1 & 2 Thessalonians: Day 5

Live in Holiness


Today's Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Ezekiel 36:26-27, 1 Peter 1:15-23

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Ezekiel 36:26-27, 1 Peter 1:15-23

The word “holiness” is one of those terms that, depending on your background, can carry a lot of baggage. For some of us, it’s connected to feelings of guilt and shame, an impossible standard hanging over us. Others associate it with harshness and judgment after hearing it taught legalistically.

At first blush, 1 Thessalonians 4 might seem to play into these stereotypes by linking holiness with sexual morality. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians toward holiness by cautioning them from indulging in “lustful desires” (v. 5), and instead encouraging them to “control their own bodies.” Just another Christian prude, our present-day culture might think. However, there is more going on here than first meets the eye.

First is the Thessalonian culture, which is remarkably similar to our own. Many New Testament scholars note that the pagan Thessalonian culture had a liberal view of sexuality. Sex outside the bounds of marriage was not only permissible, but even encouraged.

The second thing to note about this passage is the tone. It’s tempting to read instructions about holiness in a thundering voice of condemnation, but that was not Paul’s approach. In verse 1, the Greek word erotao—translated “entreat” or “encourage”—has a connotation of gentleness and friendship. Paul isn’t dropping a hammer of judgment; instead, he is clarifying and affirming a community he loves.

Paul can see the Thessalonians are living their faith well. They are honoring Christ with their lifestyles. They are pursuing holiness in every area of their lives. But as they continue to do so, Paul wants them to make a distinction between the teachings of their culture and the teachings of Christ, which diverge on the issue of sexual practice.

This context matters, especially in light of popular stereotypes about Christian holiness and sex. For Paul, holiness is not a measuring stick we should use to compare and condemn. By its reckoning, we all fall short.

Instead, holiness is our witness. It’s how we point the world to the character of God and proclaim, “This is what God’s love is like.” God’s love is intimate and invested. It is constant and covenantal. It is dignifying rather than degrading. It does not use and abuse. It does not take advantage for a short-lived thrill. It isn’t rooted in selfish desire but self-giving faithfulness. Our holy lives bear witness to all these things.

In that sense, holiness is not simply about being different or set apart, but reinvigorating the imagination of a world which misunderstands both God and sex. Rather than sneer at our culture and its sexual norms, we can humbly and joyfully point to something better. Our holy lives can serve as the embodiment of God’s best for humanity, a vision of freedom, honor, and dignity.

Holiness was never meant to be a spiritual bludgeon. And it is much more than a set of boundaries and rules. It is our witness to a world that has forgotten how to live. It is our witness to a world that has forgotten what we are for. And it is our witness to a world that has forgotten what God is like.

Everything about us—our bodies, our sex—is a part of that witness. We, the people of God, exist to point people to God. Love is His song, and holiness is the dance.


Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, mom, and she holds a PhD on women and calling. She blogs at SheWorships.com, and is the author of Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You.

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  • Lynn Johnson

    We exist to point people to God…may we love well, be kind, not conform to the world and not be judgmental and critical. May we live in the freedom of His Holiness!

  • Rebekah Speirs

    How much more motivating is it to see holiness as a witness rather than a ruler – so liberating ☺️ This post spoke right to me and has given me a new perspective on some of the things I struggle with in my marriage.

  • Daria Turner

    Being condemned is of the devil. Feeling convicted is of the Lord.

  • Brittany BarlowSanchez

    I love how you explain that the tone is gentle. Reading the Bible can be scary at times because the fear of being condemned, but by stepping back and reading scripture with this gentle tone it makes it less scary. Thank you for this! ❤️

  • Paula Dansby

    I was raised in a very legalistic church. I knew at a VERY young age this particular church had missed the point of Jesus’ life and ministry. I so appreciate this writer’s commentary regarding what holiness is and why it matters today. Beautiful and articulate. Thank You!!!

