First Thessalonians 003 – The Power of the Gospel

First Thessalonians 003 – The Power of the Gospel
1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 • Dr. Andy Woods • October 30, 2022 • First Thessalonians



First Thessalonians 003

The Power of the Gospel

1 Thessalonians 1:4-6

October 30, 2022

Dr. Andy Woods

And we’ll get started. Father, we’re grateful for today. Grateful for health, life, vitality, grateful for the freedom to come and worship You in spirit and truth. As we have this tremendous right here in the United States. We don’t take that lightly. And we do pray, Lord, that You would bless our times together this morning and Your word both in Sunday school and in the main service that follows. I pray that You would be blessing even as I’m speaking all of the activities that are taking place at this church. From the very youngest to the very oldest. And I do pray for the illuminating Ministry of the Spirit, which allows us to understand the deeper things of God. I do pray, Lord, if anybody is here listening that has not trusted You, Your son Jesus as the Savior. We pray that today would be the day of salvation for them. And as is our custom, we’re going to pause just for a few moments of silence in case we need to make personal confessions to You. So that broken fellowship can be restored if need be so that we can receive today unhindered from your word. We’re thankful, Lord, for the promise of First John one nine, although it doesn’t restore our position, which is eternally secure. It can restore broken fellowship. And so I pray that You would have Your way in your church with Your people as Your word is taught. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise in the glory.

We ask these things in Jesus’ name. God’s people said, amen. All right. Well, good morning, everybody. If you could open your Bibles to first Thessalonians 1:4. Just by way of an infomercial, Wednesday nights we finished Zechariah. And so this Wednesday, we’re going to be starting the Book of Acts. And so if you’re kind of looking to get on the ground floor of a verse-by-verse study that’s just starting, we would invite you to attend either in person or either or online via live streaming our Wednesday night study on the Book of Acts. We’ve finished in this Sunday school class. Our Middle East meltdown study looked, looking, looked at Ezekiel 38 and 39. I wanted to sort of keep the emphasis on prophecy, and so I could think of no better way to do that than to study verse-by-verse the two Thessalonian letters. So I think this is lesson number three. In our first lesson, we sort of lay down the foundation of the book. Who wrote it? Where was it written from? Why was it written? etc. And then last week we began moving into the first part of the book, which is the personal section. Where Paul in First Thessalonians 1:1-3 is sort of looking backward six months to a year earlier when he was with the Thessalonians. And you can see when he was with the Thessalonians and planted of the Thessalonians church in Acts 17.

And Paul the Apostle was driven out of Thessalonica by unbelieving Jews, pushed into Corinth. And it was there that he learned that the same unbelieving Jews that persecuted him were now persecuting the church that he had planted. And the baby brand new Christians there in Thessalonica. And so that’s what prompts this entire letter. And one of the things that people did to Paul, and this is kind of a sad reality of things that go on in our day as well, is if people don’t like something someone says, then they sort of go behind the person’s back and they try to do sort of a character assassination on the person. Because they don’t like the- they don’t like the fact that everybody is listening to such and such person. So the unbelieving Jews were very, very jealous of Paul. They were jealous because of the great numbers that he had converted through the power of the Holy Spirit in Thessalonica. And so when they persecuted him and drove him out, driving him out was not enough. They had to also drive out of Thessalonica his influence. And so the way they tried to drive out of Thessalonica, his influence in his absence is they tried to do sort of a character assassination on Paul. So this is why Paul spends chapters 1 through 3, sort of rehabilitating his reputation.

Because if he doesn’t do that, they’ll never listen to him in chapters 4 and 5 when he’s responding to their specific issues and questions. So they were saying things like Paul’s motives were impure. He’ll deal with that in chapter 2. Paul left because he doesn’t care about you. He’ll deal with that in chapter 2 verse 17, all the way through the end of chapter 3. And they were also saying to the Thessalonian believers that your conversion to Christianity, that you think you’ve had, isn’t true. You just got talked into something by kind of a motivational speaker. And if you got talked into it, we’re going to talk you out of it. And so all this Jesus stuff, it’s not real. It’s not true. Paul just knew how to kind of push the right emotional buttons and make you think like you had a conversion experience. When in reality you did not. So my take, basically, on chapter 1 is his material is being weaved together or the purpose of explaining to them that, no, your conversion is very real. There are very real things happening in your life that defy explanation. Unless something greater than yourself via the Holy Spirit entered your life. And the heart the moment you trusted in the Savior. So with that in mind, he’s given a greeting verse 1 of chapter 1. He has given thanks for them because of their progress in faith, hope and love in Christ verses 2 and 3.

