SERMON TITLE: The Catalyst for Gospel Change
TEXT: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Robert Tansill
Good evening, Gateway! It’s great to be with all of you as we worship our God together. And, as Josh reminds us every week, God loves you! And He's proven His love through the death of His Son in which you are now declared righteous by faith in Him alone. This is the gospel!
This evening as we celebrate through baptism and the Lord's Supper all that God has done for us in Christ, I want to spend a few minutes thinking about how the gospel changes our lives as people who have placed our trust in God and in Jesus.
In his book, "The Gospel: Recovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary", J.D. Greear writes, "It's one thing to understand the gospel, but it's quite another to experience the gospel in such a way that it fundamentally changes us and becomes the source of our identity and security."
For many of us, we would say that we understand the gospel, which is the message that God came in the flesh to bring salvation to people who at one time were alienated from him. But, how many of us would say that we have experienced the gospel in such a way that it fundamentally changes us, and has become the source of our identity and security?
Said another way, how does the gospel become not just a message that we say that we believe, but more importantly a catalyst for truth that actually has the power to change who we are as people? That's the question that we're going to look at this evening
ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
So if you would, turn in your Bibles with me as we look at 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is to let you ask questions that we answer on our weekly podcast. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
The Apostle Paul writes, "1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring."
Writing his second letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul wants to both encourage and instruct this body of believers. And at the very heart of his letter is the message of the gospel, and how this gospel has been used as a catalyst to change their lives. And the first thing that Paul wants us to see about this change is that..
Point 1: The Catalyst for Gospel Change...is rooted in the Godhead. (v. 1-2)
As we read the beginning of this letter, I want you to notice something in the words, "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy", which is that these aren't just people bringing the message of the gospel to the Thessalonians, but rather people who had been personally impacted by the message themselves.
Paul, as we know, was at one time a staunch Pharisee who in his fiery zeal sought to destroy the church by putting its members to death wherever he could find them. Yet, after a personal encounter with the risen Lord, he was confronted with the message of the gospel, which radically changed his life from one who sought to destroy the church to one who became its greatest advocate.
And Timothy, who was a constant traveling companion with Paul, was nurtured in the faith as a young man by his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. And in spite of the fact that he seems to have struggled a lot with self-confidence, the gospel empowered him to lead various churches and continue the work of the kingdom, even in Paul's absence, and in the midst of persecution.
And Silvanus, also known as Silas, was a man for which very little is actually known about him. Most likely Jewish, he converted to Christianity, working his way up in the ranks of leadership in the early church, and facing a great amount of suffering along the way as he accompanied Paul on many of his journeys. These are the men who were writing to the Thessalonians. Men who aren't just bringing the message with words, but who are living the message with their actions.
And the question we have to ask ourselves is this, "What initiated this change in their lives?" Look again at verse one, "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
If you want to know how gospel change occurs, look at where it originates, being "in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Because of God, the gospel, which at one time seemed foolish to all of us, now makes sense. And it's become the source of our identity and our security because God has made it known to us.
Had God not acted by giving us the eyes to see and the ears to hear the message of the gospel, we would still be lost in our sin, living life on our own terms, oblivious to how we offend our Creator, and facing the judgment that would await all of us.
But because of God, who is our "Father", which in itself is an incredible thought, we no longer live in our own strength according to our own rules. But we live in obedience under the sovereign care and mercy of the One who now calls us His children.
Not only that, but we also live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Used 20 times in this letter alone, Paul uses the word "Lord" to define more clearly who Jesus is as, "one who exercises supernatural authority over mankind." He's our Ruler. He's our Master. That's what the word "Lord" means when it refers to Jesus. As those who have come to a knowledge of God as a result of God revealing Himself, we now have a knowledge about how life really works that we didn't have before we were confronted with the gospel.
