Faithlife Sermons

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Last semester I was giving a tour of campus to the Veterans Affairs representatives for Clearfield County (I’ve said before one of my favorite parts of my job at Penn State is working with our veteran and military-connected students).
At one point we walked into a room and there was one student there, working with a staff member.
I had never met the student before, but one of the VA reps introduced herself to him and said, “You’re a veteran, aren’t you?”
He smiled, and said, “Why yes, I am!”
And they got to talking about what benefits he had, and how she might help.
Afterwards, at lunch, she mentioned that encounter, saying that she could always tell someone who’s been in the military.
The way they talk, the way they carry themselves, all kinds of little things.
If you have a military background, you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?
The training, experiences and skills that you gained in the service have transformed you to the point where you can no longer “blend in”--you will always stand out like those undercover FBI agents at the January 6th rally!
This is what Jesus was talking about in the passage from the Sermon on the Mount that we read earlier--a city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Paul is saying the same thing here as he writes to the church in Thessalonica:
1 Thessalonians 1:8–9 (ESV)
8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
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,
In a day and age when it seems like so many churches struggle to make the Gospel known, or have a hard time seeing their faith impact the world around them, we read here of a church that couldn’t avoid making a Gospel-saturated impact on their world!
Paul is saying here that the Thessalonians made his job easy!— “We need not say anything!”
Who here would not want the Apostle Paul to say that about our church?
In a world where the enemies of Christ and His Gospel are working overtime to obliterate His light, what would it mean to be a church whose light cannot be hidden?
If a church that cultivates Gospel-rooted virtues is a church to thank God for, how much more would we thank God for making us a people whose testimony to the Gospel and hope in Christ cannot be prevented from reaching our neighbors, our town, our county, our state?
This is what Paul is describing here in our text—and so what I aim to show you from God’s Word this morning is that
The LIGHT of a REGENERATE church cannot be HIDDEN from the world
What Paul is describing in these verses is a church that is composed of men and women who have been regenerated by God’s Spirit.
In John 3, Jesus describes it as being “born again”, and in Titus 3:5 it is described as “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”.
Regeneration is
REGENERATION: The TRANSFORMATION of a person’s spiritual condition from DEATH to LIFE through the work of the HOLY SPIRIT.
The work God does in the New Birth—in regeneration—transforms a person.
And that transformation produces visible results in their life.
And when a church is made up of regenerate people, that New Birth produces results that cannot be hidden.
In verses 4-5 we see the first characteristic of a regenerate church—the actual foundation of that new birth is
I. GENUINE Conversion (1 Thess.
1 Thessalonians 1:4–5 (ESV)
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction...
Paul says that he knows the Thessalonian church is a regenerate church because
The WORD came with POWER (cp.
James 1:22-24)
We often like to talk about how a church must be a “Gospel-preaching” church, and that it is important to find a church that “preaches the Gospel”.
Amen and amen—but Paul is saying something more here; not just that a church has a preacher that declares the Word, but a membership that delights to obey the Word!
A church whose light cannot be hidden is a church where the Gospel goes forth in power to transform lives.
It is so easy for us to slip into the kind of response to the Gospel that James writes about in his epistle:
James 1:22–24 (ESV)
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.
24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
There are far too many congregations full of people that sit serenely under faithful preaching of the Word, nodding along at all the right moments and murmuring “Amen” at opportune times that, as soon as the service ends, they head home and promptly forget all about anything that happened at church.
The Gospel proclaimed to them about their sin and the forgiveness of Christ and their call to holiness and discipleship means no more to them than the spam email that they clean out of their inbox every week.
But a church that has been transformed by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit delights in the Word, and seeks to be impacted by it.
I have a dear friend who used to post pictures of his Sunday outfit every week on Facebook (he’s a character, to be sure).
But I love the way he captioned his posts—every week, he’d say “I’m off to hear the Gospel”.
I love that—that’s the way we should look forward to every time we gather for Sunday worship: “I’m off to hear the Gospel; I’m off to be transformed by the power of the Word of God in my life!
