This Week's Focus Passage

1 Thessalonians 1:5 ‘Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power.’


This Week’s Focus Passage: 1 Thessalonians 1:5

‘Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power.’


    After the salutation that Paul offered in his first epistle to the church of the Thessalonians, he began immediately to engage in thanksgiving and praise to God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, in verses two through five in the first chapter. Read carefully this thanksgiving raised by the Apostle to the Gentiles:

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father; knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election, how that our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, namely the true Gospel comes not in word only, Paul has insisted in his communication to the church in Thessalonica, but it comes also in power; in the power of God the Holy Spirit. And we witness also in the context of that affirmation where Paul refers to the results of that power combined with the preaching of Jesus’ Gospel, he speaks of their work of faith and their labor of love; their patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. He also speaks of the assurance; the much assurance produced by that glorious combination of Truth and Power. This is the wonderful variance between a biblical call and an altar call. We wish to be clear at the outset that we are not challenging every alleged case of conversion resulting, as it were, from an altar call. We firmly believe, however, that if any are truly converted that have ‘gone forward’ as the result of such a call, it is not because of that altar call, but rather in spite of it. God has set forth the means that He has ordained in the proclamation of the Gospel. The innovations of man added to that pronouncement are just that, innovations. Innovations are, according to Webster, ‘the process of making changes; a new method, custom, device, etc.’ The Most High has given no allowance for any such thing. Man is to make no changes to the Gospel message; he is not to attempt to come up with any new methods, nor is he to make any changes to the Gospel message; he is not to attempt to come up with any new methods, nor is he to form any new customs, or devices not prescribed in the Word. And as for the ‘etc,’ that is probably an open door for any and every thing that comes to the mind of a man.    

    Paul has set down in many places in his epistles the means sanctioned by our God for the propagation of the Gospel of His Son; the Truth as it is in Christ, who Himself is ‘The Way, the Truth, and the Life.’ There is new life evidenced in the things written by Paul of his converts in Thessalonica. We have already referred to their works of faith, their labor of love, their patience of hope in Jesus Christ which surely motivates their faith and love. Paul declares that he ‘knew their election’ by these fruits. Walking down an altar is not listed as one of these fruits. Again, the Word does not call men to come down an altar; nor to ‘ask Jesus to come into their heart,’ nor any other formula invented by man. But the Word calls men to repentance. Jesus told His hearers as it is recorded for us in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, in both the 3rd and the 5th verses—repetition, repetition, repetition, is the way of learning—Jesus has emphatically declared these two times, speaking to His auditory that had inquired about the folk upon whom the tower of Siloam had fallen and those whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, and saying, I tell you, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish; ye shall all likewise perish. The call to men to repent is seldom heard. The preachers that fail in this are evidently among those that are ‘Home on the Range; where seldom is heard a discouraging word.’ And that appears to be their problem; they do not wish to discourage any from coming down the aisle, so they refuse to even speak of the need of repentance.

    It is sadly true that there are many, at least some, who equate the altar call with a call to repentance. One of these men has written that, ‘The “altar call” will only pass away when church leaders become too timid to challenge people to repent.’ This individual evidently likens the ‘altar call’ to a call to repentance; it is difficult to make more or less of it than that. And yet, when we consider the initial calls to repentance recorded in the Word of God, they produce an entirely contrary portrait for us. Take, for example, the sermon on the day of Pentecost—understood by most to be the first pronouncement of the gospel of Jesus Christ subsequent to His ascension to the right hand of the Father—where Peter’s response to those of his auditory that cried out, ‘What must we do to be saved,’ he responded by calling them to ‘repent and be baptized.’ It is most noteworthy that he did not make an ‘altar call.’ He did not ask them to come down to the front in order that they might be saved. Rather, Peter called upon his auditory to repent right now! This is, of course, consistent with the preaching of Jesus Christ recorded in every one of the gospel accounts. And actually, the forerunner of Jesus, his cousin, John the Baptist began his preaching, not with an altar call, but with this message:

And in those days cometh John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.—Matthew 3:1-2.

And we find it recorded by the same gospel writer, Matthew, that after Jesus had obtained victory over Satan through the temptation in the wilderness, and also after that John had been delivered up, Jesus began His public ministry; Matthew wrote:

From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.—Matthew 4:17.

    There is a healthy example of a false conversion given us in the Scriptures. It is found in the book of Acts. In this account from the pen of Luke, in chapter eight of this book, we learn that an occasion arose that the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, so they sent to them Peter and John, who we are told, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: for as yet it was fallen on none of them: only they had been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. The reader of Acts was informed in verse thirteen of this chapter about one Simon, who also himself believed: and being baptized, he continued with Philip; and beholding signs and great miracles wrought, was amazed. Now after the others that had received the Holy Spirit when Peter and John had laid hands on them, we are further told that when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. This drew an astounding rebuke to Simon from Peter. He said unto Simon, Thy silver perish with thee, because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right before God. 

    Though we just read that ‘he believed and was baptized,’ Peter now tells him that his heart is not right before God. He was not a true believer in spite of his claim of belief and his being baptized. What therefore does Peter counsel him now to do? Peters words are, to say the least, stout words, he says, Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee. For I see that [in spite of a profession; in spite of baptism] thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. Simon had, as it were, gone down the aisle responding to the altar call, and yet had not repented of his sinfulness. 

    May God be pleased to grant each of us the fruits that Paul witnessed in the lives of those to whom he wrote in Thessalonica.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church 


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