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1 Thessalonians 1:4-8 by Robert Dean
When you open a Bible are you almost overwhelmed by its complexity and vast knowledge? Listen to this lesson to learn ways to organize the contents into understandable principles. Follow a flow chart that takes a believer through the spiritual skills, beginning in spiritual childhood, moving to adolescence and on into spiritual maturity. Learn about the three phases of the Christian life and accept that testing and adversity will be a part of our experience. Rest in God's promise that we will never be tested beyond our ability to endure it and that passing these tests will result in eternal rewards.
Series:1 Thessalonians (2013)
Duration:58 mins 40 secs

Imitating Christ – Part 2
1 Thessalonians 1:3-7
1 Thessalonians Lesson #008
May 1, 2014

What we need to do as pastors and teachers is give people some organizing principles, some coat hangers, as it were, so that they can hang the ten spiritual skills that they are developing in their Christian life.

We have a flow chart here so that we can understand God's plan for our life and how He is moving us through our Christian life ultimately to the end game at glorification. Remember there are three phases to the Christian life. Stage one is called salvation or justification. It happens in a moment in time when we trust in Jesus Christ as savior. We are free from the penalty of sin so that our eternal destiny is secure—heaven with the Lord as a member of the bride of Christ, the church. Then we enter into phase two. This is not a moment of time; it is the whole process of our life in time. Phase one is an instant when we trust in Christ, but in phase two we are working out our salvation, working out the consequences of that new life in Christ, and we are learning to walk by means of the Holy Spirit, learning to walk in the light, learning to walk by means of truth, learning the Word of God so that it reshapes our thinking. We call this phase two sanctification. We are being saved from the power of sin on a day-to-day basis, learning to walk in light of our new position in Christ and not in light of our old position as an unregenerate slave of unrighteousness. Then at death or the Rapture we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord, we are saved from the presence of sin and we spend eternity with God in heaven. At the judgment seat of Christ we will receive rewards based upon how well we did in terms of walking by the Spirit. These rewards have to do ultimately with our roles and responsibilities in the millennial kingdom and on into eternity as members of the body of Christ. Those who do not do well will, the Scripture says, suffer loss, but they will enter the kingdom. They will enter the kingdom but they won't have positions of responsibility, they won't be close to the Lord, they won't be in a position of intimate fellowship.

Phase one salvation: We trust in Christ and at that instant we are justified. We receive the imputation of Christ's righteousness, which means that God credits to our account the righteousness of Christ so that when God looks at what was formerly a bankrupt account what He sees is a note that says don't worry about the bankruptcy of this account. Instead, redirect to this other account that has untold millions in it, and that is the basis for the accreditation of this former account that was bankrupt. It is depicted in Scripture as a robe of righteousness. So even though we are still sinners, even though we are still corrupt because of sin, we receive Christ's righteousness which covers that. It is Christ's righteousness which is the basis for our justification, not our righteousness.

Recently I spoke with Jim Myers. He was talking about a church where he has been teaching in in Kiev. One lady came up to him after about his third lesson when he was going through Romans chapter four and said: "I have been coming to this church for twenty years and I have never heard about imputation." How very sad, but how very common today in a world where pastors frequently fail to explain and teach the Word of God. This is one of the most glorious doctrines of Scripture. My standing before God isn't based on who I am or what I do; it is based on who Jesus is and what He did at the cross. Our salvation is dependent upon His righteousness, not what we do or what we haven't done. That is phase one, our freedom from the penalty of sin.

Once we are saved the question is: what do we do then? James chapter one talks about tests—tests of faith. Actually that should be understood as testing and evaluating the teaching that we have assimilated into our soul. We are going to learn things from the Word of God and then God is going to take us into tests day in and day out to see if we will apply what He has taught us and what He has said. And se we have these tests of doctrine in James 1:2-4. "The testing of your faith produces endurance". We hit the test, it is unexpected, and we have a choice to make. Are we going to apply the Word of God or are we going to go our own way. Are we going to do it like we have always done it and use those self-protective sinful strategies we have developed through most of our life, functioning in arrogance, or are we going to trust the Word of God that is sufficient for us and has given us everything that we need in order to have real, genuine happiness and stability in life?  