And then the third thing that he gets to hear is in verses 4 and 5 is he says, Look at your response to the gospel. This is abnormal. This is supernatural. If the Holy Spirit wasn’t at work in your life, you would not have responded to the Gospel as you have. So we pick it up here in First Thessalonians 1:4, where Paul says in verse 4, “Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.” Now, you’ll notice this expression, brethren. I believe that when Paul uses that word brethren, he’s not talking about fellow Jews, although some of Paul’s converts were Jewish. The word brethren can be used of fellow Jews talking to each other. You’ll see that use in the book of Romans 9:3. But you see, as I’ve tried to explain in our introduction, and I will be explaining when we get to verse 9, that most of Paul’s converts were gentile. So when he uses this expression, brethren, I think he’s using it the exact same way Jesus used it in Matthew 12:46-50. And it says this, “While he-” that’s Jesus. “Was speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, speaking- seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.'”

“But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers? And stretching out his hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven he is My brother and sister and mother.” So Jesus spoke of a family relationship that would transcend natural family lines. And fellow human beings, regardless of what country they’re in, regardless of what skin color they are, regardless of what their nationality or ethnicity is, fellow Christians are brothers because we are all saved the same way. And the Lord has taken all of us at the point of faith, alone in Christ alone, and has baptized or identified us into the body of Christ. So we are all parts of the same body. Paul is going to give that teaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. Later on in His ministry in First Corinthians 12:13. But I think his point is, well, of course you’re saved. We’re all brothers in the same Lord Jesus Christ. That later, beginning around Ephesians 4:1 will be Paul’s basis for exhorting Christians to seek to get along with each other. One of the tragedies that happens in the body of Christ is Christians can get out of sorts with each other. And Paul says you need to treat each other like brothers because you’re all part of the same body, the body of Christ.

And so he says, Of course you’re believers because your brethren. You’re brethren with me and your beloved. You see there in verse 4, “knowing brethren, beloved by God.” And you can track that word beloved all the way through Paul’s writings. You can track it all the way through books in the Bible, in the New Testament that are outside of Paul’s writings. And you’ll see that that is an expression that only applies to a Christian. All people are loved by God, but they don’t become part of the beloved brethren until they trust Christ as the savior. So obviously your conversion is true. Continuing with verse 4, he says, “Knowing brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.” Now the doctrine of God choosing us. I mean, that’s a doctrine that most of us, myself included, would just rather escape from because it doesn’t make any sense to the natural world. I mean, God chooses us before we choose Him? And the answer is yes, because He says there, “His choice of you.” And although that’s- it’s a tough doctrine and a lot of people would rather duck the doctrine, what you’ll find in the New Testament is the writers will mention it right at the beginning of the book that they’re writing. You’ll see Peter doing this in first Peter chapter 1. And so this doctrine of God’s choosing of us is a true doctrine.

So the question is often asked then, well, if God chooses us. Do we choose Him? Or do we choose God or does God choose us? And the answer to that question would be yes because the Bible teaches both. Now, you said, Well, Pastor, can you explain that to me? I can’t explain it to you any more than I can explain the mysteries of the Trinity to you. I just know that this doctrine is in the Bible and the mistake people make is they camp so aggressively on the free will side of things. That they ignore passages like this where God calls us His chosen. Or people camp so aggressively on the divine sovereignty side of things that they ignore other passages that say we choose God. The Bible teaches both. The Book of Revelation 22:17 says, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” So notice that a person comes to Christ because they desire to come to Christ. They desire to drink of the living water. And so very clearly, the Book of Revelation 22:17, says, We choose God. And yet you have other passages like this in the first Thessalonians 1:4 which says, God chooses us.

