Genuine Gospel Transformation
God's plan is not to lead people conversion but rather transformation! But what does that transformation look like? #GodsPlan #ChangeLives #1Thessalonians #DareToVenture
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Genuine Gospel Transformation
The Gospel is not God’s plan to get people to be religious or say a prayer or adopt a Christian culture. It is not God’s plan for us to have and experience being part of an exciting big church. The Gospel is God’s plan to rescue people from sin into eternal life To have life so abundantly that it’s called eternal! In 1st John we saw that this life is exclusive to the relationship that Christ alone gives us with God!
Therefore, it is so vital, probably now more than ever, that we understand our mission and effort as believers is to lead people into the experience of eternal life. To lead people out of the corrupted and limited potential of life in this world into the eternal possibilities of being a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven! This is what Christ died to give us and it's what Christ commands that we lead others into! And make no mistake, every one of us is tasked with changing lives, with leading people into the eternal life that Christ alone provides. To lead people into a crazy awesome, totally defining, and consuming relationship with God that only comes through Jesus Christ! Every single one of us is charged with this task!
So, how in the world do we do that?
The first 3 chapters of Thessalonians gives us an incredible testimony of not only a local church that was just absolutely on fire for Christ but also the ministry that led them there. The book of Acts gives us the big idea story. Paul and his colleges were on the way to Macedonia and along the way stopped to preach and plant the church in the major cities along the route. The first stop was Philippi (Acts 16) and they ended up in Jail there! But God does this crazy awesome deal and they get out. They then go on to Thessalonica in Acts 17. Where some of the Jewish leaders went berserk about them claiming the Jesus was the Messiah and tried to have them arrested. But the brand new believers in Thessalonica got them out of town and faced the persecution themselves!
Now fast forward. Paul knows that they continue to suffer under persecution so he sends Timothy to them to make sure they are not walking away from the faith. Timothy comes back to Paul with an extremely positive report that affirms what they have been hearing and so Paul writes this letter to the brand new believers. He is absolutely pumped about the testimony of genuine gospel transformation that has took place there!
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how 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 delivers us from the wrath to come. (1:1-10)
What do we have going on here? Right out the gate in Paul’s letter we find out why Paul is so excited about what’s taking place in the church in Thessalonica. God is taking place. People have been genuinely converted. It’s not some fake fad, some religious cultural experience to add to all the other religions in Thessalonica (which had everything!). It is a genuine transformation, they have truly been born again. The kind of rebirth that only happens by the power of the Gospel. It’s very clear that it wasn’t just a hype thing while Paul was there. It’s the kind of genuine Gospel transformation that Christ came to provide. The kind of life change that God has offered us. The kind of life change that we have been commissioned to bring to our family, friends, neighbors, peers at work and to every tribe and tongue in the world!
Thessalonians 1:1-10 demonstrates 4 characteristics of Genuine Gospel Conversion. What we should see in our lives and what we should be longing to lead others to in our Gospel ministry.
The 1st characteristic of genuine Gospel transformation is,
Visible fruit of the Holy Spirit. (1:1-3)
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul uses three nouns to describe what they recall about them/remember about them. With that pray for them. That is they praise God for that what they hear about in the church and likely what they are praying continues in the church. What are they? Well, you might think the focus is faith, love and hope.
I.E. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
But, the textual focus is work, labor and steadfastness of hope. These are the primary nouns. Each noun carries a different emphasis. A different specific context that identifies exactly the type of work, labor and steadfastness he’s speaking of. He builds on these more in the following verses, but here you just need to see that these are visible clear fruits that everybody can see!
Work (ergon) of Faith – the task of your life. That is what you do. I am a plumber, or a businessman or a police officer or a teacher. So here Paul is saying I’m pumped to hear about what defines you, the task that identifies you as a person is not being a plumber or brick mason or auto mechanic but rather that of living in glad submission to God (AKA FAITH!)
Labor (kopos) of Love – when he says I hear of your labor, he is speaking of that which takes every ounce of who you are to do. That is, I’m pumped to think about the fact that what you are exhausting yourself to do is love! To love Christ, each other and those far from God.
Steadfastness (hypomone) of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ – an ability to endure and not quit. Paul is saying I’m pumped to hear that you are a people who don’t quit. Specifically who don’t give up their hope in Christ. That is that you don’t give up on your central motivation being all that you have in Christ. Your hope in heaven, grace, sanctification, eternal life. Everything we have in Christ now to experience and cling to your hope in what is to come! You refuse to let anything take that drive and motivation from you! That confidence, that passion and that expectation that is exclusive to Christ!
So the fruit that Paul sees that gets him crazy pumped up about the church in Thessalonica is a fruit of depth and meaning. It’s something even a lost world would turn their heads and wonder at and upon examination sees the source. A life transformed by the Gospel, by Jesus!
The 2nd characteristic of genuine Gospel transformation is,
Deep conviction over sin and righteousness! (1:4-5a)
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
This is what the Holy Spirit prepares hearts to receive and experience when they hear the Gospel! His job is to convict the world of Sin and Righteousness! That is to convict the world both of what is wrong AND what is right! And they were fully convicted in both!
The Gospel convicted them fully of their lostness. Fully of their inability to be saved . Fully of the fact they were not God’s children and were incapable of being so. That all the religions in Thessalonica were incapable of giving them eternal life!
