When I was growing up I got saved pretty often. In Sunday school or at other youth activities they would ask if you wanted to believe in Jesus and get saved. Usually I did, if just to make sure the last time was legit. When I went to summer camp, I got saved there too. Hey, better safe then sorry, right?
Talking to Christian college students, you sometimes ask how we can be sure we are saved. Can we have assurance? How do I know I am really saved?
When I read the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Thessalonica I was thinking about assurance. They were all very new Christians, facing persecution and perhaps hearing people verbally attack Paul as an evil person. So how would they know if their faith in Christ was genuine?
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.
2 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Right away the message is encouraging – Paul calls them a community resting in God and Jesus Christ with grace and peace (1:1). In verse three he tells them he constantly remembers their work produced by faith, labor prompted by love and endurance inspired by hope. Paul is telling them they have assurance that they know God because their faith and love are producing good works and labors. These good works are so obvious that the Christians in Thessalonica are examples to believers in other nearby regions (1:7-8). Their actions are a light shining brightly, drawing others in. Paul does not need to preach the gospel in these places (1:8b) because the Thessalonians have done his work for him!
So you ask how you can have assurance? How can you know you are saved? Is your life being changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit powerfully works in you once you give your life to Jesus (1:6). Examine your life. Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to grow the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control in you (Gal. 5)?
Beware, this is not a call to work or try harder and earn God’s salvation. It is the power of the Holy Spirit, not your own strength, that brings these things to life. So as you examine yourself, pray to your Father in heaven through Jesus Christ that the Spirit would work in you.
In verse three Paul also mentions endurance inspired by hope. The Christians in Thessalonica were facing persecution right from the very beginning (Acts 17). They received the message even when faced with “severe suffering” (1:6). Yet they endure because they have hope. This hope is rooted in Jesus Christ who has defeated evil on the cross already and will return shortly to execute a final victory (1:10). In other words, Christians can endure any suffering, even death, because in the end those in Christ will be vindicated and saved. It is hope in a life after death, in a new creation of new heavens and new earth, that enables Christians to endure suffering.
How do you handle suffering? When bad things happen to you, how do you deal with it? Do you engage in self-pity? Whining? Anger? How we handle life when it does not go our way is another way to judge ourselves. Genuine Christians, filled with the Spirit, can endure through suffering. In this we follow Jesus’ example (Heb. 12:2; Matt. 5:11-12). Take a Bible and read 2 Corinthians 4:7-16, it is also helpful here.
Finally, we can be assured that God has chosen us (1:4). The first move was not made by us to God, instead God turned to us with love and acceptance while we were still his enemies. I feel like I should say more about this beautiful truth. Simply know that God loved you enough to pursue you when you wanted no part of him. God’s love is amazing!
I want to say that here are three points for which to examine yourself. Are you experiencing transformation in your life by the Holy Spirit? Do you handle suffering with endurance and confidence in the victory of Jesus? Are you confident that your salvation rests not on what you have done but on God choosing to love you?
More than self-examination though, Paul intends this to be an encouragement. So let me encourage you. I have seen many of you experience growth at PSU Berks, becoming more mature in your faith. I have seen many of you endure difficulties and suffering. And finally, be encouraged – God loves you just the way you are!
But He does not want to keep you that way!