Repent & Serve

…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God

1 Thessalonians 1:9

If you have been around church for some time, or around church people, you have likely heard a common phrase that we like to use. It is the call for people to:

Repent & Believe

Now, there are good reasons this phrase is a common one, and should be a common one. Jesus said it in Mark 1:15 as he was beginning his ministry. He taught that repentance and belief/faith are vital to the work of salvation. Your not going to receive forgiveness of your sin without these two things in your life. So naturally, we would tell people they need to repent and believe.

Now, while that phrase is accurate and needed, my goal of this article is to show another phrase from God’s Word that is connected to repentance. One that I wish was a little more common these days:

Repent & Serve

This phrase is presented by Paul as he is encouraging the church at Thessalonica. It is not meant to contradict the words of Christ, which I will attempt to show in a moment, however, it presents the same message with a different facet of true repentance emphasized.

As Paul commends the people in 1 Thessalonians chapter one for their faith, their hope in Christ, and how they received the gospel in power through the work of the Holy Spirit, despite their great affliction, he adds this in 1:9, “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…”

What Paul is saying here is that their repentance was genuine. It had substance. It was not merely words, but a change that brought about action! Now, let’s unpack this idea of repentance a little to understand the connection between repentance, belief, and service.

The Nature of Turning

First, lets just establish the nature of turning. This should be easy for us to understand. The nature of turning is a change in direction. We all get that. Your going one way, you turn and go another. However, the turning in repentance is not arbitrary or random. It is not a turning from one idol to another idol. It is not turning from trusting the perfect relationship to meet your needs to trusting a successful career. It is not turning from alcohol as your means of coping to bitterness and unforgiveness. In true repentance, there is a specific and identified direction we are turning from and turning to.

We are turning away from trusting what promises to save us, give us meaning and purpose, give us satisfaction, yet can never deliver on those promises, to turn to trusting Christ! He is the only one who will save us, give us a new and glorious identify, and satisfies us forever! We turn away from our sin, which brings death, to Jesus, who brings life!

The Desire of Turning

So why turn? Some people don’t know why and can see the act of repentance as a forceful, begrudging, and unwilling turn. They see it as having to leave the things they truly love to turn to something they aren’t really excited about.

This is not the case of true repentance! Christ said it best in one of his parables:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. – Matthew 13:44-46

This man was not having to force his actions. He did not trudge with gritted teeth of unwillingness to give up everything he had to obtain what he found. He did it in JOY! He came to realize what he had was nothing compared to the worth of what he found!

This was the same for those at Thessalonica. They realized they were giving their lives over to lifeless idols that had no power to fulfill, satisfy, or save them from their sin. When they found what was alive, it was an easy trade to leave what was dead! Repentance is a running with joy to God as the greatest treasure, even though it costs us laying down everything we once put in his rightful place!

The Result of Turning

So, what does true repentance cause? What does it produce? Well, Paul made it clear in what happened to the Thessalonians. Service to the living God. True repentance is a willful submission to the Lord. It is saying, “not my way, but your way God!”

This is what it means to believe in God. If you truly believe that he exists, that he is holy and just, that he is glorious, that you were designed to be satisified by him, and that he–Jesus Christ–came to us and made a way to be united with him forever through his sinless life, death on the cross in our place, and resurrection from the dead, so that we can be forgiven of our sin, how would you not give him your life! It is the most natural response.

Jesus said repent and believe. Paul said repent and serve. It is the same message! If you believe, you will serve! So my question to you friend, is how are you serving God? And if you have to honestly admit that you are not… are you still trusting in idols? Turn from them today, and submit to Christ, and find true life in service to the true and living God!


Sunday Reflections are short articles that share thoughts from weekly Bible reading, devotions, sermons, or times of worship. Find more of them here.