Genuine saving faith is both taught and caught. Words are essential in communicating the gospel, after all ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.’ (Romans 10:17). But in addition, the gospel is propagated as godly lives are lived in real settings around the world.
Paul, Silas and Timothy had lived among the Thessalonians. This young church had witnessed the way the missionary team had conducted themselves, particularly when ‘the going got tough.’ Persecution had forced the missionaries to leave Thessalonica, leaving behind a gathering of young Christ followers who had been watching closely.
“You know how we lived among you for your sake. 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.” The Thessalonians had ‘caught’ the faith that was being taught and as the Holy Spirit moved in power, they had responded with repentance, faith and obedience.
The impact of their new found faith had far reaching ripple effects. Word spread throughout the community, the region and empire. The Thessalonians had seen in the missionaries a gospel-centred example, now they became an example to many other believers. That’s the way Christianity spreads, isn’t it?
That’s the way Christianity spreads, isn’t it? Our testimony isn’t composed simply of ‘Christian phrases’ or slogans. Truth is articulated through our lips and our lives. People talk. Word spreads. ‘Something’s different about her!’ ‘Something’s happened to him!’ ‘Ever since he got ‘religion’ he’s been acting differently.’
“And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 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, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.”
So what are the core ingredients in regeneration?
- Receiving the Message
- Repentance from Sin
- Affirmation of Faith in God through Jesus Christ
- Commencement of a Life of Service and Expectant Hope
#1. Receiving – The message must be received. It had been preached, and God had moved, persuading those who heard of their desperate need.
#2. Repenting – Repentance involved a turning from idols. This ‘change of mind’ (for that is what repentance is) manifests itself differently in each culture, but there is the beginning of a lifetime of repentance. True Christians don’t just repent once for all, but become repentant repenters, willing to confess and forsake any sin which mars their fellowship with God and others.
#3. Affirming – Turning to God is an act of faith. Romans 10:9,10 urges a confession with our mouths accompanied by heart-belief in order to demonstrate genuine faith.
#4. Serving – The new convert begins to serve a new master. From serving ‘dead idols’ they now turn to serve ‘the living and true God.’ Their service is accompanied by expectant hope–fixed in Jesus, the Son of God who died for them, was raised from the dead and will one day come again as the great Rescuer from future wrath.
No time line is delineated in the text. All of this seems to commence at the same time as the Spirit of God interrupts the life of the desperate sinner. Although a date, time and place is not necessarily indicated, the ongoing evidence of receiving, repenting, affirming and serving demonstrates that genuine conversion has taken place. The ‘joy in heaven over one sinner who repents’ (Luke 15) is shared by those on earth who have God given understanding and sight to detect the change.