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