Am I a Christian?
1 Thess. 1 (Entire)
I fully intended to pick up in chapter 4 of our study in the book of Revelation this week, but something keeps nagging at me. So I decided to take this week to address what has been on my mind of late.
It occurs to me more and more, especially as I see the state of our nation, and the state of the broader church in our nation, that a Biblical sense of what being a Christian is – is seldom as informed by the Bible itself, as it is by opinions, feelings, culture, and religious systems.
What do we even mean by it? – being a Christian that is. Ed went a long way in helping us this last Wednesday night in our study of the 20 basic Bible doctrines every Christian ought to know.
So let’s build upon that even a bit more.
And let’s begin first by differentiating between the Biblical DEFINITION of a Christian, and a Biblical DESCRIPTION of a Christian.
Our Wednesday night study was dealing more with definition. As Ed showed us, a Christian is one who has been supernaturally regenerated – born again and indwelt by the Spirit of God. Raised from a state of spiritual deadness to life, and given sight. Sight in terms of the reality of God and the Bible as God’s Word, and Jesus Christ in His substitutionary atoning work. A vision of their own sinfulness, the justness of God’s coming wrath upon that sinfulness. That their sin has separated them from God and that Jesus Christ alone can satisfy God for their sin, in such a way as to see the sinner and God reconciled.
In short, a Christian is: One who being regenerated by the Spirit of God – and having heard the Gospel of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection for sinners; Believes that Gospel as true and trusts themselves and their salvation to Christ and His finished work on Calvary alone.
So BEING a Christian is not a matter of being a part of a particular church or group, or even simply subscribing to a set of truths – even though that is involved – but in a true, fundamental inward change supernaturally wrought by the Holy Spirit.
Unquestionably there are a host of other things that accompany these essentials, but it is absolutely certain this change is at the core.
Moving beyond the mere definition, it is also good to look at a sound description. After all, this it seems is where even more confusion arises. For the culture, individuals, various religious and even secular groups -virtually all have some idea of what a Christian ought to look like.
In our current society, that is often associated with political affiliation; stands on certain social causes; behaviors that may or may not be directed by Scripture etc. While there may be SOME truth in that, to be clear one can be pro-life without being a Christian. One can be conservative, or liberal, and not be a Christian. One can hold to the existence of God, special creation, gun control or not, abortion or not, big government or not, teetotalling or not, homeschooling or not, common core or not, tattoos or not, King James only or not, or a million others, and not be a Christian.
Being a Christian will certainly impact how you stand on one or all of these things – but standing on a particular side of such things does not make one a Christian.
Well then, what kind of objective evidence, Biblical evidence might be safely marshalled to help us answer this question? Fundamentally, all other things aside, what does a Biblical Christian (that is actually a redundancy) look like in the eyes of God? In the Bible?
It is that which brings us to the text we have today in 1 Thess. 1, specifically vss. 9-10.
Somme background is helpful here. Thessalonica was a large and cosmopolitan city of 100K- 200K people. Acts 17 records Paul’s visit there, the riot that ensued and how he and Silas had to scurry away just to stay alive. Later, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to check on the new believers. And is it Timothy’s report which notes the key things we want to look at this morning.
How were the Christians doing? What marked them out AS true Christians in this large, cultural center with lots of competing religions and ideas? What set them apart from moral and faithful Jews, and other groups? What could Timothy tell Paul which would set Paul’s mind at ease that these had truly become Christians?
Four things: They had –
1 Turned TO God, FROM idols
2 To SERVE the Living God
3 And to wait for His Son from Heaven who He raised from the dead.
4 Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.
4 Powerful descriptors that for the Apostle, assured him that these were now genuine Believers – true, Biblical, Christians.
- They turned TO God, FROM idols.
Now this needs some unpacking. For in truth, as Acts 17 records, not all those who heard Paul preach on the 3 consecutive sabbaths he did there, were idolaters in the sense of serving literal pagan idols.
Paul’s preaching was done in the Synagogue at least primarily. So as Acts 17:4 reads: “And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” A rather mixed crowd.
History tells us that wealthy women of the day had a tendency to seek out and attach themselves to various religious groups, even funding them. Many did this with Judaism as with other religions. Pagan, Gentile women with religious fascinations.