  • Robin NHendrich

    Looking back everything is 20/20. I knew God, was baptized, and I thought I had a relationship with him, but I did not actively receive grace, our gift from Him. I was a prime example of a teenager who lowered standards and removed boundaries to fit in. I say all this because while I didn’t understand my actions are my ministry to others, God still stood by my side. I met a boy, who I fell hard for, we began dating and did sleep with each other, I wish I could say we did it once and then we recognized it was wrong and repented, but it took 5 years together before we stopped, repented, and began chasing a relationship with God. This man, who is now my husband, heard God somewhere in the thick of college, and started going to church with me…and started asking questions. God prompted his heart for change and we have been on an incredible journey with Him ever since. The Lord never left me even when I was lost but didn’t realize it, and when I didn’t recognize that my actions weren’t holy and were more than likely deterring others from seeing Christ, He still walked along side me! He walks alongside the boy who is now my husband, who has the biggest heart for Christ daily, who changed on the inside and out, because following God is not only a quiet decision but is a daily active action. Our lives are not our own when we decide to follow Jesus, our actions, self control, skills all are the hands and feet of Jesus. If only I would have understood this 10 years ago, I use my past as a reminder to not repeat, but to chase Christ daily. He alone changed our lives and gave us a soulmate and best friend to chase Him together. God is good!

    • She Reads Truth

      Hi Robin, thanks so much for sharing. We’re so grateful that you’re a part of our community! -Margot, The SRT Team

  • Steph Rogulic

    I had an incredible connect group last night where we talked about things the church sometimes doesn’t like to talk about. We discussed sexuality, we discussed pornography, same sex attraction, masturbation and shame. So many of us have gone through these struggles in our lives and the enemy has kept us in shame. He has cleverly bound us through that guilt and isolated us so that we don’t speak it out, meaning we all feel alone. But you’re not alone! When one of the girls opened up about how she has a heart for the gay community because she felt confused at one point yet chose to pursue Jesus’ holiness instead – the whole floor opened up with “me too’s”. Then when we spoke about pornography, “me too’s” filled the room. Sexual abuse, “me too.” Masturbation, “me too.” We need a generation of women who are unafraid to say me too, so what is in the dark may be brought to light. The enemy has power in the dark, but in the light we have accountability and Jesus will work wonders through others in our lives. Our sexuality is a choice, and I love how it says that His Spirit will EMPOWER us to life in holiness. The ‘why’ behind the abstinence is witness – and that is powerful. We need to stand with our girls, without judgement. It’s incredible that the enemy has connected intimacy with shame when that was never meant to be the case. Intimacy with God will heal us, there is no shame in His presence and in His will. After all, Adam and Eve were naked and knew no shame. Praying that our current or future marriages will be ones of deep intimacy, coming first from the intimacy we shamelessly experience with our Heavenly Father. X

  • I came from a church where church discipline was a thing and there was so much shame and guilt, it terrified me. I love where Sharon says that Paul approached the community he loved to clarify and affirm them. What a much better approach to those people than to shame them, especially if they are new to the idea of church and faith. This encourages me to live a life that points to God, but to do so lovingly, and in an encouraging manner.

  • Nikki Cunningham

    I secretly was dating my best friend, a young man on a fast track to preaching. We did not tell anyone of our relationship, and there was no boundaries. knowing the scriptures, i felt constantly condemned, but i didn’t know how to leave it! i tried for a year to end our relationship and nothing worked. I finally went to a conference at my wits end and heard a simple phrase “if you are guilty repent, if you’ve repented you’re no longer guilty” It was at that service i allowed Jesus to be my prince of peace, and it became easier (not totally blameless) to say no to my boyfriend. After a year of being focused on Jesus, my now husband waltz into my life. The whole time we were dating, we never kissed, nor had sex. And the freedom I felt, was totally worth it. There is NO condemnation in Christ Jesus. when you follow his heart, the condemnation melts away.

  • Lauren Makielski

    My now husband and I lost our virginity to each other when we were 17 and 18 and not following the Lord. As we started to find Jesus in our own separate ways a year later, and by being reminded that there is NO condemnation in Christ, only transformation, we were EMPOWERED to abstain. I thank God so often for the way the Spirit encouraged and did not shame us into that decision. We stayed sexually pure throughout the rest of our dating and engagement years and were able to come together totally redeemed on our wedding night. That proved to me that we need to change the feelings and language around sexuality in Christianity!

