Introduction: We have given thanks with the Apostle Paul for the “work of faith” and “labor of love” in the Thessalonians’ lives in 1 Thess. 1:3. But this week we highlight in 1 Thess. 1:5-9 the strong convicting work by which they … “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). May the Lord use these notes to highlight the necessity of “turning to the Lord”: focusing especially on repentance. After all, we live in a day of feel-good easy-believism when many think Jesus died simply to make them happy. How needful, therefore, for us to see how turning in repentance to God puts the focus back on God’s holiness and glory, instead of our own self-interest.
Monday/Tuesday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 2:4-5. Paul cites three reasons why he was so thankful for the Thessalonians’ response to the gospel. These also function as three proofs of the genuineness of their conversions. Let’s focus on the first two.
First, Paul declares in 1 Thess. 1:5 that they received the gospel not as mere “words” but as something “powerful.” Here Paul is showing that their conversion was solidly founded upon “the power of God” rather than “the wisdom of men.” (Compare 1 Corinthians 2:4). There is no “limited warranty” or “shelf-life” when it is God’s power that begins the work of salvation within you! It is a solid, eternal work!
Second, Paul cites the work of the Spirit in 1 Thess. 1:5 as proof that their conversions were real. Again, Paul elsewhere cites the demonstrated power of the Holy Spirit as proof of real conversions. See again 1 Cor. 2:4, where the message of the gospel to the Corinthians came with a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” But how did the Spirit show His power in these early Christian churches? Was it a mere emotional experience? Was it just a new sense of joy? How about a special word of new revelation or secret source of knowledge? Or was it a mere aesthetic experience of the beauty of the Bible and of salvation?
No – nothing of a temporary, merely man-centered experience does Paul have in mind. Rather, the Spirit’s power always is tied to the message of the Lord Jesus. It is “the Lord’s message” (1 Thess. 1:8). It is in the message which knows “nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) that we see the power of the Spirit demonstrated. The Spirit always seeks to glorify the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus. The power, therefore, of the gospel which the Thessalonians heard was that it was centered on Jesus Christ: crucified and risen!
Meditate and Pray: Whatever we will discover tomorrow about the third proof of the Thessalonians’ conversion, i.e., the “great conviction” which the Thessalonians experienced in 1 Thess 1:5, we know that such conviction always begins with the foundational knowledge of Christ’s person and work. Any religious experience which takes us “beyond” Jesus as our Rock will not last. Instead, let us pray that God keeps us firmly fixed upon Christ alone and on the gospel whose Christ-centered focus produces hope “in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3), as we “wait for Him” to return (1 Thess. 1:10).
Wednesday: read Acts 2:36-38; Acts 22:6-10 and 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5. In such a selfish culture as ours, evangelism is often reduced to an appeal to self-interest, rather than a command to turn from worthless deeds of darkness to serve the living and true God. But Paul sees no such “cheap” view of grace in the Thessalonians’ experience. As 1 Thess. 1:5 puts it, speaking of how the Gospel came to them: Our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. It is of this “deep conviction” we will speak now as the third proof of the genuine nature of the Thessalonians’ conversion.
As when Paul’s own cry, “What shall I do?” revealed a heart convicted by sin (Acts 22:10); as when many in Jerusalem were “cut to the heart” by the knowledge that they had crucified the Lord, and uttered the same question, “What shall we do?” in Acts 2:37, so the Thessalonians heard the gospel with the “deep conviction” of the wrath of God. They were ‘undone,’ having lost all hope in any of their own works or merit. They cried with unified voice, “What shall we do?” because they had nothing they could do in their own strength to evade the wrath of God which hung over them. They were undone. They knew that something mighty had to be done if they were to be spared. They were on trial and knew the ‘guilty’ verdict which hung over them and sought to escape the court-room. Where then could they flee? The answer which by grace they discovered was that they could turn by faith “from their idols” to “serve the living God” (1 Thess. 1:9).
Meditate and Pray: How marvelous – God never leaves those under evangelical conviction of sin in the despair caused by their guilt. He immediately turns their eyes to see by faith the way to escape from wrath. Repentance and Faith always go together, as our Westminster Shorter Catechism # 85 puts it: To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.
Thursday/Friday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:4-9. We mentioned the saving nature of evangelical conviction of sin yesterday, and rejoiced that such gospel-focused conviction, as experienced for example in verse 5 by the Thessalonians, always leads to a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Or to put it in terms of verse 9: When such conviction of sin makes us turn away from the idols of this world, as the Thessalonians turned, saving faith steps in to give us someone to turn to, as the Thessalonians turned in verse 9 “to the living God.” Faith gives us the eyes to see the refuge which our convicted hearts need in order to escape God’s wrath. Faith gives hope to our feet to run to God and away from our sin.
