Change, Faith, Priorities
A week ago I was finishing up several days of speaking in Kentucky. It was a privilege to be able to share the truth with these fine people. However, every time I finished a message I found myself addressing the same question in my head, “Did I communicate the truth effectively?”
When we see our kids struggle in life we ask that haunting question, “Did I fail in preparing my children for the future?” When we make a job change we are often plagued with the question, “Did I make the right choice?” It would seem that doubt is a part of life.
You have probably had doubts in your spiritual life. You have a bad day. You snap at your spouse, you are sarcastic with your kids, and you don’t want to be bothered with any one else’s problems. You ask yourself, “Am I really a follower of Jesus Christ?”
The sin that seems to follow you like a puppy who wants your attention gets the better of you one more time. You start to wonder not only if God can forgive you again . . . you wonder if He has ever really forgiven you in the first place.
We long to know if we truly belong to the household of faith. In our text this morning the Apostle Paul highlights some of the evidence of faith that he sees in the church in Thessalonica. I think these checkpoints can help us address the doubts in our own minds and spur us on in our discipleship.
Before we get into the text let me state some facts we need to keep in mind as we study,
- Every believer struggles. There is no such thing as a person who gets it right all the time. Paul’s words in Romans 7, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” are words to which most of us can give a hearty “Amen”. We are in a battle with the Devil and his army. Some skirmishes we win, others we don’t.
- Few people are as close to God as they could/should be. In other words, we all need to grow.
- True growth and maturity requires our maximum effort, but will not happen unless God’s Spirit is working in and supernaturally changing us.
With this in mind we turn to Paul who says,
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,
Paul begins by saying, “we know your conversion is real”. In other words He says, “We know that you are genuine believers” or “we know you are truly saved”. Don’t you long for this assurance regarding your faith? Paul now moves to the evidence for His conviction.
A Submissive Response to the Word of God (v.5)
because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
Paul says the first piece of evidence that these people are genuine believers is the way in which they have responded to the Word of God.
Many people hear the Word of God proclaimed. Two people sit in church on Sunday, one is deeply affected; the other falls asleep. What’s the difference. One is under the Spirit’s power, the other is not. The Holy Spirit takes the Word and applies it directly to the heart of the child of God.
Paul said the gospel came to them with power; it made an impact. The word came with the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit used the words to convict the people of their sin, awakened them to their need for a Savior, prompted them to believe, and gave them direction for life. These things were also accompanied by deep conviction. The people were convinced that the Bible was God’s revelation of Himself and they submitted to its authority in their lives. They didn’t just believe the Bible because that is what they had always been taught; they believed it because they recognized it as truth in the deepest part of their being.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [Hebrews 4:12-13]
When God is at work the Word of God feels like it is speaking directly to us. It is like the difference between listening to someone who is just making small talk and listening someone who is telling you how to get out of a dangerous situation. You do not pay the same kind of attention to the person who is recounting their family history to you as you do the person who is telling you about how to diffuse a bomb.
So here’s the question: Have you ever sensed God’s Word burning in your soul? Have you ever picked up your Bible and found God speaking through His Word in a way that was timely and powerful? If you have, then it is evidence that you have genuine faith.
Let me give you a checklist to evaluate your own faith,
1. Do you turn to the Word of God for guidance in your life (even if it is not every day)?
2. Do you expect God to speak to you and your situation when you read the Bible (even if there are times you don’t understand or don’t seem to get anything out of your reading?)
3. Does the Word of God lead you to change things in your life? Does it have authority over your values, your decisions, your behavior?
If you answer yes to these questions it is evidence of a genuine faith. If you answer No, you may need to do some searching of your soul.
A Life that Looks Like Jesus (vv.5b-7)
You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
The second evidence that these people had a genuine faith is the fact that they were changed in the way they lived their lives. They were striving to follow the example of the apostles and of the Lord.
In the case of the Thessalonians there are several examples of their changed lives. First, in verse 6 we are told that they welcomed the message of the gospel in spite of the suffering their belief caused. We read in our introduction to the letter to the Thessalonians of how Paul, Silas and Timothy were driven out of town by the opponents of the gospel. We can be sure that this same hostility was directed toward those who became followers of Christ and continued to live in Thessalonica. These people continued to believe in spite of personal suffering or hardship. They not only continued to believe, they welcome the message with the joy of the Holy Spirit. How we respond to God in times of crisis are often the best indicator of our true faith.
In verses 9 and 10 we are given further evidence of their new life,
you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
These people experienced real transformation in their personal lives. They turned away from worshipping false gods even though that was the way of popular culture. They stopped being controlled by superstition and instead lived their lives in anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. They stopped living as if this life was all there is and started to live with an eye toward Heaven. That’s the kind of change that should take place in our lives.
Paul says they became imitators of the missionaries and of Jesus. The word for imitator is the word from which we get our word, “mimic”. To some it may seem like imitating Paul and Jesus sounds like the person is just pretending. That’s not the case. We all learn by imitating. A child learns to walk by trying to follow the example of others. He or she learns to talk by imitating the sounds he/she hears. The child learns about work, communication, relationships, by imitating what he/she has seen. They start out imitating and then they find their own way. The child grows and becomes a model for others to imitate.
