“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:13-16). With a full awareness of the hope set before us, Peter calls upon us to reject the ways of sin and live in an obedient and holy manner. As we consider what it means to be holy, we must realize that when we were baptized into Christ we were sanctified and at that point became saints, i.e. holy ones (1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11). Yet, in daily living God expects us to become progressively holier. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
In a previous article entitled Holiness in Our Speech, we began a look at four areas in which a consecrated life of holiness must be seen. In that we gave emphasis to the importance of guarding our speech. “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36, 37). In this article we will look at the importance of keeping our moral behavior pure and fitting for our calling as saints.
While moral behavior encompasses many different things, an area that received special emphasis in the first century and continues to demand the same emphasis in the twenty-first century is sexual morality. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). Sexual relations outside a lawful marriage are condemned by God and must be avoided (Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Matthew 19:9).
How can we live holy and clean lives in regard to sexual behavior? How can we keep ourselves pure? Consider four things we must do.
Avoid situations where lust is likely to occur. While we seek to avoid lust because we realize that by itself it can be sinful (Matthew 5:28), we must also recognize lust as a step on the path to immorality. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Stay away from situations where lustful passions are most easily stirred up. Beaches and pools where mixed swimming (or sunning) occurs, dances, movies depicting nudity or sexual behavior, “backseats,” etc. are going to lead to lust (i.e. unlawful sexual desire) and lust often leads to fornication.
Remember that evil company will corrupt good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). Imitate Joseph who, after saying no to the advances of Potiphar’s wife, refused to be with her (Genesis 39:10). Learn that continued associations with some will lead to sin. To be successful we must be honest in our evaluations of our friendships. It is easy to keep telling ourselves we are not being influenced when our will is gradually being broken down. Breaking off a relationship may not easy, but it is the price we must sometimes be willing to pay if we are to maintain our holiness.
The married should seek to cultivate a closeness and physical intimacy that serves to satisfy both the physical and emotional needs of each partner. Read carefully 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 where Paul admonishes husbands and wives not to “deprive one another,” lest Satan use this to tempt them. See Proverbs 5:18-20 where rejoicing with one’s wife is contrasted with being embraced by the seductress.
Most importantly, we must develop self-control. We must have such a great awareness of the cost of sin and conversely the wondrous beauty of an eternity with God that we will refuse to give in no matter how great the temptation. “That each of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4). The first three admonitions are valid and will help us avoid some temptations, but temptations cannot be completely avoided. One can, and certainly should, avoid public pools, dirty movies, etc., but in our sex-crazed world only a hermit would be able to avoid all exposure to sexual stimuli. We can limit our associations with evil influences, but we can’t avoid them all. And while husbands and wives have responsibilities to one another, there may come a time when illness or other factors result in an unintended “depriving of one another.” The point is that even if we find ourselves confronted with unwanted stimuli and influences or deprived by a spouse, whether deliberately or unavoidably, we are not forced to sin. If we have learned to possess our vessel in sanctification and honor we will find the way of escape from that temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Will we heed God’s admonition? “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
All quotes from the New King James Version, copyright 1994, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Inc.