You’ve Been Changed

// October 14th, 2018 // Sermons

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series Last Days Christianity

How would you and I define who a Christian is?… You can listen online or download it and listen later…You’ve Been Changed

What is the difference between being a Christian and being religious?

This is the start of a new sermon series – I’ve called it Last Days Christianity – based on the small NT letter to the church at Thessalonica – the book of First Thessalonians.

If you are unfamiliar with the Bible, you might have trouble finding the book because is it short.  The NT starts with the Gospels, then, Acts, Romans and the 2 letters to the Corinthians; followed by Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians…and that takes us to 1 Thessalonians.

I find that there are many Christians today who feel ill-equipped to live in Light of Jesus’ Return.  Thus, the need for this study.  At the start of a new book study we need to get a bit of a grasp of the setting of 1 Thessalonians:

  1. One of the oldest books in the NT. Dated approximately 50-52 A.D. meaning that it was written less than 20 years after Jesus’ died.

It is one of the earliest pictures we have of the Christian church in the very beginning.  The only NT books that may be older than 1 Thessalonians are Galatians and James.

  1. One of the shortest books in the NT –only 79 verses and can easily be read in about 30 minutes.
  2. An easy book to understand. Romans has some complicated theology, but in 1 Thess. Paul writes simple, clear, and direct.  This is not a doctrinal treatise but, a short letter to a young church.
  3. A practical book. Paul deals with a wide range of truth – with true conversion, integrity, compassion, God’s Word, heavenly rewards, suffering, prayer, moral purity, hard work, the Second Coming of Christ, the role of spiritual leaders, dealing with difficult people, and testing spiritual gifts.  Because it is so clear, everyone can understand its message.

In Acts 17:1-9 we find the story of the founding of the church in Thessalonica.  Thessalonica was a seaport town in ancient Greece – an important crossroads for East-West travel.  The port’s harbor attracted ships from every part of the Mediterranean Sea.  The famous Egnatian Way that connected Rome with Asia, and the east, passed through Thessalonica.  And so, whatever happened in Thessalonica would soon spread everywhere.

Paul’s brief ministry resulted in a small congregation made up mostly of converted Greeks, a few believing Jews and some leading women of the town – a predominately Gentile congregation.  Paul left the city before he really wanted to, causing some of the younger believers to wonder about him and his ministry; and some were tempted to give up their faith under the continuing pressure.

From here, Paul went to Athens – there he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the church was doing, while he travelled to Corinth.  Timothy told Paul that the church was doing well but was under severe pressure to give in.  Also, there were rumors about why Paul had left town so suddenly, and, there were some moral and doctrinal problems.

Paul wanted to go back but there were circumstances that prevented him, so he wrote a letter of encouragement, a letter that reveals his heart.  Romans tells us what he believed; 1 Thessalonians tells us what he was like as a person.

He starts his letter like this – “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.  We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

These opening words must have been so encouraging to them, as new believers.  Paul tells them they are the “church in God.”  He reminds them that they know Jesus; they had experienced grace and peace from God and thanks God for them.  Do you and I thank God for His people?

Paul mentions faith, hope and love.  The Christian life begins in faith, continues in love, and culminates in the hope of eternal life.

If they wondered how Paul felt about them, and if they were tempted to doubt the work of God in their midst, they need only read and re-read these opening verses.  Paul points to his short time with them and the fact that God had been powerfully at work in those few weeks.

Then, after that introduction the next few verses deal with their conversion.  Step by step Paul shows how they became fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Lloyd Ogilvie, in his book, “Life As It Was Meant To Be” wrote: “The great need today is for the conversion of religious people who, though they believe in God, are heading away from Him and not toward Him.” He goes on to say that true conversion always comes in response to God’s call and always results in a radical change of the person’s whole life.  Conversion changes our direction – a change that lasts.

As we look at these verses, we need to consider whether we have been truly converted to Jesus Christ.  So, how is a Christian defined?

  1. Pre-Conversion Activity

He answers the question – What must happen before conversion?  Paul tells us that in order for a person to be converted two things must happen first – one is from God’s side and one from our side – God’s side must always come first.

  1. God’s Side – v. 3 – “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” What must happen first? God must choose you.

In theological terms, this is the doctrine of election – it simply means that God chooses those who will be saved.  Salvation starts with God choosing us — not us choosing God.

