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Holiness Is Purity In Mind And Body

Martin Luther

4:1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. (1 Thessalonians 4)

When Christians fall into sin they are to be reproved and the sin resisted. The sin cannot be allowed to pass. The reins of lust must not be given free expression. The Christian must be healed and delivered. Martin Luther writes on this subject:

It was a fact reflecting much credit and honor on the Thessalonians in contrast to the Corinthians and the Galatians that they continued upright in doctrine and true in the knowledge of the faith, though perhaps deficient in the above-mentioned two self-evident features of Christian life. While it is true that if sins of immorality are not renounced God will punish, yet punishment in such cases is for the most part temporal, these sins being less pernicious than such gross offenses as error in faith and doctrine.

Paul, however, threatens such sins with the wrath of God, lest anyone become remiss and indolent, imagining the kingdom of Christ a kingdom to tolerate with impunity such offenses. As Paul expresses it, “God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification [holiness].” The thought is: Unchastity does not come within the limits of Christian liberty and privilege, nor does God treat the offender with indulgence and impunity. No, indeed. In fact, he will more rigorously punish this sin among Christians than among heathen. Paul tells us (I Cor 11, 30) that many were sickly and many had succumbed to the sleep of death in consequence of eating and drinking unworthily. And Psalm 89, 32 testifies, “Then will I visit their transgression with the rod.”

True, they who sin through infirmity, who, conscious of their transgressions, suffer themselves to be reproved, repenting at once–for these the kingdom of Christ has ready pity and forbearance, commending them to acceptance and toleration (Rom 15; Gal 6, 1; 1 Cor 13, 7); but that such vices be regarded generally lawful and normal–this will not do! Paul declares, “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.” And he speaks of “how ye ought to . . . please God.” His thought is: Some consider these sins a matter of little moment, treat them as if the wind blew them away and God rather had pleasure in them as trivial affairs. But this is not true. While God really bears with the fallen sinner, he would have us perceive our errors and strive to mend our lives and to abound more and more in righteousness. His grace is not intended to cloak our shame, nor should the licentious abuse the kingdom of Christ as a shield for their knavery. Paul commands (Gal 5, 13), “Use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh”; and Peter (1 Pet 2, 16), “As free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God.”

Paul, following the Hebrew way of speaking, has reference to chastity where he says “your sanctification.” He terms the body “holy” when it is chaste, chastity being, in God’s sight, equivalent to holiness. “Holiness,” in the Old Testament, is a synonym for “purity.” Again, “holiness” and “purity” are regarded as the same thing in First Corinthians 7, 14: “Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”

The nature of the holiness and purity whereof he speaks he makes plain himself in the words: “That ye abstain from fornication; that each one of you knows how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” The apostle does not here prohibit matrimony, but licentiousness, and unchastity outside the marriage state. He who is careful to keep his vessel–his body–chaste, who does not commit adultery and is not guilty of whoredom–this man preserves his body in holiness and purity, and properly is called chaste and holy.

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