Enduring Trials in Light of Jesus' Return: Enduring Trials in Light of Jesus’ Return: Saved through Sanctification

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on October 14, 2012

2 Thessalonians 2:13-15

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The Lord’s Day Morning


October 14, 2012



“Enduring Trials in Light of
Jesus’ Return: Saved through
Sanctification”


2 Thessalonians 2:13-15


The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to 2 Thessalonians
chapter 2. We’re going to be looking
at verses 13 to 15 together today.
In the Christian life, there are certain truths that we need to grasp firmly and
hang on to in order to live in the trials and the tribulations that we must
endure. For all of us, the testimony
is, on our way home to glory, we go “through many dangers, toils, and snares,”
as John Newton reminds us in “Amazing Grace.”

Well, the apostle Paul has talked about some of those dangers, toils, and snares
— the times of tribulation, the man of lawlessness, the man of sin in the
passage immediately prior to this. Now, he wants to give several truths for us
to anchor the Christian life in, to thank God for, to stand firm on, to hold
fast to. And as we look at this
passage, I’d like you to be on the lookout for four of the truths.
We could number these different ways, but four things in particular Paul
wants us to stand firm on, hold fast to, and thank God for.
The first thing, you’ll see this in verse 13, is the love of God.
He speaks of us being beloved by the Lord.
The second thing, also in verse 13, is the choice of God or the election
of God. This is so important for our
comfort and for our assurance. The
third thing is the sanctification of God, the sanctifying work of God’s Holy
Spirit in us. And then finally, in
verse 14, the calling of God. Paul
wants us to understand and hold fast to and stand firm on and thank God for
those four things, vital to the living of the Christian life.

So let’s look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing as we prepare
to hear His Word read and proclaimed.

Heavenly Father, Your Word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged
sword. It is inspired, it is
God-breathed, and it is profitable for reproof, correction, and training in
righteousness that we may be equipped for every good work.
So do this, O Lord, today, as the Word is read and explained and applied.
Do it by Your Spirit in our hearts as we specifically need it today.
And we ask that You would get all the glory for this and that eternal
good would be done to our souls, for we pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is God’s Word. Hear it in 2
Thessalonians chapter 2 beginning in verse 13:

“But we ought always
to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose
you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and
belief in the truth. To this He
called you throughout our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord
Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you
were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Now in verse 15 in this passage, Paul gives a specific exhortation to the
Thessalonians and to you and to me.
He calls on them to stand firm and to hold fast to the traditions that he had
given to them. Now he’s not talking
about extra Biblical tradition. He’s
not saying, “Hold fast to what the Bible teaches and in addition these extra
Biblical things that we’ve also handed to you as traditions of men.”
In the New Testament, tradition is good and bad in so far as it is
faithful to God’s Word. When it is
Biblical, it’s good. When it’s the
traditions of men, when it’s human invention, it’s always bad.
So you can find Jesus in Matthew 15 criticizing the traditions of men,
and you can hear Paul here in 2 Thessalonians 2 commending traditions because
they are not manmade. They come from
God. In fact, if you’ll look back at
1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 13, you’ll see Paul speaking exactly about this.
“We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word
of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as
what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you, believers.”

And so Paul here in 2 Thessalonians is commending to them the tradition that he
has handed down, not manmade tradition but the very Word of God that he has
handed down to them. And he wants
them to thank God for the teaching that they have received from God’s Word and
he wants them to stand firm on that teaching and he wants them to hold fast to
that teaching because in the Christian life, in the trials that we face, we need
to have something that we’re firmly grounded in and that we can hang on with for
all our life. And in fact, the
Lord’s Supper is designed to press home those truths deeply into our hearts so
that we hang onto them better.
Robert Bruce, the famous Scottish pastor, once said, “In the Lord’s Supper, we
don’t get a better Christ, we get Christ better.”
Now what he meant by that was, you’re not offered grace in the Lord’s
Supper that you’re not offered in the Word of God.
You’re not offered a Christ in the Lord’s Supper who’s different than the
Christ that you’re offered in the reading and the preaching of the Word.
But the Lord’s Supper is given so that we get hold of that Christ better
who is offered in the Word. It’s
designed to press certain truths into our hearts that will help us live the life
of faith better. And so in the
Lord’s Supper we don’t get a better Christ, we get Christ better.

