What does the gospel look like in our lives? What happens when we embrace the truth of God’s salvation for us?
In the ancient city of Thessalonica, the apostle Paul began a church. He didn’t stay long because of persecution. But the impact of the gospel remained there in the city. So what did that look like?
In the first letter that Paul wrote to these believers, he mentions to them that he is so grateful for them. One of the reasons for his gratitude is mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, “Because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”
Paul was so thankful that the message of the gospel was not just words to these people. For many then and today, the gospel is just a story to be ignored. Consider what happened to Paul right after leaving Thessalonica.
He went to a town called Berea and preached the same gospel message. We read in Acts 17:11-12, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.”
After Berea, Paul went to Athens where he again preached the gospel. Instead of many believing, there seemed to be an indifference to the gospel. Same gospel, different response. It seems in Athens the people were more interested in the gospel as a philosophy rather than as truth.
In Athens the people heard Paul and said in Acts 17:20, “For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” The same message in Berea and Athens was met by a very different response. One group examined Paul’s message to the Word of God.
The other group heard Paul’s message in the context of every other religious philosophy. One group was born again and one remained skeptical. Those in Berea heard the words of Paul, examined them alongside Scripture and saw that it was true. They believed. They accepted the message of the gospel, and God saved them. This is what happened in Thessalonica. People heard the words of the gospel, and they believed. It’s one of the reasons Paul was so thankful for them. They had received the gospel not as mere words but in power, by the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
The Power of the Gospel
Paul says in Romans that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The reality of what Jesus did for you and me on the cross has real, actual power to transform us. Through Jesus we move from death to life and from darkness to light. We were dead in our sins, but we are made alive through the cross of Jesus. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and we experience God’s power in our lives when we respond to the gospel.
The Holy Spirit in the Gospel
Paul says the gospel is also in the Holy Spirit. It is a message by the Holy Spirit, a living Person who works within the hearts of the hearers to convict, to comfort and to instruct. If the preacher only speaks, then it is a matter of word only, but when the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word, then a great spiritual work happens. Paul says that the gospel went forward in full conviction to the Thessalonians. I believe what he is saying here is that Paul didn’t just preach a message, he fully believed the message, and that is why he preached the gospel.
Later in this first chapter Paul says, “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. 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, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10).
Turned to God from Idols
Note the order of words here. We would normally think in terms of turning from idols to God, but here Paul’s argument is that they first turned to God, and then away from idols.
We aren’t born again because we changed our ways and cleaned up our lives. We aren’t born again because we started doing godly things and then God saved us. No, the power of the gospel is that God can reach right down to the lowest places and redeem us.
The Thessalonians didn’t leave their idols and then go out to find God. They turned to God and then left their idols. Conversion is not only turning from something, but it is turning to Someone. This is the power of the gospel. To save us from our sins, to set us free from our idolatry and to set us apart for our great God who loves us.