“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:5-10).
What was it that made the Thessalonian church an example of faith? Was it the fact that they were real Christians whose lives radically changed once they heard and received the word of truth? They did not get religion, instead they turned to God with their whole heart. Is this the missing element in the church today? It seems that those who claim to follow Jesus have not actually turned to Him at all, but remain exactly as they were before they heard the gospel.
Turning to God includes turning away from something too. The Thessalonian church turned to the Lord and away from idols. They saw that believing in Jesus was not compatible with the religions they had followed previously. These people would never accept ecumenism or interfaith unity, for they found all the answers they could ever need in the Saviour. This turn from paganism meant that they gave up all their sinful acts and practices. It is impossible to turn to God and still hold on to sin; those who try to do so soon fail in their walk with Christ.
Some think that turning to God simply means turning over a new leaf, but what is the good of that if the branch is still connected to the same rotten tree! Turning to God means turning our back on sin forever. Unless we commit ourselves to do that, whatever we think we have, it definitely is not Biblical faith or solid salvation, instead we are deceiving ourselves all the way to damnation. The most common word used in the Bible for turning to God is ‘repent’, and it literally implies turning around and going in the opposite direction from where we were originally heading. True repentance is not changing our lifestyle or trying to be a good people, rather it is turning to the only one who can save us from sin, forgive us and put us on the pathway of righteousness. It is desiring to live a life that pleases God by abiding by His word and being led by His Spirit. Those who have never sincerely given their whole life to God have never truly repented or turned to Him. Repentance is not according to our standards but God’s. “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Acts 26:20 teaches that the sinner must “repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” If there is no observable change in our lives, then we have never really turned to Christ.
Turning into a witness
The first thing we want to do when we become Christians is to tell everyone about what the Lord has done for us. Basically our desire is to see them saved and serving God. The Thessalonians were evangelical Christians, insomuch that even distant regions heard about the passion for Christ. Because they turned away from their former lives, they were credible witnesses of the life-changing power of Christ. How can we call others to follow Him if we do not actually do it ourselves. Are we not hypocrites instead? Holding on to sin will make us ashamed and embarrassed about telling our friends, family and neighbours about what God can do for them. If sin is hindering our testimony, the problem can instantly be solved by turning to the Lord. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The Holy Spirit wants to renew the boldness we once had and we will again find that we want to point others to the way of salvation and away from destruction.
It is obvious that the Thessalonian church made a difference in their own city and wherever they reached out to. Lives were touched and changed because they were examples of what Christians ought to be. They not only witnessed with their words but also with their lives. Someone once said that our lives are the only Bible some people will read. Do those around us read us like The Book? The only reason why we are ineffective in our testimony is because we are unwilling to let the Lord take complete control of our lives. We are meant to dispel the darkness of sin and false religion by being the kind of people God intended us to be. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Jesus said that we are “the light of the world” let us not make Him seem like a liar (Matthew 5:14). The Bible is the only book that, if lived out faithfully, can make friends and influence people.
Turning to God means more than saying the sinner’s prayer and going to church. It requires all out commitment to Christ in every part of our lives. Turning away from the world is an absolutely essential part of being a Christian, for without it we remain as we were before we heard of Him. “Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips” (Hosea 14:2).