In fact, just a little bit later when we sing hymn number 378, a hymn that Dr.
Miller used to always use when we had the Lord’s Supper here at First
Presbyterian Church in the 1950’s and 60’s, “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to
Face,” one of the lines that we will sing is that we want to have a firmer grasp
on the grace which is offered in the Gospel.
That’s what the Lord’s Supper is designed to do — give us a firmer grasp
upon that grace which is offered in the Gospel.
And Paul is pointing to three or four things which had been taught in his
word. In fact, you study this
passage and there is nothing that Paul mentions in this passage as a matter for
thanksgiving, as a matter to stand firm on, as a matter to hold fast to, that he
has not already taught about in 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians.
Every subject that he mentions in this section, verses 13, 14, and 15,
you will find a precursor to it in 1 Thessalonians and earlier in the letter of
2 Thessalonians. So literally now,
he is bringing to their minds truths that he has already taught them and he’s
telling them, “I want you to hold fast to these truths,” and I want to point to
four of them very quickly this morning.


THE LOVE OF GOD

The first is the love of God. Notice
what he calls them in verse 13 — “brothers beloved of God.”
He wants them to realize again and reflect upon the fact that God
Himself, the Father, has set His love on them.
From before the foundation of the world, the Father has loved them.
“For God so loved the world He has given His only begotten Son for them.”
He wants them to relish the reality of the love of God for them.
Do you meditate on the love of God for you? It’s one of the hardest
things to believe in the world. If you know yourself and if you’ve admitted who
you are, it’s one of the hardest things in the world to believe that God knows
you and He still loves you. And
here’s Paul saying, “Brothers, I thank God for the love of God to you, but I
also want you to stand firm in the love of God and hold fast to the love of God.
I want you to take that in.”
It’s dangerous to live the Christian life without knowing the love of God for
you. If you’re a Christian, you
trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, God loves you and He loves you not because you
had faith in Christ, you had faith in Christ because He loves you.
And if you are a believer and you are not working on an experiential
understanding of God’s love for you, it’s going to leave you crippled somewhere
in the Christian life. It’s a
dangerous place to be not to know the love of God for you.
And so here’s Paul saying, “I thank God for the love of God for you and I
want you to stand fast in it, I want you to stand firm in it, I want you to hold
fast to it.”


THE DOTRINE OF ELECTION AND THE
COMFORT IT PROVIDES

And then he says a second thing. He
thanks God not only for His love but for His election.
Now election is a doctrine that people like to argue about.
Paul never sees election as something merely to be disputed about; he
sees it as something that is absolutely critical to the comfort of believers.
Notice what he says, again in verse 13 — “I give thanks to God for you,
brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first-fruits to be
saved.” Now there’s something I need
to address in the translation. Some
of the Bible passages or translations that you’re using will render that
passage, “chose you as the first-fruits.”
And then down in the margins it may say, or, “God chose you from the
beginning.” Some of your Bible
translations may have, “God chose you from the beginning,” and then down in the
margins say, or, “chosen as the first-fruits.”
The reason is, one little Greek letter separates the translation of this
phrase as, “chosen as first-fruits” or “chosen from the beginning” and some of
the manuscripts had it written one way and others of the manuscripts had it
written another. And so Bible
scholars debate on what the best rendering of this passage is because Paul uses
the term “first-fruits” at least five other times in his writings.
But I think probably the best rendering of this passage is, “chose you
from the beginning.” It’s like the
idea that Paul is speaking of in Ephesians 1:4 and 5 that He set His love on
you, He predestined you from before the foundation of the world.
I think that’s what Paul is getting at here.
He’s saying, “I thank God that He chose you before the world was, before
the beginning; from the beginning He chose you.”

Now as you know, in the Old Testament, chosen is a truth that is spoken of
constantly with regard to the Old Testament Israel, to the people of God in the
Old Testament. In the New Testament,
though, the idea of our being chosen is applied to believers repeatedly.
1 Peter talks about it, Luke talks about it, John talks about it, and
Paul is talking about it here. That
language that is used for the Old Testament people of God is applied to
believers here. We are chosen by
God. Did we seek the Lord?
Yes we did, but we sought the Lord because He chose us.
We love Him because he first loved us and we have believed on Him because
He first chose us. And so he’s
grounding the assurance of the Thessalonians in the fact that God chose them.
You remember what Jesus once said to His disciples?
He said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”
Now why was that important for His disciples to understand?
Because all of them were going to abandon Him in His hour of need.
You remember that Matthew tells us that all of the disciples deserted
Jesus. It wasn’t just Judas who
betrayed Him, it wasn’t just Peter who denied Him; all of the disciples deserted
Jesus in His hour of need, but He had said to them, “You did not choose Me, I
chose you.” The determinative fact
in the security of the disciples, was Jesus’ choice, not theirs.
Do we make a decision? Yes we
do. Do we trust in Christ?
Yes we do. Is that important?
Yes it is. But underneath and
behind it and from before the foundation of the world is God’s choosing, and
that’s the only thing that can keep us comforted and certain and secure in this
life.


