temples, there were hundreds and sometimes thousands of temple prostitutes. People would come to have sex with them in order to be experientially intimate with the gods and to receive their approval and blessings. As Paul taught in Romans 1:24-27, because they denied the true God, not only was sexual immorality normative but so was homosexuality. Transvestism, where men dressed like girls, was also normal. When it came to sex, some have even said that it would have been strange to prefer one gender over the other. It was expected that one would enjoy both.[4] The ancient world was very amoral, lacking any moral sense, when it came to the issue of sex. This was the culture that the Thessalonians had been saved out of. Unlike many cultures today where Christianity has had a strong influence on the laws and societal expectations, they had no such moral background. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, where Paul said: “Now with regard to the issues you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But because of immoralities, each man should have relations with his own wife and each woman with her own husband,” that was new to that culture. Most people didn’t get married for love and to enjoy physical intimacy. They got married for financial reasons, to have someone to oversee their home, and to provide an official heir. Love and sex were for outside the marriage. When Paul called for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church in Ephesians 5:25, that’s just not how most marriages worked in those days. Therefore, when the Thessalonians became believers and Paul taught them commands of the Lord and how to please him, these were new for most, and no doubt, many struggled to stay pure after all the doors they previously opened. Some of the men probably had mistresses and concubines and regularly visited temple prostitutes. Some of the women had probably practiced prostitution and supported themselves financially that way. Others had come out of homosexuality and transvestism. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul said this to the Corinthians:


Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. 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.


No doubt, many of the Thessalonians also came out of that deprived lifestyle to follow Christ. But also, like the Corinthians, many were probably still struggling with those sins. In 1 Corinthians 5:1, a man was having sex with his father’s wife. In 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, apparently some were still visiting temple prostitutes and becoming one flesh with them through sex. When people open sexual doors, they are some of the hardest to close. That’s why the Thessalonians had to “know” or “learn” (v. 4 NIV) how to control their bodies in holiness and purity.


Though our cultures are not as defiled as the Graeco-Roman world, they are quickly becoming more like them. What our world often calls progressive is really digressive in that we are returning to much of the amorality of the ancient world. Because of the flood of sex, homosexuality, and transgenderism that is saturating our societies through the media, it is becoming even more difficult for people to be sexually pure. Pornography is a 50-billion-dollar industry (more than all professional sports combined).[5] Statistics say that 70% of young men ages 18-24 watch porn[6], and one out of three porn viewers are women.[7] The average age for a child to first view porn is eleven years old. With South Korea specifically, in 2006, South Koreans spent the most per person on pornography of all nations.[8] Also, according to one study in 2021, eighty-five percent of Korean men watch pornography.[9] The consumption of pornography commonly leads to further acts of sexual immorality, including sexual assault, prostitution, and sex trafficking, as the mind affects how one acts. To continue to focus on Korea, one study in 2017 showed that over fifty percent of Korean men paid for sex at some point in their life, which was six percent lower than in 2013.[10] In addition to pornography contributing to acts of sexual immorality, it is also a major contributor to divorce. Some legal experts who studied divorce cases in the US said that in fifty-six percent of divorces, one person had a porn obsession.[11] Sexually immorality is not only killing individuals but killing families. Furthermore, according to the CDC in 2021, one out of four US high school students currently identify as LGBTQ.[12] Our societies are continually becoming more and more like the ancient world the Thessalonians lived in. Therefore, like Paul taught, we must learn how to keep our bodies holy and pure, so we can both stay away from the consequences of sexual sin but also experience God’s blessing for being pure (cf. Matt 5:8, Ps 66:18). From Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, we learn principles about how to be sexually pure in a promiscuous world.


Big Question: What principles about being sexually pure can we learn from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8?


To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Seek Accountability Partners


Finally then, brothers and sisters, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more. For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-2


Paul’s initial challenge to the Thessalonians to grow in pleasing the Lord more and more and his specific call for them to keep away from sexual immorality was in response to Timothy’s report about the Thessalonians. Again, this apparently was a struggle happening amongst the Thessalonians, and Paul was responding to it by challenging them to avoid sexual immorality altogether, as a protection for them. He was holding them accountable. Likewise, if we are going to have victory in this area, we must first recognize that we are vulnerable to it, even if we don’t currently have struggles, and we should have accountability in our lives as a protection from it. For those dating, it is wise to invite more mature believers into their relationship to give them counsel about being pure but also freedom to ask how they are doing in those areas. Satan likes to work in the shadows where he can create shame and bondage; however, when people have transparent relationships with others where we confess sin, get counsel, and prayer, it helps deliver us and keep us free. James 5:16 says, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” Who are we confessing our sins and vulnerabilities to so we can have prayer and healing? Who have we given the right to ask us personal questions about our purity to check in on us and hold us accountable? Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens his friend.”


Also, in 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul said this to his son in the faith, Timothy, “But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” If Timothy as a pastor and apostolic associate needed accountability for his youthful passions, how much more do we? We must likewise stay away from sin, including lust, by finding godly people, probably of the same sex, to hold us accountable.


In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Solomon, one of the wisest men to ever live, said it this way:


Two people are better than one, because they can reap more benefit from their labor. For if they fall, one will help his companion up, but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm, but how can one person keep warm by himself? Although an assailant may overpower one person, two can withstand him. Moreover, a three-stranded cord is not quickly broken.


Who picks us up when we fall? Who helps us get free when we’re being overpowered by some habitual sin? Who are our accountability partners? The Thessalonians had Paul and Timothy checking in on them, trying to protect them from the evil one and supply what was lacking in their faith (cf. 1 Thess 3:5, 10). We all need Timothys, spiritual older brothers and sisters, and Pauls, spiritual fathers and mothers, to help us grow in the faith. We need them especially in the battle of purity, whether single, dating, or married. The sexual influence of the culture is consuming. It’s on almost every commercial, TV show, Internet website, and popular song. It’s a dominant feature of many cultures whether through casual sex, pornography, prostitution, or the promotion of homosexuality. Because of this, we are all vulnerable and need godly accountability. Again, the typical age for a person to first watch pornography is eleven. Our young children need accountability when playing on electronic devices in the house, and our older children even more so, as their hormone activity increases and their desires for the opposite sex. We must provide accountability for them and others, especially those who are young spiritually. We must also seek to have it for ourselves. Again, Timothy and Paul held the Thessalonians accountable in the area of sexual purity. Who is holding us accountable?


