Print  

Genuine Conversion

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Thu. Oct 9th 2014
In the opening section of his letter Paul, the Apostle, describes the attributes that reveal a genuine conversion to Christ.

Let's review the main points of study before moving on to the text of I Thessalonians.

  1. Thessalonica was an important port city in Macedonia – cosmopolitan, rich, worldly.
  2. Paul established a church here in 51 AD when he spent approximately a month preaching in the local synagogue.
  3. He was run out of town by Jewish leaders and eventually made his way to Corinth, which was in southern Greece.
  4. After receiving a report from Timothy concerning the progress and problems the Thessalonians were having since his departure, he writes two letters to this young church in order to:
    • Express his joy of their faithfulness
    • Defend his conduct while among them
    • Encourage them
    • Give them more teaching on specific matters

We are studying these epistles so that, like the Thessalonians, we too can understand more about the second coming, and be prepared for it.

Salutation – I Thessalonians 1:1

The first section of this epistle is the salutation and it is contained in the first verse.

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
- I Thessalonians 1:1

Note that as an apostle Paul puts his name first; Silvanus (which was the Roman name of Silas) is mentioned second because he was chosen to accompany Paul on the second missionary journey once Barnabas and Mark went their own way to Cyprus; Timothy is last because he is the youngest.

He refers to them as the church or the "called out" among the Thessalonians. They were called to come out from the Thessalonian city to be with God through Christ. This is what the term "church" means.

Grace and peace are the normal ways Paul uses to greet brethren. Grace is what you receive, all the spiritual blessings in Christ. Peace is what these blessings (forgiveness, adoption, righteousness, etc.) make you feel. Peace is the end result of grace.

Note how Paul puts all the names on an equal footing:

  • God – Supreme Being
  • Father – same as
  • Lord – Greek word for Jehovah
  • Jesus – Lord's human name (Joshua)
  • Christ – Lord's title

The word "father" means source and is not a reference to "maleness" but to origin.

Paul begins by putting God and Jesus as equal, and himself, his co-workers and his readers as one single unit within the circle of the Godhead.

Thanksgiving – 1:2-10

In the next section Paul goes from his salutation of these people to the giving of thanks to God because of them.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers.
- I Thessalonians 1:2

When Paul and the others pray, they give thanks because when they remember the Thessalonians they recall the things that God has done in their lives.

Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you;
- I Thessalonians 1:3-4

Paul describes 4 things that they remember about these people that cause them to give thanks.

1. Their work of faith – this refers to the things they did because of their faith. It also confirms that they had the right kind of faith: faith that worked and served. Faith that doesn't work is not true faith.

2. Labor of love – this signifies and emphasizes the intensity of their work: it was hard work, it was an effort, it caused fatigue as true work often does. It was a labor of love in that those who worked because of faith persevered even when tired, because of their love. The effort, inconvenience, and expense of serving the church is not given because it's a pleasure – it is given because you love and you love because you believe.

3. The steadiness of their hope – there is a difference between "wishing" and the idea of Biblical hope. For example, the lazy student only wishes he will pass the final exam; the good student has hope/confidence that he will pass.

The Thessalonians had biblical hope (confident expectation – not just cross my fingers and make a wish kind of hope). They were confident that God would deliver on His promise of eternal life. Their perseverance in loving service was sparked by their initial faith and kept alive by their unswerving hope/confidence in God and His promises.

When you lose hope it is usually a sign that your faith and love are weak. Paul says that all of these things are done in the presence of God who accepts our love but sees past our loving work to the faith that motivates it (man only sees the work, God sees the faith) and because of this He guarantees and strengthens our hope of eternal life. This creates a life affirming cycle that produces peace and joy in our hearts.

4. Genuine conversion – in seeing their faith, hope and love Paul is reassured that they are truly chosen of God and loved by God. We know we are sons of God because of this working faith, sustaining love and enduring hope. This is how we can know the true from the fake. Paul is also assured of their position with God because of the circumstances surrounding the time when they became Christians. He knew and was assuring them that theirs was a genuine conversion for four reasons he mentions in the following verses:

The message they heard was from God.