Probably the best analogy I could give you on this is a marriage. Our relationship to the Lord is analogized to bride and groom. You’ll see that in Ephesians 5:22-33. And so just think of a marriage. I mean, did I choose my wife? Or does my wife choose me? I think the answer, unless you need some serious marital counseling, the answer to that should be yes, it should be both. And it’s one of those sort of profound mysteries of the Bible. At Schaefer Seminary we have in our doctrinal statement this clause, And I and I love how it’s written. This was written by our founding president, George Meissinger, and he just acknowledges in this doctrinal statement, that both strands of thought, sovereignty and human choice are biblical. And let’s just say, let’s let the tension exist without trying to rewrite the Bible. So the doctrinal statement says, we believe scripture reveals two clear, indisputable lines of evidence. One line shows God’s sovereignly choosing his own in Christ; The other shows man possessing the function of volition, able to receive or reject God’s uniquely born Son. Now, if you’re building your house from the divine sovereignty side of things, look at all the verses he lists there. Job 42:2, Psalm 135:6, etc, etc. But then it goes on and it says, regarding human volition and look at all the verses that he lists there.

John 1:9-13. John 3:16. John 3:36. You go right on down the list. I guess we could add to the list, the verse I just read earlier, Revelation 22:17. And the doctrinal statement just says, My goodness, both of these concepts exist. I’m going to we’re going to acknowledge they exist, and we’re just going to live with the tension knowing that God is outside of time. And understands concepts that we don’t understand. And so here at Sugar Land Bible Church, as we teach the Bible verse-by-verse, when we come to an election verse, we’ll allow it to say what it wants to say when we come to a free will verse will allow it to say what it wants to say. We don’t get into a practice here of using one set of texts to rewrite another set of texts. And as far as the understand-ability of this concept, we just understand that at the end of the day, God’s ways are not our ways. The Prophet Isaiah in chapter 55 verses 8 and 9, says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so the ways of God are higher than our ways.” We continue on there with verse 5and it says, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit [and] with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

So now Paul is getting into the subject of the gospel. What is the gospel? The gospel simply means good news. The personal gospel of salvation is good news for the lost sinner. Because when you trust in the provision of the gospel, you can have an immediate relationship with the Lord. And no longer is hanging over your head the prospect of eternal retribution. Separated from God throughout all eternity in a place of conscious torment that we would call hell, Hades, the Lake of fire, etc. You’re spared from that or saved. The moment you trust in the gospel. And so that’s why the gospel literally means good news. So how exactly did this gospel come to you? I mean, were you talked into this? Was this some kind of high-sounding Greek philosopher? Which was common in that part of the world. Did that person talk you into this? No. Paul says “The gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in the power and the Holy Spirit with full conviction.” Now, what does he mean here when he says the Gospel came to you not in word only. His point was, I did not talk you into this. When I talked and gave to you the eternal gospel God testified to it in your own life through power and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. And that’s why you’re believers today.

In other words, this was not some kind of philosophical self-study. Where somebody showed up and they had the gift of gab and they talked you into something because they were like a very fine sounding salesman and they knew how to push all the right emotional buttons. That’s not how you got saved. Paul reminds the Thessalonians. It was not in word only. There’s a parallel passage in First Corinthians 2:1-6. And all of these places that we’re reading about here, Corinth, a little bit later, Athens, Thessalonica, they’re all located in close proximity to one another. And so Paul in First Corinthians 2:1-6 says, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom.” The Greeks prided themselves on oratorical skill. In fact, there’s a famous Greek philosopher who would actually take pebbles and put them into his mouth and then go down to the river and give his speech by way of a practice or way of a rehearsal, because he thought, if I can get a good- give a good speech with pebbles in my mouth and just think how powerful my oratory is going to be when I give the real speech kind of thing. So the Greeks, they all prided themselves on this sort of gift of gab. They actually were able to go into different places, these philosophers and speakers.

