Monday, February 9, 2015

1 Thessalonians 1:9 - A Church Marked By True Repentance

As the year begins  to  take shape  and  as   we desire  to live our lives  meaningfully and to the glory of God,  we   with  the aid  of this first letter to the Thessalonians   want to make it  our  aim to keep  our eyes fixed  on the LORD,  and  not  grow  weary in  our struggle  to  be  God centered Christians in a God centered church. 
“They  who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength ; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isa  40:31).

Last  week  we  saw  that a God centered   church  is a  church which is   in God the Father  and  in the Lord Jesus Christ  (1:1)  and in the Holy Spirit (1:5). To be   “in”  God, or  to be  “centered in”  God  by implication means also  to  be  called “out “  from the world.  A study of the   word  “church“  in 1:1  helps us here.   The Greek word for church “ekklesia“  is  derived from  two words   “ek” (out of) and “kaleo” (to call). The literal  translation of the word “church”   is  therefore,  “those that are called out of “. 

Now combine that  thought  with  what Paul writes in  v. 4  “…for we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen  you…”, then we know that   becoming a Christian  begins with  an “effectual call”. This  is the call by which  God and the Great Shepherd of the sheep  calls  His chosen  people  out of the world and into His kingdom. This is where  the church  begins, and  this is what  the church is, … “a chosen  race , a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession …once you  were not a people, but now you are God’s people …”  (1 Peter 2:9,10). The  church then  becomes an assembly  or a gathering of those that  have experienced this calling from God. This  is what constitutes  the membership principle  at  Eastside Baptist Church.   Has God called  you  to be His  own? Have you confessed this in baptism before the congregation and in  tandem  with  the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1)?

How were these Thessalonian Christians  called?  Paul tells us – by the preaching of God’s Word, which  came  to them in  “ in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1:4) This is  I trust  how you were called. The Word  of God came to you  (by whatever messenger )  in power, in the Holy Spirit and in  full conviction!

What are the characteristics or  the  marks of this calling ?  What are the marks of a God centered church ?  Again,  we make  our  observations based on  the  life  and testimony  of this Thessalonian   church . We observe :
(i)               their  work of faith , and their labour of love , and their steadfastness of hope  in the Lord Jesus Christ . According to the apostle Paul , faith , hope and love are declared to be the greatest  manifestations  of the  Christian faith ,love being  the supreme manifestation (v.3  see also  1 Corinthians 13:13).  Is this seen in your life ?  
(ii)             Their   imitation of Paul as he followed Christ   and their  joyful  embracing  of the Word despite  much affliction  (v.6). Is this seen in your life ?
(iii)           Their  sharing of this gospel  (lit. ‘ trumpeting it out’)  in the region of  Macedonia and Achaia  (v.8). Is this seen in your life ?  
(iv)             A  demonstration  of biblical  repentance  (v. 9). Is this seen in your life ? 
(v)              A  longing for  Jesus  coming  - a desire for heaven (v. 10) Is this seen in your life? 

Having dealt  with  the first 3 points previously , we will now deal  with   point  (iv),  which  reveals   the next mark of a God-centered church . Next  week,  God willing we will deal with  point (v) , yet another mark of a God centered Church , which has to do with the ultimate  desire of the Christian  and the Christian church, namely     a longing for the return  of  Jesus  Christ and our  being settled with Him in heaven.

THE FOURTH MARK OF A BIBLICAL CHURCH: A Demonstration of Biblical Repentance  (v.9)

The  next  clear mark   characterizing a God-centered Christian and  hence a God-centered church  is “repentance”.  The  Thessalonians  had  turned  to God  from idols to serve the living and true God.”  The  word used here for  ‘turn’  is the Greek word “ epistrepho”. The prefix  “epi” (upon)   strengthens the noun (strephō – to turn)  making it  a strong word ,indicating  a  decisive turning from idols  to serve the living and true God[1].  This  powerfully  illustrates the nature of   biblical  repentance .  The Thessalonians believers had  made a huge impact  upon the  surrounding providences of Achaia and Macedonia , and the  thing that really impacted  these people was that  these Thessalonians    had turned  to God  from idols to serve the living and true God.”
Now remember,   that this turn- about came  because  (i) God had sent Paul the messenger    (ii)  to preach the  message  (the gospel)  in power and in the Holy Spirit and  with full conviction.    God was with the messenger  and God  was in the message  to change    the stubborn  and resistant  will of men and so  these  Thessalonian Christians     were enabled   to turn  from  their  love for idols,  and so  to   love God with all their heart , soul , mind  and strength. 

