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. Abby says:

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

  2. Shelby says:

    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.

  3. Diane Smutek says:

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

  4. Elizabeth Taylor says:

    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!

  5. Jessica Terpstra says:

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

  6. Alyson Andreoli says:

    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.

  7. Kaela says:

    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.”

  8. Candace says:

    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!

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