The Bible teaches that election comes out of the love of God.  That’s why Paul calls these new believers “brothers loved by God.”  Election is not a means of sending lost sinners to hell but for rescuing them from hell.

This side of heaven we won’t really understand all the mysteries of this doctrine – but we need to see two things:  1) Salvation is God’s work, not man, and 2) All true believers are eternally secure.  Matt. 24:13 reads, “He that endures to the end shall be saved.”

So, from God’s side, conversion begins with God choosing to save lost sinners.  Then,

  1. Man’s Side

Our gospel came to you and me with words and with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.  God’s choosing was made effective through the preaching of the gospel to the Thessalonian people.  The Word was preached with the power of the Holy Spirit, producing deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers.

When Paul wrote, “not with words only,” he means that it was because of his clever persuasion – it was and is the Holy Spirit who takes our words and He makes them come alive.  I get to experience this over and over again.

It is the Holy Spirit who takes human words in preaching and makes them “come alive” inside the human heart.  Sunday by Sunday I never know how people will respond.  All I know is that as I preach God promises that His Word will accomplish what He intends – it will never return having missed the mark.  It will always accomplish His purpose.

That’s why we ought to pray for the preaching of the Word, that it might be accompanied with the power of God’s Spirit.  For without that power, even the best preaching is useless to change human hearts.

So, first, we looked at Pre-Conversion Activity, now…

  1. Conversion Activity

Paul now looks at the evidence of conversion and answers the question, “What should we look for?”  I want us to see three answers that revolve around how you respond to God’s Word.

  1. Did you welcome the Word?
  2. 5b-6 – “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  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.”

Notice the little phrase “in much affliction” – it literally means to be “pressed to the limit.”  It has the idea of being under the thumb of another person, feeling the pressure pushing you down.  In contrast, to “receive/welcome” has the idea of opening your home and heart to another person.  The Thessalonians were so glad to be saved they couldn’t be stopped, not even by persecution.

We tend to take our tremendous blessings from the Lord, for granted.  But, in many countries around the world – Russia, China, India, Pakistan and so many more…every day is gift from God and every Sunday is like an oasis in their desert of suffering.

True conversion means that you continue to follow Christ even when the going gets rough!

Jesus never invites us to receive him on a 30-day trial basis, although some try to do that.  In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  True conversion means that you continue to follow Christ even when the going gets rough!

  1. Do you live the Word? 
  2. 7 – “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”Thessalonica was the capital city of the province of Macedonia what happened in Thessalonica wouldn’t stay in Thessalonica.  People far and wide were talking about what was happening in Thessalonica.

The word “model” is the Greek word tupos, which refers to the impression left by a piece of metal when pressed into clay.  This is a great secret of evangelism.  The best way to win others is by the example of your own changed life.

Remember what Jesus said to the man who wanted to travel with Jesus, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19).  A satisfied customer is always the best advertisement for any product.  The best place for you to make an impact for Christ is right where you are.

You don’t have to go overseas to be a missionary.  You can start by living for Christ and showing others the difference he makes on a daily basis.

  1. Are you speaking the Word?
  2. 8 – “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.” There’s a wonderful word picture in this verse. When Paul says the message “rang out,” he uses a term from the orchestra – it means to strike the cymbal.

As the Thessalonians shared Christ, the message reverberated throughout the region.  Whatever happened in Thessalonica was soon talked about in the entire region.  One commentator wrote, “The Thessalonians sounded ‘Reville’ and the whole province woke up.”

This is the evidence of conversion:  First you receive God’s Word gladly, and then you live it.  When you do, the message of the gospel reverberates in every direction!  Those around you sit up and take notice.

III. Conversion Proof

  1. 9-10 answer the question: “How does it happen?” This is where truth must become personal for you and me.

These two verses are the Three Tenses of the Christian Life.  They describe the past, present and future of those who have been converted.

  1. In the Past

V.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.”  This was true of the Thessalonians.  They had been idol-worshipers before coming to Christ, but now their lives were dramatically and utterly transformed.

How had it happened?  They “turned to God.”  This is what conversion is all about.  The Bible uses the word “repentance” to describe this act.

In the OT there are two Hebrew words for repentance.

