THE HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN
By: Frank Tunstall, D. Min.
When we recall Paul’s two letters to the believers in Thessalonica, we appropriately think of the great apostle’s prophecies on the second coming of Jesus. But we must not miss Paul’s instruction on holy living. The Holy Spirit’s call to morality is recorded in Paul’s first letter (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). His second includes the Holy Spirit’s appeal for believers to bond wholeheartedly to the Holy Scriptures, with Jesus Himself as the living Word. These two are the roadway for living in moral freedom as we await the Rapture of the church. It is worthy of thought Paul gave this teaching on morality immediately before he wrote his prophecy about Jesus’ second coming (see 1 Thessalonians 4).
Paul wrote these letters because he knew the church in Thessalonica had to deal with the corrupt lifestyle of Greek paganism. Followers of Jesus will quickly realize the moral issues of the Greeks are the same problems people in the Lord’s churches face today.
- Living in Moral Purity.
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality. Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
A good synonym for ‘sanctified’ is ‘set apart’ to Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote “this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 KJV). He went on to describe the old bondage with the phrase, ‘passionate lust.’ The term in Greek is porneia, and it communicates desire so strong it results in literal craving; a person feels like he is suffering for what he knows is forbidden.
Sanctification of the body is often overlooked, but to be sanctified is to be set apart from lustful living and unto Jesus in mind, heart, and body. Set apart living begins in a person’s heart, but it does not end there. Instead, it works its way out to a person’s bodily appetites and choices. The blood of Jesus overcomes a person’s lustful cravings and actions and a new lifestyle springs out of the heart and mind. It reaches to a person’s external members such as his hands, mouth, ears, feet, eyes, and sexuality. The work of the Holy Spirit is to motivate a person to learn this new kind of self-control; or as Paul wrote, “how to control your body in a way that is holy and honorable” (see also Galatians 5:19-21, NKJV).
Set apart unto Jesus in the heart alone is misleading. We are responsible to grow in spirit, mind, and body. The old habits and choices are no longer in charge. Instead, it’s time to “learn to control [your own] body.” It can be done because of the great power of Jesus’ cleansing blood (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 10:19; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13). The strength comes from God by the Holy Spirit.
This cleansing is broad, and Paul gives a few examples based on the Greek term, porneia (1Thessalonians 4:2). The word applies to pre-marital sex and adultery, as well as pornography and incest, to name only four. The fact that Paul was addressing these sins so very boldly affirms the seriousness of the moral problem in Thessalonica. It describes America too.
Each of these sins violates the heart of God-the-Creator who lives in holiness and has never defrauded anyone – never, not even once. God created man and woman to live in His holiness, one man for one woman until death parts them. Infidelity can take many forms and each of them violates God (Psalm 51:4). Secondarily, infidelity defrauds spouses. The Lord wants each partner in a marriage to bring moral purity to the altar, and then live it, set apart unto each other until death parts them.
How does a person experience set apart living? Paul gave the solution best in Romans 12:1ff. He begged each of his brothers, based on God’s great mercy, “to present his body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God,” and described it as a reasonable thing to do. Paul’s word picture to illustrate this was the Jewish practice of slaying a lamb as an atoning sacrifice. But instead of taking the life of an animal, in the New Covenant we are to picture ourselves on the altar, staying there until we ‘die’ to the old way of living. Jesus is the Lamb of God who gave His body, indeed His very life, to substitute for our sins. As an ongoing “living sacrifice,” a person who has experienced this sanctifying grace has given more than his heart and mind to God; he also has dedicated his body to set apart living in the service of Jesus Christ.
Paul gave a powerful warning for those who did not receive the message: “The Lord will punish men for all such sins as we have already told you and warned you.”
“God has not called us to be dirty-minded and full of lust but to be holy and clean. If anyone refuses to live by these rules, he is not disobeying the rules of men but of God who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8, TLB). How dangerous – oh! how dangerous to reject “God who gives you His Holy Spirit.”
2. Set Apart to Believe the Truth
In 1 Thessalonians Paul talks about moral purity. In this second letter, the focus is on the grace of God that sets us apart to believe the truth wholeheartedly – the facts of the gospel. To be sanctified in this context includes being set apart to the Word of God, with a commitment to hold with a steel grip of faith to the truth expressed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the very word of truth; the personification of the Truth, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Then follows the factual and historical basis of the gospel established in Jesus’ miraculous incarnation. The Lord’s ministry, including His death, resurrection, and ascension, were all confirmed by credible witnesses. The Holy Spirit motivates a believer to forsake his old way of thinking and believe with his whole heart what Jesus said. This trusting in Jesus Christ becomes an anchor for time and eternity; Jesus is “the Truth” (John 14:6). It is the role of the Holy Spirit to set a person apart completely to the service of God so that he wholeheartedly anchors his trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus and becomes a faithful reader of the Holy Bible.
“May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father who loved us, and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
3. The Highway to Heaven
The conclusion follows: 1) Give your body to God, as well as your heart and your mind, 2) and fall in love with the Word of God so that you can grow daily in the Holy Scriptures. These twins are the freeway of sanctified living that keeps believers prepared for the second coming of our Lord in the Rapture of the church. The road leads to heaven and eternal life with God our Father, Jesus Christ His Son, and the Holy Spirit (I Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
EVEN SO COME, LORD JESUS!