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Lesson 4: Genuine Christianity (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)

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August 14, 2016

A recent article in our paper reported an increase in the number of people being scammed out of money. Two common schemes involve callers identifying themselves as representatives of the utility company, claiming that they will shut off your power if you don’t pay an overdue bill; and, supposed IRS agents saying that you owe back taxes. A good liar convinces people that he’s telling the truth so that he can steal their money.

Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). But he’s not after your money. If he gets you to believe his lies, you lose eternal life! He uses many different spiritual scammers to spread his lies. So it’s vital that we not be deceived about what it means to be a genuine Christian. It would be the ultimate shock to think that you’ve been serving Jesus, only to have Him say to you at the judgment (Matt. 7:23), “‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

In our text, Paul continues to spell out some of the reasons that he knew that God had chosen the Thessalonian believers for salvation (1 Thess. 1:4). We saw in our last study that the experience of the evangelists (1 Thess. 1:5) and the effects in the lives of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:6-8) convinced Paul that the faith of these new believers was genuine. Now he continues enumerating the results of true conversion that he saw in their lives. So if our theme today sounds like a repeat of last week, it’s because Paul continues the same theme. To sum up:

Genuine Christians receive the gospel, turn to God from idols, serve Him, wait expectantly for Jesus to come, and proclaim the gospel to others.

Paul specifically states three results of the Thessalonians’ conversion: they turned to God from idols; they served the living and true God; and, they waited for His Son from heaven. These correspond to the three things that he mentioned in verse three: turning to God from idols shows their faith; serving God reflects their love; and waiting for Jesus to return reveals their hope. But the beginning of verse 9 also reveals two other aspects of genuine Christianity as seen in these new converts: they welcomed the gospel and they proclaimed it to others. C. H. Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 30:579) calls our text “in miniature the biography of a Christian.”

1. Genuine Christians receive the gospel.

Paul recalls “what kind of a reception we had with you” (1 Thess. 1:9). “Reception” literally means “entrance.” It may refer to what Paul elsewhere called an “open door” for the gospel (Acts 14:27; 16:9, 10, 14; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3; see, also, Rev. 3:8). Paul knew that God had to open the door and open hearts for the gospel or else he would be preaching it in vain. Before he went to Macedonia, Paul had first attempted to go to Bithynia (now northern Turkey), but in some unspecified way, “the spirit of Jesus did not permit them” (Acts 16:6, 7). Then Paul saw the vision of the man from Macedonia asking for their help. So they took the gospel there, resulting in the first churches in Europe.

As we saw last time, the gospel is not the message about how Jesus can help you succeed in life, but rather about how Jesus alone can rescue you from the wrath to come. The Bible tells us that our sins have separated us from the holy God so that we are under His righteous judgment (John 3:36; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Our good deeds cannot pay the penalty that we owe. But God so loved the world that He sent His eternal Son Jesus to take on human flesh and bear the penalty that we deserve (John 3:16). He gives salvation from His judgment to all who believe in Jesus.

The Thessalonians had “received the word” of the gospel (1 Thess. 1:5, 6). Paul says (1 Thess. 2:13), “We also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” Believing in Jesus to rescue you from the coming wrath is the beginning point of the Christian life.

2. Genuine Christians turn to God from idols.

Before the gospel, these people had hoped that their idols would placate God’s wrath. But once they heard the gospel, they threw away their idols, turned to God alone and trusted in Jesus’ death on the cross to rescue them from their sins. “Turned” is another way of saying, “repented.” It occurs often in the Book of Acts to describe the proper response to the gospel. Paul described God’s commission to him (Acts 26:18) as opening the Gentiles’ eyes “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins ….” He sums up his preaching as telling people “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20; cf. Acts 9:35; 11:18, 21; 14:15; 15:19).

Sometimes I’m asked, “What is the relationship between saving faith and repentance?” My answer is that they are flip sides of the same coin. If you genuinely believe, you repent or turn from your sins. If you truly repent, you do it because you believe in Jesus. We shouldn’t separate these concepts. Both are used with reference to salvation. Mark (1:15) sums up Jesus’ preaching as, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus told the disciples to proclaim repentance for forgiveness of sins in His name (Luke 24:47).

To illustrate, if you’re driving to Phoenix and believe that you should return to Flagstaff, you don’t keep driving south. You turn around. Your belief results in action, namely, going in the opposite direction. Saving faith is bound up with a U-turn from sin to God. You cannot turn to God without also turning from your idols.

Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s interesting, but I’m not an idolater. I’ve never bowed down or prayed to any statues. So this doesn’t apply to me.”

But before we repent and trust in Christ, we’re all idolaters. Perhaps few in America bow down before a literal statue (although even here in Flagstaff, we have a store that sells idols)! But an idol is anything that usurps the rightful place of the living and true God in your life. At the root of all idolatry is the god of self. Many people leave this god on the throne and try to “use” Jesus to get what self wants, such as happiness, health, wealth, love, or whatever. But to leave self enthroned and to use Jesus as a new idol to get what self wants is not to turn to God from idols. The Thessalonians did not just add Jesus to their existing shelf full of idols. They trashed their idols and turned to the living and true God alone.