Application Question: Why is accountability so important for the growth and security of our faith in general, and why is it especially important in the area of sexual purity? How has God used spiritual accountability in your walk with Christ in the past, and how is he calling you to pursue it more and more, both in offering it and receiving it?


To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Be Committed to God’s Word


For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality

1 Thessalonians 4:2-3


When Paul called the Thessalonians to continue to grow in pleasing the Lord, specifically by being sexually pure, he reminded them of biblical commands he gave them earlier through the Lord. While Paul was with them, he had instructed them not only about salvation through faith in Christ and Christ’s second coming but also ethical teachings. As mentioned, the word “command” in verse 2 was used of a military officer giving directions to someone of lesser rank. In verse 3, he focuses on one specific command—that it was God’s will for the Thessalonians to be sanctified by staying away from sexual immorality. The implication of this is that the Thessalonians needed to know and abide in God’s Word (Christ’s commands) to conquer and avoid sexual sin. The Thessalonians were living in a culture that taught that having sex was like eating and drinking, just a normal physical urge that should be indulged (cf. 1 Cor 6:13). The religions in that culture taught that it was a way to bond with the gods. For them, sex was not only a common physical urge that they should not deny themselves, but it was also a spiritually enriching experience. If the Thessalonians were going to remain pure in a sexually promiscuous culture, they needed to know God’s Word and abide in it.


In Psalm 119:9 (NIV), David, who struggled with lust, said it this way: “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.” We likewise must live according to God’s Word to remain pure. In Psalm 19:7 (NIV), David said, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” The Hebrew word for “simple” has the meaning of “open-minded.”[13] “The ancient Jews used it to describe someone whose mind was like an open door: everything went in and everything went out.”[14] The simple person is gullible and willing to believe anything. His mind is open even to thoughts and images that should be rejected. However, David said that by filling the mind with God’s Word, one becomes wise to discern what is not of God and reject it (cf. Heb 5:14). Consequently, a person who does not know the God’s Word will have difficulty discerning what is not good and therefore protecting himself. His mind will continually be saturated by ungodly thoughts and anxieties, worldly philosophies, and lusts meant to control and destroy him. He will lack the power and discernment to close the door on sexual thoughts and temptations, and many times, he will not only accept them but cultivate, rejoice in, and act upon them. His mind is an open door. When watching TV shows, listening to music, or engaging conversations that cultivate and stir lust, the simple accepts what pollutes his soul, while the wise recognizes what would dishonor God’s temple (1 Cor 6:19) and therefore rejects it. If we are going to be sexually pure, we must saturate our minds with God’s Word, so we can wisely recognize and reject what is not godly. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul said it this way in describing the weapons of our spiritual war, “we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (cf. 2 Cor 10:4). We do this by knowing God’s Word and rejecting what does not align with it, including thoughts, images, attitudes, and actions which displease God.


When Paul was trying to help the Thessalonians be sanctified, he reminded them of God’s command, which he taught them previously. Likewise, to be holy, we must continually remind ourselves of Scripture by daily studying, memorizing, and quoting it. Even when Christ was tempted in the wilderness, he continually quoted Scripture to rebuke the devil (cf. Matt 4). In Psalm 119:11, David said, “In my heart I store up your words, so I might not sin against you.” Therefore, sometimes the best way to combat sin generally and lust specifically is by memorizing Scripture on the issue, quoting it when tempted, and acting in line with the truths taught. For example, we should consider memorizing Matthew 5:27-30. It says,


“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.


If anything is causing us to lust, we should be ruthless with it by plucking out our eye (referring to whatever we looked at that caused us to sin) and cutting off our hand (referring to whatever we are doing that tempted us to sin). When we are tempted to look at a sexually alluring image, go to sites or places which might make us spiritually weak, or hang out with people who might make us vulnerable, we should quote these verses and respond to them by ruthlessly getting rid of the temptation.


Another verse to memorize is 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. It says:


Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body”—but the immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.


We must remember that sexual sin harms our minds and bodies and also that our bodies are no longer ours but God’s. Because our bodies are God’s, we can’t simply watch whatever we want on TV, listen to whatever we want, or engage in anything that might lead to sin. We certainly can’t fornicate or tempt ourselves because our bodies are not our own. God owns them, and we are called to glorify God with them.


Another verse worth memorizing is Philippians 4:8-10. It says,


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.


If we choose to saturate our minds with erotic images and thoughts through the media, then we will forfeit our intimacy with God. We can’t enjoy the lusts of the flesh and enjoy God at the same time. We must choose. Likewise, Matthew 5:8 says it this way, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Only when our minds and hearts are pure will we know and understand God, his Word, and his will more deeply. He reveals himself to those who keep themselves pure. Psalm 24:3-6 says it this way:


Who is allowed to ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may go up to his holy dwelling place? The one whose deeds are blameless and whose motives are pure, who does not lie, or make promises with no intention of keeping them. Such godly people are rewarded by the Lord, and vindicated by the God who delivers them. Such purity characterizes the people who seek his favor, Jacob’s descendants, who pray to him. (Selah)


Therefore, to live in sexual immorality, even if just in our minds, means we forfeit intimacy with God.


Because of this reality, the battle to be pure starts and ends with our thought-life, and this is true with all sin. Battling on the heart and mind level is the major difference between the spiritually immature and the spiritually mature. The spiritually mature battle with their sins on the heart level through the Word of God, confession, accountability, and prayer and therefore struggles less with acting them out. Whereas the immature are not battling as they should on the heart level. They are putting in ungodly music, TV shows, images, and conversations, and then commonly wonder why their struggle with purity or other sins are so difficult. It’s because they are not thinking on what is pure and godly but instead what is common or defamed (cf. Phil 4:8-10). Therefore, they experience the negative fruit of what they continually expose themselves to.


When Paul called the Thessalonians to purity, he reminded them of Christ’s commands and God’s will in Scripture. We must do the same by daily meditating on God’s Word, memorizing it, quoting it when tempted to sin, and living in accord with what Scripture teaches.


How does a person keep his way pure, by living according to God’s Word?


Application Question: Why is Scripture study, including Bible memorization, so important for conquering lust and sin in general? How do you practice daily meditation, what are your disciplines, and how has it helped with conquering sin and growing in righteousness? How is God calling you to grow more in these disciplines to conquer temptation and live righteously?