But on the other hand the fact that Jesus alone can save them. Fully convicted that Jesus is God. That He died on the cross and fully paid the penalty of their sin. That he fully satisfied the anger of God on sin.
They were so fully convicted that they would not be persuaded by the Jews in the city who were offended at the idea that Jesus was the Messiah. Nor by the pagans who were willing to accept Jesus as another god in their collection but not The one and only God! Who had no concept of a merciful loving God! Thessalonica was a spot many came to in order to journey on to Mount Olympus. A pilgrimage many made to honor Zeus and other pagan gods. These same gods that no one had faith in to save them or love them. When you read Greek mythology they understood their gods to be arrogant, egotistical, unethical immoral beings. Who used people as pawns in their games to get at each other! But along comes the Gospel, and these believers were fully convinced by it. Both of their utter immeasurable depravity and God’s utter and immeasurable grace The only grace that could overcome our depravity!
This was not some Americanized Christian event conversion where they checked a couple boxes with a prayer counselor then walked away banking on getting some salvation process right. Not some religious ceremony of baptism or confirmation whereby they felt like they had jumped through the correct hoop Rather that I must turn from everything, including my own “righteousness” and fully trust in the Grace of Christ to save me. To be fully convicted of it, to fully surrender my life to follow Jesus and believe that His grace is sufficient to cover all my past and present failures in that effort! Transformed!
The 3rd characteristic of genuine Gospel transformation is,
Bold and contagious proclamation of the Gospel even in persecution. (1:5b-8)
You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
People are hearing about your faith in Christ all over the world. Thessalonica was a very wealthy and prosperous city and tons of people traveled there not only for business (trade), but to visit the variety of religious temples and shrines. The big one being Mt Olympus! What an incredible place for the Gospel to land. One of the few “free” cities in the Roman empire, they were even allowed to print their own money. But, here was also tremendous resistance to the Gospel from both Jews as well as citizens of Thessalonica that feared the consequence of so many people surrendering their lives to Christ and preaching there is only one God and thus rejecting the state religion of Roman and the deity of the Roman Emperor!
The very livelihood of Thessalonica, their freedoms and prosperity was at risk. When you read Acts 17 the cry of those persecuting was that Paul and his crew were turning the world upside down. They were now doing the same thing in Thessalonica. And by turning the world upside down they meant teaching people to submit to a different king than Caesar... than Rome! Literally in our context to submit to a King that is King of Kings and thus King over the state! This was a huge threat to the peace and freedom of Thessalonica, if the city truly began to believe in this. Yet, the church in Thessalonica kept worshiping Jesus and proclaiming the Gospel! You can’t stop people who have been transformed by Christ from living out the faith and sharing it with others!
The 4th characteristic of genuine Gospel transformation is,
An identity consumed with Jesus! (1:9-10)
9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how 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 delivers us from the wrath to come. (1:9-10)
So a crucial part of repentance is the desire for God over everything else.
This kind of repentance brings all the aspects of the previous three characteristics together. That is the previous three really add up to this. They were fully convicted of the sin of worshiping anything other than God and repented/turned from serving idols to instead serve God. True repentance!
But in addition they were waiting for "his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead. Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” This was not just a reminder of the Gospel but a declaration that the church in Thessalonica was consumed with Jesus.
By saying they were waiting on Jesus means that their life was fixated on Him. When you sit waiting on something you are fixated on that. Everything in your life is taking 2nd place at that point.
You realize that because by nature we hate waiting so much, whatever we get excited about waiting on must really be awesome. The fact of the matter is we are always waiting on things or somebody. You are waiting on your kids to finish practice, waiting on the package to get delivered from Amazon, waiting on your tomatoes to ripen, waiting on computer to boot up, waiting on the light to turn green (I feel like that’s half my life! HA!) Life is always lived out in the reality of waiting. But what we are waiting on defines that experience! (story of waiting on Keri to let me know if she wanted to marry me)
To those who are in Christ, those who have truly been transformed by Jesus, there are a 1,000’s things we have to wait on in this world. But the one that dominates us, the one that defines us, the one that occupies us the most is waiting on Christ! Waiting on His return, waiting on the Kingdom that is already and not yet. Waiting on the holiness that is to come where we no longer struggle with sin. Even waiting with confident expectation of His conviction of sin in our life now. Of his presence now. Of his comfort now. Of knowing and experiencing him now. This is a gift to the Christians. The entire world spends their life waiting on things that when they get them don’t matter. But the Bible says this,
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:13-14)
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)
An identity consumed with Jesus is a person who is waiting on Him and all that He is. You can’t miss it. It is a testimony of a genuine transformed life that is joyfully centered in Christ!
How abundant is the evidence of a genuine Gospel transformation in your life?
So the point of looking at this passage is certainly to ask yourself what are you trying to lead others to. But it’s also to ask yourselves what do you have!
There is such a thing as a mature Christian and an immature Christian. Mature doesn’t mean arrived. It means maturing, and immature means not maturing! A transformed person doesn’t have Jesus now and then, but they keep putting on Christ. Where as an immature believer puts on Jesus at camp and never bothers with Him until the next year. Puts on Jesus when they are on staff serving with other believers but then never bothers with Him much after that!