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 (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
The Apostle Paul preached in the Greek city of Thessalonica only about 3 weeks before there was a riot and he was run out of town. Being forced to leave didn’t change his concern about those who had received the gospel message: you are a sinner, Jesus died for sinners, He was raised again to life for those who would believe upon Him alone.
Settled into a the metropolis of Corinth, Paul sent his trusted co-worker Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the small band of Christians was fairing. Were they following Jesus or their cultural traditions? When Timothy returned to Paul, he brought with him good news: their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ was genuine (1 Thess 1:3).
The Thessalonians’ faith was real. They had turned to God and away from the false gods they’d grown up with. This turning toward one thing from another – turning toward God from sin – is what we call repentance. The Bible teaches that repentance is a gift from God and is the result of a new heart. Repentance is the result of being saved, not a step toward being saved.
Some people make repentance a prerequisite to belief. They say, “Repent of your sins and then you’ll be saved.” In short they are saying that if you do the work to turn against your sin, God will step in and save you; but if you can turn away from sin on your own power or merit, what is left for Jesus to save you from? They are teaching and practicing salvation by self-works rather than by Christ through faith.
Following Jesus leaves no room for following the old ways of the sinful heart. God gives a new heart and when He does, sin is abhorred. Genuine, godly repentance is the lifelong result of the new birth that causes a growing awareness and hatred of your own sin and a consuming desire to be more like Jesus. Paul knew the Thessalonians had truly been saved because they had been turned to God, turned away from idols, and were serving the living God. Serving God is a life-long act, not a tearful testimony made after saying a prayer.