“For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…“
and how you turned to God
The “what manner” is important, but so is the “how” of the gospel coming into a community. The Thessalonians demonstrated the power of the gospel by their conversion to serve the “living and true God” and their willingness to “wait for His Son from Heaven.”
The word “turned” is a term of conversion, a complete change, of course. This was a revolutionary change in viewpoint and attitudes of the Thessalonians. Others saw their theology as living vitality. The only theology that non-Christians know about is what they see in the lives of believers. When they see an about face in values and life, it brings them up short. They take notice: “Why does my friend direct his whole life toward God now?”
Note the order of words here. We would normally think in terms of turning from idols to God, but here Paul’s argument is that they first turned to God and then away from idols. The Thessalonians did not leave their idols and then go out to find God. They turned to God and then left their idols. When people see the glory of God, they willingly and immediately turn from idols. Conversion is no convenient fire escape from hell; it is not only turning from something, but it is a turning to something.
An idol is anything that we worship, anything that takes the place of God in our lives. Many people worship money. Others devote themselves to self-adulation. Some place self-indulgence and pleasure as the centerpiece of their life. A great segment of our society lives in sexual lust and worship in a pattern similar to those who worshiped Aphrodite centuries ago.
An idol is an expression of rebellion against God (Romans 1:18ff). However, to embrace the gospel message is an expression of trust in God’s authority as the only way of salvation.
Conversion is not only a turning to something, but it is a turning from something. When we turn to God, that automatically turns our back to anything that gainsays who He is. There is a difference between God and Satan, heaven, and hell. When we turn our face to one, we turn our back on the other.
The gospel is mutually exclusively true.
True conversion involves coming to understand the gospel in mutually exclusive terms. The Thessalonians turned to God from idols. Syncretism of any kind distorts the gospel message. We cannot mingle any other message with the gospel. No one can worship two masters simultaneously (Matthew 5:24) because the dynamic of a master is absolute. To misunderstand this is to miss the essence of the gospel message.
It is not enough to believe that Jesus is our Savior; we must renounce any other way of salvation. As the Thessalonians turned away from idols, so those who truly believe must turn their back on any belief that stands in contradistinction to the essence of the gospel.
We cannot truly turn to God without turning away from something. True conversion involves turning our back on any worship other than that of “the living and true God.” This will cost us something. No doubt, we will lose friends and probably some business. People in our day turn to God without turning away from their primary devotion. No wonder many conversions to do not take! Very few leaders will take a stand on a mutually exclusive gospel because they do not want to fly in the face of “tolerance” in local churches and para-church organizations.
The Lord Jesus Christ will not play second fiddle to anyone or anything.
“‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them’” (Mark 4:12).
”And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’” (Luke 22:31-32).
“…’to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me’” (Acts 26:18).
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
“For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).