To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Properly Define Sexual Immorality


For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality,

1 Thessalonians 4:3


When Paul used the word sexual immorality, it is the Greek word porneia from which we get the word pornography. The word encompasses the fulfillment of sexual desires outside of the marriage union between a man and woman. According to Christ, it also includes our thought life. As mentioned, in Matthew 5:27-28, Christ said if one lusts after a woman who is not his wife, he already has committed adultery with her in his heart. Again, it is within the marriage union that sexual desires should be fulfilled, not outside of it. This is clear from what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, when he said:


Now with regard to the issues you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of immoralities, each man should have relations with his own wife and each woman with her own husband.


Paul saw marriage as a protection against sexual immorality. 


Again, defining sexual immorality is important because many, even in the church, believe as long as they are not having intercourse, they are not committing sexual immorality. For this reason, people are indulging in all types of sexual activities and yet believing they are not sinning against God and their mate. Sexual immorality includes but is not limited to heavy petting, sexual fantasies, watching pornography, masturbation, oral sex, etc. Any fulfillment of sexual desire outside of the marriage union between a man in a woman is sexual immorality. God is the creator of sex, and he has defined the proper fulfillment and boundaries of those desires. Before a person gets married, they are to keep those desires asleep. In Song of Solomon 3:5, Solomon’s fiancée said it this way to her girlfriends: “I admonish you, O maidens of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and by the young does of the open fields: ‘Do not awake or arouse love until it pleases!’” We should not wake up these desires through the movies we watch, the music we listen to, the books we read, the conversations we have, nor the touch of the opposite sex. They are meant to be asleep until one enters the marriage union.


Dating Relationships

In fact, for those in dating relationships, it’s good to remember that though the world may teach that one’s girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s body is theirs in some unique way (possibly less than marriage but more than friendship); this is not biblically true. This is what Paul told Timothy about his interactions with the members of his church and specifically the young ladies in 1 Timothy 5:1-2 (NIV): “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” How far should Christians go in their dating relationships with the opposite sex? Paul said one should not go any further than what one would do in a healthy relationship with his or her biological brother or sister. This excludes most of what happens in dating relationships today, even Christian ones. Scriptures’ teachings conflict with what the world teaches through the romantic comedies, the love songs of today, and the relationships of most around us. It’s the exact opposite of the hook-up culture, which counts and boasts in the number of one’s sexual relationships. The fulfillment of sexual desires outside of the marriage union is sin, including looking at pornography on the Internet, masturbation, heavy petting, foreplay, and sex.


Unfortunately, as mentioned, many believers are practicing sexual immorality simply because it has never been defined for them. In the church, most try to avoid these terms out of shame or to protect the pure. However, Satan is not leaving the pure out of this battle. They are his first targets! As mentioned, the average age for a person to first see pornography is eleven years old, and surely that number is decreasing with our increased connectivity and electronic devices. Twelve percent of all websites are pornographic.[15] Again, pornography is a fifty-billion-dollar industry, more than all sports leagues. The enemy is trying to trap all in sexual immorality, including our young people.


If we are going to be sexually pure, we must clearly define sexual immorality, so we can avoid it. The fulfillment of sexual desires outside of the marriage between a man and a woman is sexual immorality.  


Application Question: Why is defining sexual immorality so important? In what ways is the church, especially young people, commonly walking in sexual immorality because the term has never been clearly defined for them? How do we address this topic openly to protect the church and yet aim to keep the pure and unexposed protected?


To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Avoid Sexual Immorality at All Costs


For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality,

1 Thessalonians 4:3


“Keep away from sexual immorality” can also be translated “avoid sexual immorality” (NIV). Other passages on sexual immorality are more dramatic. First Corinthians 6:18, for example, says: “Flee sexual immorality!” This is interesting when one considers that James 4:7 tells us to “resist the devil” and he will flee from us, and Ephesians 6:12 says we “wrestle” not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. When it comes to Satan and demons, we are called to resist and wrestle, but when it comes to sexual immorality, we are called to run and avoid it at all costs. This shows how dangerous it is. Paul said that, unlike other sins, sexual immorality is a sin against our own body which includes our minds (1 Cor 6:18). We sin against our bodies in that it opens the door for physical disease and emotional baggage. Sinning in this area can even affect one’s orientation. It’s common for people who have been sexually abused to struggle with perverse tendencies, whether towards the opposite sex or even children. Sexual immorality destroys homes, careers, friendships, and even one’s faith. It’s so hazardous that we shouldn’t battle it, only run from it and avoid it at all costs.


It's for this reason that many cannot be sexually pure. They are not willing to avoid it at all costs. They open doors in their dating relationships with their physical touch and intimacy, thinking they are strong enough to not go further. They open doors in their movie watching, as the world and Satan pour sexual images and conversations into their minds. They open doors through their music listening, thinking that the lyrics will not affect them. However, Scripture says that like a bit in the mouth of a horse or a small rudder of a ship, the tongue drives all of our lives (Jam 3:3-6). Whoever said sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us was very wrong. Our lives have been driven by the words spoken over us by parents, friends, teachers, coaches, pastors, and friends. Some struggle with deep insecurities, shame, and depression because of others’ words. Others have great confidence and have had great success because of good words spoken over them and how they shaped their lives. Likewise, Satan knows the power of words and so he constantly seeks to flood our minds with sexual garbage to lead us away from the purity God desires for our lives.


Many cannot be pure simply because they will not fervently protect themselves and others. They will not be ruthless to be pure. In Job 31:1 (NIV), Job said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” Any time his eyes were tempted to linger on a beautiful lady, he would quickly remove his eyes to protect himself from lust. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he ran away and jumped out the window, even leaving his cloak behind. Again, Christ said we should pluck out our eye or cut off our hand to not lust in our hearts (Matt 5:29-30). He used a metaphor to show us how radical and ruthless we should be to be holy. We should be willing to cut off the Internet, turn off the movie, end a dating relationship, separate from a group of friends, and no longer go to certain places to be holy. This is the reason many cannot be holy. They are not willing to run from sexual temptation, sever it, and destroy it to be holy. Therefore, the lust lingers in their lives often for years which has drastic consequences.


Are we willing to avoid sexual temptation at all costs? This is necessary if one is going to keep his body pure.