  • “nacham” – which means to turn around, to change the mind. In the OT, when you see the word repentance, it usually is this word.
  • The 2nd word is the word “sub” – which is used over 600 times in the OT – translated by words like “turn,” “return,” “seek,” “restore.” It fits with phrases like “turn to the Lord with all your heart.”

Repentance means to change your mind about something.

In the NT there is one word — the Greek word “metanoia”.  Meta means “to change the mind.”  Repentance means to change your mind about something – change the way you think about something.  You’ve been thinking one way, but now you think the opposite way.  That’s repentance—the changing of the mind.

Suppose you wanted to learn how to parachute.  You go to a parachute school and they show you how to rig up your gear, how to pull the rip cord and how to land safely.  Finally the day comes when they take you up in an airplane.  You are scared to death and then comes the moment when it’s your turn to jump.  You go to the open door of the airplane and look down 2,500 feet to the ground.  Your legs get weak, you are about to throw up, and somebody behind you is trying to push you out of the airplane.  At the last second you say, “No. I’m not going to do it.” They say, “Go ahead, you can do it.”  You say, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to jump.”  And you don’t.  You have repented, changed your mind in a decisive way.

That is how repentance works.  Repentance is a change in my thinking that leads to a change in how I live!  Repentance is a decisive change in direction.  It’s a change of mind which leads to a change of thinking which leads to a change of attitude which leads to a change of feeling which leads to a change of values which leads to a change in the way I live my life.

That’s why the typical OT word for repentance is “turn.”  Turning is always involved in repentance.  That is the past, next…

  1. In the Present

Conversion fundamentally is a change of Gods.  Once you served sin and self, now you serve the living and true God!  You used to bow down to the idols of pleasure, power, material gain and worldly approval, now you bow the knee to Jesus.  Once you served the dead gods of this world, now you serve the living God!

This sums up the whole truth of the Christian life.  We are here to serve God day by day, moment by moment.  We are His servants, put here to do His bidding, acting on His behalf, always seeking His best interests and hoping always to please Him.  You either serve self or you serve God!  And then,

  1. In the Future

We turn, we serve, and we wait for Jesus to return.  The Second Coming is not some obscure doctrine which we may believe or not believe, depending on our preference.  It is the fundamental motivation for the entire Christian life.

Conversion happens when you turn to God.  It is “an intentional turning of oneself to God.”  It does not happen by accident, does not automatically happen; no one turn for you.  You must decide to turn to God.

Conversion also means turning from your idols to the living and true God.  It’s either your idols or your God – you cannot have both!

The Thessalonians religion, built on idols.  It generated fear, vengeance, immorality, demonism, and slavery.  It permeated every aspect of society.

For a Christian to reject those and follow Jesus Christ meant rejecting the very foundation of society itself.  But, that is what Jesus calls people to, and that is what the Thessalonians had done.

Not all idols are made of wood or stone or metal.  We have our idols today—only they are more sophisticated.  An idol is anything in the world which we look to as an ultimate source of value.  A job, a house, a car, a title, a position, a possession, a prized relationship — these all become idols when we look to them for our sense of worth and values.

Remember, the sin is not in the wood or metal or stone.  Those things are morally neutral.  Carvings or images are not sinful, it is the meaning or value attached to them that makes them sinful.  Anything good can become and idol.  In Summary:

  1. Conversion is an act of God that starts with God’s choice of me.
  2. When gospel is proclaimed with conviction, by Spirit-empowered men and women, I face a choice.
  3. Conversion – a transformed life – happens when I receive, live and speak God’s Word.
  4. Conversion involves turning from idols to the true and living God.
  5. Conversion leads to a life of service and waiting for Christ’s return.

Either you are converted or you aren’t.  Unless you are converted you will never go to heaven!

How can you be converted?  The answer is simple.  You must transfer your trust away from yourself and place it fully upon Jesus Christ.

The Christian life begins with conversion!  Without conversion there is no Christian life and if you are not converted, you are not a Christian.

I urge you to turn to God from the idols of your heart.  If you want to be converted, turn.  If you desire a new life, turn.

If you are not sure if you are converted, I urge you with all that is in me, to turn to God.  Turn from your sin, your idols, your past, from all that is evil -turn to God and say, “Lord Jesus, I transfer my trust to you as my Savior and Lord.”  There is no conversion without repentance, without turning…so turn!

Let’s pray…

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