This means that when you become a Christian, there must be a decisive, clear break from the old way of life. Spurgeon (ibid., 30:581) describes it: “Conversion is the turning of a man completely round, to hate what he loved and to love what he hated.” This turning to God from idols is both an initial decision and an ongoing process. As God’s Word reveals further areas of our lives that are not conformed to Christ, we turn from those to God. There is never a time in this life when we can say that we’re done repenting.

In America, we Christians call ourselves “evangelicals.” But that term has become so watered down that some are saying we need a new label. In Eastern Europe, the Orthodox people derogatorily refer to evangelicals as, “repenters.” I like that term! If we truly believe in Christ, we are “repenters.” We turned to God from our idols and whenever His Word exposes an idol we missed, we get rid of it, too.

3. Genuine Christians serve the living and true God.

The word translated “serve” comes from a word meaning to serve as a slave. A slave was not free to do whatever he pleased. If a slave wanted to go to the beach, he couldn’t tell his master, “I’m taking the day off. See you tomorrow!” He belonged to his master who had bought him. He lived to do his master’s will. We are not our own because we’ve been bought with the precious blood of Jesus (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-10). We’re His slaves.

Our Master gave His life to rescue us from certain doom. Thus we don’t serve Him out of bare duty or obligation, but out of gratitude and love. And, thankfully, He is a loving and gracious Master, who has our best interests at heart. Serving Him is not a burden, but a delight (1 John 5:3).

Paul describes God as “the living and true God” (cf. Jer. 10:10). Idols are dead, false gods. Often when people set up literal idols, they’re attempting to placate the demonic spirits behind those idols. Demons are real, evil spiritual beings with great power, but they are not God. There is only one living and true God, who lives forever, who created all that exists by the word of His power (Rev. 4:9-11). Thus He is the only rightful Master of every person. If you’re a genuine Christian, you serve the living and true God.

It’s important to understand that serving the living and true God is not just giving Him a few hours each week and then spending the rest of your time for yourself. Rather, serving Him is a 24-7 mindset where you yield yourself fully to the Lord to do whatever He wants you to do because He is your Master. A slave lives to please his master and do his will. This gets your eyes off of yourself and onto the Lord and others.

When you come to church, your focus should be, “Lord, use me today to serve You by serving Your church.” It may be a formal ministry, such as teaching our children or being on a worship team. It may mean helping in a physical way, such as picking up trash or cleaning the kitchen. But also it should include serving in a spiritual way by ministering the love of Christ to others. You serve God by looking for new people and making them feel welcome. But you don’t just serve Him on Sundays. You serve Him every day at home, at work, or at school, because He bought you as His slave.

Genuine Christians receive the gospel; they turn to God from idols; they serve the living and true God.

4. Genuine Christians wait expectantly for God’s Son from heaven.

1 Thessalonians 1:10: “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” When Jesus ascended into heaven, the angel told the disciples who watched Him go (Acts 1:11), “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” He ascended bodily; He will return bodily, and every eye will see Him (Rev. 1:7).

Leon Morris (The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians [Eerdmans], p. 64) notes that the second coming is mentioned an average of every 13 verses from Matthew to Revelation. It’s not a minor doctrine! Paul mentions it at the end of every chapter in 1 Thessalonians, as well as in 2 Thessalonians 1 & 2. Bible-believing Christians differ on many of the details regarding Jesus’ coming, but they all agree with the fact that He is coming bodily.

When he was President, to show that he was in touch with common people, Jimmy Carter on a few occasions spent a night in the home of average Americans. If you got a call from the White House telling you that the President would be coming to spend the night, you’d probably make some changes around the house. You’d do some major housecleaning. You’d fix some broken things that you’d procrastinated about fixing. You might replace some worn out furnishings. In short, you’d clean up your act and be waiting expectantly. You’d be ready for the President’s arrival.

The second coming of Christ is not emphasized in the New Testament so that we can fill out prophecy charts, but so that we will clean up our lives as we live in anticipation of His coming. John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 246) observes, “For unless we are stirred up to the hope of eternal life, the world will quickly draw us to itself. … Let everyone, therefore, that would persevere in a course of holy life, apply his whole mind to an expectation of Christ’s coming.”

Note seven things about Jesus from verse 10: (1) He is God’s Son. This does not mean, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, that there was a time before He was begotten when He was not. The Bible is clear that Jesus is God’s eternal Son. In Revelation 1:8 (reflecting Isa. 41:4), God declares, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.) Just a few verses later (Rev. 1:17; 2:8), Jesus twice claims to be the first and the last. Then, in Revelation 22:13, Jesus links Himself to God’s claim in Revelation 1:8 when He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” So Jesus is God’s eternal Son.