But what happens when the stubborn pride of man makes him both unwilling and unable to run to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness? What if the remorse for sin’s consequences blinds man to the need for saving faith? Well, the answer is found in 2 Corinthians 7:10: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
Worldly sorrow, in other words, leads only to a dead-end. Consider, for example, Judas’ remorse for his sin of betraying Christ, and how it led to spiritual as well as physical death. It all began for him with the greed of keeping the money bag for the disciple band. His sin then led him to an ungrateful resentment of Jesus and the way of the Cross which He taught. Then followed the betrayal for money of his master, satisfying both his avarice and his resentment against the Lord, leading finally to an all-consuming remorse at having “betrayed innocent blood.” But without saving faith, Judas ended it all with this sense of guilt. He would not and could not “turn from his idols” to serve the living God by faith. For Judas, all his remorse and self-righteous sense of his wrong-doing could not save his soul. We must surrender everything – even the overwhelming sense of shame for sin which our pride would hide from God’s eye – if we would come and by faith discover God’s forgiving grace.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the victorious nature of saving faith. Faith sweetens our sorrow for sin and receives the righteousness with which we clothe ourselves before God. Faith joins us to God as the “living God” who we can now serve “in willing bonds” of gratitude for the great salvation we have received. Sing about the devotion which God works into our hearts by repentance and faith with the help of hymn # 301 in our Trinity Hymnals:
|Join all the glorious names
Of wisdom, love, and power,
That ever mortals knew,
That angels ever bore:
All are too mean to speak His worth,
Too poor to set my Savior forth.
Great Prophet of my God,
|My dear almighty Lord,
My Conqueror and my King,
Thy scepter and Thy sword,
Thy reigning grace I sing:
Thine is the power; behold I sit
In willing bonds beneath Thy feet.
Sat/Sun: read 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and Acts 14:13-18. What does it mean for unbelievers to “turn to God from idols” as the Thessalonians did in 1 Thess. 1:9? Well, consider the opposite response of a city given over to idolatry in Acts 14. Paul uses the same language in Acts 14:11-15 when he urges the pagan crowd in Lystra to desist from the sacrifices which they wanted to offer Paul and Barnabus in response to Paul’s healing of a cripple.
Paul declares in Acts 14:15 that the Lycaonians should “turn from these worthless idols to the living God….” The contrast is between the “dead” idols of this world (which are false) compared to the “alive” and genuinely true service of the One True God. The striking testimony of Scripture, therefore, is how easily mankind turns to “Johnny-come-lately” false gods and away from the living relationship with God which all man knows to be real. Even Moses declared how easily God’s people can turn away from devotion to the Lord in Deuteronomy 32:17, where he speaks of Israel and their idol worship as follows: They sacrificed to demons, which are not God – gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear.
How deep is the propensity towards idolatry in the heart of man! What a miracle it is, therefore, when God definitively changes the direction of people’s lives so that they once and for all turn to serve the “living and true God!” Nothing less than the Almighty Power of God was at work in the Thessalonian church!
Meditate and Pray: Use the converting power of God in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 as your rationale in prayer. “If God can decisively turn from idolatry people like the Thessalonians who were so given over to idolatry, can He not also continue His life-changing work in our lives, no matter how great the challenges which seek to harm our Christian walk?” His power is sufficient, and His character is faithful so to do. Sing about God’s faithful determination to make your life a testament to His converting – and sanctifying – power with the words of hymn # 602 from our Trinity Hymnals:
O God, Thou faithful God,
Thou fountain ever flowing,
Without whom nothing is,
All perfect gifts bestowing,
Grant me a healthy frame,
And give me, Lord, within,
A conscience free from blame,
A soul unhurt by gain.
And grant me, Lord, to do,
With ready heart and willing,
Whate’er Thou shalt command,
My calling here fulfilling;
And do it when I ought,
With zeal and joyfulness,
And bless the work I’ve wrought,
For Thou must give success.
If Thou a longer life
Hast here on earth decreed me;
If Thou through many ills
To age at length wilt lead me,
Thy patience on me shed.
Avert all sin and shame
And crown my hoary head
With honor free from blame.
Let me depart this life
Confiding in my Savior;
Do Thou my soul receive
That it may live forever;
And let my body have
A quiet resting place
Within a Christian grave;
And let it sleep in peace.