So we have these tests of doctrine. The tests emphasize our personal responsibility, our volition, and we can either be positive or negative. If we are positive and we apply the Word of God then we go through a process. When we are applying the Word then because that is energized by God the Holy Spirit, empowered by God the Holy Spirit—1 Thessalonians 1:5 NASB "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction …" That is, by means of power and by means of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides the power and the ability to live the Christian life—this produces Divine good and it produces life, qualitative life, the abundant life that Jesus promised that is ours right now if we live in light of the Word of God. This is turn, according to Romans 12:2, produces evidence: evidence that God's plan is good and righteous and holy, and it produces evidence before the angels in the angelic conflict, and evidence before all mankind to the veracity of God's Word, the goodness of God and His love for us. That goes on to produce, as we see in Romans 5, steadfast endurance. The more we practice perseverance the easier it becomes.

But it is never going to be really easy, is it? Sometimes it is just hard. Sometimes we want to just give up. We feel like the burden on us is so heavy. But we have to learn that promise: God will not tempt us beyond what we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). He will make a way to escape that so that we may be able to endure it. God is faithful and will not allow us to be tested beyond our ability. He is in control. So whenever we go through a test and things seem to be too heavy for us, too hard for us, and we just want to give up and quit the race, God has given us a vote of confidence by putting us under that circumstance and in that situation. He knows that we can handle it because we have the Word of God to do it. The issue is: are we willing to just do what God says to do? Are we willing to apply the truth?

So that produces steadfast endurance and over time and leads to spiritual maturity and spiritual adulthood. In contrast, if we reject God's Word and try to handle the problem on our own, then this either produces sin or it produces human good. The Bible says that either way it is temporal death. We are living like an unbeliever, like a spiritually dead person. It is not producing anything of eternal value, anything of eternal consequence, or that glorifies God. And it leads eventually to spiritual weakness and instability in our lives, what James calls a two-souled person: somebody who just waffles back and forth and their life is characterized by emotional instability because they don't have the Word of God. Eventually, continuing down that path, continuing to walk according to the sin nature, this will lead to spiritual regression. That person will begin to lose ground spiritually and reversing course, and this will lead to a hardened heart. So the issue is: which cycle do we want to spend most of our time in? The upper cycle, walking by the Spirit, or the lower cycle?

If we are walking in the lower cycle the way to go up is to first of all confess our sin. That is the first spiritual skill. The second spiritual skill is walking by means of the Holy Spirit. The way to walk by the Spirit is to utilize the faith-rest drill, grace orientation and doctrinal orientation, as well as the other spiritual skills.

At the end of life we die. Some, in the Rapture generation, will be taken instantly in the blink of an eye to be face to face with the Lord in heaven. At which point we end up at the judgment seat of Christ. All of our works are going to be evaluated, and for those that are produced out of a walk by the Spirit there is going to be rewards and inheritance—that which lasts eternally, that which impacts our eternal position both in the millennial kingdom and in eternity as members of the body of Christ and the bride of Christ. For some, all their works will be burned up because they are wood, hay and straw, according to 1 Corinthians 3:11ff, and the result is going to be temporary shame at the judgment seat of Christ.

1 Thessalonians 1:3 NASB "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."     

That helps us to understand what Paul is saying in terms of faith, hope and love. Work of faith: the faith-rest drill, grace orientation and doctrinal orientation. Those three all work together. Faith always has an object, which is the Word of God. Grace orientation always helps us understand the motivation for learning the Word and the right attitude, which is humility. Patience or endurance of hope focuses on the second level of growth (adolescence); our confident expectation: living today in light of eternity, and labor of love indicates our work in serving God from our personal love for God the Father. All of this is "in our Lord Jesus Christ" because we are in Him as believers in Christ. "In the presence of God the Father", who is omniscient and omnipresent and continuously observing what we are doing, how we are living, how we learning, how we are loving in the Christian life, and how we are growing.

1 Thessalonians 1:4 NASB "knowing, brethren beloved by God, {His} choice of you." This is one of those verses taken out of context, which seems to support a somewhat determinative view of history. Several different views of people have been put forth. One has to do with impersonal determination; another says that everything is pure, raw, random chance.

The Bible splits the difference. In some ways one is true and in other ways the other is true. God in His sovereignty is so powerful and so capable under His omnipotence that He is able to guide and direct history and the details of history according to His plan without violating individual human responsibility. That means that as free agents, even though that freedom is affected by sin, it is not destroyed. We do not become automatons; we are not robots. God is not running the universe according to some arbitrary mechanistic plan, but it is governed by His love and by His omniscience.