Application Question: In what ways is sexual immorality a sin against one’s own body? Why is it so dangerous? How can believers be ruthless in cutting sexual temptation out of their lives? How have you had to be ruthless to be pure?


To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Know Ourselves and Practice Rigorous Self-Discipline


that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God.

1 Thessalonians 4:4-5


When Paul says that “each of you” must know how to possess “his own body” in holiness and honor (v. 4), this shows that there might be some individual differences in our battles for purity. We all have different bodies and experiences which might make us more or less vulnerable to sexual temptation than others. In general, those who have had sexual experiences will be more vulnerable to sexual temptation than those who have not. It’s always easier to keep a door closed that has never been opened. Those who are single might be more vulnerable than those who are married. Also, age will affect this. A younger adult will often have a stronger sexual drive than an older person. Some may have attractions to the same-sex that they have to battle, and some may not. We each have to learn how to possess our own bodies in holiness and honor.


In Contagious Christianity, Chuck Swindoll said it this way:


Abstaining begins with “possessing” our own vessels, that is, knowing our own bodies—how our sex drives function, what weakens our self-control, and what strengthens it. Possessing our bodies involves admitting temptations we can’t handle and avoiding those enticing situations. Certain conversations with coworkers may lure us, and friendly touches may be too personal—avoid those situations. Some films, books, or magazines may ignite lustful passions, and some settings may provide opportunities for compromise—stay away from them. No one remains pure by accident.[16] 


How do we get to know ourselves better so we can possess our bodies in holiness and honor? As mentioned, we must study our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Again, this is part of what Christ taught in Matthew 5:28-29 when he said if our eye or hand causes us to sin, we should get rid of them. This means that people should look at specifically what led them to struggle with temptation or sin and make changes. For some, that might mean not using the Internet late at night because their inhibitions become low, and they are by themselves and more prone to stumble. Others it might mean not having the Internet at all. For some, they may need to get rid of certain types of movies or music. For others, it might mean avoiding certain types of places and people.


Rigorous Discipline to Be Holy


Some might struggle with the amount of discipline one has to employ to be sexually pure, as though God should just zap us and make holiness easy. Sometimes, theology like this is even taught in church. People will say things like, “Just let go and let God!” as though if we stop trying to fight sin, God will give us victory. However, that’s the opposite of what Scripture teaches. Certainly, God works to make us holy, but we must work with him. Philippians 2:12-13 says,


So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.


We must work out our salvation, referring to our sanctification, our becoming holy, but we work because God is working in us—giving us holy desires and empowerment to do his works. Therefore, we must discipline ourselves to have victory over lust and to become holy in general. In 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul said this to Timothy who was at that time pastoring in Ephesus, “train [or ‘exercise’] yourself for godliness.” And in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul compared the Christian life to being a spiritual athlete. He said:


Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.


In the same way, competitive athletes are disciplined in everything—their sleeping, eating, drinking, working out, and thinking—to be successful, so must spiritual athletes. Paul said he subdued his body and made it his slave, so he wouldn’t be disqualified from being rewarded by God. It can be translated, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave” (NIV). He would bruise his body and give it a black eye to train it. For the immature, their bodies run them. Their body is tired, so they sleep in and don’t read the Bible. They don’t feel like going to church, so they don’t. They are shy, so they never share their prayer requests or struggles with anybody. Likewise, they lust, and simply follow those evil desires and can’t control them. The body, with its lusts and emotions, control their lives and not God. To be sexually pure, and to be holy in general, we must learn to practice rigorous discipline to be godly, especially when it comes to sexual purity. Otherwise, the body and its natural lusts to overeat, over-sleep, over-work, be lazy, or indulge in lust, will control us. To be sexually pure, we must know ourselves and our weaknesses and practice rigorous discipline to be holy.


Temptations and Solutions Are Common with Others


With that said, though we may be unique in some of the ways that we have to battle, we must remember that our temptations and how we battle them will be common with others. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others...” Also, in 2 Corinthians 1:6, Paul said, “But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort that you experience in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we also suffer.” Though we are unique and must know ourselves and how to possess our bodies in purity, our trials (including with lust) are not unique, and God will use the lessons we learn in being pure to help others. This is true with all trials and temptations. As we learn from our weaknesses and gain mastery over them, we will be able to better counsel others on how to have victory. This is certainly true in the area of sexual purity, and it’s also part of the reason accountability and seeking wise counsel are so important. It’s been said that normal people learn from their own mistakes; wise people learn from the mistakes of others without having to make those mistakes; and foolish people learn from neither. (They just keep repeating the same mistakes.) We should all seek to learn from others to lessen our mistakes or the length we live in them. As we discern our weaknesses, we’ll commonly need counsel from older, more mature people to help us minimize them and conquer them, especially in the area of sexual purity, and we’ll also at some point need to share the lessons we’ve learned to help others.


If we are going to remain pure, we must know ourselves and practice self-discipline. What are our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and how is God calling us to gain mastery over them?


Application Question: Why is it so important to know ourselves and our weaknesses so we can gain victory over sexual immorality? What are some areas of weakness or vulnerability in the area of sexual impurity that you have learned about yourself and how is God helping you gain self-mastery in those areas? What are other areas of weakness (emotionally, socially, spiritually, etc.) that God is teaching you self-mastery in? What are some rigorous disciplines people often need to practice to be sexually pure?


To Be Sexually Pure, We Must (If It Is God’s Will) Get Married and Faithfully Practice Physical Intimacy in the Marriage


that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God.

1 Thessalonians 4:4-5


When Paul calls for each person to “possess his own body in holiness and honor,” some commentators believe he is referring to a male finding a wife. The reason some take this view is because the word for “possess” or “control” typically means “to acquire,” which doesn’t fit well with “body” or “vessel,” as it can be translated (NKJV). In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and in other Greek literature, the word “acquire” is used of acquiring a wife. Also, the word “body” or “vessel” is at times used of a wife. First Peter 3:7 (ESV) uses it that way in referring to the wife as the “weaker vessel.” In this case, Paul would be calling for males to get married as a protection from sexual sin. It’s the same thing he said in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2. It says,


Now with regard to the issues you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of immoralities, each man should have relations with his own wife and each woman with her own husband.