Because of the gospel, we now see that we live in a fallen world where oftentimes life just doesn't work the way that we want it to. We see that our natural desire, because of sin, is to do what we want to do, and not what pleases our Creator, which is why we were created in the first place. We see how evil our sin really is when compared to the holiness of God. We understand why Jesus had to die for us so that we could be declared righteous because of his death on the Cross. We see that we really don't just have to answer to ourselves for our actions, but in reality, we have to answer to the One who exercises supernatural authority over mankind; believer and unbeliever alike.
And we see that, in spite of the fact that we live in a fallen world where we're not just confronted daily by its sin, but also by our own, that God in His mercy and his love, daily supplies the two things that make gospel change possible.
Look at what Paul says in verse 2, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." If you're like me, when you read these words, you typically just gloss over them as Paul's way of greeting his readers. But by doing that, we're making a huge mistake. Why?
Because, by using this phrase, which he does in every one of his letters, Paul is reminding his readers what God has provided for them as a result of the gospel, which is the catalyst for the change in our lives. A change that doesn't just occur once and is done, but which is ongoing.
And what has he provided? Grace and peace! This is what God uses in our lives to create the change that conforms us more and more into the image of His Son, and which is rooted in the gospel.
When God extends His grace to us, which he does every moment of every day, he doesn't just forgive us once for how we've sinned against him. Rather, He actually empowers us to be able to do in His strength what we could never do on our own. And Paul knew this to be true for himself when he said in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, "9 But God said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
John Piper was right when he said, "Grace is not simply leniency when we've sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon. Therefore, the effort we make to obey God is not an effort done in our own strength, but in the strength which God supplies." And what does that look like practically?
Well, for a parent who's hurt their child by something that they've either said or done, grace is what moves them to say, "I'm really sorry for the way I've hurt you. Would you please forgive me?" For the person who was given a bad diagnosis with a long road of recovery ahead, grace is what helps them to continue to walk down that road, even though they don't feel like they can take another step. And for the person who recently lost a loved one, grace is what encourages them to believe that God's mercies really are new every morning. This is what God has provided for us as a result of the Gospel. But that's not the only thing.
The second thing Paul mentions as a catalyst for gospel change is "peace". And what does he mean by this? Well, the word Paul uses here simply means, "a state of well-being, tranquility, or contentment." In the New Testament, the passage that most clearly shows what Paul has in mind is in Romans 5:1 where he says, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." What does that mean for us?
First, because of what God has done for us on the cross, we no longer have to worry about facing His wrath. Jesus has taken all of God's wrath upon himself on our account so that we can stand before God in Christ's righteousness, and in the peace that we now have with our Creator. We can't take that for granted
Second, in spite of the fact that we live in a fallen world and all that goes with it, we can have peace knowing we serve the One who sovereignly holds all things together, and who promises that "this light, momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." (2 Corinthians 4:17) I love that!
Third, like grace, peace not only impacts our relationship with God, but also how we deal with life as the "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7) Does that mean that we're no longer going to worry about things, or be impacted by them? No! But as Tim Keller reminds us, "The peace of God is not the absence of negative thoughts or feelings. It's the presence of God himself."
And it is this presence of God himself and the Lord Jesus Christ that enables us to live in "grace and peace"; a grace and peace that's rooted in the Godhead, and which is at work in our lives through the Holy Spirit, creating gospel change as we anticipate the return of our Lord.
But there's more. Not only is the catalyst for Gospel change rooted in the Godhead, but as Paul tells us in verse 3...
Point 2: The Catalyst for Gospel change…
results in growing faith and increasing love. (v. 3)
Look what Paul says, "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing."
For Paul, what he sees happening to the Thessalonians because of the gospel causes him to give thanks to God. In fact, the word that Paul uses for the words, "give thanks", is where we get our word for "Eucharist", which is another word for the Lord's Supper, and which means, "to express appreciation for benefits or blessings." But why does Paul give thanks to God instead of the Thessalonians?
