Can you think of a time when you voluntarily refrained from an action? For instance, dessert was passing by and you let it pass without partaking or maybe you didn’t add your tidbit of gossip about someone to the pile as others were tossing theirs on. If so, you have practiced the dictionary definition of the word “abstain.”
I like the word “voluntary” as part of the definition. You have a choice and you make it. You are not compelled to do the action that is set before you. That’s why I also like this scripture in 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.”
Sexual immorality is more in the heart than in the head. Sexual sins are about appetites out of control, passion, and strong attraction. Yet, here is the truth: you CAN abstain. Also, people always want to know the will of God for their life. How nice to find a place in scripture that tells you God’s will straight out. He wants you to be holy and abstain from sexual immorality. No mystery there.
Perhaps realizing that you can choose voluntarily helps the decision process. You can say: this thing may attract me but I have reasons for abstaining from it. Like letting the dessert pass by; you might be after a greater purpose.
God desires our sanctification — our holiness– our wholeness. It’s a worthy goal. No need to refrain from volunteering for that.