The problem with this view is that in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 when Paul calls for the Thessalonians to be “holy” and to “avoid sexual immorality” it seems like he was referring to all of the Thessalonians, both women and men, since it was true for all of them. Also, the Greek word for “possess” or “acquire” in verse 4 at times in Greek is used of “self-mastery.”[17] Therefore, there is good reason to believe Paul is referring to all the Thessalonians exercising self-mastery over their bodies, instead of only males seeking a wife. Both genders needed to learn to control their bodies to be pure.


With that said, getting married and practicing physical intimacy in the marriage is one of the ways God has given us to protect ourselves from sexual temptations (cf. 1 Cor 7:1-2), and in a sense, it is a way to practice self-mastery over our bodies. Sex is a gift from God to married couples to develop intimacy, enjoy one another, and procreate, but it’s also meant to protect them from sexual immorality. Therefore, for most, they should consider getting married, in part, as a protection from sexual sin. With that said, in most cultures today, marriages are increasingly happening later in life, if at all, as people pursue financial success and security. Unfortunately, for most, this almost guarantees that they will live in sexual sin before marriage. When God said of Adam that it was not good for him to be alone, this meant alone socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. God desires for most people to get married and to choose not to, or to put it off till late in life, will mean struggling with sexual sin and the consequences of it. Now certainly, some have the spiritual gift of singleness, which means, in part, that they will have more grace to be sexually pure than others and a desire to serve God without the distraction of marriage and children. This is an important gift. Those with it have done great things for the kingdom of God. Christ was single. Paul was single. John Stott, as of more recently, was single and greatly blessed the kingdom of God through his teachings and writings. However, most do not have that gift and staying single long-term will lead them into great struggles with sexual sin. Therefore, they should prayerfully consider getting married, as a protection from sexual immorality, but also to have a partner in serving God’s kingdom. That was God’s will for Adam and Eve, and it’s his will for most people.


With that said, believers must understand that getting married in and of itself is not a protection from sexual sin. No doubt, Satan probably attacks married couples more than singles because the consequences of sexual sin are greater. It destroys marriages as many will end in divorce when there is infidelity. It scars and wounds children. When our marriages are destroyed, it destroys the church and society, as the family is the basic unit of both. Marriages are under severe attack, and apart from regular sexual intimacy, marriage, in and of itself, does not protect against sexual temptation. In 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Paul said it this way:


A husband should fulfill his marital responsibility to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband. It is not the wife who has the rights to her own body, but the husband. In the same way, it is not the husband who has the rights to his own body, but the wife. Do not deprive each other, except by mutual agreement for a specified time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then resume your relationship, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.


Paul said that when married couples neglect sexual intimacy, it opens the door for Satan to tempt them. They should only neglect sexual intimacy for spiritual reasons, to devote themselves to prayer and fasting—not because of work, tiredness, lack of desire, or any other host of excuses we can make up. When couples neglect sex, Paul says Satan will tempt them. Sometimes, that temptation shows up in insecurity. One spouse feels unattractive and undesired, which leads to conflict in the marriage or even sexual temptation. Paul says married couples should not neglect sexual intimacy. In that sense, sex becomes a spiritual discipline. It's an act of obedience to God; it unifies married couples, provides enjoyment and protection, and the opportunity to serve God by bearing children.


Believers should understand this about how Satan uses sexual temptation before marriage and within marriage. Before marriage, Satan tempts dating believers to have sex. For many courting/engaged couples, it is very difficult to stay pure until the day they say their vows. However, after marriage, Satan tempts them to neglect sex and fulfill their sexual desires outside of the marriage. For many newlyweds, it’s a shock to find out the difficulties that come along with being faithful in the area of sex. In many marriages, sex is a sore subject in the home and a place of discontentment. It’s all very simple. Before marriage, the temptation is to have sex; and after marriage, the temptation is to not or to be unfaithful. When couples avoid it, it gives Satan a foothold in the marriage to tempt and cause discord.


If we are going to protect ourselves from sexual immorality, singles should consider getting married at a young age if at all possible, and when they are married, they should faithfully practice sexual intimacy. They should not leave it to when they feel like it and sparks fly, but like other acts of obedience, they should consistently plan for it and make it a discipline to protect themselves from Satan and his temptations. Proverbs 21:5 (NIV) says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit.”


Different Libidos


With that said, one of the difficulties that can cause conflict in the sexual union is marriage partners having different libidos. It’s typical for one mate to want to be intimate more than the other. A helpful verse to guide couples in this area is Philippians 2:3-5. It says,


Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had


Treating others and their desires as more important than our own means that for married couples in the sexual union, one person will get more than one wants and the other will get less than one desires to serve the other’s desires first. This is true not only in marriage but all of ministry. As Christians, we should put others’ needs and wants before our own since that’s what Christ did when he left heaven. He became a human and died for us in obedience to God, love for us, and at great cost to himself. We do the same as we love our spouses in every way, including with the sexual union.


Again, to be sexually pure, believers, as a general principle, must pursue a marriage partner and faithfully practice physical intimacy in marriage. This means that young people must prayerfully plan for marriage at an early age, if the Lord allows, as a protection from sexual immorality, and married couples must plan and practice sexual intimacy for the health and protection of their union from the evil one who wants to destroy them.


Application Question: How should one discern if he or she has the gift of singleness? Why is it becoming more common for young people to get married late in life or to avoid marriage altogether? What are common consequences of getting married late or avoiding it altogether? What are the benefits of getting married late in life? Why do married couples commonly neglect sexual intimacy? How can they better cultivate this spiritual discipline?


To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Love Our Brothers and Sisters by Protecting Them


In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly.

1 Thessalonians 4:6 


Paul says that when a person commits sexual immorality, he violates or takes advantage of another person. No one is an island unto themselves. The person watching pornography violates a daughter, a sister, a mother, a son, a brother, or a father. The woman who sleeps with someone else’s husband violates his wife and children. A man who sleeps with a young female, robs her of the virginity she was meant to offer her future husband. In addition, as believers, when we live in sexual immorality, we also defraud our churches and the believers within them. We take from them the godly witness and example we were meant to provide. We also make them more prone to fall into sexual sin, as they are tempted by our examples. Therefore, one of our motivations to be sexually pure should be to love others and protect them. In 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NIV), Paul said that a characteristic of true love is protecting others. He says of love, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In 1 Corinthians 13:5, he says it’s also not “self-seeking.” However, the opposite of both of those is true with sexual sin. Sexual sin is totally self-motivated, even when it is done with the consent of others and under the banner of “love.” It doesn’t protect others’ purity; it only cares about satisfying one’s lust. To truly love someone means to want what’s best for them, but sexual immorality, according to Scripture is a sin against God, a person’s body, and others. Sexual immorality is selfish and degrading. God made our bodies with great dignity, as we are made in his image and meant to glorify him. However, when we pervert ourselves by indulging in sexual sin, even if only in our mind, we degrade what God meant to be glorious and a reflection of him. 