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction;
- I Thessalonians 1:5a

Paul and his workers were motivated by the power/inspiration of the Holy Spirit since it was a vision that initially brought them to Macedonia. They knew that it was God's word that they spoke and not man's (like the false teachers that were harassing many churches of that time). The messengers were fully convicted concerning their message – that it was truly from God they had no doubt. This should be the same criteria for our own salvation.

  • Has what we believed come from God or man-made religion?
  • What gives us courage to reach out to others is not the size of our church but the power of the message.
  • If it is God's message then we have all the power we will ever need.

They knew their conversion was genuine because:

The messengers were godly.

just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
- I Thessalonians 1:5b

Not only was the message from God, the messengers acted in a godly way. The power of the message is regulated by the quality of the messenger. (i.e. Which would be more valuable to you: a printed invitation addressed to you to attend a special occasion or email in your spam folder?)

The Apostles had a clear conscience and acted honorably among the new converts because their message was credible. Sometimes we're not effective in winning others to Christ because our example is interfering with the message. If a person doesn't see anything special in you because of Christ, why should they believe? Paul knew that his conduct was perfectly in line with the message he preached.

They knew their conversion was genuine because:

The message produced a change.

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
- I Thessalonians 1:6

The Thessalonians began imitating the Apostles as the Apostles imitated the Lord. How? They were convinced that the message was from God Himself, just as the Apostles were convinced when they received it from Jesus. They improved their conduct and they obeyed the word despite the pressure from the Jews and pagans around them. They maintained a joyful heart despite hardship and persecution, just like the Apostles did.

The truest proof of a sincere conversion to Jesus Christ is a change in lifestyle. The greater the change, the greater the assurance of a full and complete conversion. If you're not any different now than you were before you became a Christian, you're not really born again, you've merely changed religions. Lots of people change their religion for a variety of reasons, only converted people change their hearts, like the Thessalonians.

Finally, Paul knew and was thankful for their true conversion because:

They became the message.

So that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
- I Thessalonians 1:7-10

The Apostle had no need to speak about this church, the fact that they had responded with enthusiasm, obedience and perseverance was an inspiration to all other believers. As Christians we not only have a duty to the lost but also to other believers in other congregations to be a light of encouragement. You must become the voice of God to the lost and a voice of encouragement to the brethren in order to be fully mature.

Summary

Let's summarize this opening section. Paul is writing to this young church that he has established and he is rejoicing and giving thanks for them in his opening prayer. He is thankful because he is sure that they are God's chosen children for two main reasons:

1. He is sure of their conversion.

He is sure that they received God's word from God's workers in a godly way. He sees that their conversion has produced the proper results: a changed lifestyle, hard work, faithfulness, hope for heaven and a loving heart. Many times people run into spiritual trouble because they are not careful about examining their conversion. When people are not taught correctly at conversion, they don't persevere for very long. It is proper to examine carefully how a person came to Christ to make sure that it was done in accordance to God's word, and not man's religious ideas.

2. Paul rejoices because of their growth.

Paul is happy because he did his work properly and God is blessing it with a rich harvest of faith, hope and love among the Thessalonians. This should motivate us to do our work carefully and strictly according to the Scriptures when studying with others. Aside from the relationship between Paul and this church that we see in these opening verses, there is also a very practical layout of the normal steps of development an individual should go through as he/she matures in Christ:

Step #1 - Conversion to imitation. Initial conversion develops into an effort to imitate our mentors and teachers in Christ. They are the models we try to emulate as we begin to turn away from our old life to our new one.

Step #2 - Imitation to example. The constant effort to imitate begins to bear fruit as we slowly change to resemble more mature and Christ-like Christians. Christians look alike, act in unison, go in the same direction.

Step #3 - Example to conversion. Our example begins to draw new converts who try to imitate us. This completes the cycle in our growth from converted to converter. We should examine ourselves to see where we are in the process, personally and congregationally.

Reading Assignment:  I Thessalonians 2:1-3:13

"BibleTalk materials are well done and contain sound Bible Teaching. I encourage churches to become aware of this excellent service."


Dr. Stafford North
Professor of Bible
Oklahoma Christian University