    • Melanie

      Praise God for this beautiful story of redemption! It’s so encouraging to hear that experiences like yours happen. It would be so easy to say “well we already had sex, so there’s no point in stopping now”. You and your husband have set a fantastic example of what it means to repent and seek the Lord first. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  • Sharon, you always have an encouraging word for us, full of truth!

  • As I write this, reflecting back to the person I was before I was married 2.5yrs ago.. reading 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, I felt disappointed in myself as back then I was baptized but honestly didn’t know the word as I do now. The younger me, knew it was a sin to have sex before marriage; I did anyways. So reading that God will avenge as being unpure is as if you have rejected God or he punished by God; still embeds fear. I know Paul is writing this so we can aim for a better relationship with Christ but guilt reigns here. I know because of Jesus my sins/former unGodly life despite dressing it as I had a good faith base related to bible verses in status’ on Facebook or Instagram or telling people I’ll pray for them—are forgiven as he paid the ultimate price. Now knowing what I know I feel like a fake 2.5+yrs ago, but I also see in my younger self someone who had interest on knowing God but was fearful and disappointed due to sinful decisions.

  • Diane Smutek

    Wow! I wish I had read this when I was in my twenties!

  • Elizabeth Taylor

    Holiness is a true blessing! Not only is it a light to the World, but it blesses the life of the believer as well! Many see holiness as trapping people, but it actually sets us free and protects us from the corruption of sin in our World. So thankful for God’s spirit to guide me when my flesh can’t do it alone!

  • Jessica Terpstra

    What a beautiful reminder of God‘s holiness, and the multifaceted purpose behind Him calling us to be holy!

  • Alyson Andreoli

    God created us in His image, to reflect His character here on earth and serve as an example to others. Thus, as He is holy, as reflections of Him, we too must be holy.

  • I really loved today’s reading ❤️ Especially, “10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

  • So oftentimes, when I read passages about holiness the idea of guilt and shame do linger in my mind and heart because I know I have failed so many times and continue to do so on a daily basis. Thanks be to God that we are sanctified day by day because we are made new by the blood of Christ! As 1 Peter 1:16 says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy”. We are given a new heart and because of that, we need to live that out; we need to live out the love that God teaches us to have for our brothers and sisters (1 Thessalonians 4:9). As the devotional above explains, we are to be the witness in this fallen world because they have forgotten how to live. Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more. I am so encouraged that we are called to practice the love God teaches us to have to our brothers and sisters, which is “intimate, invested, constant, covenantal, dignifying and self-giving”. This is not the kind of love that was practiced in Thessalonica, nor is it practiced in our Western society today. Yet, we are to be different; we are to be set a part and to be that witness to others. Be encouraged ladies that though we are sinners, God has taken our ashes and made it into beauty… “by grace, we have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing: it is a gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8). To Him be the glory!

  • Rhonda Johnson

    Wow…love the explanation of Paul’s writings! Sets my mind a little differently, instead of judging our world today with disdain, focus on being a witness and light!

  • This is all great but you’re leaving out the most important part. Verse 6! Holiness means bit taking advantage of another sexually because God is the avenger of these offenses! Holiness means trust, intimacy, and mutuality. The opposite of holiness is violation.

  • Samantha Samuelsen

    Incredible insight! I love the comparison of the constant love of God to the committed love of marriage; what an incredible tool we have to witness to the world when we allow holiness to be a bridge (rather than a bomb) in our conversations with unbelievers!

    • Audrey Gonzalez

      I love that! A bridge not a bomb! Thankful that holiness is not on me to accomplish, but HE accomplishes it through me. It’s HIS holiness. I don’t have it on my own. But amazing that I can have his holiness and shine his love to others around me.

  • Stephanie Thorp

    I loved this! Such a beautiful picture of holiness!

  • Cynthia Johnston

    Holiness is a lifestyle. We, as Believers, live in the light of obedience to God’s Word with the help of the Holy Spirit. It’s not easy but, it is possible b/c with God all things are possible!