(2) Jesus ascended into heaven, from where He will return. Just before they condemned Him to be crucified, the Jewish high priest asked Jesus (Matt. 26:63), “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus, who had been silent up to this point, replied (Matt. 26:64, referring to Dan. 7:13-14), “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

(3) Jesus is coming again. He is not just coming “spiritually” (as some preterists contend), but bodily. Revelation 1:7 declares, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.” If He is not coming again bodily, God’s Word is not true.

(4) God raised Jesus from the dead. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the apostolic witness. Paul goes so far as to say (1 Cor. 15:17), “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

(5) Jesus the eternal Son of God is also fully human. “Jesus” is His human name. He is the eternal Son of God who took on human flesh when the Holy Spirit miraculously impregnated the virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-35). He had to be God for His sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world (John 1:29). But He also had to be man to actually die and for His death to apply to humans.

(6) Jesus rescues us from the wrath to come. Paul’s description of Jesus as the “rescuer” or “deliverer” comes from the Greek translation of Isaiah 59:20, which promises that the deliverer will come to turn away ungodliness from Jacob when the wrath of the Lord comes (cf. LXX, Isa. 59:19-20; G. K. Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians [IVP Academic], p. 61). That promise now extends to the Gentiles.

The fact that Jesus rescues us from the wrath to come means that we can’t rescue ourselves. Without His intervention, we’re doomed. And, we can’t help Him out with the rescue operation. It’s totally His doing. All we can do is call out to Him to save us (Rom. 10:13). Salvation is from the Lord (1 Cor. 1:30).

(7) When Jesus comes, He will deal out wrath to all who have not obeyed the gospel. Paul says (2 Thess. 1:6-8), “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

The idea of God’s wrath and judgment is not popular in our day, even among evangelical Christians. We would rather tell people that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. We downplay the notion that God is angry with them because of their sin and that they face horrible eternal punishment in hell if they die without being reconciled to God. Maybe we’re even a bit embarrassed by the notion of God’s wrath and eternal punishment. So we dodge it and promote the gospel as a great way to have a happier life. But in so doing, we misconstrue the biblical gospel and water down the biblical picture of salvation as God’s rescuing us from perishing. It becomes more like starting a new diet or exercise program, guaranteed to make you feel better right away.

But the truth of God’s wrath is essential to the gospel. Jesus didn’t suffer on the cross so that we could enjoy a happier life. He died to rescue us from the wrath to come. God’s wrath is His settled opposition to all sin and His righteous punishment of that sin. If He is infinitely holy, He must punish all sin with infinite punishment (see Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners”). If God does not punish sin, He is neither holy nor just. While it may not be pleasant to us, we need to realize that Jesus spoke more about the awfulness of God’s judgment than any other person in the Bible. We cannot rightly claim to be Christians and at the same time deny the wrath of God that is coming on all who reject Jesus as their Savior. Either your sin is on Jesus because you have fled to Him to rescue you, or it’s on you and you will face the terror of God’s eternal wrath.

5. Genuine Christians proclaim the good news about Jesus to others.

We saw this in verse 8, where Paul says that the word of the Lord had sounded forth from the Thessalonians. It’s also implied in verse 9, where he says that others report back to him the kind of reception that he had when he was in Thessalonica. The point is, those who have been rescued from certain doom can’t help telling others their amazing story. You can’t keep it to yourself.

But don’t water down the gospel! Imagine a bunch of people on a luxury cruise ship, sailing in calm Caribbean seas. They’re lounging on deck, eating great food, and having an enjoyable time. Along comes a man selling sun visors. “Would you folks like to buy a sun visor? It will make your cruise much more enjoyable. They don’t cost very much.” So lots of folks buy the sun visors.

But what if you knew that before the cruise began, terrorists had planted a powerful time bomb on that ship that would blow it to bits? Would you be on deck selling sun visors to make the trip more comfortable or would you be warning people to get into the lifeboats while they still had time?

God isn’t a terrorist, of course! But He is a holy God who has warned that He will judge all sin. The cruise ship called “The World” will be destroyed and all who are on board will perish (2 Pet. 3:10). But He has not left us without a means of escape. His Son Jesus is not a sun visor to make your cruise more comfortable. He’s the lifeboat! But you must abandon ship to get into the lifeboat while there is still time. That’s the message we must proclaim.

Conclusion

So check yourself against these marks of genuine Christianity: Have you received the good news that Christ died for your sins? Have you decisively turned to God from your idols, especially the idol of self? Do you live each day to serve the living and true God as His blood-bought slave? Do you look expectantly for His Son to return from heaven? And do you tell others the good news about how Jesus can rescue them from the wrath to come?

Application Questions

  1. Since even the most sincere believers struggle against idolatry, how can we know when our faith is genuine?
  2. Why is it important to understand that serving God is not just something you do for a few hours on Sunday, but rather a mindset that governs every minute of every day?
  3. What would you change about your life if you knew that Jesus was coming back next week? Why not do it now?
  4. Are we presenting the true gospel if we say that Jesus is the way to a happier life, without mentioning sin and judgment?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Evangelism, Soteriology (Salvation)

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