Moving closer to God or moving away from Him? How does true salvation looks like?
Below are the notes from one of my recent sermons in my assembly. Hopefully, it can contribute to your understanding of the topic of true salvation. How do you distinguish genuine and disingenuous salvation?
I Thessalonians 1:4-10
One of the biggest tragedies, even in today’s worldwide pandemic time, is this- The pious and religious people who want to acknowledge and accept the living God move away from God. In all their sincere desire and passion for knowing God intimately, unfortunately, the sad truth emerges when they move away instead of moving closer to Him. This happens in Christian denominations and other religious circles. You see, religion and its meticulous humanmade practices can never make you closer to God. Moving closer to God and understanding His plans and purposes for your life happens not with religious practices but with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The people in Thessalonica were religious enough to serve humanmade idols in their lives. Their desire and good intention of knowing God and fulfilling His plans were intense and sincere. However, in their pious and religious mindset, they moved away from the true and living God than moving closer to Him.
Moving toward and closer to God is called ‘conversion.’ The Bible calls this change in different terms like repentance, born again, and salvation.
From the 1st chapter of the Book of Thessalonians, we will discover how true conversion, salvation, or born again looks. How do we distinguish between honestly pious and religious people and the truly converted or saved ones? We come across genuinely religious and pious people. However, are they truly converted, saved, and born again to know God and His plans and purposes for their lives? How does true salvation happen? What are the ingredients behind true salvation? What are the results of true conversion, and what is the over all story?
The Mystery of real conversion or salvation
The true conversion has two sides –divine and human.
Thessalonians 1:4 says, “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you.” Stop right there and think about what you read. The first thing always comes first! What is the first thing? God must choose you. Bible affirms the doctrine of election. It means that God chose those who would be saved. True salvation always begins with the choice of God. It does not start with our choice or desire. We do not choose God. God chooses us. Jesus said, and it is recorded in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit…” Bible says in Ephesian 1:4 what time or when God chose you. It says, “even as He (God, the Father) chose us in Him (Jesus, the Son of God) before the foundation of the world.” It continues to say in verse4 that, “He (God, the Father) predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ (Son of God) for Himself (God, the Father). This choice in the eternal past (even before he made the foundations of the world-which means before God created the world), was based on His favor and will. He did this for the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us within the beloved (Jesus).
Bible says in 1 John 4:10, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son (Jesus) as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 2 Timothy 1:9 says our conversion or salvation is “not because we deserved it, but because of His plans from before the beginning of time in order to show His grace through Christ Jesus.”
You see, this is the divine side of the right conversion or salvation. That is why Paul wrote in verse 4, “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you.” Do you understand God’s choice of you flows from His love toward you and nothing else? Bible says in Malachi 1 and Romans 9:13 that God loved Jacob. Humanly we do not understand why God loved Jacob and chose him. Jacob was a deceiver and cunning man. We do not know why God did not choose his brother Esau either.
Ephesians 1:9 says there is Mystery in God’s will that we do not understand fully now on this side of the eternity because we see now in a mirror dimly. However, we will fully understand later when we are in heaven, and we will hear and see things face to face and fully know the truth behind all at that time. We are not going to understand the divine side or Mystery of our conversion/salvation now. However, the divine side of God’s choice or the election is, in fact, revealed in the pages of the Bible.
God’s choice in salvation informs us assures two points – God saves us. I can’t save myself. The First thing must happen first. God chose you. Secondly, because God loved you and chose you, flowing from the source of His love, a true believer chosen by God and saved, is eternally secure. This is why Bible says in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, not things present, nor things to come, not powers, nor height, not depth, not any other created things, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Verse 5 and 6 gives the human side of the true conversion. The first thing is first: God chose, predestined, and adopted you in Jesus Christ even before the foundation of the world in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and his efficacious work on the cross on behalf of you. Now verse 5 says the Gospel (the good news) came to you not merely with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. Verse 6 says, as a result, the new believers in the city of Thessalonica welcomed the message. Chapter 2 verse 13 says they “received the word of God, which they heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in your who believe.” Do you see the two sides of salvation? God’s choice and the election became effective in the lives of the people of Thessalonica by the preaching of the Gospel to them. The word of God or the preaching of the Gospel is not just human words. It has God’s power and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the hearers. Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Why? “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Listen! Two people can hear the Gospel/good news of God’s word, and they could respond in two different ways. One hears the word and does not accept it in his or her heart. The other hears, welcomes, and accepts the message, as it is from God. Regarding those who welcomes and accepts the message, chapter 2:13 (c) says the word of God works in them to believe in it. Those who hear, welcome the message, the Holy Spirit of God grants deep conviction as the word of God works inside them.