GOD’S SANCTIFYING WORK IN THE
BELIEVER

Third, notice what Paul goes on to say.
“I give thanks to God for you because God chose you from before the
foundation of the world for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and
belief in truth.” Now he’s talking
about their sanctification. He said,
“I thank God that He is at work in you by His Holy Spirit sanctifying you and
you’re being sanctified by your belief in the truth.”
Notice how he’s emphasizing both what God does for our sanctification and
the instrument of faith in our sanctification.
Our faith in God’s truth, in God’s Word, is the key instrument that God
uses on the human side to grow us in grace.
But notice he emphasizes sanctification isn’t just about us doing it on
our own; it’s about what God the Spirit is doing in us.
And he says, “I thank God that God the Spirit is at work making you more
godly, sanctifying you.” And so he
says, “I want you to stand fast in that truth.
I want you to believe that God is at work in you to make you more godly.”
So not only the love of God, the election of God, but the sanctifying
work of God are truths that he wants them to stand firm in and hold fast to.


THE CALLING OF GOD

And then finally, if you look at verse 14, he speaks of the calling of God.
They are called through the gospel to what?
“To obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s what you are called to.
That’s what you are called for, to obtain the glory of the Lord Jesus
Christ. The apostle Paul is saying
to those Thessalonians, persecuted as they were, in the midst of tribulation as
they were, that their future is to obtain the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
They are called to glory. And
so he wants to remember God’s love and choice of them from before the foundation
of the world, he wants them to remember that God is at work in them now
sanctifying them, and he wants to hold the future of glory in front of their
eyes and he wants them to be rooted and firm and strong in those truths.
He wants them to dig their fingers into those truths and hang on.

Twenty-five years ago in the first week of September in 1987, Henry Dempsey, a
commercial pilot, was flying a small commuter plane from Boston to Lewiston,
Maine. He didn’t have any passengers
on board; they were just moving the plane to Lewiston, he and his co-pilot.
And as they were on that trip out over the Atlantic Ocean, they heard a
strange noise in the back of the plane.
And so Henry Dempsey got up out of the pilot’s seat, left the co-pilot to
fly the plane, and he went to the back of the plane to try and figure out what
the rattling was. As he pushed on
the door at the back of the plane, it fell open and he fell out of the plane,
halfway. He grabbed onto the railing
of the stairs and hung on for life – four thousand feet above the Atlantic Ocean
going two hundred miles an hour. His
co-pilot looked back and saw the back door of the plane open and he assumed that
the pilot had been pulled out of the plane and so he called for the coast guard
to look for someone in the ocean who had fallen out of the plane.
And then he called the port-smith tower and arranged for an emergency
landing in their Beechcraft 99. When
they landed, Henry Dempsey was still hanging on to the railing of the stairs at
the back of the plane, his head twelve inches off of the ground as they landed.
And when they got to the plane they literally had to peel his hands free
from the railing, he was holding on so tight.

Paul is saying to us that he wants us to wrap our hands into these truths, the
truths of the love of God, the choice, the election of God, the sanctifying work
of God the Spirit in us, and the promise of future glory.
He wants us to wrap our hands around those things and hang on for dear
life, just like Henry Dempsey hung on to the railing of that stairwell to keep
from being thrown out of that plane.
That’s what Paul is saying. He wants
us to hold fast to those truths.
It’s absolutely essential for living the Christian life to hold fast to these
truths. And that’s what the Lord’s
Supper is about. It’s about pressing
those truths deep into our hearts so that we hold fast to them in the trials and
the tribulation of life.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.
Thank You for the truth that the apostle Paul has put before our eyes.
Grant that we would hold fast by faith to these truths.
Work these truths deep in our hearts, not only by the preaching of Your
Word but by our faithful receiving of the Lord’s Supper.
We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

God promises to us in His Word everything needed for the salvation of our souls
and for the living of the Christian life and He confirms those same things in
the sacrament. Receive them. Grace,
mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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