  • Lois Wilson

    WWJD. Remember that from the 90’s? It was printed on posters, bumper stickers, bracelets, tattoos, bookmarks. It got so big that it became laughed at, a joke. But this is holiness. To measure each thought and action with those words: “What would Jesus do?” And don’t just wear it on your wrist, actually act on it, even when it feels unnatural, until being like Jesus becomes who you are. And then we can do what we exist to do… to point others to God.

  • “We the people of God exist to point people to God.” Reminds me of when I was at Passion 2018 in DC, and Matt Redman said how when we sing, we are breathing in God’s love and grace, and literally exhaling and giving back to God the breath that He first gave us. Praying that I would reflect Him all throughout my day and that I would remember the One who brought me from death to life.

  • Do any of you regular commenters happen to remember a woman named Jacqueline? She asked for prayers for her unborn baby who at the time they were suspecting might have some medical issues, but that they would know for sure in two weeks. It would have been the first week in January. Anyway I was wondering if anyone remembers her checking in and maybe I missed it?

    • Debbie Lanier

      I do remember Jacqueline! Praying all is well for her and their new baby.

    • Deborah Ward

      I remember her. I did not remember her by name but her situation. I have been praying for her. Haven’t seen any update.

  • I love that he talks about how they are living a life of purity and to do it more so – even further. It shows how even when our community is doing well, we can still be encouragers in the faith to continue to focus on the footsteps of Jesus – even more so. There are always ways to grow. God’s love and transformation in us is not stagnant. It continues even when we think we have things right, there is more to learn and grow in. God, I pray that through you, my life will point to you. I pray against hindrances of the flesh getting in the way of people seeing your true character and beauty.

  • “Holiness was never meant to be a spiritual bludgeon. And it is much more than a set of boundaries and rules. It is our witness to a world that has forgotten how to live. It is our witness to a world that has forgotten what we are for. And it is our witness to a world that has forgotten what God is like.”

    More and more, I have come to realize that I need to remember that just as God led me to Him, He will lead others to Him as well. I don’t have to concern myself to the point of frustration or judgement with the lifestyles or choices of others, what I am called to do is love them and be prayerful over them. I don’t want to be clanging cymbal or gong that 1 Corinthians 13 mentions. My own greatest humbling and reality into my own behavior was with the unabashed love of God and because of my new awareness those who walked out my life with me in genuine love and not judgement became those I sought to know more from, so why wouldn’t it be the same for others. Daily I fall short, but my hope is that I exercise more love and less judgment and that in through my love, others may see Christ. Prayerful that I be humbled in my comings and goings and that I be an instrument His love and Holiness.

  • “But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone” v11-12
    This stuck out to me in our culture today (even some Christian culture) that screams that we must be noticed and loud, that we can do “great” things and create a platform for Jesus on social media etc. A quiet life is not talked about much nowadays. But a quiet, holy life is pleasing to God. It shows others the love of God in a way that our culture does not preach. Praying God will show me how to truly love others in my quiet daily life.

    • Kay

      Emily, I agree with you so much. I am quiet by nature and often fear I am not loud “enough” in my witness. This devotion helps me see that my “quiet” love for others through the different things I do, and being open and receptive when God calls me to speak out or do more, is “enough.”

  • Jo Gistand

    What I took from this passage is that we are to be reflection of GODs love to the world. That is; to live holy and point others to Christ.
    Not by our own might, but with the Holy Spirits’ encouraging!

    Thank You God for creating a clean heart in me. Though I fall short daily, your Holy Spirit is ever present redirecting me back to your thoughts, and your ways.

  • Ana Lundin

    “Love is His song, and holiness is the dance”. I LOVE this!

  • Kelly Chataine

    A new heart! The precious blood of Christ! The scripture readings are marvelous. There is nothing like reading about Jesus and what he has done and is doing for His family. I am blessed to be a part of Jesus’ family! Praise God for our new hearts! Praise God for the precious blood of Jesus! Praise God that we are called to be holy and are given the tools to do so.