I want to consider again how the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ fundamentally impacts every square inch of my living!
When the Word comes to a church with that kind of power, that is a church whose light cannot be hidden.
Paul says that he knows the Thessalonians are born again because the Word came with power, and because
The SPIRIT came with CONVICTION (cf.
v. 9)
1 Thessalonians 1:5 (ESV)
5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
Jesus said that the Spirit would “Convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
The Thessalonians were not the type to struggle against the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.
When God’s Word came to them in power and the Holy Spirit uncovered their need for repentance and growth in holiness, they didn’t kick against His conviction or rationalize their sin or try to hold on to those evil behaviors and lusts:
1 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV)
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,
One of Satan’s favorite temptations to deploy against believers is to get them to hold every proclamation of the Word at arm’s length, so to speak.
We are particularly good at it in our own neighborhood of Christianity where we focus on exegetical, propositional, expository preaching.
Because we encourage members to dig into the Scriptures for themselves and take advantage of study Bibles and Bible study software and apps and you name it—all of that is a very good thing, and may their tribe increase.
But when you take all that ability to study the Word for yourself and turn it around to deflect the conviction of God’s Spirit so that you never have to confront your sin (“Well, the Greek word there can also mean...” “Well John Flavel says something entirely different about that verse...”), then you are kicking against the conviction that God brings into your life to make you holy.
Paul says that when the Thessalonians were confronted by their need to repent, they didn’t equivocate or temporize or contort themselves so they could continue loving their idols—they turned from them.
They walked away from those false alternatives to God, and served Him alone.
And anything that got between them and God—money, hobbies, work, relationships, anything—was abandoned in order to serve God alone.
The Thessalonian church demonstrated that they were a regenerate church through their genuine conversion to God from idols.
And as Paul goes on in verse 6 we see the second characteristic of a regenerate church is
A DILIGENT Walk (1 Thess.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV)
6 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,
The Greek word we translate “imitators” here in verse 6 is where we get our English word “mimic”—the church in Thessalonica were serious about their growth in their faith, and so they sought examples to follow.
A church that is walking diligently in their faith is a church that
Seeks to be DISCIPLED by those who FOLLOW Christ (cp. 1 Corinthians 11:1)
Paul says that they sought to be “imitators of us and of the Lord”—this is our guide for how to choose our mentors in the faith.
Paul says much the same thing in 1 Corinthians 11:1:
1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)
1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
A mentor worth imitating is a mentor who is clearly imitating Christ.
There are a lot of teachers out there who offer “Christian” teaching, but they themselves don’t show evidence of imitating Jesus.
The Thessalonians weren’t interested in being discipled by or imitating just anyone—they wanted to make sure that they were imitating someone who would make them more like Christ Himself.
And Paul goes on to describe the specific way that they became imitators of Christ at the end of verse 6:
1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV)
6 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,
A church that has a diligent walk in Christ
Finds JOY in SUFFERING through the SPIRIT of Christ (cp.
Matthew 5:11-12)
Remember the story of the birth of the church in Thessalonica—the turmoil caused by the enemies of the Gospel, members being dragged before the Roman authorities, the false accusations of treason and insurrection, the fines and imprisonment, and all the rest (Acts 17:1-9).
But Paul says here in verse 6 that in all of that—the hatred and persecution and false charges did not cause the Thessalonians to be embittered or angry or resentful, but to be filled with joy in the Word as a result!
This is why Paul says that they were imitators of the Lord, because their response to the affliction they suffered was exactly what Jesus told us to do:
Matthew 5:11–12 (ESV)
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
There are a lot of people out there who wear “God, Faith Family, Country” t-shirts, people who will enthusiastically affirm their Christian faith—but who react to our culture’s reviling and persecuting and false accusations with fear and hatred and reviling in return.
But what Paul writes here in 1 Thessalonians 1, and what Jesus taught in Matthew 5, is that a regenerate church is recognized by joy and gladness in the midst of these days.
Beloved, when they are reacting to you the same way they did to the Apostle Paul, then you are doing something right!
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