Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Does 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 Describe Conversion or Some Post Conversion Sanctification Experience?

In our discussion here about Lordship Salvation (LS) or biblical or historical salvation and the free grace (FS) presentation, one text mentioned was 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10:

For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye 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, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

Here at What Is Truth, we say that text describes conversion, but the FG say it is or might be some kind of post-conversion sanctification experience.  I have found they fail in an attempt to describe how this actually occurs after someone is saved, but still they must have this be post-conversion in order to keep FG intact.  FG here reads like a desperate conforming of a passage to a predisposed position, not any kind of plain exegesis, letting the text speak for itself.   You hear hoofbeats in the text, but FG hears zebras, not horses.  They can't have obvious horses be there because it will contradict their zebra position not found in the Bible.

"Ye turned" translates an aorist, indicative, active from epistrepho.  FG try to make a point out of 'this isn't the word metanoeo,' the verb "repent."  It would seem that anyone in his right mind would say, "So what?"  Epistrepho is salvation, yes, repentance terminology, that is, if when you hear hoofbeats, you go with the obvious, plain horses and not zebras.  Here are some other places where epistrepho is used (I'll italicize and underline the English translation of the Greek verb):

Matthew 13:15 -- For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 
Mark 4:12 -- That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. 
Luke 1:16 -- And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 
Acts 3:19 -- Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. 
Acts 11:21 -- And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. 
Acts 14:15 -- And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: 
Acts 15:19 -- Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 
Acts 26:18 -- To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. 
Acts 26:20 -- But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

That's enough.  There are more.  In Acts, it is the operative word for describing Gentiles turning to God from idols.  And then you read 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and see that it is the word that Paul used to describe Gentiles turning to God from idols in Thessalonica.

Lou Martuneac (FG) writes that we don't see Paul talk about "turning" in Acts 17, when he went to Thessalonica.  The verses at the beginning of Acts 17 are not exhaustive to what Paul preached when he went to Thessalonica.  Acts 17:1-4 and 1 and 2 Thessalonians should be harmonized to know more.  Harmonization is the historic means of interpreting parallel passages, not forcing one into the other.

Lou says that the "they" of "they themselves" at the start of 1 Thessalonians 1:9 is "their 'faith to God-ward,' which became known abroad."  "They," plural referring to people, doesn't refer to singular "faith," which is not a people or person.  This isn't that hard.  "They themselves" in v. 9 refers back to "all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia" back in v. 7.  The testimony of the saints of the other churches in Macedonia and Achaia about the conversion of the Thessalonians had been received by Paul, because that story had spread all over the place.

The report of v. 9 is "what manner of entering in we (Paul) had unto you."  This is talking about right when Paul arrived, first encountered the Thessalonians.  It's similar to Paul saying at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15:3, "For I delivered unto you first of all."  The report was that at the time Paul first interacted with them, preaching the gospel, they "turned to God from idols."  "Turned" is aorist, which is completed action in the past.  It's not talking about a practice or a lifestyle characteristic of sanctification, but a particular act at one point in time that was completed, which describes salvation, not sanctification.  When you look at those other usages of epitrepho in Acts and elsewhere, you find agreement.   The words "repent," "turn," "be converted," and even "believe" are all interrelated as seen in the usages of epitrepho, speaking about nuances of the same act.   We're talking about something that is at one point in time, not some ongoing activity.  The Macedonian and Achaian churches were showing to others the conversion of the Thessalonians.

FG proponent Lou Martuneac writes that somehow the clincher that this has got to be talking about something post-conversion is the grammatical usage of the two infinitives at the end of v. 9 and the beginning of v. 10, "to serve" (doulein) and "to wait" (anamenein).  Rightly, he says they both express purpose and that they are parallel, that is, they go together.   Lou makes it sound like some conspiracy that LS advocates don't want people to know about v. 10, leave that out on purpose to cover their tracks.  Lou says "to wait for his Son from heaven" cannot be, must not be, salvation or conversion language, because "[t]here is no other passage in Scripture that conditions the reception of eternal life on believing in Christ’s Second Coming or waiting for it!"