The "knowing" in v. 4 is a causative participle. He is saying, "Because we know". That is what he is saying to the Thessalonians: you and I are brethren in Christ and you know something because I have taught you; "your election (His choice of you)". Election is a word that indicates choice or selection and, in this case, by God. It is easy to read a false theology into this without doing our homework on what the Bible teaches about election. Election has to be a choice. God makes elective choices in history for different reasons, not all of which are soteriological. In fact, He doesn't choose who will go to heaven and who will go to hell; that is a fatalistic deterministic doctrine that came out of Augustinian theology. The more I read and discover Augustine, the more I realize that he was affected more by pagan philosophy than he was the Word of God. That was resurrected during the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk before he was saved and before he left the Roman Catholic Church. These doctrines were also picked up by John Calvin and his followers during the Reformation period.

Later on there were challenges to that and the major battle in Reformation history in the early 1600s. In 1614 there was the Synod of Dort where the Armenians who held the one view challenged the Calvinists. The Armenians selected a purely random viewpoint of history. There was true freedom in all of history so that a person could even be saved and then lose his salvation. Everything was ultimately based on human determination. In high Calvinism everything is determined by God—everything. I don't believe that either are true or that either reflect the Word of God.

God, of course, is sovereign. Ultimately God oversees everything in history. But the question is: do we have a small God who oversees history by causing people to either believe or not believe. That is a very small God. A greater God is one that can still accomplish His purposes but without determining the choices of human individuals.

1 Peter 1:2 gives us a little help with this. NASB "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father …" According to a standard, and that standard is the foreknowledge of God. Foreknowledge is an interesting term because among Calvinists foreknowledge has been redefined as knowledge ahead of time, or prescience, but that foreknowledge is that which is part of God's knowledge which determines what will actually happen. In high Calvinism God can't know anything until He first foreknows it. In high Calvinism God does not know the alternatives; God does not know the hypotheticals; God does not know the ifs of history. It is clear from Jesus that He knows exactly the what-ifs of history, for He told Capernaum and other cities that rejected Him that if Sodom and Gomorrah had seen what they had seen they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. He knows what would have happened under a different set of circumstances. This means that God's knowledge is not determinative and that God's omniscience is not based on His foreknowledge, but foreknowledge comes out of His omniscience.

A sub-category of knowing all the knowable is knowing what will happen in contrast to what might happen, what could have happened, what should have happened under different circumstances. And so foreknowledge is God's knowledge ahead of time. In the Calvinist-Armenian debate over election the issue is: on what basis does God choose who will be saved and who will not be saved? Is this simply a random arbitrary selection process that God makes apart from knowledge some time in eternity past. In the Calvinist view God cannot know what will happen until He first determines what will happen, and so God determines that X number of people will be saved and He identifies those individuals. Because He has identified them, then in history they will believe in Christ and will show evidence of that. That leads logically to lordship salvation. It is a perverse teaching that violates the standards of Scripture and imposes a human system upon the Bible. It is just fallacious.

Foreknowledge still doesn't tell us what the criterion is that God uses to makes those elections. What we know is that that the gospel states that whosoever will is saved. That puts the ultimate responsibility for salvation on the individual. Just because there is no clear statement of a criterion doesn't mean there is no criterion. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. God chooses on the basis of something in His knowledge. There are two choices. Logically He chooses on the basis of knowledge or He chooses apart from knowledge. If it is apart from knowledge then it is arbitrary and it is irrational. If it is on the basis of knowledge then there is information that God takes into account as He makes this selection. Whereas we don't have a specific statement of Scripture as to what that is we have enough information in Scripture where we can come to a pretty good conclusion that that basis is God's understanding of what an individual does at the point of gospel hearing; that when a person believes in Jesus Christ he enters into Christ, and because he is in Christ, the elect one, he is then elect himself by virtue of his position in Christ. This is all understood and known in the foreknowledge of God in eternity past. So we are elect according to the foreknowledge of God, not according to random arbitrary choices made by a God who is irrational. That is ultimately where Calvinism goes although they will deny it with their dying breath.

