An Exemplary Case of Conversion


“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

The apostle Paul was exceptionally thankful for the Christians in Thessalonica, and he is careful in his letter to tell them so. “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 2-3).

It is in this spirit that the apostle says their faith and their work had been so exemplary that believers everywhere in the region and beyond were taking notice. Their conversion to Christ, Paul says, had become well known. What did their conversion look like?

“They turned…to serve…and to wait.” This statement provides a good summary of Christian conversion, as well as a description of the life a disciple—turning from earthly idols to serve God and to wait for Christ’s final deliverance of his people.

They turned. They had turned to God from the idols of their past. In the case of these believers, they had once been in paganism with its many deities. Their conversion meant they had turned from those dead idols, and had come to believe and trust in the one God, the living and true One. Their faith came because they accepted the message of the gospel as the word of God (1 Thess. 1:6; 2:13).

Turning to God is a decision, an act of the will. It means we let go and leave behind worldly idols that capture our allegiance and enslave us—false religion, money, power, fame, pleasure, immorality. All such idols alike are man-made, dead, and empty. But the truth can set us free (John 8:32). Through the power of the gospel, we can turn to God (Rom. 1:16).

To serve. Turning to God also means our lives in the present should be defined by continuing to serve him. The Thessalonians’ new relationship with God was that of servants gladly and willingly surrendering to the will of the Master. Conversion is more than a past event that brought change. It is the beginning of a new life, a life of service. It is through this new life of servitude that we find true freedom (Rom. 6:15-18).

To wait. Turning to God also enables us to look hopefully to the future. We wait for the Son of God. Though we may suffer affliction in the present, we confidently anticipate ultimate victory. God’s wrath will finally come upon those who persist in clinging to their idols. But for those who have turned to him, God will finish the work he began with Christ’s resurrection. So, we wait for his return from heaven. Even in the face of affliction, we live joyfully in hope.

“They turned…to serve…and to wait.” And others noticed. Perhaps there is no better witness to what it means to be truly converted to the Lord.

Dan Petty