The act of repentance  is  absolutely essential  in  the process of becoming a Christian.  It is an essential part of responding to the gospel message. Jesus said  to His disciples  that  “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name  to all nations…” (Lk 24:47)
The message  of   John the Baptist,  preaching in the wilderness of Judea included a call to repentance :  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).  
The  preaching of Jesus struck the same note: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).
The  preaching of the 12 disciples  reflects the same pattern as Jesus sends them  out:  “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).
The pattern of the book of  Acts continues  to emphasize the  necessity of repentance as a proper response to the gospel message :  When  his hearers  were convicted  by the Holy Spirit of the day of   Pentecost, and asked what they should do , Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).

So too after the healing of the  lame man  at the temple, Peter told the people : “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out”.(Acts 3:17-19).

Why am I  stressing this point ? 
Conrad Mbewe,  a good  friend of mine  has recently posted an article on his blog  entitled “Repentance – the missing note in today’s preaching“ . In his introductory paragraph he says :

I have observed with a growing concern how repentance is no longer a clear call in much of today’s preaching. This may not necessarily be true all over the world but as I listen more and more to various preachers on African soil this is certainly true here on our continent. The vast majority of preachers treat sin more like a disease than a state of rebellion. Hence, the remedial approach is that of  “deliverance” rather than a call to repent.“ [2] 

I would add to Pastor Mbewe’s comments,  that   this is true   not only for us on African soil. It is indeed true  for the  western mindset which  has such a grip on the African mind .   Much of the preaching that  we  hear  and  see   by  the T.V. preachers  from the west  has no place for  sin and therefore no place for repentance.  
Joel Osteen, a popular  spokesman  for the “word of faith movement “  who  was influenced   by  the likes  of  Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller, makes it clear that in his preaching, sin is not an issue.  He is helping people to find personal levels of self-fulfillment.  For him, salvation is “prosperity and fulfillment here and now in this world”. 
So much  of this  teaching sounds like the medieval  theology    in which  one was encouraged  to  buy one’s   salvation   with money , something   which Dr.  Martin Luther  strongly refuted  in 1517  when  he confronted   the person of  Tetzel , a  Roman Catholic  monk,  who preached  to the German people  that the blessing of God  can be purchased financially, rather than by grace alone ! [3]  Very little has changed since then.  There are still unscrupulous people  that peddle the gospel for profit.  

Dr.  Sinclair Ferguson,   a Scottish – American pastor and theologian  is right  when he says, “ once again  we need to proclaim  the  full orbed doctrine of repentance within an evangelical world  that has begun to manifest symptoms  of the same medieval sickness’  [4] as Luther encountered.

Much of what you hear  in the modern evangelical pulpit  is 'therapeutic'  preaching,  “how to feel better  about yourself “ and “how the  gospel meets your needs “… Listen !  The  Bible is not written  to make you feel better about yourself . The Bible  is written to tell us what is wrong with  the human race – sin! -  and then  the Bible tells  us (note it does not  suggest !)   what to do about our sin .  The Word  of God  says   repent !  Practically this means that we need to  do what the  Thessalonians did . Turn from your idols  and serve the living God !  
This is  always the problem with   the  religion  of man. It plays down the seriousness of  our sinful  offense   against a holy God . Therefore  it plays down the need for  repentance!
But now , lastly I must  say  a word about   the nature of  true repentance
Much of the  new evangelicalism  sees repentance as an  initial emotion and not as  a vital part of a lifelong  restoration of godliness[5].

True repentance  must be  evidenced  by an  ongoing repentance. The 16th century Protestant Reformation  led by Dr Martin Luther   begun with the nailing of the  95 theses  to the  castle door of the church in Wittenberg,   where he was a theology professor. Do you know  what the  very  first  thesis  said ?
“When  our Lord and Master , Jesus Christ,  said  repent, he meant  that the entire  life of believers should be one of repentance .”

Repentance is  a characteristic of the whole life, not the action of a single  moment .

So then  , here then is another mark of a true  Christian and therefore of a God - centered  Christian Church: he  or she when  hearing the gospel  has repented  of their sin, and their repentance  is as notorious  as  was their sin . Everybody in Achaia  and Macedonia, so  it seems, knew that  the Thessalonians had turned from idols  to the living God !  May God grant  it  to be so among us! Amen .  

[1] The aorist tense here indicates an  immediate and decisive change
[3] Tetzel taught :  “ As soon as the  coin in the coffer rings , the soul from  purgatory springs.”
[4] Sinclair Ferguson : The Grace of Repentance , Crossway , p.40
[5] ibid, p. 41

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