So verse 4 states that we know that we are selected by God. That also guarantees our eternal salvation and eternal security.

Then Paul explains this a little further in terms of how he has been praying for the Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 NASB "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."

The word "gospel" is the Greek word EUANGELION, which means good news. The English word "gospel" comes from old English—god (pronounced goad), meaning good; and spel, meaning news. So it is an accurate translation of old English of the meaning of the Greek word. The EU at the beginning of the Greek word means something that is good or pleasant; ANGELION relates to an announcement or news.

We have some passages where we have a narrow use of "gospel" which refers only to that aspect of Christian teaching that tells us what we need to do in order to have eternal life. But then we also have a broader use of "the gospel". For example, in Romans 1:16 where Paul says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes …" The gospel is related to power which we might translate "ability". It is not like a mystical or metaphysical power, it is an ability that God has. Salvation here is not justification. This word group based on the verb SOZO (here it is the noun SOTERION) never refers to phase one salvation or justification in Romans. It is not a synonym for justification in Romans, it refers to the entire process (all three phases): phase one, justification; phase two, sanctification; phase three, glorification. So this word isn't just restricting the gospel to just what a person needs to be saved, to believe in order to be justified.

In 1 Corinthians 15:1 Paul says, NASB "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, [2] by which also you are saved …" Notice the present tense there. It is an ongoing reality of the spiritual life. "… if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain." Holding fast doesn't have to do with justification but with the ongoing spiritual life.          

[3]  "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [4] and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures …" And then the sentence goes on. Some people believe that this defines the gospel content. But if this defines the gospel content, that I not only have to believe that Jesus died, not only have to believe He was buried, not only have to believe He rose on the third day, but I also have to believe that He appeared to Cephas and to James and to the 500. And if I don't believe all of that then I am not justified. But I don't know too many people who want to include the appearance of Jesus to Peter and James as part of their gospel presentation. This is a broad use of the word gospel; it means the Christian teaching. All of Christian doctrine is good news.

Sometimes we just talk about the foundational element, which is phase one. Here in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 he is using good news in its broad sense: our gospel, our message, good news, teaching about the entirety of the Christian life from new birth to face to face with the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Paul says this was their message, and it didn't come just by word. They saw manifestations of God's ability as people who responded in transformed lives. We are not told about miracles that Paul may have performed there. That is not out of the question. As an apostle in the first century he clearly had the ability as a sign of his apostleship to perform certain signs and wonders.  

Paul says, their gospel didn't come to the Thessalonians simply as a message but they also understood its power, the power of changed lives. It was by means of the Holy Spirit who is the change agent in the Christian life. He is the one who convicts when people hear the gospel and makes clear to them the issues of the gospel so that they understood. " … and with full conviction". The Greek word PLEROPHORIA means confidence. So they understood with confidence the message of the gospel. Second, he says that this was also evidence in our life: you knew what kind of men we were among you. As a result …

1 Thessalonians 1:6 NASB "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit". It wasn't that they wanted to be like Paul, it is that they wanted to imitate Jesus Christ. Paul and his followers were imitating Christ as they walked by the Spirit. Receiving the Word in much tribulation is the role of coming under opposition, under adversity and pressure, and in their case coming under persecution. They had joy in the Spirit. They are already pushing on in terms of James 1:2 NASB "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, [3] knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance". As a result of that: 1 Thessalonians 1:7 NASB "so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia."

That is true for us. As God the Holy Spirit works in our lives we become examples for other people to see how we live. We don't react the same way unbelievers do. They see a difference—or they should see a difference in our lives.

1 Thessalonians 1:8 NASB "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."

This tells us how they became examples. Their reputation went every place. People heard about what happened to those believers in Thessalonica. This was high praise from Paul. They hadn't been saved that long but the transformation was so profound that it had built a reputation that was going far and wide because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit was doing in their lives. That should be true of every believer.

Reaching a certain level of spiritual adolescence or spiritual maturity is not a life-long process. It can be achieved very rapidly. Paul castigated the Corinthians because they weren't mature within just a couple of years. Too often people think it takes a lifetime of Bible study. Well it takes a lifetime of study to understand the fullness of the Bible but it doesn't take long to figure out a lot of basic principles of the Christian life and to at least reach a level of spiritual maturity so that a person can start being really and truly used by God and serving Him.