Setting Aside the Holy Spirit (Part 1)

This the first of a two-part post on the most serious warning we find in scripture addressed to believers, the warning to not reject the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Part 1 addresses the warning given by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 to not live in sexual immorality. Paul says that Christians must not “set aside” the Holy Spirit through living in sin.  In Part 2, we’ll do a more detailed comparison between the Old and New Covenant, between the covenant people according to the flesh in the Old Testament, and the covenant people of God according to faith in the New Testament. We’ll see how those who set aside the Mosaic Law incurred the penalty of physical death.  In the New Covenant, those elect who set aside the Holy Spirit through continued sin incur an even greater punishment, spiritual death.

Paul’s Warning to the Thessalonian Church

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)

In Paul’s earliest letter to the Thessalonian church,  he admonishes the Christian believers to live their lives in such a way to please God. They already are living in this way, but Paul wants them to continue this God-pleasing conduct to an even greater degree. Just as all the liturgical implements used within the Jewish tabernacle had to be set apart for sacred use in worshiping God (Ex. 30:29), so too must the disciples of Jesus be completely set apart from the sinful practices and consecrated as holy to God alone. Practically, this means abstaining from the sexual immorality so commonly committed by those who do not know God.  

This exhortation to live God-pleasing lives is not merely a suggestion, but a command and a strong warning. Jesus himself will avenge those who participate in sexual immorality (v. 6). Paul had told them this before, and he is emphasizing this warning once again. Anyone who rejects the Lord’s command by living in sin is not rebelling against man, but God Himself (v. 8).

To reject God is to stand in willful rebellion. It is to set aside His directives, and make a conscious decision to disobey and continue to do so in unrepentance. In fact, the Greek verb here (atheteo) translated as “rejects” and “rejecting” was frequently used within the Septuagint to communicate unfaithfulness and rebellion of the Israelites who turned their back on God. (See Ezekiel 39:23 and Daniel 9:7 for just a few the many examples).

Paul doesn’t stop there, however. The one who rejects God, also is implicitly rejecting the Holy Spirit whom God provides. Paul literally states that the one who rejects this command is rejecting God “who is giving His Holy Spirit to you.” (v. 8) He does not look only to the past, that God had given the Holy Spirit previously. Rather, this describes the giving of the Holy Spirit as a continuous, ongoing event. God is continuously giving His Holy Spirit to the believers right now. The phrase “who is giving” here (ton didonta) is a present active participle in the Greek, which communicates an ongoing, continual action in the present rather than a one-time event. Therefore, this can be interpreted to mean that the one repeatedly rejecting God through willful disobedience is also rejecting God’s present provision of the Holy Spirit, which is an implicit warning that the Holy Spirit will be removed from them.

The warning of the removal of the Spirit is not a new teaching. King David himself fell into serious sexual immorality during his reign, the same type of sin Paul warns of in his letter. David took Bathsheba, another man’s wife, purposefully sending her husband to the front lines to be killed in battle. After lying with Bathsheba and being confronted by Nathan the prophet for this serious sin, David wrote Psalm 51 in which he pleads for God’s forgiveness and acknowledges his grievous disobedience. In the midst of the prayerful psalm, David writes “Do not cast me away from Your presence / And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11). Just as Paul warned the Thessalonian church, that those who willfully reject God through sexual immorality are rejecting God who is providing the Holy Spirit, here David has behaved immorally and realizes God may remove His Holy Spirit. Thus we see God’s consistency before and after the revelation of Jesus Christ, for with God the Father “there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

In Part 2, we’ll tackle the parallels between the Old Testament and the New Testament, specifically looking at the people of God and what happens when they reject God’s instruction.

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