In 1 Thessalonians chapter four, Paul turns to discussing behavior and growing in separation to the Lord (1 Thess. 4:1-12). But he starts with a phrase, easily overlooked, that provides vital context for what follows: “We ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus….” (1 Thess. 4:1). In other words, “in Jesus” is where Paul’s exhortation and the whole discussion of behavior centers.
By “in” we cannot just understand someone in a room with which he has no connection; a room which someone can wander in and out of; a room which someone occupies but is essentially separate from. “In” must be understood as a branch *in* a tree—connected by fibers and the flow of sap. “In” can also be understood by body parts. My hand or eye is *in* my body—sharing tissue, blood flow, nutrients.
When Paul encourages the Thessalonians in behavior and holiness, he is speaking to them about their living connection to Jesus and each other.
Too often, we read passages about behavior as things required of us; things we must do on our own, separate from God, to keep Him happy. We convert new covenant statements into old covenant commandments. Instead of hearing someone describe the result of our living union with Jesus, we hear, “Thou shalt not commit sexual immorality. Thou shalt have self-control. Thou shalt love others. Thou shalt provide for yourself and not burden your neighbors.”
We too easily think of being in Jesus as being in a room with which we are not connected. We can wander in and out Jesus (or, if we sin, be thrown out). Jesus, the room, is also a place we are expected to behave, not unlike when we were children at church. Jesus is a place we must sit still and be quiet or we will get in trouble. Yet, like our childhood church building, Jesus has no connection to us and provides no ability to behave; He merely acts as an intimidating structure, an environment of expectations.
This is not the Jesus of the New Testament. We are branches *in* our True Vine—sharing the cell fibers and living sap that produces the fruit of the Spirit (including self-control, love, and the rest). We are His body—joined by tissue, blood flow, and all else needed for behaving, to say nothing of living. We are separated *to* the Lord, not from the Lord.
The behaviors Paul mentions—sexual purity, self-control, love—are all byproducts of us being in Jesus and He being in us. If our behavior is opposite of what the New Testament describes, we should be concerned. But we should not respond by condemning ourselves and redoubling our efforts to behave. We should respond by drawing near to the Lord, turning to the organic connection we have with Him, trusting that our living union will produce spiritual fruit and holy behavior.
There is no other way. Whether for salvation or sanctification, I am not the way. Me behaving is not the way. Jesus is the way.