This is what we do in teachbible.org also. Most every day, we send the words of God, the Gospel. We do not know who would respond to the reading or hearing of our message. We do not see how it all work. However, do you know God promised in the Bible that His word that He sends would never return void? He promised it would accomplish its purpose. (Isaiah 55;11). We do not know in whom the Holy Spirit’s convicting works happen. However, we believe in the promise of God He made in the scripture. These are the human sides of the true conversion or salvation.
Now, as we understood the divine and human side of salvation, we will look into the results of conversion.
The results of conversion.
Chapter 1:6 says the new believers in Christ in the city of Thessalonica “became imitators of us (Paul, Silas, and Timothy) and the Lord.” Did you notice, not only they became imitators of them and also of the Lord? How? It says how it happens. It says for they welcomed the word of God in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. There are loads of packed meanings in the statement. “The first result of their conversion is that they accepted God’s word amid severe suffering. How did it happen? Because of their joy in the word of God given by the Holy Spirit. They found divine joy because the Holy Spirit gave them the joy of the word of God. Do you have the Holy Spirit’s joy in hearing, welcoming, and accepting the word of God? It is one of the proofs of genuine conversion or salvation.
The other outcome of the conversion is in verse 7. It says they “became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” The new believers in Christ in Thessalonica not only became the imitators of them and the Lord in welcoming the word of God in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit, but they also became a model to all other believers in their neighboring areas. In other words, they had a new and changed life. They not only welcomed and accepted the word of God, but also lived it. A changed life can make an impact for Jesus wherever you live, family, and workplace. We often erroneously think new believers would make a difference in other people’s life by becoming a full-time missionary in other countries. First of all, right where they were living, they could influence their new and changed life found in Christ. Then verse 8(b) their faith in God became known everywhere. They had a story to tell to people in their immediate areas and even to people everywhere.
You see, Jesus said just before His ascension into heaven and charged the disciples with a commission called Great Commission. Acts 1 says they wanted to know the time the Lord Jesus would establish the promised kingdom. However, Jesus said, “it is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” You see the progression the Lord expects from his followers in this passage. The Gospel’s message must vibrate to our immediate areas and then to the end of the earth. Jerusalem is the place the first-century disciples lived. That is where they would announce first and then to the next immediate area called Judea and then to Samaria and then to the end of the world. The new believers in Christ in Thessalonica were obedient to the Great Commission the Lord Jesus gave. Obedience to the great commission is a proof of your genuine salvation.
The Story of Conversion
The story of your salvation is your personal story. The story is unique to each person who came to the Lord Jesus for salvation. It merely says, how did it all happen? Verse 9 and 10 describe the story of the believers in Christ in Thessalonica. They were idol worshippers before. It was a unique story of their life before they welcomed and accepted the word of the living God. Thessalonica was a large port city on the Aegean Sea in modern day-Greece. The number of people then was around 200,000. The city was filled with pagan idol worshippers. Idol worship, full list of Greek and Roman gods, and the city of Thessalonica was well known for emperor worship. The city was filled with idols and idol worshippers.
What is your personal story? You can write down your personal story to share with others. Verses 9-10 illustrated the past status, present status, and future status of their salvation story. The truth of the past was that they were merely idol worshippers. However, something else happened to them. What was it? The word of God, the gospel message, came to them with its power and the Holy Spirit’s conviction. They welcomed, accepted it. As a result, they “turned from idols to the living God from idols.” This is their beautiful and surprising story of the past.
Turned to the living God from idols. The word ‘turned’ became effective in their lives in time, because God chose them for Him even before He created the whole world (the divine side), Paul preached the truth of the Gospel with all its inherent power and with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and they welcomed, accepted, and believed in the message of the living God (human side). Turning here means a change of mindset. You have been thinking one way so far. Now you believe another different way. It happened because of the divine and humans side of the conversion.
Now the verse also gives us the present aspect of their salvation. They are now serving the living and true God. They were serving hand made (humanmade) stones and woods before. Now they serve the living and only true God. What a fantastic change! The present aspect is their service to the one and true living God. No more serving lifeless wood and stones. But now serving the living and only true God.
A change of service resulted from their turning to the living God. As Paul alluded in the book of Romans in chapter 4, idols are nothing. They are not God. They are not sin in themselves.They are just wood or human-made images. However, it becomes a god based on the worth or value you attribute to them. Now for many other people like some of us, we did not serve hand made images or idols in the past. However, we still served some so-called gods, although they are not made out of wood or stones. It could be their strong desires, passions or mental images or imaginations. The value and worth you give to something dear to you has the potential to become an idol. Then we can become idol worshippers and moving away from God.
