INTERSECT | The Word at Work in YOU
1 Thessalonians 2:13
“Come Thou Fount” by Robert Robinson has become one of the most familiar, enduring, and well-loved hymns. However, before Robinson became a Christian, he wasn’t open to the Bible. In fact, he and some young buddies once went to hear the famous evangelist George Whitefield—not to listen but to mock the preacher and his followers.
However, a phrase from Whitefield’s sermon hit home with Robinson: “the wrath to come.” Robinson didn’t become a Christian that day, but for months, even years, he couldn’t shake those words. He became a Christian much later, but it all began with that simple phrase impacting his heart and conscience.
The story illustrates the power and effectiveness of the Word of God. The Bible describes itself as living and active, sharper than a sword, piercing deep within to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. God is always at work in the world through the simple, yet life-transforming power of His Word. If you want God to work in your life, understand both salvation and sanctification come through His Word.
Salvation comes through accepting God’s Word.
First Thessalonians 2:13 makes a powerful statement about the nature of the Word of God. Specifically, Paul referred to the gospel message, even though he did not use the term. He referenced the time the pagan Thessalonians heard the gospel message from him and accepted it.
I find it interesting Paul had a different strategy when interacting with Jews. He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, the Old Testament, which the Jews accepted as the Word of God. Paul used Old Testament Scriptures to demonstrate Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.
But the Thessalonians didn’t have an Old Testament background. Paul understood and claimed the gospel message about Jesus Christ came from God. The gospel originates with God. Yes, He uses men to spread it. He uses people to proclaim it. Ultimately, though, it comes from Him. Our “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”
The Bible is a human book. It didn’t float down from Heaven. God used men to write it, writing over many centuries to different audiences, with different purposes, and through unique writing styles and literary genres. The Bible came through human language. However, if we stop there, we miss a crucial point the Bible repeats constantly about itself. The Bible is the Word of God.
How do we know the Bible is God’s Word? Consider its internal consistency, fulfilled prophecy, the 40-plus authors spread over centuries who produced a single unifying theme without collaboration. Look to Jesus, who fulfilled the Old Testament covenants and prophecies in “real time.” Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, who authored the book and bears constant witness to His words. He takes the Word of God and brings it home to the individual person; He alone can make it personal.
Two Greek words (both translated received) are used here to stress this initial hearing and acceptance of God’s Word. The first was commonly used to describe the acceptance of a tradition, the same idea found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, where Paul described his own acceptance of the gospel message: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” The second word translated received is still about acceptance, but it additionally carries the idea of welcoming something, and was sometimes used in hospitality.
Think about it like this—Your home is your space, and your front door marks the entrance into your space. You may refuse access to some people who ring the doorbell, or even pretend you aren’t home. They aren’t welcome at all. Then there is the pizza guy. He is welcome (especially if you have teenagers like I do) but likely not welcomed all the way in. But when family, friends, or grandkids show up, you welcome them and encourage them to make themselves right at home.
When the Thessalonians heard about Christ, they welcomed the gospel message into their lives and were radically changed. They invited Jesus into their lives to “make Himself at home.” That made all the difference. They found salvation from accepting the Word of God.
Transformation comes from believing God’s Word.
Not only did acceptance of God’s Word bring salvation, but Paul also stressed God continues working through His Word to change lives. Paul wrote in present tense as demonstrated by the words “effectually worketh” and “believe.” After we are saved, God continues to work in us through our ongoing belief in His Word. I can’t speak for you, but much remains to be done in my life. As the familiar children’s song says: “He’s still workin’ on me, to make me what I ought to be.”
The big word theologians use to describe this process is sanctification: the process by which God conforms us, shapes us to think, feel, and act more like Jesus. This ongoing process will never be completed in this life. But this verse encourages readers: God is faithful to work through His Word to change and mature us.
When the Word of God comes to us, we choose to receive it and welcome it, or we choose to reject it. Do you want God to change your life? Welcome the Word. Give it free rein in your heart and mind. The Word is powerful and effective, comforting, convicting, encouraging, exhorting, correcting, and training, It will continue working in every area that needs improvement as long as we accept it, welcome it, and believe it.
The Word of God is the compass for the Christian. No matter where you find yourself in life, or in what situation, the Word is your true north, providing God’s direction. It is the only sure and steadfast foundation upon which you can build your life. As the songwriter reminds us from the Sermon on the Mount, “All other ground is sinking sand.”
The Word of God is your food, strength, and sustenance. Jesus fought temptation by reminding Satan man doesn’t exist on bread alone (physical food) but feeds upon the Word of God (Matthew 4:4). The psalmist likens God’s Word to a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105).
I once heard a lady share her salvation testimony. She described a season of doubt. Although she had prayed to become a Christian, she felt uncertain, struggling with assurance. She shared how she gained assurance from a somewhat surprising section of the Bible. While reading the opening chapters of Genesis and the creation account, she encountered the phrase, “And God said...”
Those words settled it for her. She already believed the gospel—but something about that simple phrase provided the assurance she needed desperately. God said it. She accepted the gospel and welcomed it into her life. As a result, His Word provided the reassurance she needed, “effectually working” through her belief. May the same be true for all of us.
About the Columnist: Dr. Barry Raper pastors Bethel FWB Church near Ashland City, Tennessee. He also serves as program coordinator for ministry studies at Welch College. Barry and his wife Amanda have five children.