And if they were good at what they were doing, you know, they were able to kind of develop a following based on human oratory. And Paul, when he writes to the Corinthians, says, that’s not how you got saved. It’s the Spirit’s conviction that brought you to Christ. Because if someone can talk you into something then someone else, with a greater gift of gab, down the road can talk you out of it. You didn’t get talked into this. I came with the spirit’s power that placed you under conviction. So Paul says in first Corinthians two one, through six, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, And Him crucified.” I wasn’t trying to get you to buy anything. I wasn’t trying to sell you anything. I wasn’t trying to use you to build my personal following. My whole ministry, when I was with you, was all about Jesus and him crucified. “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” So my presentation of the gospel to you, it was very different than what you got from the Greek philosophers of the day. “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”

I wanted to introduce you into a relationship with God, the God that made you. That’s where your faith is, Paul says. Not in my deliverance ability as a speaker. He concludes there, in First Corinthians 2:6, he says, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, that is not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away;” I didn’t come with all of the pizzazz of the rulers of this age. All the people that you see on TV, for example. The movers and shakers of the culture. Why didn’t I come imitating them? Because they’re passing away. In fact, this whole world system is passing away. What you believed in was something very, very real and something eternal. Going back to First Thessalonians chapter [1], verse 5, when he says, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only,” He also says, “but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction;” I preach to you with Holy Spirit power. Power that only the Holy Spirit can give. Power that does not come through a mere ability to deliver a speech or to deliver a talk. Now, as you probably know from that word power or that word translated power is the Greek word dunamis, where you get the word dynamite. You also get the word dynamic.

I mean, you think of a piece of dynamite, you know, so small you could hold it in your hand and look at its explosive power. That’s how you got saved. And he also reminds them that not only did you experience the Spirit’s power. But here’s how that power was manifest. It was manifest with full conviction. Not just conviction, but full conviction. And I believe that Paul here is referencing something that Jesus said would happen in the upper room. The disciples were very, very panicked just prior to the death of Christ concerning Chris statements that He was going to be leaving soon. I mean, that did not make them happy because Jesus was all they had known for the past three years. And then He starts saying, I’m leaving. And so every time he made a statement like that, referring to His death and then resurrection and ultimately His ascension, they didn’t like that they would challenge that. And at some point in the upper room discourse where Jesus is speaking to the 11 disciples, He says it’s actually And by the way, you’ll find all of this in John 16:7-11. It’s actually to your advantage that I’m leaving. Why is that? Because when I leave, the Spirit will come. And when the Spirit comes, He will start a brand new ministry. And what is that new ministry? He will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

In modern evangelism techniques, those verses that I just referenced John 16:7-11 are almost forgotten. And yet Lewis Sperry Chafer called this true evangelism. Evangelistic messages that harmonize with what the Holy Spirit is already doing according to the promises of Jesus Christ. So that whole paragraph reads as follows, John 16 seven through 11. “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper-” Greek there is paraklétos. The one who comes alongside to assist the Holy Spirit. “The helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When he comes, he will convict.” Now, what does that mean to convict? Because you see that expression? Full conviction in verse 5. I mean, what convict means is to come alongside and persuade. That’s what the Holy Spirit is doing. And He’s not just doing it in the lives of the Christian. Because Jesus says when He comes, He will convict the world. That’s a big place, isn’t it? But what’s He going to persuade the world of? He will convict the world concerning three things. Sin, number one. And righteousness, number two. And judgment, number three. Concerning- Now Jesus goes on and He explains what each of those terms mean. “Concerning righteousness, because I go to the father and you do not see Me; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

And earlier I missed I read too far ahead. But the first one is, “Concerning sin, because they do not believe.” The Greek word for sin is hamartia, and it’s a singular noun there. And if you understand that, you understand exactly the pressure the world system is being put under as I speak. Your job as a Christian is to tailor your evangelistic message to the lost in such a way that it’s consistent with what the world is already being convicted of: sin, righteousness, and judgment. Sin, singular, because they do not believe. Jesus via the Holy Spirit is not morally reforming the unsaved world. That’s very important to understand. He’s not convicting the world of foul language. He’s not convicting the world of spousal abuse, chewing tobacco, gambling, anything like that. Now, presumably when a person does get saved and the Holy Spirit comes inside of them, then they will be convicted of those things. But when they are unsaved, the Holy Spirit is persuading them and convicting them of one single thing, which is the fact that they do not believe. They’re committing the only sin that can send them into the eternal lake of fire, which is unbelief. So when you get into a discussion with a lost person, concerning the gospel, oftentimes the conversation will get into, Well, what do you believe about dinosaurs and all this stuff. We can have a conversation about dinosaurs sometime.