“Turned to God from idols” means you turned away from serving what you valued dearly and highly before to serve the will, plan, and purpose of the living God for the rest of your life. God’s will is revealed in the person and the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. What is God’s first and foremost will? Jesus said, and it is recorded in John 6:40, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son (Jesus) and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The first and foremost will of God for you is your look at God’s Son, who died for your sins on the cross and believe in Him for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life. A truly converted believer in Christ becomes a life of service to the living and one true God. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20 this -“I have been crucified with Christ: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live I live by believing in God’s Son, who loved me and took the punishment for my sins.” GW.
Not only presently, they are serving the living God but also verse 1st Thessalonians 1:10 says another aspect of their present life in Christ. It says, “to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus.” Acts 1:9-10 says Jesus was standing among the disciples after his resurrection. After Jesus gave the Great Commission, Jesus was taken up before their very eyes, gone up and up in the air as they were stunned and staring at him. Then a cloud hid Jesus from their eyes. Suddenly, two men dressed in white stood next to the disciples and said, “men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken away from you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” This is the account of the ascension of Jesus into heaven after his life and works on our behalf on this earth.
Our passage in Thessalonians says the Christ believers in the city waits for his Son from heaven, whom God raised from the dead. They look up to the sky for the return of Jesus from heaven. A believer in Christ continuously waits for the return of Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. It says they wait for the return of Jesus from heaven, “who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The return of Christ is mentioned in all five chapters of the book of 1st book of Thessalonians. ‘Wrath of God to come’ is a special mention about God’s future wrath against all wickedness, rebelliousness, and unbelieving nature of the world and its people. Chapter 5:9 says this about the coming wrath of God in this sinful world. It says there, “For God has not destined us to for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those who are saved by the blood of Christ are not destined for this coming wrath of God the world would be faced with. Contrary, they are destined for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Bible describes in detail about this future wrath on the unbelieving world in the book of Revelation chapters 6 through 18. However, the whole church, which consists of all saved believers by Christ’s blood, would be raptured prior to this future wrath of God on this wicked world. The church is seen in heaven with God and Jesus Christ in chapter 5 of the book of Revelation prior to the unleashing of God’s wrath on this wicked and God rejecting world. This incident of catching up all saved believers in Christ (the church) in to the sky at the return of Christ to the clouds is called the ‘rapture,’ and you can read about this in 1s Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1st Corinthians 15:51-57. This is the future tense of the hope of the believers in Christ.
Now the whole world is experiencing an unprecedented time of the pandemic, which is seen in one way as God’s wrath against the ingratitude of people for what He had already done. Many were least concerned about God and His will and plan in their lives. Many lived in a free sinful lifestyle for an extended period. In one way, God can judge and punish people for not keeping his commandments and expectations. However, God is love, and those who would turn to Him by finding refuge in the salvation available through Jesus would be saved from the coming worldwide wrath, which the Bible talks about in the old testament and new testament. All what we see and experience now are nothing but the beginning of the birth pains (Matthew 24:8). 1st Thessalonians 5:3 says, while people are saying, there is peace and security, then sudden destruction will come upon them (notice the usage ‘them’ not ‘us’ who are saved by believing in God’s salvation through Jesus Christ) as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
The main points we discussed are:
The Mystery of true conversion-divine and human side. The need for a balanced view of the divine and human aspect in the true salvation,
The proofs of true conversion –welcoming, accepting and believing in the word of God, the message of the Gospel of salvation, imitating the apostles and the Lord Jesus Christ in lifestyle which means living the word welcomed, received and believed by a change in life and spreading of the word of God in immediate areas even up to the end of the earth.
The story of true conversion-what is the story of your conversion?
Thessalonians’ turned from idols” –Not any more serving the lifeless idols or sinful passions of the world but serving the living God, and they wait for the return of Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come.
If you never come to Jesus, the only savior of the whole world as of yet, you can come to him and receive salvation, forgiveness of sins, eternal life and rescue from the coming wrath of God on this wicked world by praying with me now. Why don’t you do it just now? The angels and the whole heaven would be joyful over you. God accepts you to His household as His adopted child when you come now.
Got a moment for today’s prayer? Father in heaven, I thank you because you loved me and chose me for salvation even before you made the foundation of this world. I accept Jesus as my savior and Lord. I believe Jesus died, buried and rose again for my sins. Please forgive my sins. Please save me and grant me eternal life in heaven with you. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.”