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 honour, 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. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
Have you ever noticed the first line of the verse above? I mean, really noticed it? If you haven't, let it sink in for a moment. What is God's ultimate will for you? Your sanctification. What does it mean to be sanctified? It means to be made holy or consecrated. God's ultimate goal for you, then, is that you would become holy and consecrated. Why? Because nothing sinful can enter heaven. This is why Jesus was born of a virgin. If he had been born the usual way, he would have been born into a sinful body. God needed a body to house His Shekinah glory on earth (His Holy Spirit). Jesus could do that because he was not born a sinner, and he never sinned while on earth. This is why he was the perfect sacrifice and why he could enter heaven. It is also why all who believe in Jesus Christ are saved. By His stripes, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5), and we are forgiven of our sins (Acts 13:37-39). How then should we live?
If you live your life following Christ's example, you do well. If, however, you say in your heart, "I'm forgiven because I believe in Jesus, therefore it does not matter how I live my life. It is my own to live," then you are living a lie. When you believed in Jesus and accepted His gift of salvation, His forgiveness of your sins and His gift of eternal life, you were, in fact, agreeing to live your life in such a way that it would honour Jesus' sacrifice for you and bring glory to God.
How do we live sanctified lives?
The verse above makes it very clear where we need to start and if you are a young Christian in your teenage or college years, you need to listen up:
We are to abstain from sexual immorality. What is sexual immorality? What does it include? The Greek word used for sexual immorality in the original text is porneia. It is translated in some Bibles as fornication. It means illicit sexual intercourse. Now fornication in modern terms has been watered down to simply mean sex before marriage. But Paul is talking about all forms of fornication (sexual immorality), which includes: adultery, sex before marriage, sex with animals, sex with children, incest, prostitution, etc.
Why did Paul feel it necessary to mention that Christians should abstain from sexual immorality? Because the converts he was talking to came from pagan backgrounds where sexual acts were performed freely and with abandon in regards to idol worship, which were still taking place during Paul's time. In short, the early converts came from a decadent lifestyle.
Paul, a religious Jew who knew how God expected His people to act according to the Torah, had to clarify that new Christians could no longer indulge in licentious behaviour. Now you wouldn't think that would be a problem for Christians today, would you? Unfortunately, you would be wrong.
According to Focus on the Family, an estimated one-third of men and one-quarter of women have engaged in an extramarital affair (adultery). And according to the "2014 State of Dating in America" report published by Christian Mingle and JDate (dating websites for Christians and Jews), 89 percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage.
We are to live holy and honourable lives that glorify God! The verse above says we should know how to possess our "vessel" in sanctification and honour. In other words, we should know how to control our bodies and not give in to our lustful desires. Interestingly, Paul keeps hammering this message on sex home. But he wants to clarify that deeds done in the body should honour God.
Don't defraud other Christians - in other words, don't take advantage of your brother and sister in Christ. Taken in context, Paul is once again referring to sex in that Christians should not entice or force themselves on another. For you young men and women out there reading this, you shouldn't make your girlfriend/boyfriend feel guilty because they aren't willing to sleep with you. You are preying on their desires to keep you in their life, and you are preying on their lusts. That is the type of fraud Paul is talking about here. "Charming" your way into someone's bed is not honouring to God. In fact, this could even be a warning against rape. For the following verse after it says, "The Lord is the avenger of all such," in other words - He is the avenger of those who are taken advantage of, so this verse can even apply to fraud that is not of a sexual nature.
A Final Warning
The NIV makes 1 Thessalonians 4:8 very clear: "Anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit." In other words, if you are not willing to say no to sexual immorality or "deeds done in the flesh," you are ultimately rejecting God. This is a very sobering thought, and one our young people (and maybe some in the older generation), need to take to heart. If you are going to live for Jesus, then live the sanctified life He called you to.