13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16).
The Christians in Thessalonica received Paul’s message of the gospel not as a mere human message but as a message from God. This message is not just something they believe in their heads, for it is “at work in you who believe”. When we believe in Jesus Christ we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives. God’s Holy Spirit empowers us, working in us, transforming us and enabling us to imitate our master Jesus Christ in how we live (go back and read 1:4-6 for similar thoughts).
How do you define being a Christian? Do you use active or passive terms?
Is being a Christian about having different beliefs in your head? Do you simply order your philosophy of the world differently, you believe in a few things other people might not like miracles and resurrections?
If you know me, you know I am all about (right) orthodox belief. But if you stop with just changing your beliefs then I can’t even say you’re halfway there. It is more like you’ve only taken the first few steps. In the words of James, the brother of Jesus, faith without works is dead (James 2:17).
Is being a Christian about living differently? Do you allow those beliefs, allow the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead, to transform you from the inside out? Would you say it is an active following, a living in the way of Jesus each day?
The point though, is not just to try harder. That would just make this whole thing into a religion of attempting to please God on your own strength, of attempting to save yourself.
What is unique about Christian faith is that the transformation that occurs comes from God working inside of you. Just as we put our trust in Jesus, God’s Son, to forgive us of our sin, guilt and brokenness, making us right with God the Father so we trust in the Holy Spirit of God (getting a little Trinitarian…but hey, its important!) to actively work in us for real change. Perhaps these verse are helpful:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13-14)
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
To be a Christian is to admit our brokenness and cling to the love of God who loves us just because (amazing grace…), ultimately shown in the triumphant death of Jesus on the cross which freed us from the chains of sin and death.
To be a Christian is to allow Jesus to break those chains and to model our lives on his.
To be a Christian is to allow God’s Holy Spirit to enter our lives on a daily, hourly, minutely basis and to shape our lives, because we know we need help in our seeking to live like Jesus. We allow, we yearn for, we ask for the Spirit to work in us, change us, transform us. Through this we rely on God’s power to be more like Christ, more loving, peaceful, joyful, kind and such.
Finally, like the Thessalonians, we do not just do this when things are good. Even when we face suffering, we trust in Christ and allow the Spirit to move us. In preparing these devotional emails I am reading through a commentary on Thessalonians. The author of that book shares a story of Corrie ten Boom in his thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 and I believe it is an appropriate way to end this post.
Corrie ten Boom relates in The Hiding Place an incident that taught her to be thankful continually. When she and her sister, Betsy, were taken to a horribly inhumane German prison camp named Ravensbruck, they had to live in flea-infested and overcrowded barracks. The morning they arrived, they read together 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, “be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” Afterward, Betsy told Corrie to thank God for every aspect of their new lodgings. Corrie initially would not thank God for the fleas, but her sister persisted, and Corrie finally gave in. As the ensuing months passed, they were surprised to discover how freely they could conduct Bible studies and prayer meetings without the guards interfering. Later they found out that they could do so many things openly because the guards would not come into the barracks for fear of becoming infested with fleas (Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians, p. 81).