I think we actually have a biblical answer for that. But what you have to understand is that’s just a dodge. It’s a dodge to get around the conviction that they’re already under. Which is they don’t believe. So as you talk to the unsaved, keep talking about the fact that they need to trust or believe in the Messiah. So concerning sin because they do not believe. Concerning righteousness because I go to the Father. The second thing the Holy Spirit is convicting the unsaved world of is they don’t have the righteousness of God. If you don’t have the righteousness of God transferred to you at the point of faith alone, then you have to stand before the Lord one day in your own self-righteousness. And I’m here to tell you that that’s not going to get you very far. So as you’re talking to the unsaved, keep talking about the fact that God is righteous and they’re not. And God will give you His righteousness as a gift the moment you believe the gospel. And then concerning judgment, because the prince of this world has already been judged. In other words, you’re on a sinking ship. Your ship is going down. This whole world system is going down. Why is that? Because the prince of this world, Satan himself is already under condemnation. Satan is a defeated foe. And so if you don’t respond to the gospel by way of faith and consequently never receive the transferred righteousness of God, positionally, then you will go down on this ship along with its captain, Satan himself who is a defeated foe and is already going down.

And so the spirit of God is convicting the world as I speak, of sin, as Jesus defines it. Righteousness as Jesus defines it, and judgment. Sin because they don’t believe. Righteousness, because they don’t have the transferred righteousness of God. And judgment because you’re on a sinking ship. Now there’s a lot of different approaches to the gospel, and I think God uses us all in different ways. But if you really want to do evangelism, those are always the three things you focus on with unsaved people. Just keep bringing the conversation back to those three things. Now this is the full conviction that the Thessalonians were under, this convicting Ministry of the Holy Spirit, and that’s why they ended up believing the Gospel. So obviously your conversion is true. Because it didn’t come to you through the gift of gab. It came to you through full conviction. And it’s interesting to me that the Holy Spirit is not going to believe for people. There’s no biblical evidence for the fact that the Holy Spirit believes for people. God has no grandchildren. Everybody has to believe the gospel on their own. What the Holy Spirit will do is persuade people of their need to believe the gospel.

So, you know, a lot of you asked me the question, you know, I work with so-and-so and I have this person, this coworker, I have this person that it’s a family member, I’m trying to reach them with the gospel, you know. How do I do that? And here’s how you do it. You just keep praying over and over again over them. John 16:7-11, that the Spirit will do what He said He would do. And convict that person of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Then you pray that the Holy Spirit will somehow open the door of conversation allowing you to speak, Or maybe you being bold and taking the initiative. Or something will happen where the conversation will open up to spiritual things and the moment the door is open a millimeter you’ve got to get in there. And when you get in there, don’t talk about the age of the earth, but use that sort of as a jumping-off point, if that’s what they’re interested in. Talk about these three things sin, righteousness and judgment, because that’s what they’re already being convicted of. Just keeps just keep introducing into the conversation. You need to believe in Jesus. That sin. So you can receive the right, the transferred righteousness of God. Try to explain that. That’s righteousness. And if you don’t, you’re on a- you’re fighting a losing battle. You’re on a sinking ship. I mean, isn’t that what Paul said back in First Corinthians 2:6, when we read it earlier? The rulers of this age who are passing away.

I mean, the whole world system is going down because Satan has already been judged. And he’s the leader of this system. So Lewis Sperry Chafer called this true evangelism. Evangelistic messages that harmonize with what the spirit is already doing in the lives of the unsaved. And he, Chafer, says, and I believe him, you won’t- you won’t believe the fruit you’ll start seeing in your evangelism when you start cooperating with what the Holy Spirit is already convicting the world of. That’s why we’re a little bit cautious about the kinds of evangelistic tracks that we put out on our tract rack. Most evangelistic tracts today will say you’re not saved by good works. And then at the end of the track, they’ll give you three or four good works to do. Now bow your head, close your eyes, pray this prayer, walk this aisle, join this church, give money, whatever it is. That’s not true evangelism. The tracks that we pick are tracts that articulate or verbalize in the best way what the Holy Spirit is already convicting the world of, as promised by Jesus in John 16:7-11. And so Paul’s point is to the Thessalonians, This is how you got saved. So don’t let someone come and whisper in your ear. Gosh, maybe you’re not really a Christian.