  • Churchmouse

    “He knows when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake. You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout…” Yes I know these are some of the lyrics to a child’s Christmas song. But this is not far from my childhood view of God. I was raised in a denomination that had me always looking over my shoulder. Obedience to a stern and somewhat whimsical God was the primary focus. Fear tactics worked well – I became pretty adept at following the rules. But with each rule my heart shrank. My spirit shriveled. Praise God that I found the Word of God and through study and prayer and a different community, my stone-cold heart became a malleable tender heart of flesh. Yes true love thawed my frozen heart (to quote another children’s song. I just had to). Yes we long to be holy as He is holy but it is so that we can be a witness to His love, not a means to earn His love. That makes all the difference!

    • Kelly Chataine

      Yes, true love thawed my frozen heart, too! Yes to all that you wrote!

    • Elizabeth

      I had to do a double take when I first began to read your post- I had the exact same view of God and I always use this song when I share about how I viewed God. Unfortunately, I haven’t really healed this view in my own life. Your post encouraged me it is possible.

    • Amy Alexandra

      Your words have helped me understand Ezekiel 36:26-27 in a new light. I’ve always thought of a “heart of stone” as a hardened conscience, something that describes someone who isn’t even bothered by their sin. Your comment, however, suggests to me that another way we get a heart of stone is by being “shriveled” by a legalistic understanding of holiness. All of a sudden, I can identify with these verses in a way I was never able to before. My heart has become hardened because I can no longer bear the guilt. It wounds me, and my heart retreats behind walls because I have no other option. The weight of my failure is too much to bear, so I try desperately to stop feeling so that I can survive. But God’s love—His real love, the love the Bible describes—makes it safe to be vulnerable. It makes it safe to have a tender heart because “He knows that we are dust.” He is not standing to smite me for my mistakes; He is a Shepherd who gently leads me in paths of righteousness. Thank you for reminding me that God does not love me less for not being holy yet; holiness was never about earning His approval anyway.

      • Debbie Lanier

        “God does not love me less for not being holy yet; holiness was never about earning His approval anyway.”
        Amy, thank you for your insights, which resonate with my heart!

    • Pam

      I’m jumping up & down over here, waving my arms, and shouting, “Yes, Yes, Yes Lord!!!”

  • Shuana Hackworth

    I look at holiness as God’s best for me. His ways are higher than mine. To live Holy is to reflect the love that God has for me that’s my takeaway from this reading.

  • I love this, too! “…we can humbly and joyfully point to something that is better.” Praying God’s riches blessings on each SRT sister today.

  • Cheryl Carrasco

    This is stated so beautifully. “This is what God’s love is like.” What a great explanation of holiness!

  • Linda Richards

    LOVE this! What a freeing way to look at and understand holiness. It changes it from something I “have to do” to something “I desire to do well”. ❤️❤️

  • We’ve been talking this week about fellowship with other women. I’m off this morning to join a new group of women. I’m a little nervous, but you all have encouraged me. I’ve prayed for God to bring women into my life and He has answered my prayer. Now I need to put myself out there to get to know them. That isn’t easy for me. Thank you for the love and joy you bring me.

    • Christy

      Praying for you, Bessie! We start a new group on Sunday too, and I am a fellow introvert. Praying for God to lead you to the conversations that will encourage others and allow you to serve!

  • Can I say something trivial and unrelated to the devotional? I LOVE all the plant images in the lock screens. I always have an SRT image as my WhatsApp background (even if I am sadly almost much more focused on the -often trivial- content of WhatsApp than on the beautiful messages ;)).
    But anyway, I am in love with plants and I enjoy the comforting, encouraging and remindeming verses against those beautiful backgrounds every day.

    • Debbie Lanier

      Me too, songbird! I save the images as my wallpaper and lock screen on my phone. ♡

  • We, the people of God, exist to point people to God… What an awesome statement!

    A beautiful truth i shall carry with me ..In the Love song of His presence, and the dance of my day…

    Happy Friday Sisters… Every blessing. .xxxx

  • This is so, so good. Thank you for this fresh vision of holiness as witness. “Love is His song, and holiness is the dance.”

  • Kirsten LaShure

    We, the people OF God, exist to point people TO God. ❤️❤️

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