But if this started in the synagogue, why then was this issue of idols front and center? The answer is, because in essence, anything that takes the place of God in any way in our lives – is itself a “false” god – and idol – even Judaism itself. Let me elaborate.
Idolatry comes in several different forms.
PURE or FORMAL Idolatry. Pagan worship with god substitutes represented by images of different kinds. This is what most of think of first when we hear the term idolatry. Worship of pagan gods. The Bible names many of these especially in the OT – Molech, Baal, Ashtoroth, Rephan, etc. And some in the NT like those we saw in the Revelation cities like Diana and others.
This form of idolatry has a very interesting subset – Atheism. For in Atheism, man makes himself the measure of all things. He worships his desires, dreams, purposes, etc. The idol is self.
MIXED Idolatry. This was especially attractive to some pagans because in it, you either simply add Christ to your existing god or gods, or you in some way come to Christ but also add another god or gods to Him as valid as well.
This became very common during the conquest of the Mayans, Incas and other people groups when the Roman Catholic missionaries tried to convert them. They found if they let them keep their existing gods, they were pretty willing to add Jesus to them. And so the missionaries claimed success in converting them, when in fact they had just obscured Christianity and reinforced the false worship of the idolaters.
DISGUISED Idolatry. This is the idolatry of the religious – like the Jews Paul was preaching to. This is serving the God of the Bible, but as though He is a pagan god. That shows itself in a number of ways.
One way is serving God, SLAVISHLY like He is a harsh task-master and needs human appeasing through our sacrifices and rituals. We have an example of this in Micah 6:1-8.
Truth be told, there are many who would call themselves Christians today who serve God this way. And He rejects it.
A second kind of DISGUISED idolatry is serving God SUPERSTITIOUSLY (Deut. 18:9-14) This shows itself in things like thinking God must be addressed in Elizabethan English or your not using the right magic phrases; putting superstitious emphases on certain Postures in prayer; adding requirements God never did like requiring certain amounts of time in prayer or Bible reading where if you don’t meet the quota, you’re sinning. Adopting a special “Prayer voice”. Making deals with God. Etc.
A 3rd kind is like that of Nadab & Abihu in Lev. 10 – where they just decided to get real innovative with God’s proscribed form of worship and in offering strange fire before God He had not commanded, they were killed for. SELF-ORIGINATED worship.
And 4th we might SELF-CENTERED WORSHIP (Matt. 15:9). Where we craft Church after the likes and dislikes of the people, without seeking to see what God says worship ought to be like from the Scriptures.
In these 2, worship itself becomes an idol.
At the bottom of all of these, is a man-centered approach to God, and it is as much idolatry as is outright paganism. And this was surely where most of Judaism was in Paul’s day – where it was superstition about God’s name, following rites and rituals rather than worrying about a heart which is right before God by God’s appointed means.
And it is from all of these types of idolatry that Timothy told Paul – the Believing Thessalonians had turned FROM, and turned TO God instead.
In a word, this is the idea wrapped up in the word repentance. Turning away from one thing and to another. Away from sin to righteousness. Away from rites and rituals to faith in the finished work of Christ. Away from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness. Away from superstition to the true and living God.
Let me tease this out just a tad more for our use today. For as I said already, an idol is anything that takes God’s rightful place in our hearts and minds. And there is a simple test we can use for hunting out possible idols in our own lives.
I can detect and locate idols by asking myself a few questions. I give you 5 here. Which unfortunately we can’t expand upon right now.
What do I FEAR most? Matt. 10:26-28 – “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops…And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
What do I VALUE or DESIRE most? Matt. 6:21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. i.e. what elicits my greatest devotion
What fills in the box when I say: “If only X______________ THEN, I would be happy”? Or better, without X_____ I cannot be happy.
As long as you are looking for that thing to make you happy, then your attainment of it will be dissatisfying. It will leave you unhappy and discontented.
If my ultimate and supreme happiness isn’t in him, then I am trading “creatures” for the Creator.
What do I seek my ultimate JOY in? 1Pet. 1:8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
Ps. 16:11 You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
God in His goodness has given us countless things we may freely enjoy – but all of them are only meant to be tokens of Him – in whom we are to seek our supreme joy. Especially when we see how fleeting earthly joys are.
What DICTATES my BEHAVIOUR most? Jer. 7:23-24 “But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” The juxtaposition of self-determination vs. love for God-determination.
