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The Guidebook for Life (chapter 2:13-16)
One Step at a Time
The Guidebook for Life
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
I invite you to turn with me again this morning to the second chapter of the book of 1 Thessalonians as we continue our study called "One Step at a Time". 
Learning to follow the Lord and His teachings takes place one step at a time, beginning with a turn in our direction called conversion.  Those of us who are saved were once on a road that lead away from God and would ultimately take us to hell, but God intervened in our life by calling us to Himself.
When we responded to that call by repenting of our sin and confessing Jesus as Savior and Lord, our life's direction was completely reversed. To use the Biblical word, we were converted.  Now we are traveling in an entirely different direction marked by obedience to God and submission to His will. 
To aid us in that walk, God ordained the church and gifted it with pastors and teachers, and by their life and ministry among us, we are able to "walk worthy of God", as Paul says at the end of verse 12 in chapter 2. 
So what is it that causes those who minister among us to have success in their ministry?  After all, Paul says in verse 1 of chapter 2, that his coming to them was not in vain.  It wasn't empty and fruitless.  He found success in what he was doing.
I think the answer is found in one primary phrase that is used by Paul several times in these opening verses of chapter 2. 
Notice in
verse 2, he says, we spoke "the gospel of God". 
verse 4, "we have been approved by God to be
              entrusted with the gospel." 
verse 8, "we imparted the gospel of God." 
verse 9, we preached to you the gospel of God."
If we were talking about Paul and his ministry today, we would say, "He preached the Bible."  Now obviously, Paul didn't have a completed Bible as you and I do, but what he preached to them is what we now have the privilege of holding in our hands. 
The gospel message he proclaimed is the message of salvation in and through Jesus Christ.  That's what he preached. 
And this morning I want to broaden that thought to the completed Bible and say to you, not only has God saved you and put you on a brand new road, not only has God gifted you with a church and pastors and teachers to help you learn to walk worthy of Him, but He has blessed you with a guidebook for life so you'll know where to go and how to get there. 
And what I want to do this morning is give you some suggestions on how to make sure the message of the Bible is able to accomplish its purpose in your life.
Now I realize everyone in a Southern Baptist church knows and appreciates the importance of Scripture.
But here's what I've discovered over thirty some odd years of pastoring Southern Baptist churches:  not every Southern Baptist who says they believe the Bible believes the Bible!
You see, there is a difference between saying you believe something and believing something.  So what does it mean to believe the Bible? Let me suggest three answers to that question from the text before us and if you will listen, you will discover how to walk worthy of God.
First of all, believing the Bible means 
1. Accepting Its Authority in Every Area of Life
verse 13
Paul uses two words in verse 13 to explain what he means:
- You received the word of God.
That’s the hearing of the ear. It’s objective. It’s like signing a receipt at the post office so you can accept a package. Paul means that the Thessalonians listened intently to the message he preached because they knew it came from God.
- You welcomed it as the word of God.
This is the hearing of the heart. It’s subjective. There is a difference because it’s very possible to listen to preaching and not be changed by it.
It’s something else to welcome God’s message into your heart and let it transform your life.
The focus here is crucial. You heard the message from man but you recognized that it came from God. You heard from us (the human side) God’s message (the divine side). So you responded not as if it were the opinion of man, but as God’s word.
That’s why the debate over the nature of the Bible is so crucial. If it is only the word of man, then it is changeable, fickle and unreliable. But if the Bible is the word of God, then it is utterly and completely authoritative. If God has spoken in the Bible, then what he says has final claim on my life.
Think about it like this:  If the Bible comes from man, we are entitled to sit in judgment on it and ultimately take it or leave it, but if the Bible comes from God, we must bow in submission to it.
So immediately, this question of what we believe about the Bible hits very hear to home.  Does it come from man or from God? Is it on the level with the daily newspaper or does it speak with divine authority?
If you say it is the word of God, then you must also say that it is not simply one message among many. If the Bible is the word of God, it is utterly exclusive in its claims. It does not ask for our approval.
The Word of God is not like the first draft of a thesis where the writer submits it and says, “What do you think?”   God never asks us to correct the New Testament.
 He never asks us to review Isaiah and make a few changes. And he won’t abide by those who add to or take from the Book of Revelation.
It reminds me of the story of a church that was going through a difficult controversy. No one could agree on anything. At a business meeting one night the various factions were arguing about the minutes of the last meeting. When the pastor read a passage of Scripture, an old man stood to his feet and said, “Mr. Chairman, I move that the Bible stand approved as read.”
So it must be for you and me. The Bible stands approved as read, without correction, without change, without deletion, without addition and most of us agree with that and already know that.
