Day 5

Live in Holiness

from the 1 & 2 Thessalonians reading plan


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

BY Guest Writer

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.

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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.

Post Comments (55)

55 thoughts on "Live in Holiness"

  1. Daria Turner says:

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

  2. Brittany BarlowSanchez says:

    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! ❤️

  3. Paula Dansby says:

    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!!!

  4. Robin NHendrich says:

    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!

    1. She Reads Truth says:

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

  5. Steph Rogulic says:

    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

  6. Emily says:

    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.

  7. Nikki Cunningham says:

    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.

  8. Lauren Makielski says:

    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!

    1. Melanie says:

      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!

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