This past year, my husband has been praying and studying the Bible with Robert, a new Christian. Robert is a former addict, and his life reflected sins from that lifestyle. While he is now committed to Christ, he continues to walk in some of those sins. Many Christian men who have mentored Robert gave up when he didn’t stop sinning on their timeline.
Walking alongside a new Christian with years of ingrained sinful habits can be discouraging. While the Bible doesn’t provide a blueprint for quick discipleship, Paul provides an encouraging model in Thessalonians:
For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe (1 Thess 2:11–13).
Paul’s example is the example of Jesus Himself. Rather than simply commanding holiness, Paul and his team lived holiness among the Thessalonian church. Paul became a “father” to them. The work of a parent is ongoing and sometimes arduous—repeated instructions, reprimands for rules broken, and the modeling of a godly life. Paul guides the Thessalonians to holiness by wielding words with love and urging them on in faith.
He commends the faith and love of the Thessalonian believers, but he still warns them against particular sins like sexual immorality, laziness and revenge (1 Thess 4:3; 5:14–15). These believers found it difficult to adhere to the strict ethical code of their new faith. Yet Paul, recognizing the work ahead of them, encourages them because God is at work.
Despite what we may see outwardly, there is a patient, intimate work that God is performing in His people. While Robert is still sinning, he is now faithful in many ways he was not before. He continues to struggle with many sinful habits, but his new life is not the same as his former. While his progress may seem slow and messy, Robert’s life demonstrates the Word of God at work in those who believe.
Those of us whose lives look pulled together—who have learned to behave properly—may forget God’s patience with our own sin. I have years of sins like pride and snap judgments that God has not instantly transformed into humility. Yet these sins receive some of the harshest criticism in Scripture (Psa 101:5; Gal 6:3; Jas 4:6).
Since God is holy, He calls us to holiness. He also provides us with the Holy Spirit to answer that call. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:7–8, “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.”
As we disciple new believers, we must teach them to rely on the Spirit for complete deliverance—and we must stand with them as God works out that deliverance. He is performing the very same work in our own lives.
Robert’s name was changed to protect privacy and identity.
Biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).