Protecting Others through Modest Dress


To protect ourselves from sexual impurity, we must love others by protecting them from sexual sin. This protection will include giving attention to our clothing to not tempt others by causing them to stumble in mind or body. In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Paul said this:


Likewise the women are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.


Apparently, when the women in Ephesus went to worship, they were drawing attention to themselves instead of God by their clothing. They were dressing very luxuriously and provocatively, as was common in that sexually promiscuous culture. Many commentators believe they were modeling the prostitutes who would dress with extravagant, suggestive attire, and with beaded hair.[18] John Chrysostom, a church father, summarized the verse this way: “Imitate not therefore the courtesans [prostitutes]…for by such a dress they allure their many lovers.”[19] Unfortunately, in our culture as in the ancient culture, the female fashion styles are typically not set by modest women.


When the Ephesian women dressed like wealthy prostitutes and attended church, they were distracting others from worshiping God and tempting others in the congregation both by their wealth and beauty. With their clothing, they were defrauding God and others. Paul said this was not proper for women who professed to worship God. Essentially, he said Christian women should be different than secular women because their hearts are all about God and worshiping him instead of expressing themselves, being beautiful, and alluring the opposite sex by their attractiveness. In 1 Peter 3:3-4, Peter said something similar to the believing women in Turkey to help them be distinguished from the women of the world who were totally consumed with their appearance. He said: “Let your beauty not be external—the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes—but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.”


Certainly, this doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with wanting to dress attractively or to make oneself pretty. The Proverbs 31 woman was dressed in purple, which was a symbol of wealth (Prov 31:22). However, there is a problem when fashion consumes a person, is immodest, distracts from God and authentic relationships, and becomes a stumbling block to others, which was apparently happening in Ephesus and Turkey.


As with the women in Ephesus and Turkey, this seems to be a sin that women in general are prone to. The world culture, which Satan is over, consistently promotes the female body as alluring and meant to sell all products under the sun. This creates great insecurities in many females as they try to live up to societal expectations that are not of God. In seeking to promote the female body sexually, the clothing styles are commonly geared to attract the opposite sex and to gain the admiration of the same sex. The pants, shorts, skirts, and shirts continue to get shorter, smaller, tighter, and more revealing to display one’s curves and attract the opposite sex. If a girl is going to be modest in this culture, it will be very frustrating to even shop at times because modest clothes, which are rarely in style, are hard to find. However, if we are going to protect our purity and others’, we must think about protecting others (and ourselves) more than what is stylish and what we like when we buy clothes. We must, in love, think about what is modest, God-honoring, and not tempting in any way to others.


With that said, though this may be a sin that females are more prone to, as in Ephesus and Turkey, it is certainly one that guys commit as well. As one gains a little more muscle, the shirts worn commonly become a few sizes smaller and more skin is shown to draw the opposite sex and the admiration of the same sex. As mentioned, the fashions of the day are commonly meant to promote sex because it sells but also because Satan is over the world system and trying to destroy everyone through it.


If we are going to protect ourselves and others from sexual sin, we must love others by protecting them from anything that might cause them to stumble sexually. This will include not committing sexual immorality which hurts us and others but also practicing modesty in our clothing to not tempt others or cause them to stumble. Again, Paul said in verse 6, “In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him.” Instead of violating or taking advantage of others in the area of sexual immorality, we must love others by protecting their minds, hearts, and bodies, and by doing so, we will also protect ourselves.


Application Question: Why is it important for us to protect others from sexual sin to maintain our purity? In what ways do the fashion styles commonly promote sexual immorality both to guys and girls? How can Christian women and men learn what is modest in their clothing to not cause others to stumble?


To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Fear God’s Judgment


In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly.

1 Thessalonians 4:6


In verse 6, Paul promised that God will take vengeance on those who practice sexual sin and therefore violate and take advantage of others. This is not just referring to when someone is taken advantage of against their own will, as in the cases of sexual harassment, molestation, or rape. Certainly, God will bring justice in those situations. But it also refers to when people willingly engage in sexual immorality or tempt others to do so. We see warnings of this in many places. Colossians 3:5-6 says,


So put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth: sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience.


Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers.” Matthew 5:30 says this in the context of warning us about lusting after a person who is not our spouse. It says, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.” 


Application Question: In what ways will God judge those who practice sexual sin?


This judgment could take place in many ways, both presently and eternally. It could take place through a person getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Studies show that 1 in 2 sexually active people will get an STI by the age of twenty-five—such as syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and/or HIV, among others.[20] In fact, studies show that 80% of men and women in the US will have an STI at some point in their life.[21] Most can be cured but not all of them. Many people will experience God’s judgment through sexually transmitted diseases that cause pain, embarrassment, and sometimes even death. Many will experience God’s judgment for sexual immorality through difficulty in their marriages. Studies show that those who have sex before marriage have worse marriage outcomes including less satisfaction with their relationship, less enjoyment of sex in the marriage, and are more prone to divorce than those who waited till marriage to have sex.[22] Many of us carry baggage into our marriages that weighs us down and affect the pleasure of our marriage. In addition, statistics say that when men use pornography in marriage, their rate of divorce doubles. When women use pornography, the rate of divorce triples.[23] In addition, to no one’s surprise, those who use pornography have higher rates of infidelity—they are more prone to cheat on their spouses.[24] Certainly, many of God’s judgments on the sexually immoral are natural consequences of sexual sin. If we continually watch sexual immorality on the TV or the Internet, we’ll be more prone to engage in it and experience the consequences of it in our marriages, including disease, infidelity, and divorce. Furthermore, though there is conflict in studies, many show that those who have casual sex are more prone to mental health issues, including anxiety, low self-esteem, regret, and depression.[25] This just makes sense according to Scripture. Again, 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body”—but the immoral person sins against his own body.” We sin against our bodies which, as mentioned, can commonly lead to disease. We sin against our minds which can lead to all types of struggles with mental illness. But we also sin against our spirits, in that sexual immorality negatively affects our relationship with God and opens the door for the devil. Certainly, this is true with all sin. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” When we are walking in various sins, including sexual immorality, it hinders our relationship with God. We have a hard time enjoying his presence, discerning his guidance, understanding his Word, and enjoying his people. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” When we are living in unrepentant sin, including sexual immorality, it will hinder our ability to see and know God, as we should.


