I’m not a scientist or physicist by any stretch of the imagination. I could hardly pass my high school physics class let alone explain how substantive scientific issues work. I have a hard time remembering what the formula for something as simple as momentum is. All I know is that if you push it and it rolls, inertia has been overcome. (Please email me if I’m wrong, physicists).
Equally complex and difficult for me to explain is the concept of holiness. At times, I think I would do better explaining string theory. That’s how I feel when I hear people talk about holiness. It is an utterly essential component to the Christian faith, yet only the wisest, best minds seem to be capable of articulating what it is exactly. Often it comes with a Latin wrapper of language that muddles the concept for me even more.
But Paul makes holiness abundantly practical. In today’s passage he tells us that God’s will for our lives is that we are sanctified, which means “made holy.” He then unpacks what it means to “live in holiness,” explaining what it consists of in a practical way. It’s keeping away from sex outside the context of marriage, exercising self-control, loving your brother and sister in the Lord, minding your own business, working hard and well, and behaving as decent citizens in your communities (1Thessalonians 4:3–7).
In many ways the mystery of holiness is not all that mysterious. It’s readily practical and down to earth. Holiness isn’t something that is outside our grasp after all. God intends for us to be holy in our everyday lives—here and now. That is His will for us. That is what He has called us to (v.7).
The challenge Paul brings to the Thessalonians, and to us, is simply to keep pursuing this holiness. The practical outworkings of holiness are the simple things of everyday life. The question is, do we believe God’s Word for us more than we love our own way of living? Do we believe His way is better? Will we walk in the day-to-day holiness He has for us?
Unlike string theory, holiness is not a complex, overwhelming mystery. It’s being faithful to your wife. Being vigilant against lust and sexual temptations. It’s keeping your word, loving your neighbor, and living an ordinary life that has been changed by God’s extraordinary grace. That’s the holiness we’re called to. We won’t be perfect. Thank God for His grace. But we are called to live in the holiness we’re given in Christ. And a big part of living in holiness is learning to walk in it.