How do I make up my mind about what is right or wrong to do in any given situation? My own opinion? Feelings?
What do I place my HOPE in? What is my hope for the future?
What is my hope for right standing w/ God?
What is the source of my peace of mind?
What do I look to for a sense of well-being?
What is my comfort in the hard times?
- What do I FEAR most?
- What do I VALUE or DESIRE most?
- What do I seek my JOY in most?
- What DICTATES my BEHAVIOUR most?
- What do I place my HOPE in?
Answer these, and you will know what your god or gods are. And the 1st mark of the truly converted soul is that one seeks to turn away from those gods – to the true and Living God. Nor is this done just once – but it becomes a lifestyle of turning from those false gods to the God of the Bible over and over and over.
With that established we can work through the balance of these very rapidly.
2 The genuine Christian turns from idols to God – To SERVE the Living God.
The genuine Christian now realizing all that has been done for them in Christ – seeks to serve this merciful, gracious, loving, pardoning, holy God. You’ve saved me for yourself – now use me! How can I serve your ends, your agenda, your plans and purposes, your kingdom?
If your Christianity is all wrapped up in God just being a blessing dispenser, without any regard for what it means to be His servant, saved for His purposes, you need to ask yourself if you have truly come to faith.
Coming to Christ is not a ticket to earthly and worldly pleasures, but the gift of eternal bliss in the service of the King!
One of Christ’s harshest rebukes in the NT is couched in a parable in Luke 19. The Nobleman in the parable (an allusion to Jesus Himself) was to go into a far country to be given final title to a land and a people. When he left, the Nobleman gave 10 servants money to invest on his behalf while gone. Startlingly, the text says: Luke 19:14 “But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’”
What was the problem? They liked the money but they hated Him in that they did not want Him to REIGN over them. Fine and well to take his gifts, but they reject his right of authority over them. So Jesus adds after settling with those who took the money – Luke 19:27 “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’ ”
Many is the professed Christian who wants Jesus as a gift giver, a forgiver of sins, a healer and Savior – but if they do not want Him to reign over them – He counts them His enemies, and they will not escape His wrath. These are profoundly sobering words. Especially to all of us who take the name Christian to ourselves today. Do we want Him to reign over us?
The genuine Christian turns from idols to God – To SERVE the Living God…AND
3 To WAIT for His Son from Heaven who He raised from the dead.
The genuine Christian lives a life of expectancy and hope located in the return of Jesus either to translate us or resurrect us to be with Him forever. And this hope is fueled by the conviction that Christ was raised from the dead already as the first-fruits of God’s people.
Christians are those living now, with their eternity in view, and have stopped living for just today or the foreseeable future. They say with Paul: 2 Timothy 4:8 “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Beloved, if you are not one who loves His appearing, and is longing and looking for it, you need to ask if you ever been truly born again?
The genuine Christian turns from idols to God – To SERVE the Living God and to WAIT for His Son from Heaven who He raised from the dead…
- Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Christians are living these ways, because they have a sense of the wrath of God which was due them, and the wonder of knowing they’ve been delivered from God’s coming wrath on all the world through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. All of this is wrapped up – not in religion or a system – but in Jesus Christ.
Christians know – know in their very bones, God in His holiness and justice must one day set the universe to rights. And they have a true sense of the reality of that coming day, and have run to Christ for shelter. Have run to the cross to have His blood plead on their behalf as having washed away their guilt and the stain of their sins. And they keep running to Him in every failure, with every sin, with all of their brokenness, for they know that they know that they know on the authority of God’s Word, that no one can deliver them but the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
So let me bring all this down to you once again:
Have you turned and continue to turn TO God, FROM idols?
Have you turned, so as to SERVE the Living God?
Are you consciously waiting for His Son from Heaven who He raised from the dead,
Trusting in this Jesus alone, who delivers us from the wrath to come?
If so, you rightly call yourself a Christian today.
If not, no matter what your religion, or profession or to use the modern parlance – your self-identification – you are still dead in your trespasses and sins, and need to be born again by the Spirit of God. The wrath of God still remains on you as Jesus said in John 3:36.
But it is not too late! You can come to Him today! You can a call upon Him for forgiveness, and to have your guilt expunged by His blood and to be made His own and reconciled to the Father. Won’t you come to Him today?