But ponder the last phrase of verse 13, “which also effectively works in you who believe.”
Here Paul ties the power of the Word of God to the response of a believing heart and make sure you don't miss that phrase, "which also effectively works.”
Listen:  the Word works. There is power in the Word of God when its divine authority is accepted in a believing heart.
That word “works” is like our English word “energy.” The word is energized within us as we believe it. It is like farmland that bears a rich harvest. It is a like a gold mine that delivers great riches. It is like an investment that pays a huge dividend.
And the good news is when we hear the message outwardly, and welcome it inwardly, when we allow God’s word to rule over every area of our lives, it energizes us and produces a wonderful harvest.
And you need to know there is no substitute for the Word of God in your life.  And while we are passing by let me say, what you receive on Sunday from somebody else like your Sunday School teacher or me is not a substitute for feeding daily on the WOrd of God on your own.
in fact, as far as knowing God's will and knowing how to act and respond and believe, there is nothing more important for maintaining a warm relationship with Jesus Christ than a consistent, regular, quality quiet time.
And yet, far too many of us will try to substitute our knowledge and Christian activity for this simple discipline of a daily time with God and his Word.
How can we say we believe the Bible and accept its authority if we do not daily spend time in the Word?
If you are a deacon or staff member, if you have been a Christian for many years, if you teach Sunday School or serve the Lord in some way, I exhort you not to rationalize that your knowledge makes a quiet time unnecessary. New Christians rarely have to be convinced about this. It’s experienced Christians who tend to drift away.
So what does it mean to believe the Bible? Our first answer is very clear. Believing the Bible means accepting its authority in every area of your life.
Then verse 14 offers us a second answer. Believing the Bible means
2. Accepting the Opposition it Brings
verse 14
Now here Paul offers his hearers a piece of bad news. If you believe the Bible, you’re going to have some strong enemies. And then it gets worse and he gives them some really bad news. 
Here’s the really bad news. When Paul uses the word “countrymen” he uses a word that is absolutely unique. It’s not found anywhere else in the New Testament. It means the people closest to you. If you decide to believe the Bible is the word of God, many people who are close to you will not share your faith at all.
And here we intersect one of those difficult teachings of scripture that nobody likes to think about or mention.  But it needs to be understood that following Jesus doesn't mean everybody is all of a sudden going to be happy and get along and everything will be sweet. 
Listen to what He said in
Matthew 10:34-36
Following Jesus make create some division in your family, and especially if you've got some family who are outside of God's will. 
It may be homosexuality or living together outside of marriage or kids getting pregnant out of wedlock or in today's culture, a multitude of other issues that society has decided is acceptable. 
But God's Word says otherwise.  And if you decide to speak up and try to introduce God into the conversation, there is a very high likelihood that somebody's not going to like it. 
It certainly happens with the preaching ministry.  I can remember more than one occasion where somebody hasn't liked what I've said and there are always those who think we shouldn't speak out against sin. 
After all, it might turn away the very people we are trying to reach. And I understand that mentality.  I know there are people who believe it does more harm than good to confront sinful behavior.  But our deepest commitment is to the Word of God and not man. 
Obviously, it would be nice if everyone in Ardmore loved us, but they don't.  And if they despise us for telling the truth about homosexuality, then so be it. If they think we are narrow-minded and bigoted about abortion, then so be it.
And I always try to keep in mind what happened with the early church when Paul confronted the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.  They lied to the Holy Spirit about their offering; Peter confronted them about it; they dropped dead and were carried out and buried; great fear came upon the church and everyone who heard about it; and the ministry flourished because they were all in one accord.
That is a reminder that our deepest commitment is to the Word of God. We must preach it and teach it and proclaim because it is the only hope for a dying world.  But just be warned. Believing the Bible means accepting the opposition it brings.
There is yet a third answer to our question and that is believing the Bible means
3. Accepting Its Judgment on Society
verses 15-16
Now keep in mind, he's still talking about their countrymen, those closest to them.  And these are very sobering words. Paul mentions four ways that the Jews opposed the early Christians:
1. They killed Jesus and their own prophets
2. They persecuted the apostles
3. They were hostile to all men
4. They hindered the preaching of the gospel.
And it is this last point that really seems to grab the attention of Paul.  Remember, he came to Thessalonica for the express purpose of preaching the gospel. 
And it's one thing to say, “It's okay for you to believe that Jesus stuff, but it's not for me.  But it's a different matter entirely to say, “That's not for me and it's not for anybody else either."
We've watched that happen in our own nation.  There was a time not too long ago when the church was respected and the Bible was honored and Sunday's were off limits. 
Then we were told "It's okay for you to believe that stuff, but it's not to be imposed as morality on everyone.  After all, if it feels good, do it."
