Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
We are continuing our study on the Character of a Godly Man.
In our age, we may imagine that we are living in the most sexually explicit time in history with extraordinary temptations that make it impossible to live a morally pure life. However, the audiences of Paul’s epistles were in an equally – if not more salacious – culture to ours. And his instructions carried the full expectation that a Spirit-indwelt believer had everything necessary to gain consistent victory over sexual sin and live lives pleasing to God. While they were in the world, they – and we – are never to be of the world.
There is something particular about today’s temptation when it comes to the lure and availability of pornography in that it has moved the battle directly to where this particular fight is always won or lost: the private thoughts of the heart. We need to be all the more diligent to guard our hearts in this matter.
While much of the response to the bondage of sexual sin has been techniques (methods and programs to deal with behavior with some form of accountability) this is not the substance of what keeps the Christian in the joy of a holy life marked by a clean conscience. What the past few lessons have taught us is the substance is divine power in the inner life: the work of the Holy Spirit through His Word.
That is the key.
This is no human victory. You cannot ‘self-control’ yourself into purity by your own strength. We are to rely on the truth of Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit leading us to repentance and godliness.
In Matthew 5:27-29, Jesus drives to the crux of the issue and gives us two principles to ponder:
1 – This is an internal battle first
“…I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart…”
- Sin begins in the heart and that’s where it must be defined
- remember, the heart is the wellspring of every form of evil (Matt 15, Mark 7)
- are you merely dealing with the externals? or are you going all the way, to the root and waging war there long before the sin is acted out?
2. It is a severe threat requiring radical amputation
“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you… if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose a part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
- have you counted the cost of this sin (and the reward of purity)?
- it is a particularly destructive sin (1 Cor 6:18)
- sexual sin is solemnly warned against (1 Thess 4:6) where Paul remarks that “God is an avenger in all these things”
- it is a disqualifying sin (1 Cor 9:27)
- think of its devastating consequences to your family
- consider the reproach it brings to your gospel testimony
- do you embrace the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the radical repentance His Word demands on this area of your life?
- go through last week’s lesson (11 – A Man of Integrity) and consider self deception vs genuine confession and repentance in sexual sin
Understanding that this is a battle in the private thoughts and imaginings of the mind, and it is to be fought with severity – that requires you to have a battle plan in facing this temptation. And it must have a clear intention of victory: the violent death of sexual sin and victorious joy of godly purity.
1 Thess 4:4 says “each one of you must know how to posses his own vessel in sanctification and honor”. I believe Paul means “know how to control your own body” in this matter.
Paul models this for us in 1 Cor 9:24-27 showing that his Christian life is one of discipline – bringing his body under control by “exercising self control in all things“. What he essentially says is: “I am not controlled by anything in my flesh, but I control it. I am not controlled by my desires – even if those desires may be considered neutral, I bring my flesh to heel.”
The Apostle had a comprehensive view, taking all his life under a Spirit-empowered self control. Because the stakes are that high. Negatively, the devastation of disqualification. Positively, the imperishable reward awaiting the faithful disciple.
His goal (as not beating the air) in self discipline was moral strength. He was still going after this, decades into his conversion and ministry. So – a quick recap – this is a battle of the inner life, you must go to war with it, and do not underestimate it! Stand firm, stay steady. You will not be mastered by sin. In fact, you are to be mastered by Christ alone.
So in the area of discipline and self control, we need some serious self evaluation to see if you are mastered or enslaved by anything. Even what you may think is neutral. Because, as 1 Thess 4:4 tells us – you must know how to control your body – so your strategy must start by understanding your weaknesses in this area where the enemy will most certainly strike to get at your soul.
Here are a few ways to evaluate yourself to see if you have particular vulnerabilities to enslavement, and work to cultivate self control “in all things”:
- In those things with which you coddle yourself and reward yourself (this could be a hobby, media, an enjoyable habit), give it up for a season.
- give up what you enjoy when you don’t have to
- this is not in itself spiritually beneficial (this must not be asceticism, see Col 2)
- this is to bring your desires under the control of a parameter to see if you are enslaved by it, and then to begin to practice self control even in the enjoyment of it
- Spurgeon did this to see if he was controlled by his cigar smoking (http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/misc/cigars.htm)
- Overlook offenses
- we have a natural tendency when we’ve been personally offended to demand that it be made right
- to nurture self control, begin to practice this: when you’ve been personally offended (especially at home), resolve it in your heart and don’t say anything about it
- this is the discipline of learning how to absorb and not feed a desire, starving the tendency of wanting satisfaction in a personal matter
- there is a direct link between feeding your desires in matters of personal offense and weakness in moral fibre
- Do your undesirable tasks before your favorite ones
- why? So you don’t coddle yourself and feed your flesh
- when is something your slave? when it does what you tell it to
- Admit weakness before it’s exposed
- this cultivates humility and transparency
- proud men refuse to admit weakness, even when it’s been uncovered
- confessing weakness pulverizes the tendency to hide with pride
- When something goes wrong, thank God first
- when something irritates you or even provokes you to anger, start by thanking God for that situation
- this crushes the pride of self sovereignty (wanting things your way)
- you’ll discover that as you thank God in temptation, your victory is already secured
- your eyes are turned to Him and away from your weakness
We live in a culture that coddles us on every level. Don’t imagine that doesn’t affect your self control, your humility and your battle with purity. If you coddle yourself rather than bringing yourself under the control of the Holy Spirit, you will fail in this area of your life.
This is not about asceticism or rigidness of life, it is about evaluating your heart to find its vulnerabilities and cultivating self control.
What are the things that take your guard down?
- Tiredness? Overworking?
- Spiritual and emotional trials?
- Conflict at home?
- Boredom? (young men, be especially wary of this)
“…know how to control your body in sanctification… For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
Sexual sin is slavery and leads to destruction. Yet in our salvation, we have been called to purity. This is not a reluctant religious killjoy – it is the liberation of the Christian! We get to be pure, to have a clean conscience, to have true and unashamed sexual pleasure to the glory of God in the intimacy of marriage! And for the single, your energy may fully be expended in the service of others as you cultivate moral purity before – and into marriage!
Men, let us rejoice in purity. It is the protection of our souls and the liberation of our consciences in a perverse and wicked generation.