May 17, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 4:7 (NRSV)
For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness.
God has called us to be his special people. This calling touches every aspect of our lives, including our most intimate relationships. How we live each day should reflect the fact that we have been set apart by God for relationship with him and for participation in his work. What we do – and what we don’t do – will be shaped by who we are as God’s special people.
Today’s devotion is part of the series God’s Transformational Calling.
Earlier in this series on God’s Transformational Calling, I wrote a devotion entitled: “Called to Be God’s Special People.” This devotion was based on 1 Corinthians 1:2, which addresses the recipients of the letter as people “called to be saints.” The word “saints,” I suggested, can be easily misunderstood. The point is that we are set apart by God for relationship with God and for his kingdom purposes. “God’s special people” seems to capture the sense of “saints” without the churchy overtones.
Because we are called to be God’s special people, we are to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). How we live each day in every situation should be shaped by our calling. Every situation includes intimate ones—such as how we express our sexuality. We see this in Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Apparently, some of the new believers there were engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage, giving in to what Paul calls “lustful passion” (1 Thessalonians 4:5). Paul urges the Thessalonians to “abstain from fornication” (4:3). What reason does he give for this exhortation? “For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness” (4:7).
Once again, we see the Christian life isn’t primarily a matter of our choosing. Rather, it’s a response to the God who calls us. He does not call us “to impurity,” which is another way of speaking of sexual immorality. Rather, God calls us “in holiness.” The Greek word translated here as “holiness” is hagiasmos. It is related to the word hagios, which can mean “holy one” and is usually translated as “saint” (as in 1 Corinthians 1:2). When God calls us to be his holy, special people, there are implications for how we live each day. We will say “No” to the sinful ways of the world and “Yes” to the just and peaceful ways of God.
Notice that God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Why the shift from “to” to “in”? Certainly, Paul could have said that we are called to holiness, to holy living. This is implied in the phrase called “in holiness.” But the use of “in” suggests that holiness is not only the goal for our lives. It is also something in which we participate, something given to us. God calls us into a relationship with him as his special people so that we might live in a whole new way. The use of “in” underscores the relational nature of holiness even as it suggests that there are right, holy ways for us to live.
As we read this passage today, we might ask ourselves where we are tempted to follow the ways of the world rather than the ways of God. I expect that some of us are tempted, as some of the Thessalonians were, to engage in what Scripture identifies as sexual immorality. If this is your particular temptation, then the teaching of 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks directly to you. But even if you are not tempted by sexual sin, you can still consider ways in which you are not living “in holiness.” We all struggle at times to put off the ways of this world and put on the ways of God. We don’t always find it easy to live in relationship with God and for his purposes.
So, whatever the particulars of your own struggle, remember that God has called you not just “to” holiness but “in holiness.” It’s not God’s only goal for your life. Rather, God has called you “in holiness,” that is, into a relationship with him that summons you to a whole new way of living each day.
In what ways are you tempted to live without considering the call of God?
In what ways have you chosen to live differently from the world because God has called you?
Where do you need God’s help today as you seek to live “in holiness”?
As you consider your answer to the last question, ask the Lord to help you live “in holiness” today.
Gracious God, thank you once again for calling us into relationship with you and into a life of service. Thank you for calling us to be “saints,” people set apart for you and your purposes.
Help me, Lord, to live “in holiness,” to live each day in relationship with you, to live in each situation in a distinctive way because I belong to you. Where I am tempted, I ask for your strength. Where I am unsure, I ask for your guidance. By your Spirit, may I live in a way that honors you and reflects your holiness. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: You Are a Saint!
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.