Then we were told, "It's okay if you want to believe that stuff, just keep it in your church."  And now, under the guise of discrimination and hate, there is a concerted effort to control even what is said in the churches and pulpits of America. 
Well I want you to know if you prefer to stay in darkness, that’s your privilege. But it is a terrible sin to put out the light so that others cannot see.
There is something fundamentally wrong with any religion that cuts off a man from his fellow man. Such a religion is not of God.
Mark it down, please. The greatest sin is not in refusing salvation, but in trying to keep others from believing.  If you prefer to go to hell, that’s your business. But we will not sit silently by and watch while you take others with you. 
There are those who will never attend an evangelistic meeting, but will do anything to stop others from attending. They will never pray in the public schools, and will threaten a lawsuit against anyone who does. They never go to church but use the zoning laws to keep churches out of their neighborhoods.
They never attend a home Bible study but get irate if a neighbor hosts a small group. They will not accept Christ but mock a co-worker who comes to faith. They will not lift a finger to save the unborn but they ridicule those who work in a crisis pregnancy center.
They create an ungodly atmosphere at work and then attempt to intimidate Christians into compromise or silence.
Such people are all around us today. Not all unbelievers fit this pattern … but some do. They do all they can to actively oppose Christians who are actively seeking to win others to Christ.
Verse 16 tells us two things about God’s judgment on such people:
- They heap up their sins to the limit
The word means to “fill to the brim.” They is a limit, a line, and a point of no return for each person. No one knows when or where that point is.  But that point of no return comes for nations, for families, and for individuals.
- Wrath has come upon them
The word is both present and future. Although our God is patient, his patience has its limits. Eventually the storm clouds rolls in and finally break over the heads of unbelievers. Though they be long delayed, the fires of hell will come at last to those who reject our Lord.
Please understand. This is God’s judgment on any society that rejects his revelation. No nation or individual can reject him with impunity. No nation can sin forever without reaping a divine punishment.
This is the final answer to the question: What does it mean to believe the Bible? If you believe the Bible, you must accept its judgment on society.
Let me wrap up this message with two concluding thoughts:
First, there are certain unchangeable facts which are true and which must be believed if we are to be truly Christian.
These truths are not like the shifting tides of human opinion. They do not change with the latest Gallup Poll. These truths make Christianity what it is and if they are neglected or denied, our faith loses its foundation.
Our only basis of authority is the Bible. Like Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, we say, “Our conscience is bound by the Word of God. Here we stand. We can do no other.”
Such a stand will not win us brownie points with the world or the society around us.  But that's ok.  Christians have been standing on the Word of God for centuries and I see no reason to stop now.
In fact, Let me sharpen the point just a bit. Suppose someone were to ask why you are a Christian. It is not enough to say, “I believe in Jesus because he solves all my problems” or “I come to this church because I meet so many nice people here.” That’s beside the point.
We must not claim to be Christians simply because of some advantage we receive. We must believe because the message is from God and is therefore true. No other answer will suffice.
Second, God’s wrath is a terrible reality that comes upon every individual, institution and nation that turns away from him.
There is such a thing as true moral guilt. You are a sinner by nature, by birth, and by choice. If we deny this, or soften, or shy away from it, then we do not believe the Bible no matter what we say. This truth is badly needed today and we do not help people by hiding it from them.
Only when men see they are under the wrath of God are they ready to hear about God’s great love for them. To paraphrase Billy Graham, you have to get people lost before you can get them saved. Once a man or a woman acknowledges their personal need, then you can tell them about Jesus and how his death and resurrection provides the full payment for their sins.  Once they know that, they are ready to enter into a personal relationship with God.
This means that every person faces a most solemn choice: To go their own way and face judgment and wrath or to turn to God in Christ and receive salvation, forgiveness and a brand-new life.
When a man says in his heart, “I have decided to follow Jesus, “ he has made the choice to step off the path of death and onto the path of life. He turned off that steep road that leads down to hell and set his feet on the path that leads to heaven.
That means there is some good news and there is some sad news and there is some bad news:
The Good News is the Bible is true and when we believe it, God’s power is released in your life.
The Sad News is that those closest to us will often oppose our Christian faith.
And the Bad News is that God’s wrath comes upon those who reject his Word.
God's Word is nothing less than God Himself saying to lost mankind as He said through Isaiah:
"This is the Way; walk in it."
And remember what the little chorus, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" says?  Not only have I decided to follow Jesus, but there is no turning back.  
Perhaps we need to add a verse for this generation that says, "I have decided to believe the Bible, no turning back, no turning back."
May it be so as we walk with God one step at a time.
Let's pray.
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