What’s true in the natural realm is also true in the spiritual realm. When a person is truly a child of God; when their faith is genuine; they become imitators of those who reflect Jesus Christ. In our early days we imitate what our mentors are doing. I remember wanting to write and preach like Chuck Swindoll; to think like R.C. Sproul, and to care for others like some of my Christian friends cared. We try to follow Christ through who seem to reflect Christ to us. Before long we hopefully become reflectors of God’s grace for others to follow.
Usually, people who look at our children see evidence that they are our children. It may be a physical similarity or a behavioral similarity but usually there is some likeness that ties us together. If we are children of God, if we are true followers of Christ, there should be evidence of that reality in the way we live our lives. Spurgeon asks us some pointed questions,
Are you Christlike or do you want to be? Can you forgive your enemy, and can you love him and do him good? Do you desire now to live unselfishly, to live for others, to live for God? Are you prayerful? Do you come to God in prayer as Jesus did? Are you careful of your words and of your acts as Christ was? I do not ask you if you are perfect, but I do ask whether you follow the Perfect One? We are to be followers of Christ, if not with equal steps, still with steps that would be equal if they could.
It’s a simple but important question: “Does your Christian faith impact the way you live your life? Does it inform your values and your priorities?” If not, then you have reason to question the genuineness of your faith. The Bible tells us that when we truly believe we are given God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s purpose in our lives is to “conform us to the likeness of his son” (Romans 8:29) and to develop in our character the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23): “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” If you see no evidence of this in your life then God’s Spirit is not in you and you may not yet a part of the family of God.
An Impact Made On Those Around Them (8-9)
There is one final piece of evidence that the faith of the Thessalonian believers was genuine.
The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.
The Thessalonian church was making an impact on those around them. Paul says the “Lord’s message rang out from you”. The phrase “rang out from you” means to “blast forth” or to sound forth intensely. Sometimes the word was used for the blaring of a trumpet. So, their faith was being proclaimed loud and clear throughout the world.
Thessalonica was located on major land and sea trade routes. It seems apparent that everyone who came in contact with them (in spite of the persecution) learned about the change that Jesus had made in their lives: “they turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, to wait for his son from heaven whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
I don’t think this church had an organized mission program or sponsored great outreach events. What happened was that people from all over the world saw and heard about the change that Jesus had made in the lives of these people. In the normal course of life they were reflecting Jesus and in turn that reflection was impacting the world.
Just as you always know when someone is a new parent (because they can’t help but talk about their new baby) or that someone has had an incredible experience or opportunity (because they find ways to bring it up into a conversation), so a child of God is eager to tell others about the change that Christ has made in their lives.
Sometimes I think we believe we can’t make an impact on the world around us because we are living in our small towns. That’s nonsense. There are all kinds of people in our communities who need to know Christ personally. If we faithfully share the truth marriages, families, schools, communities and businesses can be transformed. If we live for Jesus Christ we will plant seeds in the salesmen who are passing through, co-workers on the job, fellow students at college, students and their parents in your classroom, customers who stop in to look around, and with the Internet, we can impact people around the world.
Here’s the question: Are you making an impact for the Kingdom of God? Are you planting the seeds of the gospel in the lives you come in contact with?
I hope that these observations of the Apostle Paul will help you to evaluate your own faith. Do you have doubts? Then ask some basic questions: Does the Word of God have a prominent place in your life? Do you see the Holy Spirit changing you and making you into the image of Christ? Are you learning from other mature believers and trying to put what you learn into practice? Are you making an impact for the Kingdom of God on those around you? If you answer yes, you can be sure you are part of God’s family. If you say “No”, it means you need to evaluate your relationship with Christ.
But let’s take this one step further: How are we doing as a church? Are we basing our decisions and actions on the Word of God? Do others see Christ in the things we do? Are we making an impact on our surrounding area? I hope so but I’m sure we could do a better job.
Like the Thessalonians, I think when we first come to Christ most of us are very energetic in our pursuit of holiness and the glory of God. That’s why it is always good to have new believers in the church. . . .they remind us of the fire we once had. After awhile, we seem to become distracted by other things and faith sometimes gets put into neutral. We don’t mean for it to happen . . . but it is a common occurrence.
To combat this tendency I want to challenge you to do some specific things as a way of reawakening your faith,
Make it a point to read your Bible every day this week. Be determined to not simply get through your “assignment” but to listen for what God has to say to you. If you don’t know what to read, read through 1 Thessalonians or one of the gospels.
Take some time to evaluate your own walk with God. Find a quiet place and ask yourself the tough questions raised by this text. See where you need to make some changes and prayerfully get to work.
Set a goal of talking to at least one non-Christian person about your faith in Jesus Christ this week. It doesn’t need to be a long conversation. Be intentional about “planting some seeds” this week.
Determine to show the love of Christ to others this week. Make it a point to: stop and visit someone who is sick or hurting (you can do this at a ball diamond, in the shop, in the grocery store); volunteer to help your neighbor with some yard work; agree to drive someone to a Doctor’s visit; Offer to babysit for a young couple; Arrange for someone in need to get some groceries; Make it a point to stop and visit with someone you don’t usually talk to. Take your role of a missionary seriously and build a bridge with someone this week.
Our challenge as a congregation is to work to be the hands, the feet, the touch, and the voice of Jesus in our area. If we are going to do what God has called us to do . . . we can’t coast. We must continue to practice a faith that is real.