Application Question: What if we confess our sexual sin to God and turn from it? How will that affect the consequences we experience?


Certainly, God will forgive us as Scripture promises (cf. 1 John 1:9), but often God doesn’t take away the consequences of our sin. We see this in the story of David. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered. The consequence for both adultery and murder was capital punishment under the law; however, God promised David that he would not die but that the sword would never depart from his household (2 Sam 12:10). Eventually, his son, Amnon, raped his daughter, Tamar, and Tamar’s brother, Absalom, eventually killed Amnon (2 Sam 13). Later, Absalom tried to kill his father, David, and take over the kingdom (2 Sam 15). Though God forgave David, God did not remove all the consequences of his sin. Likewise, though we repent of our sexual sin, it does not remove the images, memories, and potentially the consequences on ourselves and others, which gives Satan a door to continually attack us or others with. In addition, sexual failures, as with all sin, make us more prone to fall to those same temptations. Again, it’s always easier to keep a door closed that’s never been opened.


God is the avenger of sexual sin, both in this life and in the next. For true believers who stumble in this area, we will never be eternally judged for our sins because God judged them on the cross. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” However, we will receive God’s discipline in this life to turn us away from unrepentant sin and to make us holy. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” In addition, not only will we receive discipline in this life but also, possibly, loss of reward in the next. First Corinthians 3:12-15 says this when considering our coming before the judgment seat of Christ for reward:


If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.


Also, Matthew 5:19 says,


So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.


Finally, those who repeatedly live in sexual sin, without repentance, though they profess Christ as their Lord and Savior, their actions may prove that they were never truly born again. Paul said this to the Corinthians who were being tempted in the area of sexual sin. In 1 Corinthians 5, a man was having sex with his father’s wife. And in 1 Corinthians 6, apparently some were visiting temple prostitutes. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul said this:


Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. 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.


Paul told them to “not be deceived” because some in the church were probably teaching loose sexual ethics, as though how we live with our bodies doesn’t matter to God after experiencing grace. They could not be more wrong. How we live proves whether we’re truly born again or not. Therefore, those who continually engage in sexual sin on the Internet or with their significant others, without repentance, those who practice homosexuality, without repentance, and those who live lifestyles of sin in general are not part of the kingdom of God. Becoming a true follower of Christ changes our relationship to sin, including sexual sin, and if it does not, our profession of faith has not changed our eternal destiny. First John 3:9-10 says it this way:


Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.


If we are going to be sexually pure, we must fear God’s judgment. God is the avenger of those who violate themselves by cultivating their illicit sexual lusts. He is the avenger of those who violate others by tempting them through their clothing or lack of. He brings vengeance on those who take part in casual sex. He brings vengeance on those who force themselves on others and take what is not theirs. In Matthew 18:6, Christ said this, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea.” God takes his children’s welfare and purity very seriously, just like any good father. With his children who willfully commit sexual sin and bring others down with them, he will discipline them severely, and many of the consequences may never go away, though there is forgiveness. And for those who are not his children, they will experience consequences in this life and eternally. Sexual immorality will be judged by God. It may seem like the world and disobedient believers are having fun through their promiscuous lifestyles; however, Galatians 6:6 says, “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows.” They will receive judgment in this life, often through the natural consequences, and potentially eternal judgment in the next.


If we are going to abstain from sexual sin, we must fear God’s discipline. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord.” Fearing the Lord is the beginning of living a godly life because it will turn us away from sin out of reverence for God and fear of his displeasure and discipline.


Do we fear God? We can tell in part by how we respond to sexual temptation. Do we watch it on the TV and the Internet for entertainment through R-rated and mature movies? Do we engage in it through pornography? Do we engage in it by tempting God’s sons and daughters through our clothes or lack of clothes? Do we violate our bodies and others’ through sexual activity? Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom and therefore leads to a pure life.


Application Question: What does fearing the Lord mean? Why is fearing God’s discipline so important for living a lifestyle of holiness and discipline? Why do people, believers and unbelievers, commonly struggle with the concept of fearing the Lord, especially when it’s taught in church? Why does a lifestyle of unrepentant sexual immorality (including homosexuality) prove that one has not been born again (cf. Matt 5:30, Cor 6:9-11, 1 John 3:9-10)?


To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Remember God’s High Call on Our Lives, His Great Empowerment for It, and Pursue it


For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:7–8 


In verse 7, when Paul refers to God’s call, he is referring to our call at salvation, often called the effectual call. There is a general call that goes out to everybody, as the gospel is shared throughout the world. However, for those who respond to the gospel through repentance and faith, that call is effectual because of a special work of God. He opens our ears and hearts to the gospel in such a way that we have to respond as he gives us faith to believe (cf. John 6:37, Eph 2:8-9, Phil 1:29). However, we often think of our call to salvation as simply a call to heaven instead of hell, eternal blessing instead of eternal judgment. But God has called each of us not only to heaven but also to himself and “holiness” (v. 7). The word “holiness” is a form of the word sanctification. This is the third time a form of this word is used in this passage (cf. 3, 4, 7).[26] Part of the high calling on every believer’s life is to turn from sin and to live a holy life, including being sexually pure. We must remember this at all times. We have a high call on our lives to be salt and light to this world, bringing change to the world by being different from it (Matt 5:13-16), to glorify God in everything we do (1 Cor 10:31), and to be holy and perfect like our heavenly Father (1 Pet 1:15, Matt 5:48). It’s a tremendously high and difficult call that we must never forget.


With that said, though being holy like God may seem impossible, in verse 8, Paul reminds us that God has given us his Holy Spirit. In fact, he reminded the Corinthians of this as well in the context of calling them to flee sexual immorality. Again 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 says,


Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body”—but the immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.


