It is plain that many people today regard becoming a Christian as little more than taking up a new hobby. It involves some extras added onto their lives. They remain what they have always been but have some new beliefs and practices. They now make a profession of faith. Yet neighbours and people at work do not notice any difference. This cannot be right. Jesus spoke of a new birth and Paul of a new creation. In fact a Christian is as different from the unconverted as a living person is from a dead corpse. Sadly increasing numbers deceive themselves and sit at the Lord’s table when they have never experienced the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. This is seriously weakening evangelical churches.
A Church Planted
Paul came to Europe to preach. His first stopping place was Philippi. There a number of true conversions took place and because of that persecution began. Paul having been beaten and imprisoned had to leave. Coming next to Thessalonica, he preached for three Sabbaths in the Synagogue. Again there was a riot and he had to leave. Yet a church was planted and remained. Paul sent two letters to them to encourage them to remain steadfast in the face of continuing trials and persecutions.
They are God’s Elect
“Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God” (1Thess.1:4). It is something truly wonderful to be chosen before you were born, indeed before the world was created or time began. This election was obviously irrespective of anything they did but also of anything they would do. With reference to the children of Rebekah it was said: “The children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him that calleth…Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated” (Rom.9:11-13). “Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom.8:29). It is not that He knew something about them but He knew them. He freely set His knowledge and love upon them before they were born. It is a great privilege to be amongst those whom the Father elected and for whom Christ died. Are you one of them? How can I know? The evidence will be seen in your life.
It was perfectly clear to the Apostle that the Thessalonians were elected because of the power with which the Gospel came to them (1Thess.1:5). There are many people and the Gospel, Sunday after Sunday, makes no impression on them. They leave unmoved. But there are others and they are stopped in their tracks. The Gospel comes to them with a power which they cannot resist. Sadly we do not see much of this today but thankfully we occasionally still witness it.
The work of the Holy Spirit is to apply the redemption purchased by Christ. The Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom.1:16) and yet the Gospel itself has no power. It is only when the Spirit accompanies the Word that it is powerful and indeed irresistible. Without Him no one will be born again. The new birth is being born of the Spirit. When the Spirit is present, lives are transformed. The Spirit only works savingly in the elect and so His work in Thessalonica was evidence of the election of these Thessalonians.
This again is the work of the Spirit. He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment to come. He convinced the Thessalonians of the truth of the Gospel so that they could not just brush it off. When they were converted His work continued assuring them of their salvation. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom.8:16).
In the Island of Lewis the name “follower” is used for a new Christian and it is a good name. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Is.53:6). But now things are different. Instead of following their own lusts and passions they are following the Good Shepherd. There is a direction to their lives and it is the opposite of what it used to be. They are now followers of the Lord. Yes there are afflictions and persecutions but in it all there is also the joy of the Holy Ghost (1Thess1:6).
“Ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (1Thess.1:7). By word, they have spread the gospel message. But also their lives are preaching. Everyone, everywhere, is talking about the marvellous change that has taken place. They had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven” (vv.9-10). The change referred to here is not a mere decision taken in their own strength. Neither is it simply a reform of their lives. It was a huge powerful transformation. This is conversion and this is what we need to see in our churches. Mere numbers on a communion roll is no evidence of God’s blessing. Indeed it could well be a curse because it weakens the church by adding dross to it. Further, the individuals concerned are in great danger because they think that they are Christians when they are not. Have you experienced this change?