I have to admit that I stand with mouth agape in amazement at the above type of game-playing.  Lou is saying "turn to serve" might be salvation, but if you add "turn to serve and to wait," then no, it can't be, because 'believing in the second coming of Christ is required nowhere to be saved.'  First, he's wrong.  Believing in Jesus is believing in the Second Coming.  The apostates' big problem was with the second coming and Peter preached that to them (2 Peter).  Their rejection of the second coming was their rejection of Jesus.  The Jesus of the Bible is historic, He's real, He died and was buried and rose again and ascended into Heaven, and He will be coming because of all those and setting up His kingdom.  Read Peter's sermon in Acts 2 -- he includes it to the lost there (vv. 34-36).  Why did they want to know how to respond to the sermon?  Because they were afraid of the One who had risen from the dead and who would come back and judge.  He preaches it again in Acts 3:19.   Read what Paul preaches to the Gentiles in Acts 17:29-32 -- same thing.

Eternal life is as opposed to what?  Eternal death.  And when is that going to occur?  What is the kingdom of God that people are to believe in now that Jesus has ascended into heaven?  You can't reject the second coming of Jesus and believe in Jesus.  Why believe in Jesus if He's not coming back?  What is salvation if it's not Jesus coming and saving us in the end?  When do people call on the name of the Lord to be saved in Joel 2?  It's when Jesus comes back.  Is someone who receives Jesus Christ waiting for nothing?   Of course not.  Receiving Jesus Christ is wrapped up in waiting. None of this is new.  Spurgeon preached on this passage on October 26, 1884, and said:

What comes next? Well, the second stage is conversion. "They themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned from idols to serve the living and true God." There came a turning, a decided turning. The man has come so far in carelessness, so far in sin and unbelief; but now he pauses, and he deliberately turns round, and faces in that direction to which hitherto he had turned his back. Conversion is the turning of a man completely round, to hate what he loved and to love what he hated. Conversion is to turn to God decidedly and distinctly by an act and deed of the mind and will. In some senses we are turned; but in others, like these Thessalonians, we turn. It is not conversion to think that you will turn, or to promise that you will turn, or resolve that you will turn, but actually and in very deed to turn, because the word has had a true entrance into your heart. You must not be content with a reformation; there must be a revolution: old thrones must fall, and a new king must reign. Is it so with you?

He says much more in the sermon, but of course Spurgeon sees it as conversion, because it is conversion.  It's an easy call.  It is sad that the FG are so caught up in their own viewpoint to wrestle such an easy description of conversion and turn it into something else, only to keep "turning" out of the requirement for conversion.  How dangerous is this?

Is there anything post-conversion to 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10?  Sure.  Someone who turns at one point in time to a life of serving and waiting will serve and wait.  They were surely still serving and waiting.  But Paul is talking specifically about his entering in to Thessalonica.  When he entered in, they turned.  This is not talking about the testimony of their present Christian life, but about the testimony of their past turn at a point in time from idols.  This is repentance and conversion.

The FG twist passages such as 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 that are really easy to understand, convoluting them for their own purposes.  Shame.


KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Thank you for the article. As far as I can remember, I've always thought that waiting for the Son from heaven is the "faith" side of conversion and the "turn" is the repentance side in 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10. I cannot recall ever thinking that it was the description of a post-conversion experience.

Diakonos said...

Last evening in prayer meeting, a brother was praying for his children. Something in his prayer seemed slightly different than what we usually hear. He prayed that the Lord would so work in their hearts that they would really know their own hearts' conditions and really be looking for the return of the Lord. He was praying for their salvation (he thinks one young boy might be already saved, but the others he's quite sure are not yet). I noted what he said. Then I later read your blog post and recalled how he prayed. I don't think it was intentional on his part to have this allusion to "wait for the Son from heaven" in his prayer, but I think he was praying in the Holy Spirit (under the Spirit's leading). It was inherent in his prayer that "waiting for the Son from heaven" is equal to being saved.