We should flee any temptation towards sexual sin because of God’s call on our lives to be holy and because he has given us his Holy Spirit to indwell and empower us. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Whereas in the flesh (apart from the Spirit), we are innately drawn to sexual immorality and degrading our bodies with others. In the Spirit, God gives us desires to be holy—desires to read his Word, pray, fellowship with other believers, turn from sin, and serve others before ourselves. God’s Spirit gives us religious affections. But he does not just give us holy desires but the fruits of those desires. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...” These fruits will empower us to be holy and pure, including conquering sexual temptation. God’s Spirit gives us the ability to truly love someone and want the best for them, so we’ll at all costs seek to protect their purity in mind and body. He gives us the ability to love God more than our self-pleasure, so much so we’re willing to pluck out our eye and chop off our hand to be holy—referring to things we see or do that lead us into sin. He gives us the ability to have self-control over our eyes, thoughts, and actions.


Interpretation Question: How do we access the fruits of the Spirit so we can conquer our fleshly desires and walk in purity?


In Galatians 5:16, Paul says, “But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” “Live” can also be translated “walk.” “Walk” is a present tense verb, meaning it’s a continuous action, but it also implies progress. To walk in the Spirit means, we must be continually growing in our relationship with God and obedience to him. When a person is spiritually stagnant and not faithful, they will lack the fruits of the Spirit and instead grow the fruits of the flesh. Galatians 5:19, in giving the works of the flesh, says, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity…” Sexual immorality and impurity are the first ones mentioned. Therefore, to not be walking and progressing in our relationship with the Lord daily will commonly lead to struggles with sexual sin—starting with one’s thought-life and then at times leading to one’s actions. When we are walking in the Spirit, we practice obedience to God’s Word instead of disobedience to it. We meditate on God’s Word daily and are trying to grow in our understanding of it. When we are walking in the Spirit, we will constantly offer prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving to the Lord who is sovereign over all things. When walking in the Spirit, we are attached to God’s body, the church, through weekly worship, fellowship, and accountability. To walk in the Spirit also means we are turning away from sin, worldliness, sexual immorality, and anything else that displeases God instead of embracing sin. Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We grieve the Spirit any time we sin, any time we watch shows that are full of sexual immorality, cursing, and violence, and any time we cultivate ungodly thoughts, including complaining and being discontent. To walk in the Spirit is to live a disciplined Christian life that is saturated by God’s Word, prayer, worship, obedience, fellowship, repentance, and service to God and others. As we do this, we have the promise that we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.


Therefore, though many times when we are trying to stop doing something, we give all or most of our attention to that negative thing we are trying to stop doing. For example, a person trying to not curse, overeat, or smoke often focuses entirely on that prohibition instead of other positive things. Paul teaches the secret to not fulfilling our fleshly lusts, including sexual sin, is not focusing on the prohibition but on the good things that God has called us to give our lives to. We were effectually called to be holy, and as we live in the Spirit by being righteous, we will naturally not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Instead, we will love others and God more. We will be patient and kind, and we’ll have greater self-control over our thoughts, desires, and actions.


If we are going to be sexually pure, we must remember God’s high call on our life to be holy and his great empowerment through his Spirit. We are called to be different from the world that doesn’t know God, and God has given us his Spirit to do so. Therefore, we must discipline ourselves to be people of the Word, people of prayer, people of obedience, people of worship, and people who serve God and others. When we struggle with sexual temptation or stumble in it, we should look at that stumble or lust like a hunger pain. It is a signal to discipline ourselves even more to walk (or live) in the Spirit. That might mean giving greater time to his Word, prayer, worship, fellowship, accountability, and/or service. As we progress in our relationship with God through walking in the Spirit, we are promised that we will conquer our flesh, including its lusts. If we are going to be sexually pure, we must remember God’s high call on our lives, his great empowerment for it, and pursue it.


Application Question: What does it mean to live or walk in the Spirit and therefore not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5:16)? How can a person grow in the discipline of walking in the Spirit? How can a person tell when they are not walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:16-23)? How have you experienced more victory over sin, including lust, anger, anxiety, and depression, by walking in the Spirit?




How can we be sexually pure in a sexually promiscuous world?


1.     To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Seek Accountability Partners

2.     To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Be Committed to God’s Word

3.     To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Properly Define Sexual Immorality

4.     To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Avoid Sexual Immorality at All Costs

5.     To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Know Ourselves and Practice Rigorous Self-Discipline

6.     To Be Sexually Pure, We Must (If It’s God’s Will) Get Married and Faithfully Practice Physical Intimacy in the Marriage

7.     To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Love Our Brothers and Sisters by Protecting Them

8.     To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Fear God’s Judgment

9.     To Be Sexually Pure, We Must Remember God’s High Call on Our Lives, His Great Empowerment for It, and Pursue It


Application Question: Which point about being sexually pure stood out most and why?



Prayer Prompts


·      Pray for God to forgive the church (and the world) for its sexual sin and unwillingness to confront it.

·      Pray for God to cleanse and deliver his church from sexual immorality so she can be a pure and blameless bride at his coming (Eph 5:25-27).

·      Pray for God to bond us together with godly people within the body of Christ who can encourage us in the faith and hold us accountable (2 Tim 2:22).

·      Pray for God to draw us to his Word, give us a deeper understanding of and love for it, and equip us to conquer sin through it, especially sexual sin (Ps 119:9).

·      Pray for God to give us grace to be spiritually disciplined and to remove anything from our lives that tempts us and draws us away from God and his people (1 Tim 4:7, 1 Thess 5:22).

·      Pray for God to strengthen married couples (including in the area of physical intimacy), provide godly spouses for those who are single if that be his will, and deliver both from Satanic attacks and temptations towards sexual sin (1 Cor 7:1-2, 7-8).

·      Pray for God to sanctify us through his Spirit by enabling us to love God and others, conquer sin, and overflow in righteousness.

[1] David Guzik, 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), 1 Th 4:1–2.

[2] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 & 2 Thessalonians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2002), 106.

[3] David Guzik, 1 Thessalonians, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), 1 Th 4:3–6a.

[5] Mark Howell et al., Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2015), 76.

[7] Accessed 8/25/2023 from 

[14] Wiegel, Robert, “How Does God’s Word Change Us.” Sermon accessed 8/25/2015 from

[16] Mark Howell et al., Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2015), 82.

[17] Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 13, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 81.

[18] Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 84). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[19] Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 84). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[26] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 & 2 Thessalonians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2002), 112.


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