We live in a culture that flaunts sexuality. Unbelievers who come to Christ have likely been stained and affected by these practices, and those who profess faith in Christ are commonly falling into practices that are contrary to our calling in Christ.
On the other hand, we believe that for followers of Christ, the Spirit of God has worked to save and is continuing to work to sanctify. Fellow Christians desire to be used by God in the progressive maturing and perfecting of those who profess Christ and desire to serve Him.
The material in 1 Thessalonians speaks both to the issue of the Spirit in the lives of believers, and the problem of sexual sin. I will try to weave these together.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 is perhaps the clearest and most direct New Testament passage that calls for sexual purity. Paul places this aspect of the believer’s walk (v.1) in the category of sanctification (3:13; 4:3,4,7), and attributes the power for behavioral change to the Holy Spirit (v.8).
Other references to the Holy Spirit in 1 Thessalonians show that this Spirit powerfully brings radical change of heart and life orientation at conversion (1:5, and evidenced in 1:9,10). This same Spirit is involved in examining a believer’s heart (2:4) and in applying God’s will and Word (2:13) to his/her life. But the purifying influence of this Spirit can also be hindered (5:19) by neglecting/despising the living Word of God in lesson and/or application (5:20), and by tolerating/adopting evil influences.
So we expect that the effective work of the Spirit in the believer’s life will be brought to bear against practices of sexual sin. It will not merely be tolerated or controlled. We expect that the ongoing influence of the Spirit will defeat practices of sexual sin.
As we look at the nature and demands of gospel ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2, we can see how sexual sin, along with other sins, will prohibit a minister from fully giving himself to those to whom he is to minister. He (or she) will be holding back in selfish ways. Sexual sin trains one in self-seeking rather than in self-giving (2:8); sexual sin steals personal and spiritual resources that should be dedicated to ministry (2:13, day and night ministry), including time, energy, enthusiasm and imagination. We conclude that sexual sin is a hindrance to the gospel ministry, just as are Christ-haters (2:16) and Satan himself (2:18).
So given the fact that all of us are sinners, and that it is possible that many of us have incidences of sexual sin in our history, here are some conclusions that I believe are consistent with an expectation that the Spirit intends a sanctifying work in our lives.
We should expect and demand from one another
a) Unflinching honesty concerning sin, and
b) Clear actions taken that are the fruit of repentance.
Honesty Concerning Sin:
• Telling the truth
• Telling the whole truth
• A refusal to minimize the sin
• A refusal to blame
• A refusal to make excuses
The Fruit of Repentance:
• The follower of Christ takes iniative in dealing with sin.
When a person is caught in their sin, as opposed to taking the initiative to deal with their sin, it is nearly impossible to discern the fruit of repentance. This does not mean that a person who is caught in sin is not repentant. It just means that we cannot be sure if they are sorry for their sin, or sorry they were caught. So we desire to see actions that take the initiative in dealing with sin even before it is exposed.
That means that you and I must take initiative with our sins, whether they be sexual sins or some other category. Don’t just cover it up. Don’t try to manage it. Attack it. Take the initiative in battling that behavior in your life.
This does not mean that you are trusting in your own actions in order to accomplish sanctification. No, it is the Spirit who sanctifies. Pray that the Spirit would give victory. But don’t just pray and ask to change after experiencing some failure, expecting that the Spirit will work in spite of your actions and patterns. Make and plan, and work the plan, and improve the plan – but trust in the Spirit to do what only He can do.
• We are to pay careful attention to the underlying cause of our sins (why is/was this temptation to powerful for me?).
There is much material available that helps us to understand what is going on in our hearts that then is manifested in the form of sexual sin.
• There is careful attention paid to the circumstances in which failure may occur, and how to avoid those circumstances. Have any roadblocks been placed to make a return to sin more difficult?
Again, there is much material available to guide us in practical steps that we can take that make sense.
• There has been care in establishing accountability.
• That a plan to deal with the sin is working, and that the individual has not stopped pursuing a plan that is effective.
• The individual has engaged in a walk with Christ which makes it obvious that he/she has a desire to love Christ more than he/she loves the sin.
The goal in all this is that we want to serve Christ with those who are walking with the Spirit. To be engaged in sexual sin, and sins of other sorts, is to walk another path. We are then walking in the flesh, not in the Spirit. A return to the path of walking with the Spirit requires that we be honest about our sins, and that we take clear, concrete actions that would drive a stake through the practice of sin and mortify the flesh.