Maybe you just got talked into kind of a philosophical self-help self-empowerment club. And then as you present the Gospel to the lost, make sure that your own life is upright. You don’t have to be sinless to present the gospel. None of us are. But hopefully you’re in a trajectory where you’re sinning less. And when you’re- the folks in your family or at your workstation, see that? You automatically have a pulpit, a platform. Because they’re recognizing that there’s something about you that’s unique. There’s something about you that’s different because your lifestyle matches your theology. And so many Christians have no influence because there’s a disharmony between their lifestyle and their message. So someone at work, you know, tells a dirty joke and everybody’s laughing hysterically and you’re not laughing. They noticed that. And what just happened there is God just took a pulpit with a microphone in front of it and put it right where you are. Now you have an opportunity to talk about something because the world sees in you something they can’t find anywhere else. And this is Paul’s point at the end of verse 5, where he says, “Just as you know what kind of men we prove to be among you for your own sake.” I didn’t show up as a philosopher. I didn’t show up trying to use you to build my philosophical following. I came to you with an upright life. Now, what kind of upright life did Paul have? If you go to the next chapter.

Chapter 2 verse 9. He says, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed the gospel of God.” He says, When I showed up in your midst and you were unsaved, I did not ask for money. The philosophers would show up and they would ask to be supported. Paul says, I didn’t do that. I supported myself. Now, how exactly did Paul support himself? You have a very strong reference to that in Acts 18:3. Something that he did at nearby Corinth. Acts 18:3, and it says, “Because he was the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tentmakers.” So Paul was blue-collar. He understood manual labor. And when he showed up amongst the unsaved, what he did is he supported himself with his own hands through his craft or his trade of tent making. This is the opposite of what the philosophers of the day would do. They would try to gather a following and demand the people support them. Paul said, I do the exact- did the exact opposite. Now within the context of a local church, it’s completely acceptable for Christians to support their pastor. That’s not the issue that he’s dealing with here. He’s dealing with the fact that when I was with you as unsaved people, I did not ask for a red cent.

What I did is I supported myself so I would not be a burden to you because it’s hard to share the gospel with people that you’re siphoning off, so to speak. And so Paul says, My life amongst you was upright. And he’s using all of these arguments to show them that what happened to you and how you heard the gospel and how I presented the gospel to you and how the Spirit testified to it through full conviction, These are things that a philosopher cannot conjure up. I mean, this is clearly- it’s clearly the work of God. He continues on there in verse 6and he explains to them something else that was obviously supernatural. Where the Thessalonians began to have joy in the midst of tribulation. And he picks that up in verse 6 where he says, “You also became imitators of us And of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” I mean, look at your progress in the Christian life, Paul says. Number one, you became an imitator of us. That would be the apostle and his missionary team there in Thessalonica. And more important than being an imitator of us, you became an imitator of the Lord. Paul in First Corinthians 11:1 says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

Christ is the model. Follow me as I follow Christ. I mean, could you say that to unsaved people? A lot of us would say, don’t follow me. You follow Jesus. But Paul had such a circumspect, honest, authentic, upright life amongst these unsaved people that when they got saved, they became followers of God and as they became followers of God, they began to follow Paul because he was following God. And they became imitators. Ephesians 5:1 says who we’re ultimately to imitate. It says Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” By the time the early church makes its way into Antioch, in the Book of Acts Chapter 11, the early church was such a follower of the character of Jesus that they gained the nickname Christians. I mean, we’re just going to have to call these people Christians because their manner of life is so like the man Jesus Christ. I mean, earlier in the Book of Acts, they’re called different names. They’re called The Way and things like that. But by the time they get up north to Antioch, and many, many people in great numbers are getting saved that’s the first time you see the word Christians. Because the people at Antioch were so Christlike in how they conducted themselves that what better name than to give them the name Christians. And this is the kind of thing that happened in Thessalonica.

Now how were they Christ-like? You look at the second part of verse 6. “Having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” That’s how you become Christlike. You walk in joy in spite of tribulation or adversity in your life. And I’m here to tell you that that is something that is completely supernatural. A human being left to their own natural devices has no ability to be joyful in tribulation. Only a person who has the Holy Spirit resident within them can have that capacity or have that ability. This is something else that Jesus talked about in the upper room in John 14:26 through 27. Where he was, again, speaking of the paraklétos, or the Holy Spirit, who would come in my absence. He says. “But the helper, The Holy Spirit, whom the father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to you remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” So the Ministry of the Holy Spirit gives peace not as the world gives. How does the world system give peace? The world system gives peace. And it says you can have a tranquil, joyful life as long as inflation is under control. You can have a joyful, tranquil life as long as gas prices are coming down.

