July 11, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (NRSV)
We also constantly give thanks to God for this, but when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in new believers.
The gospel tells the story of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. This good news comes through human words, but it is truly the word of God. When we receive this word in faith, it becomes alive in us. Christians are just people who believe in the gospel. We are people in whom the gospel is at work.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
As near as I can remember, the first time I heard the good news of God’s love for me in Jesus Christ was at a Billy Graham Crusade in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1963. Now, I may well have heard this good news earlier from my mother, who had been a faithful Christian since before my birth. And I’m quite sure I sang “Jesus Loves Me” in Sunday school when I was a preschooler. So I must’ve had some sense of the gospel before I went to the Billy Graham Crusade. However, when I heard Rev. Graham preach, the truth that he proclaimed touched my mind and heart. I knew that the words I was hearing from a human preacher weren’t just his opinion. I felt that he was speaking God’s truth for all people, including me. So I went forward in response to the gospel to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior.
The good news of God’s grace in Christ comes to us packaged in human words. Whether we read these words in the Bible or a gospel tract, or whether we hear them in person from the preacher or via the internet, the words impacting our senses come from a human source. But the truth they convey is not human in its origin. It comes from God. Thus, in writing to their Thessalonian converts, Paul and his church- planting partners say: “We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The phrase “word of God” in this context refers not to the Incarnate Word, that is, Jesus Christ, or to the Bible as the Word of God, but rather to the good news of God’s love in Christ. This gospel tells the story of God’s activity in Christ and therefore it is God’s story, God’s word. God is both the star of the story and its author.
When, like the Thessalonians, we accept the good news of Christ through faith, we receive the salvation that God alone can provide. We enter into a relationship with God and also with God’s people in Christ. We know God in the present, however imperfectly, and look forward to fuller knowledge of God in the future. All of this happens when we respond to the good news of God.
But that’s not the end of our engagement with the gospel. In fact it’s just the beginning. Notice what Paul and his colleagues write to the Thessalonians: “[W]hen you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, emphasis added). I want to note two things about the Greek verb translated here as “is at work.” First, this English phrase translates the verb energeō. You can see in those transliterated letters the root from which we get words such as “energy” and “energize.” When we accept the good news of God‘s grace in Christ, that isn’t the end of its influence in our lives. Rather, the gospel continues to be alive in us, energizing us to live as active, faithful followers of Jesus.
Second, the verb energeō appears in the present tense. This underscores the point I just made. We became Christians by responding to the word of God in the past. This happened once in life. But we live as Christians with the energy of the gospel stirring within us in the present. Conversion is just the first step in a lifelong journey of living in the truth and power of the gospel.
This wonderful reality leads me to ask two questions. First, how does the gospel actually work within us? Second, what difference will the energizing gospel make in our daily lives? I can imagine writing a whole book in response to these two crucial questions. Maybe I will sometime. But for now, let me offer some brief reflections. I’ll respond to the first question today, saving the second question for tomorrow.
How does the gospel actually work within us? In part, this happens through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. When we become Christians, not only do we become alive in Christ, but also the Spirit of God comes to live in us. One of the chief functions of the Spirit is to remind us of the gospel and help it to shape our lives. We cooperate in this sanctifying work by paying attention to the Spirit’s work as well as by attending to the written word of God found in Scripture. Through study, reflection, and prayer, in the power of the Spirit, the gospel comes alive in us.
Gospel formation happens in Christian community as we live, study, worship, and pray together with our sisters and brothers in Christ. The phrase in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 translated as “which is also at work in you believers” could equally be translated “which is now at work among you believers.” The gospel thrives, not only in our individual lives, but also and essentially in the community of Christians. When we gather for worship, for example, we regularly hear the good news proclaimed in sermons, creeds, and songs. Importantly, when we share in communion together, we remember the good news of God’s love in Christ and we receive a representation of that news through the bread and cup. Then, together, we take this good news into the world, to share it in word and deed.
In tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion I’ll respond to the question: What difference will the energizing gospel make in our daily lives? For now, let me invite you to reflect on the following questions, to consider one suggested action, and to join me in prayer.
When did you first respond to the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ? What happened?
To what extent would you say that the gospel is living and active in you?
What helps you to experience the good news of the gospel all over again?
Talk with a wise friend or your small group about what it might mean for the gospel to be at work in and among you.
Gracious God, thank you for the good news of your grace in Christ. Thank you for the way this news saves us. Thank you for the potential of this news to transform us.
Help me, Lord, to be open to the full power of the gospel. May I take this word to heart, hear it, reflect upon it, celebrate it, share it, live it, and be transformed by it. And may this be true, not just for me, but for my church as well. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Fruitful Word
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.