Once again, it's because God's the one causing the change in their lives, and not the Thessalonians themselves. And this is something that we all need to remember. There are a lot of people out there telling you that if you just do "x", that you're going to live a prosperous and happy life. And even some preachers are getting in on this act.
Case in point. One famous preacher you have all heard of said this, "No matter how many times you get knocked down, keep getting back up. God sees your resolve. He sees your determination. And when you do everything you can, that's when God will step in and do what you can't do."
Really?! Folks, that is just really bad theology in a message that is counter to the gospel. God isn't just passively standing back watching us live in our resolve and determination, only stepping in when we're unable to do something. Rather the Father and the Son are constantly working in our lives through the Holy Spirit to create change in us that no amount of resolve or self-determination on our part could accomplish.
And what's the result of this change?
Once again, Paul thanks God because He's doing two things in the lives of the Thessalonians that are having an incredible impact on the church, as well as those around it.
First, God's growing their faith. And He is doing that primarily by putting them in situations where they are forced to trust in Him alone, unable to rely on any resolve or self-determination that they think they might be able to muster. In fact, if you were to do a word study on the phrase, "growing abundantly", what you would find is that in any spiritual growth that occurs in our lives is always done as a result of God working. And any part of that growth that we participate in is always done in reliance on God. That's why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 3:6, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." And Peter can say in 1 Peter 2:2, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation."
In fact, of the twenty instances where this word, "grow", is used in the New Testament, it always relates to spiritual growth. And in every case, God is the one causing the growth. And He does this in a number of ways like giving us His Word to instruct us in the faith. Or conversing with us through prayer. And even using suffering in our lives to draw us to Him, proving once again His faithfulness to us as His children. And in all these ways and more, God grows our faith as we rely on him more and more every day. But it's not just our faith that God is growing.
A second thing that God is doing is also increasing the love that the Thessalonians have for one another. How does he do that? Once again, it flows out of the "grace and peace" that they have experienced from God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul alludes to it when he says later in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, "16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word."
Did you hear what Paul just said? Not only has God the Father and the Son, given the Thessalonians, "eternal comfort and good hope" as a result of His grace, but He's also going to establish them, "in every good work and word". This includes enabling them to grow in their love for each other through what they do as well as what they say. This is how the gospel has impacted them.
And it forces us to ask ourselves a really serious question, which is this, "How has the gospel impacted us?" Is the work that Jesus accomplished on the Cross just something that we acknowledge in word only, or has our life been actually changed by it? Are we impacted in such a way that it controls what we say and do? In your mind, does Jesus' death just apply when you die? Or was His death the beginning of the work that God is doing in your life to conform you more and more into the image of His Son
As hard as it may be at times, does God's grace move you to step out in faith when everything in you tells you to retreat? Does the peace that we now have with God cause us to reconsider whether the things that we're fearful of or worry about, are worth comparing to the grace and the peace that God continues to show us on a daily basis?
In short, have you been impacted by the gospel, and are you continuing to be? As Paul writes to the Thessalonians regarding the impact of the gospel in their lives, his response to that question is, "Yes"! And why
That's the third thing that Paul wants us to see this evening, which is that..
Point 3: The Catalyst for Gospel Change...is visible to those around us. (v. 4)
Did you catch that! The catalyst for gospel change is visible to those around us. Look at what he says in verse 4, "Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring."
As Paul thinks about the Thessalonians, even though they are far from being perfect people, it's evident to him that the gospel is at work in their lives. He can see it! He sees it in how their faith has grown, as well as how their love for each other is increasing. And it is this visible work of God in their lives that causes Paul, as he puts it in his own words, "to boast about you in the churches of God." Now, what does he mean by that?
Well, as we've already seen in our study in Romans on Sunday morning, the word "boast" means, "to be proud of someone, or something, and to express it accordingly". And oftentimes when this word is used, it's used in an arrogant or prideful way. But for Paul, the boasting that he's doing is not done out of arrogance, as if it was all a result of his work.
