It does not take a keen social analyst to recognize the fact that we are witnessing the collapse of western culture. Morality in the public arena is in freefall mode. In the past, predatory perverts in the entertainment industry remained in the shadows. However, now it is public knowledge that powerful and influential personalities have been, in some instances for decades, preying on people who desired to get a start or a role in the industry. Moral corruption dominates our political institutions. Revelations of sitting and past political leaders’ abuse and corruption are daily regular fare. Clearly, prayer for such individuals is needed now, as always (1 Timothy 2:1-4). News media personalities also have not been immune from accusations, which, upon investigation, confirmed that they, too, have behaved immorally. We continually hear of or read about the education industry being rocked by scandalous behavior as teachers and administrators, entrusted with the nurturing of our youth, take advantage of students and are subsequently exposed. Finally, religious leaders likewise have contributed to the moral freefall. This is true not just in Catholic, liberal, and evangelical circles but among fundamentalists as well. For us, this is the most grievous moral failing of all.
The collapse does not end there, for we see the approval of same-sex relationships as well as so-called “gender identity” issues not only discussed but now normalized at the highest levels of academia and government, filtering into our popular culture. Any questions raised concerning these “rights” are deemed subversive, divisive, and sometimes even criminal, punishable by fines and the loss of one’s livelihood as well as one’s perceived character and integrity. In addition, the number of abortions performed since the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision now exceeds 60 million, and the divorce rate remains at a staggering percentage, illustrating the fact that few people who enter marriage have any idea as to its divine intent and significance (Ephesians 5).
Several years ago, a politician derisively accused certain groups of “clinging to,” among other things, “their Bibles.” How we wish that were actually true, though certainly not in the way the politician meant his remarks to be taken. Part of the reason for the moral decay we are witnessing is due to the fact that believers in God’s Word are not adhering to Scripture. If believers are not committed to putting into practice the truth of God’s Word, why or how should we expect an unsaved culture to do what we are failing to do? And, just as important, what moral basis do we have for judging that culture as being unfit if we ourselves are not seeking to obey God?
Scripture commands believers to behave with great care and concern when it comes to morality. Because we are different internally (spiritually), we are to behave biblically externally. Believers are exhorted, urged, implored, and admonished “by the Lord Jesus,” through apostolic teaching revealed in Scripture, concerning “how [they] ought to walk and to please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Why is this so important? Obviously, it is because the Lord commands it but, additionally, because the world in which we live is described as “this present evil world” (Galatians 1:4). This phrase “present evil world” is an apt depiction of what Daniel described to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2 concerning the king’s dream of the image and the four metals that comprised that image. Later, Daniel himself dreamed of four beasts, each more horrific and rapacious than the previous, the fourth being an indescribably cruel and vile beast, far worse than any of the others (Daniel 7). We understand this to be the four Gentile empires God uses in His program for world affairs, until His kingdom will be established. Later, the Lord Jesus Christ describes the times in which these empires exist as “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). To be clear, this “present” time is the same as that fourth indescribably wicked and cruel kingdom of Gentile dominion, and we see it will progress from bad to worse.
A dear friend, now with the Lord, used to remind Christians, “We are not made for this world; we are made for God.” New Testament believers must realize that our citizenship is not merely attached to this present order (Philippians 3:20); rather, we have ultimately, and supremely, a heavenly one. Therefore, the deportment of God’s people must be dramatically different. In other words, we are to be holy as God is “holy in all manner of conversation (conduct, lifestyle)” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Additionally, Paul admonished the believers in Philippi that they were to be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
Pertaining to the subject of moral purity, what do the Scriptures teach? Briefly, consider two texts in which we are commanded to “flee fornication” (1 Corinthians 6:18) and to “abstain from fornication” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). What is “fornication” in these verses? The root word comes across literally in English as pornography. It includes all kinds of deviant, promiscuous, illicit sexual behavior outside the bounds of marriage. Paul uses it to describe physical relations between individuals who are not married to each other. In addition, note the two commands about fornication: “flee,” which is the verb form of our word fugitive. If someone is a fugitive, he or she takes every step necessary to avoid capture.Traps are often set to apprehend the fugitive, who is very wary and careful not to be taken by surprise. So it is with believers as we “flee fornication.” Why must we take such decisive action against illicit behavior? Fornication is sin, and one who is ensnared in it “sinneth against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). That is, participation in fornication both weakens and perverts the process of progressive sanctification that is transpiring in the life of the believer. Of course, the classic illustration of fleeing this sin is in Genesis 39:7-23 wherein young Joseph was “tempted” to have such relations with his master’s wife, and he continually refused until the situation was such that to avoid the sin, he literally “fled” from the house. In other words, in that instant, he became a “fugitive” from the sin that was seeking to destroy him and his testimony!
The second command, in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, states that we are to “abstain from fornication.” What does “abstain” entail? It means that contact with something is to be avoided; one is to keep away from it. Why is this necessary? Abstaining ties into our “sanctification,” which is “the will of God.” In other words, moral purity and integrity are part of the progressive sanctification process we experience in this life. Thus, it is incumbent on each of us to discipline ourselves, body and soul, as we put into practice God’s will for us in this area.
We ought not to be surprised by wicked, immoral, ungodly behavior by those who do not know our God. As believers, we must strive to be lights in this dark world, living lives that bring honor and glory to our God. We should aim to be the best Christians we can possibly be in this present age, understanding the fact that the world will not embrace us nor approve of us. We need to remember that we live for God, and we must not give place to the world, the flesh, or the devil. May we be sanctified vessels, fit for the Master’s use.
—Pastor Gary Freel. Reproduced from Foundation magazine, Issue 4, 2017.