September 21, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7-8 (NRSV)
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication… For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.
As “dedicated ones,” called by God into relationship with God and living for God’s purposes, we are to grow in our dedication. By grace, we will learn how to live by God’s standards in every part of life, even when the culture around us pulls us in a different direction. To help us be fully dedicated to God, God gives us the Holy Spirit and God places us in a community of God’s own people. We’re not alone when it comes to being dedicated to God.
This devotion is part of the series: Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I began looking at a passage from 1 Thessalonians 4. As you may recall, in the NRSV translation it reads: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication . . . For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness” (4:3, 7 NRSV). The Common English Bible opts for a different rendering: “God’s will is that your lives are dedicated to him. . . . God didn’t call us to be immoral but to be dedicated to him (4:3, 7 CEB). I explained yesterday that the language of dedication serves well to represent the biblical truth of holiness/sanctification in more readily understandable and common language.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about holiness and sanctification by using the language of dedication. Scripture teaches something like this: When we receive God’s grace in Christ, we become people dedicated to God. This isn’t our own doing. Rather, it’s God’s action, dedicating us to God and God’s own purposes. We become “dedicated ones.” This identity is not something we earn through our actions or intentions. It is a result of God’s choice, God’s grace, God’s calling. But, as dedicated ones, we are called to live out our new identity in everything we do, growing closer to God, becoming more like God, and doing that which honors God while avoiding that which dishonors God. As dedicated ones, we enter into a lifelong process of deeper and wider dedication of ourselves to God and God’s purposes.
So, if you’ve received God’s grace through Christ, you are a dedicated one (in traditional language, a saint). This is true no matter how you live. But, as God’s dedicated one, your calling is to dedicate more and more of yourself to God, following God’s guidance for all you do, seeking God’s glory above all else. Thus, whether in your personal life or your professional life, whether at work or at home, whether in church or in your neighborhood, as a dedicated one you are to seek God’s ways and dedicate yourself to doing them.
1 Thessalonians 4 highlights one area in which such dedication was needed among the Christians in Thessalonica. That area was sexuality. The new Christians in Thessalonica had been shaped by a culture that prized sexual freedom. Paul and his co-writers refer to it as “lustful passion” (1 Thessalonians 4:5). Married men, for example, felt morally free to have sex with prostitutes, just so long as they did so discreetly. Paul and his colleagues took a counter-cultural perspective, seeing prostitution as wronging and exploiting others. Thus, if the Thessalonian believers were to be fully dedicated to God, they should choose to live according to God’s standards for sexuality, rejecting what they had previously considered normal and acceptable. Why? Because “God didn’t call us to be immoral but to be dedicated to him” (4:7, CEB).
Now, rejecting cultural norms is not easy. When everything around us says that a certain kind of behavior is just fine, but we believe God tells us something different, it can be hard to live according to God’s standards. But there is good news for us as we seek to be wholly dedicated to God. That good news shows up in 1 Thessalonians 4:8: “Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you” (NRSV). There is a marvelous play on words in the original Greek that gives us hope. In order to grasp this wordplay, however, we need to go pick up the language of holiness. Verse 7 says that “God did not call us to impurity but in holiness [hagiasmos]” (NRSV). Verse 8 says that God gives us “his Holy Spirit [to pneuma autou to hagion]” (NRSV). God calls us in holiness and gives us his Holy Spirit. The very Spirit of God dwells in us and among us, helping us to live holy lives by divine power.
Or, to use the language of dedication, the Spirit of God helps us to be fully dedicated to God in all we do, think, feel, and say. We’re not on our own when it comes to dedicated living. God’s Spirit is with us and within us. Moreover, the Spirit also brings us together as the community of Christ, a community of fellow dedicated ones, a community that will help us live out our dedication to the Lord in every part of life.
If you’re trying to be wholly dedicated to God, I would imagine that you sometimes struggle to pull it off. We all have areas of life that seem to resist the call to dedication. If you relate to this, don’t despair. Becoming fully dedicated to God is a lifelong process. Moreover, it’s a process in which God is active. By grace, God will help you to be more and more dedicated to him, living more and more of your life for God’s own purposes and glory.
How would you describe your dedication to God?
What things in life pull you away from full dedication to God?
What helps you to be more dedicated to God?
Ask the Lord if there is some part of your life that you need to give more fully to God. If something is revealed to you, talk with God about this, seeking to offer it to God in a new way.
Gracious God, first of all I thank you for choosing me and making me one of your “dedicated ones.” What a gift this is!
God, I want to be fully dedicated to you. This is true. Yet I’m aware of how many things in my life pull me away from this kind of dedication. Most of all, my sin turns not just my actions but also my heart away from you. Forgive me, Lord. Cleanse me, giving me a pure heart that seeks you truly.
Help me especially, I pray, to turn away from cultural pressures that contradict your ways. May my thoughts and feelings, my values and priorities, my dreams and actions reflect and honor you, even and especially when they are counter-cultural.
Thank you, Lord, for the Holy Spirit who lives within me, helping me to be more like you and to act according to your guidance. How encouraging it is to know that when it comes to being dedicated to you, I’m not on my own. You are with me. You are helping me. You live within me. Thank you! Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Are You “Into” God? (1 Corinthians 8:6)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.