Have you been watching the Winter Olympics? The two-time defending World Cup ski champ, Lindsey Vonn, bruised her right shin she almost wasn’t able to compete in the Vancouver Olympics. But the events were delayed due to poor weather conditions, giving her some time to partially heal, compete and take home her first gold medal — making her the first ever American woman to win the downhill gold at the Olympics.
Lindsey tells NBC, “I’ve worked so hard for this and to be able to get the gold medal is so awesome. I’ve given up everything for this. It means everything to me.  It’s why I work hard, it’s why I’m in the gym everyday.” As part of her training, Lindsey put her body through intentional suffering and pain, preparing for this very moment of winning the Olympic Gold. She had achieved her prize and tears of joy rolled down her cheeks.
For Christians, it is hard not to relate this situation to eternity. When we give our lives to Jesus Christ it involves sacrifice and giving everything in commitment to Him. The difference is in the reward. Olympic glory fades. Its joy, fame and attention is short-lived. However, eternal glory is forever. Its joy and attraction is fully satisfying.
Yet, for some unfortunate reason there are Lindsey Vonn’s all over the world. Perhaps there is a Lindsey Vonn in the hearing of this message. You know, a person who sacrifices everything for the sake of something that only achieves momentary achievements. The Bible calls these idols – promising to please but failing to fulfill. The believer’s reward is not a medal but a Messiah, not a prize but a Person. Seeing Jesus Christ, our Rescuer from the wrath of our sin, will be an irreplaceable day. In fact, it is a day that is set in all of our hearts. Are you preparing for this day?
For decades, Evangelical Christians have asked the question, “If you were to die tonight, would you be prepared to meet Jesus face to face?” This is a good question but it does not fully display the power of the gospel. Another question could be, “If you wake up tomorrow, can you live with yourself and your sin?” The reality is, many would struggle to answer either question. In fact, even many Christians lack the confidence in their salvation and are unsure of how to wake up and live life in the full power of the gospel.
In my 12 years of ministry, I have found that Christians struggle with assurance of salvation. I believe one of the reasons it gives them difficulty is because it is ingrained in our psyche to approach God through the lenses of personal performance or achievements. This viewpoint is classic religion, believing that God will love and accept you based on your obedience to do good works. Further, religion views God as a means to an end. We become consumers looking to get things from God rather than seeing God as the gift. Religion leaves a person unsatisfied and uncertain because they never know when or if they have done enough to stand confident before God.
The gospel gives certainty about salvation. The gospel is completely different than religion because it is not about you but about Jesus. You are accepted and loved based on the perfect life of Jesus and the finished payment of sin from His death. Jesus lived the perfect, righteous life that is required of us and He paid the punishment of death which we deserve for our sin. Because of Jesus, we can humbly stand confident before God. It is by grace through faith that we are saved, not by works so that no one can take pride in themselves (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Paul writes the Thessalonian believers to assure them of God’s salvation. Today, we can gain assurance of our salvation by asking ourselves the following 3 questions:
1) Is the gospel more than words to you? (1:4-5)
Paul says the gospel came not simply with words but with power, in the Holy Spirit and with much assurance/conviction/fulfillment. The implication is that the gospel is unique in that it is not just a belief system but an entire transforming way of life. It is more than words because the words point to a Person, Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh. Christ, being God, died for believers. This is incredible to comprehend. But the “good news” is not just that Christ died but that he was raised. There is no other message or religion that makes such audacious claims. Yet, Paul does because he understands the power of the gospel.
For certain, the gospel is words. It is truth that has been revealed and can be understood, studied, examined and applied. But the power of the gospel is that it gives a person purpose, meaning and direction in life. It gives ultimate joy and satisfaction because it unites a person to their Creator. The question we must ask ourselves is has the gospel personally become more than just words on a page? Has Jesus entered into your life that you have full assurance and confidence to stand before God without shame and to know your life purpose as to bring Him glory and fame?
2) Is the gospel more than private to you? (1:6-9a)
Paul continues sharing why the Thessalonian believers can have assurance of the gospel. The first is because of the Holy Spirit and the second is they see the fruit of their faith. Their faith worked! They followed the faith example of Paul, Silas and Timothy; even in spite of suffering. They became their own examples and models of faith throughout Macedonia and Achaia. The word example (tupos) means to leave a mark or imprint, and indeed their intentions were to leave a spiritual legacy. To them, the gospel was not to be kept private but spread throughout their known world. The gospel rang out (reverberated or echoed, as thunder or trumpets) north to south through the two provinces stretching for several hundred miles and which contained all of the churches established on Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:6–18:22).
Have you gone public with your faith? Is your Christianity different in public than in private? Who are 5 people that you are INVESTING – INVITING AND INCARNATING the gospel with?
You are writing a Gospel,
A chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do
And the words that you say.
Men read what you write,
Whether faithful or true:
Just what is the Gospel
According to you?
— Author unknown
3) Does the gospel add to or replace your worship? (1:9b-10)
Paul offers a third assurance of salvation for the Thessalonians. It was the complete change of their worship. As citizens of Thessalonica would walk along the streets they would inundated with pagan worship not to mention essentially obligated to pay homage to the Roman Caesars. But these individuals, with the power of the gospel, had turned from idols to worship God. Their turning resulted in serving God and actively waiting for Jesus to return. This meant being faithful to living out the gospel for others to see.
The difference of the gospel from idol worship is that in idol worship you could simply add multiple idols into your religious system. There would be no compromise because each idol was equal or compatible with the other. Tolerance for all religions was acceptable. The Roman government could not understand why the Christians would not go along and just add Jesus to the other gods. The reason was because the gospel of Jesus completely changes worship due to the fact that Jesus is the Son from heaven whom is raised from the dead. He is the resurrected King who surpasses all other gods. Therefore, the gospel cannot be added to your worship but it must replace all other heart idols.
TAKING IT HOME
What is your heart idol? Here are some questions to help you identify your idols:
– What do you desire each day? What do you daydream about?
– What do you demand from others; something that when you do not get you become irritated, upset, angry and perhaps violent?
– Where do you spend most of your time?
– What gives you the most stress, frustration or fear?
– For who or what do I live?
The gospel teaches that idols are cheap substitutes for God. The only way to remove these idols is to embrace the grace of Jesus – who rescues you from the coming wrath. He is the Savior who can liberate you from trying to achieve or earn acceptance with God.
Good News: Salvation is available. Jesus gives power to live each day.
Bad News: Religion is easier. Don’t be fooled for momentary gold.