You can have a joyful, tranquil life as long as the right political party wins in the midterms or wins the White House. You can have a joyful, tranquil life as long as you’re you have job security. You can have a joyful, tranquil life as long as your doctor’s report is favorable. But you take away any of those things and the world’s peace disappears, as we would say, quicker than a Hollywood marriage. Just dissipates just like that because it’s a false piece. So when a Christian begins to walk in, the joy of the Lord, in spite of all kinds of external problems. That’s obviously something supernatural. I mean, that’s obvious- obviously a work of the Holy Spirit. And this is what the Thessalonians had imitated. And Paul’s point is, look, do you think you would have this ability to walk in the joy of the Lord through much tribulation? And believe me, folks, these people were suffering tribulation. Because the Jews that drove Paul out of Thessalonica into Corinth had now turned on the Thessalonians and they were walking in the midst of tremendous tribulation. And Paul says, you know what? In the midst of that tribulation, you were walking in joy. Now, who do you think created that in you? Think you think you got that ability because of some philosophical presentation or motivational talk? That’s silly. This is an absolute miracle that’s happened in your midst.

And so quite obviously you’re saved. Quite obviously your salvation is real. Now, let’s talk just for a minute about the assurance of salvation. Because what Paul is dealing with here is the assurance of salvation. How do you know you’re saved? There is an objective test and there is a subjective test. Paul the apostle here is not so much dealing with the objective test as he’s dealing with the subjective test. But the objective test is, you know, you’re saved because Jesus said you’re saved when you believe him. John 5:24, Jesus says, “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him, who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.'” Notice it says, Truly, truly, I say to you. In Greek. That’s Amen, Amen. Amen means it is so. It is true. Jesus says this is true two times. There’s two amens there. And it’s one thing to receive a word from God. That should be enough proof it’s true in and of itself. But here he prefaces it by two amens. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me.” Believe means to trust. You trust Christ for salvation. He who hears My word believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, not might get eternal life, might experience eternal life when they die.

The Greek there is present tense. They have it. They have it when. They have it at the moment of faith, alone in Christ alone. “And does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Has passed out of as in the perfect tense in Greek, meaning one-time action. Ongoing results. In other words, justification before God is not a process. It’s not some kind of thing where, gosh, I’m going to get to the end of my life and I sure hope the good deeds outweigh the bad, because only then is God going to let me into heaven. That is not- that is a false unbiblical understanding of justification. A biblical understanding is you have it at the point of faith because God has made you a promise that at the point of faith alone in Christ, you have passed from death to life. You’re not- it’s not in the process of passing. It’s something that’s already happened. And so at the end of the day, that’s how you know you’re saved. If you’re going to live your life looking at subjective experiences, some days you’re going to feel saved, some days you’re not going to feel saved. There’s nothing wrong with subjective experiences. Paul is mentioning some of them here as he’s writing to the Thessalonians. But you actually need something beyond subjective experiences to validate your salvation. Because you can have highs and lows in the Christian life.

You could have ups and downs. It’s- my pilot friends tell me it’s like flying an airplane. Your emotions are telling you to turn or, You know, go this way go that way. But you don’t listen to your emotions. You look at the compass because the compass doesn’t lie to you. And some of my pilot friends have told me, you know, sometimes when you’re flying, it feels like you’re flying upside down and every impulse inside of you wants you to grab the steering wheel or steering column or whatever they use in planes And right the course. And yet the compass is telling you something completely different. That’s how you live as a Christian. You just keep looking at this promise because this promise can’t lie to you. It’s impossible for God to lie. Now, above and beyond that, God gives us subjective experiences, but they are secondary. In terms of the assurance of salvation. The primary evidence you have is objective. But many times God privileges us with secondary experiences. I’ll give you one from my own life. I went all the way through high school. I have no idea really how I graduated from high school to be honest with you, because my major was basketball, basically. And I just- I hated reading. I just hated it. Well, then I got saved and I remember walking into a Christian bookstore and I just had this desire, Gosh, I need to read this and I need to read that and I need to read that.