I do not claim to have the entire LS-FG issue sorted out, but I think the FG side has some insurmountable contradictions of the sacred text, and the LS side has some problems with terminology (imprecise wording) that can even lead its proponents into contradiction of Scripture. Not always is the "turning" clearly defined by LS advocates as internal; therefore some folks (maybe even some unsaved proponents of LS) think the "turning" means a work or external action (reformation), while, in fact, the turning is the cause of such lifestyle changes. Spurgeon said it well (as you quoted): "by an act and deed of the mind and will". But if one takes his other words, "actually and in very deed to turn," out of context, it does look as if it's a work.

I also am not convinced Brother Cloud created a straw man, and I'm quite sure that if he did, it was not intentional. There do seem to be pleny of LS advocates that are so imprecise (and sometimes very errant on other things, too), that I'd be publicly reproach Bro. Cloud based on his presentation.

Thank you for very thought-provoking and heart-searching posts.


Dave Doran said...


Bobby said...

Amen from me too. Of course, what else would you expect from your lackey? Ha!!

Seriously, AMEN.

Diakonos said...

I accidentally wrote this:
…that I'd be publicly reproach Bro. Cloud based on his presentation…

I meant to write this:
…that I'd be slow publicly reproach Bro. Cloud based on his presentation…

Sorry for the error.


Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm fine with the faith/repentance division. It's not explicit, but if you think about it, a person turns from something to something, and he turns because there is something he's waiting for.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Dave Doran. Love rejoices in the truth.

Thanks Bobby Mitchell. The lackey comment was low, but you were well on the path you are on before we ever met. You are totally independent. I have zero lackeys. I don't inspire lackey-ness. And you are the exact opposite of someone who would be a lackey -- it was just someone who would say something as nasty as he could, who himself is very insecure.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I have been very slow to criticize David Cloud, but when I do, I'm criticizing what he wrote, not him per se. On personal basis, I wonder if he would give me the same benefit of the doubt.

JimCamp65 said...

I think Diakonos stated, very well, where I am personally on all of this.
I worry about the FG position being too flippant in it's execution (like a Hyles soul winning presentation). I worry about the LS position being too easily rerouted to works or reformation. (I would wish for better terminology - Grace is Free, Jesus is Lord; & none of us would want to argue against either).

Bro. Kent, this is taking off in a different direction, but do you think an
amillennialist cannot be saved?

Believing in Jesus is believing in the Second Coming.
Their rejection of the second coming was their rejection of Jesus.

Thought I would ask.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't thin we look for a "balance" in doctrine. LS isn't saying it isn't free. Those are just names. I actually think FG has a problem, because they teach a kind of works salvation, because after your "accept Jesus as Savior" then you've got to work to get this kind of completed salvation experience.

We want to teach what the Bible says, which Lou is not doing. He's forcing 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 on this. That should be obvious to anyone who cares about it.

Regarding amillennialism, amillennialists believe in the second coming. I'm not here to defend amillennialism, but you are looking for a point there from I don't know what. Let me put it back on you. Do you believe that someone can be saved and not believe in the second coming of Jesus?

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I followed your link to Lou's article and read it. I don't intend to
be disrespectful to Lou, but I cannot help thinking that the exegesis
in his article is awful. You can supposedly believe Jesus is the
Christ--that is, the Messianic King--and enter the kingdom of the
King, and yet not want the King to rule over you, but enter the
kingdom of the Messianic King as a rebel who has no commitment to stop
rebelling. You are correct that the following statement is
astonishing: "There is no other passage in Scripture that conditions the reception of eternal life on believing in Christ's Second Coming .
. ." So someone can not only reject wanting to serve God and still
"believe" to be saved, but someone can also think Jesus is never
coming back--that the world will just keep going on like it is now,
with no second coming--and be saved! This is apparently so obvious to
Lou that he thinks it definitively undermines and refutes the classic
Baptist exegesis of 1 Thess 1:9-10!

If I wrote his article, I would be ashamed, and I would take the article down.

KJB1611 said...

By the way, saying that one could believe in Christ without believing in his second coming also obliterates the idea of what Christ or Messiah means. The Messiah has to come to set up his kingdom over the earth – if he never comes back, he is not the Messiah.