When Jesus began his preaching ministry, he proclaimed this message: "The kingdom has come." In the coming of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God has come. This is a message of great practical relevance to our lives here and now. Since Jesus Christ has come, we are called to repent and believe the gospel - repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his letters to the church at Thessalonica, Paul emphasizes the future of the kingdom - the kingdom will come. In speaking of the coming kingdom, Paul is speaking of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, Paul emphasizes the practical relevance of the preaching of God's kingdom.
To receive Jesus Christ, we must come to him in repentance and faith. This is the point at which Jesus Christ comes into your life, changing your life, enabling you "to live the kind of life that pleases God" (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
To be ready for Christ's second coming, we must continue in the way of repentance and faith. This is the continuing process of learning to live a godly life, which is centred on Christ. We are able to live this kind of life, as we seek to live according to the Scriptures and in the power of the Spirit.
Coming to Christ and continuing in Him, becoming a Christian and being a Christian - this is the challenge of the kingdom. The two belong together - becoming a Christian and being a Christian. You cannot be a Christian until you become a Christian. Also, it makes no sense at all to become a Christian if you have no intention of going on to live as a Christian.
In the Christian life, there is crisis, and there is process. There is the great crisis, which Jesus calls the new birth, and there is the life-long process which follows the new birth. During the course of the life-long process of sanctification (becoming more like Jesus Christ), there may be crisis-experiences, particular times in your life, when you take a huge leap forward in your understanding of God and your experience of his love and grace and mercy. Such experiences are part of the ongoing process of "growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). These experiences of significant growth in faith are not the great crisis. The great decision has been made. The personal commitment to Christ has been made. This is true of every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The new birth has taken place. Through faith in Christ, we have entered the kingdom of God. The Christian can truly say, "O happy day that fixed my choice on thee, my Saviour and my God ... 'Tis done, the great transaction's done. I am my Lord's and he is mine."
When the message of God's kingdom first presents us with its challenge, we face a crisis. We are called to decision. We are invited to choose Christ. Once that choice has been made, the great crisis has taken place. The new birth has taken place. The question if our eternal salvation has been settled. Whatever great steps forward there may be later on in the life of faith, nothing can ever compare with conversion, the great change by which we move from darkness to light, from death to life, from the power of Satan to God, from judgment to salvation.
Some Christians speak of a 'second blessing', a second experience which is comparable to conversion. There are two things we should say about this teaching.
The first is this: At conversion, we receive the fullness of God's salvation. God does not give us salvation by instalments - a part salvation at conversion, another part later on, and so on. The new birth takes place when you receive Jesus Christ into your life. What does this mean - to receive Jesus Christ into your life? Here's what the Bible says about Jesus Christ: "In him, the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily" (Colossians 2:9). In receiving Jesus Christ, you have received the fullness of God. God has no more to give us than himself. In giving you Jesus Christ, God has given you himself. He can give you no more than that. What does this mean in terms of the salvation we have received in Christ? God's Word tells us that, through faith in Christ, we have become spiritual millionaires: "God .. has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:3). If you have received Christ, you have received all that God has to give you - in him. Don't let anyone suggest that God himself has given you a second-rate, inferior, kind of salvation.
There is, however, a second comment we must make about the 'second blessing' teaching. It is this: Once you have understood that no later experience of God's love and grace and mercy can compare with the new birth, why limit later blessings to a second blessing? Why not a third blessing, a fourth blessing, a fifth blessing, and so on?
Such blessings cannot be compared to the new birth, the decisive step of entering the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, there can be many steps of faith and obedience by which we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can truly say, "Count your blessings. Name them one by one. Count your blessings. See what God has done. Count your blessings. Name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done." God gives us many blessings. The more we come to see what God has given to us, the more we come to realize that all blessings can be summed up in blessing - our Lord Jesus Christ. We have received him, not by instalments, a bit now, a bit later on, and a bit more further on again. We have received him at conversion, at the beginning of our faith-journey.
The Christian life begins with coming to Christ. After that initial step of faith, we must continue with Christ, If your Christian life is not what it should be (and this is true of every single one of us without any exceptions), then the problem is not with God. In Christ, he has given us the fullness of the Godhead. He has given us himself, and, with himself, he has given us every spiritual blessing. What's the problem? We are the problem. There's nothing lacking in God's salvation, but there is much that is lacking in our faith. Have you come to Christ? If not, you can come to him now. Receive him and his salvation right now. Begin the Christian life right now. If you have come to Christ, how much do you want to continue with him? This is the question Put puts to us in 1 & 2 Thessalonians. He asks us, 'Do you really want "to lead a life worthy of God" (1 Thessalonians 2:12)? Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ. In him, we see the glory of God's kingdom. As we look to him, as we look upon his glory, we are changed. The glory of the Lord Jesus Christ shines into our lives, and we become more like Jesus.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus involves more than looking back to the story of Jesus' life on earth.. We must also look forward to his second coming. We must seek to be ready for his return. We must rejoice in the Lord, whatever our circumstances. We must pray that the Lord will lead us in his way of victory. We must give thanks that, in Christ, we do have the victory. We must seek to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the light of the Holy Scriptures.
* As those who have entered the kingdom of God and now belong to the kingdom of God, what kind of people are we to be?
In 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, the apostle Paul describes the Christians at Thessalonica. Their faith was growing abundantly. Their love for one another was increasing. In persecutions and afflictions, their faith was steadfast. This is the kind of people we are to become.
Do you believe that God has a purpose for your life? 2 Thessalonians 1:5 tells us that God has a wonderful purpose for your life. He is working in you so "that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God." This does not mean that, by being worthy through our own good works, we earn our place in God's kingdom. What it means is this - the Christ who has saved us, through no merit of our own, continues to work in us, after we've been saved, to make us more like himself, to make us men and women who live under the kingship of Jesus Christ, submitting, more and more, to his reign as we go through life.
Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christians - "To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
By ourselves, we are unworthy of his call. By ourselves, we are not strong. We are weak. By ourselves, we are not filled with faith. We are filled with unbelief. By ourselves. we do not bring glory to the Lord. We bring shame to his holy name.
Can we be changed? The answer is still the same as it was in New Testament times. We can be changes by "the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
- Christ alone is worthy to be our Saviour. He alone is able to make us worthy of his call.
- Christ is the one in whom we put our trust: "I can do everything God asks me to do with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power" (Philippians 4:13).
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