What Paul is actually doing as he goes to other churches is boasting to them about what God is doing in the Thessalonian church, and the visible impact the gospel was having on their lives and in the lives of those around them. And what is this visible impact in particular?
Once again, Paul mentions two things. First, he sees it in their steadfastness which is defined as, "the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty". And throughout the Scriptures, this ability to patiently endure in the midst of suffering is a visible sign of the impact of the gospel on the life of the believer.
Does that mean that it's going to be done perfectly? No! But it does mean that, instead of turning our backs on God and walking away at the first sign of difficulty, we turn our faces towards Him as the only one who has the power and ability to walk with us through difficulty. Sure, we may even kick and scream a little bit along the way. But in the end, we only have one choice to make, which is to rest in the grace and peace of God that is only found in the gospel, in the midst of our difficulties.
Folks, difficulties are a part of life and they stink! And we all wish that we didn't have to deal with any of them. But we do. And that's why Tim Keller in his book, "Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering", says this as it relates to the gospel, "If you go into the furnace without the gospel, it will not be possible to find God there. You will be sure that he is done terribly wrong, or that you have. And you'll feel all alone. Going into the fire without the Gospel is the most dangerous thing anyone can do. You'll be mad at God or mad at yourself, or mad at both. But if you say to yourself, when you get thrown into the furnace, this is my furnace. I'm not being punished for my sins because Jesus was thrown into the ultimate fire for me. So, if He went through that greatest fire steadfastly for me, I can go through this smaller furnace steadfastly for him. And I also know that it means that if I trust him, this furnace will only make me better."
For Paul, one of the reasons that he was able to boast with the churches of God about the Thessalonians was because the gospel that God was working out in their lives, marked by grace and peace, was clearly being seen in their ability to patiently endure in the midst of their suffering.
But what is it that enabled them to be able to stand steadfast in their suffering?The second thing Paul mentions is their "faith". What is faith? At the very heart of it, "Faith" literally means, "to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one's trust".
And this is why Paul was able to rejoice with the Thessalonians, and even why they were able to be steadfast in their suffering. The sole reason is that they found God the Father and the Son to be true, and therefore worthy of their complete trust. That's why their faith was growing. That's why their love for one another was increasing. That's why they were able to patiently endure whatever suffering came their way. And that's why their faith was visible to everybody around them.
God was at work in their lives! It's a work that began with the message of the gospel that He would no longer judge them for their sins, but would instead pay for those sins Himself. And it's work where God Himself would enable them to be able to endure whatever difficulties they would face in this life because of His grace and peace. And a work where, in the end, God himself would be glorified.
So, whatever difficulties or suffering that you might be facing today, please know that it's not going to be wasted. God the Father and the Son are going to use it for your good as they continue the work they have already begun in your life. Whether these difficulties are external in nature like being persecuted for taking a stand for your faith, or internal in nature like really having let go of that worry and that fear, and rely on God because it's the only thing that you can do. In either case, the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ is going to sustain you, guaranteed!
The same God who allowed His Son to die on a cross for your sins, and declared you righteous with the same righteousness as His Son, is the very same God who is committed to making sure that the work of the gospel that He began in you, He will see to completion. He's committed to it! And He will not fail in that.
Yet as Paul Tripp reminds us, "Change doesn't mean that you'll get your wish list of the things that you think will give you the good life. Change doesn't mean that God will turn the people in your life around into the people that you'd like them to be. And change surely doesn't mean that God will exercise His power to make life easier and more pleasurable according to your definition. But you can rest assured that where real change is needed, there is a God of grace who knows just where that change needs to take place, and who offers you everything you need so that it can happen."
So, Believer, resolve within yourself to rest in the grace and the peace of God. He has done everything for you that needs to be done so that you will be able to stand before Him on that day. And He is doing everything for you even now to conform you more and more into the image of His Son as His return draws near. By doing so, you are living the gospel. For to God, and God alone, belongs all the glory. Let's pray together.