And then I thought to myself, Well, where in the world did that come from? So obviously that was a subjective experience that I had. Above and beyond salvation. Now, I will tell you that sometimes that subjective desire is there today. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I go back to my basketball major and I just want to watch ESPN all day. So I can’t determine whether I’m really a Christian, but I do have a desire to read the word of God or spiritual things or not. So Lewis Sperry Chafer, I think, articulates this better than anyone. He says There is a normal Christian experience. There are new and blessed emotions and desires. Old things do pass away; and behold, all things become new. Now look at what he says here. But all such experiences are but secondary experiences, as to the fact of salvation, in that they grow out of the positive repose of faith which is the primary evidence. What’s the primary evidence? The objective standard. John 5:24. What are the secondary evidences? The kinds of things that Paul is talking about here with the Thessalonians? Joy in the midst of tribulation. And so you need to get this straight, because one of the greatest attacks, I believe, by Satan on the Christian mind is to convince people that they’re not really Christians. Because if you spend your whole life as a Christian wondering if you are a Christian, you’re not going to be very effective for the things of God.

It’s like the story that is told of the workers on the Golden Gate Bridge. As you know, when you fall off the Golden Gate Bridge, you plummet to your death because you’re so high up that it’s like your body hits cement. And so the workers are up there trying to build this bridge. And yet at the same time, they were very nervous about falling. And so they were unproductive in their task of building the bridge. Well, then one day someone had an idea. Gosh, why don’t we put a net up? So that if the workers fall off, they won’t die. They’ll fall into a net. Giant net. And every single study demonstrated that the moment that that decision was made and the workers were secure. Their productivity in building the bridge skyrocketed. And that’s how it is in the Christian life. You’re going to worry your whole Christian life, whether you’re really a Christian or not. All of that is energy and emotion that could be channeled into something more productive. It is your right as a child of God. It is your right. It is your birthright to know that you’re saved; that there is 100% chance, which isn’t a chance at all, that upon death, absent from the body is to be what? Present with the Lord.

You may have had a great week in the Lord. That promise is yours. You may have had a lousy week in the Lord. That promise is yours. Because it’s made to you by Jesus. That’s what John 5:24 is saying. And once you get solidified in that it’s really one of the most important theological issues to get nailed down. Once you believe not just in eternal security, but the assurance of salvation; and those are two different ideas. Eternal security is once saved always saved. We think that’s a true doctrine. Assurance of salvation is Do I know that I have eternal security? It’s not enough just to teach eternal security. You have to also teach the assurance of salvation that you have, indeed, salvation. And once you get settled on eternal security and assurance of salvation, just like those workers on the Golden Gate Bridge, watch how your life will be different for Jesus. Look at the things that He will start to pull off through your life because you’re no longer worrying about something that God said He took care of a long time ago. And your energy can be directed in the right place. So when Paul talks about these things: The full conviction of the Holy Spirit, Joy in the midst of tribulation, he’s dealing with secondary evidences. And as important as those are, there’s even a more fundamental evidence, which is the primary evidence or the objective evidence of the Promises of God.

So obviously these Thessalonians were not talked into something here. There was an authentic, real conversion. They had the primary evidence and if that weren’t enough, they had subjective evidences. They were doing things that were totally supernatural. They had joy in the midst of tribulation which is only possible through the Holy Spirit’s ministry. And then verse 7, they became a missionary team without ever sending out a missionary team. They became an example to those in Macedonia and the Achaia because everyone else was talking about the Thessalonians. And they never sent any missionaries into Macedonia or Achaia. Verse 7. So Paul is saying to them, verse 7, and we’ll get into this next week. We’ll have to stop here. But he’s saying to them in verse 7, You became a missionary endeavor without formally sending out any missionaries because everybody was talking about your supernatural walk of God. Your joy in the midst of tribulation. And so you are actually an example to people you’ve never even met. Now who could do that other than God himself? And so we’ll pick it up there verse 7. And try to read, if you could, for next time verses 7 through 10 of Chapter 1. Father, we’re grateful for your truth. Grateful for the Thessalonians and what You accomplish through them. We pray that You would do something similar right here at Sugar Land Bible Church. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said, Happy intermission.