WHO GOD IS: Avenger of Wickedness & Rescuer of the Faithful

“God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.” 1 Thessalonians 2:16

“Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.” 1 Thessalonians 1:10

Wrath can be a scary thing. It is not just an emotion of anger, but it is an extreme form of anger accompanied by terrifying actions. While some may see wrath as a sign of emotional immaturity, for others it may evoke a terrifying memory of a horrendous lived experience. 

For this reason, many of us have a hard time associating wrath with God. We may want to distance ourselves from the “fire and brimstone” message of certain preachers, and instead draw people to God’s love, compassion, and mercy. However when we only focus on some of God’s characteristics, we do not get an accurate understanding of God. When we deliberately pick and adopt which characteristics we like, while rejecting those we do not, that is a form of idolatry. 

Whether we like it or not: God has wrath. God’s wrath burns hot against that which runs contrary to His rule and character; things like rebellion (2 Kings 22:17), sin (Ezekiel 36:16-19), and injustice (Exodus 22:21-24). However, unlike what we may have experienced from others here on earth, God’s wrath is always righteous, just, and given in appropriate measure. God is not sitting in heaven smiting people on a whim, like a child with a magnifying glass burning ants in the hot sun (yes, that was me as a child). Psalm 103:7 tells us that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

When we follow Jesus, we recognize that He is King. We relinquish our rights and no longer live by our own moral laws, but we now follow His authority, and live under His laws. As citizens of His kingdom, we are under His protection and will not face His wrath or judgment. As we continue to seek to grow in Him, we continue to experience His mercy, grace, and love.

WHO WE ARE: Called into His Kingdom and Glory

“(God) calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:12

“For God did not call us for impurity, but in holiness.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7

“Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NET)

In Acts, Luke does not tell us very much about Paul’s time in Thessalonica. We know that it was cut short by persecution, and that he preached his typical message that Jesus the Messiah had risen from the dead (Acts 17:2-4). While that message may have angered some of the resident Jews, that message would not be offensive enough to upset the large Gentile population of Thessalonica. What did he say that caused such an offense that it resulted in both Paul’s departure and a persecution against these new Christians?

Acts 17:7 tells us of Paul’s “offense”: he was proclaiming that there was another king named Jesus. In the Roman Empire it was treason to proclaim anyone king but the emperor! But despite this, Paul did not shy away from his message. Of those who accepted Jesus as their King, Paul says that they are “called into God’s kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). This was true for the Thessalonian Christians, and this is true for us today as well. What does it mean that we are called into God’s kingdom and glory?

To be one of God’s called, is to choose a life that is obedient to His authority and laws. As Paul says in 4:7, “God has not called us to impurity, but in holiness.” Being called is not a passport into heaven while living the life you want. Being called is a purchase by a King, to reflect His character, and serve Him how He wants. 

Does this sound difficult? Left to ourselves and our sinful nature, it would be! But fortunately we have help. As those who are called of God we rely on His power to make us holy so we can be blameless before Him (5:23-24).

WHAT WE BELIEVE: The End is Only the Beginning

“And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be always be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

There are two questions that the parent of every small child dreads to be asked. Ironically the two dreaded questions deal with the bookends of life: where do babies come from, and what happens to us when we die. Fortunately, this post will not deal with the first question.

If you asked most people what do Christians believe, a large percentage might answer something to the effect of, “If you believe in Jesus, then you get to go to heaven when you die”. Many understand the Christian faith to be like a visa stamp in your passport that allows you to enter into a country. However instead of a 90 day visa to visit a location on your bucket list, you get an eternal visa to live as a spirit in a mansion in heaven, surrounded by angels playing harps. If this is your picture of the Christian life after death, then your picture did not come from the Bible!

The Bible teaches us that we are all infected with an incurable disease that has a 100% death rate. Way back in Genesis 3, we learn that death was a consequence (or curse) for disobedience (or sin). In Romans 5:12 Paul tell us that, “death spread to all because all have sinned”. Many have tried to defeat death, and yet death wins every. single. time… Except one.

The power of death is far greater than any human power. But is the power of death greater than God’s? The showdown of the cross provided us with the answer. As Jesus’ cold, dead body was placed in the tomb, it looked like all hope was lost. But, as Peter proclaims in Acts 2:24, “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Jesus rose from the dead, defeating all power that death held over himself, and any who are a part of his kingdom. This is why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 that as believers we do not grieve like those who do not share this hope. 

As Paul continues this description in 1 Thessalonians, we see that living as spirits in heaven is not our final destination. When Christ comes again, those who have died and those who are alive join the Lord, not as spirits living in heaven, but as people with an imperishable body, living in his kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:51-55; Revelation 21:1-5). As followers of Jesus we have hope because the best is yet to come! 

HOW WE LIVE: Worthy of God

“We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:12 

One of the most memorable movies over the past 25 years is Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon. In this movie, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) is tasked to retrieve a solider named Private Ryan (Matt Damon) whose brothers have both been killed in combat. SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the movie, Captain Miller is fatally shot in their rescue, and is left dying on the side of the road. As life starts to drain from his eyes, with his last breath he stares deeply at Private Ryan and utters the unforgettable phrase, “Earn this!”

Captain Miller had given Private Ryan the most precious gift he could offer: his own life. Private Ryan did nothing to deserve it. It was a priceless gift that was freely given to him without merit. It was now up to him to live the rest of his life in a way that was worthy of the priceless sacrifice given to him by Private Ryan.

In the same way, we have also received the most precious gift without merit: Christ has given his life, so we can live life abundantly (John 10:10), walk in righteousness (Roman 6:12-19), and abstain from evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We have done nothing to earn this precious gift. The question now is, what are we going to do with it? 

We have the free gift. The price has been paid. Our freedom purchased. We did no works to deserve it. What God requires of us in return is “to walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). Now “Earn this!”