Further Sojourning…Now Through 2 Thessalonians, Pt. 8

Further Sojourning…Now Through 2 Thessalonians, Pt. 8

Study Guide, July 7, 2024

Pastor Clay Olsen

So, did you get to see some fireworks shows? It’s estimated that Macy’s spends about 6 million dollars on their fireworks spectacular. The Scriptures tell us that there is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents unto salvation. It’s like a celebration in Heaven when someone turns to God in repentance and receives Christ by faith into their heart and life. I wonder if there are like some celestial fireworks that go off…

But we bring this up because in our sojourning through 2 Thessalonians Paul pauses, as though taking time for some moments of celebration over the salvation of these Thessalonian believers. Take a look: 2 Thess 2:13-14- “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” NASU Sounds like a celebration! Actually, our salvation is a cause for celebration and for rejoicing every day! ‘Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.’ The ‘Solid Rock’ indeed! This gift of eternal life that we have received is the very life of God. We have been united to the eternal life of Jesus Christ Himself. So now, even death itself has lost its sting, because we already have victory over death through the life of Jesus Christ!

Now, in many places throughout Paul’s epistles he uses salvation language such as ‘chosen’ and ‘called’, along with ‘predestined’ and ‘elect’. The question often arises of how the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man are compatible, somehow implying that it has to be either one or the other. But did God ever say it has to be one or the other? No, He didn’t! In fact, the Scriptures never infer that these are ‘either or’ doctrines. No, the problem is that various people at various points throughout history have ‘assumed’ that they are ‘either or’. And whenever you begin with a wrong assumption you will inevitably arrive at a wrong conclusion.

Pardon me while I inject an odd illustration of this. When I was in college, I often broke up saltine crackers in my salad…it was sort of the poor college guy’s croutons. One night I assumed my supply of crackers were still good…a little old, but still okay. It wasn’t until I looked away from the football game that I was watching to look at the salad, only to see that little mealworms had invaded my crackers…and I had already eaten nearly the whole thing….YUCCK! I felt fine, though…and probably got all kinds of protein out of it. Mealworms are edible you know. So, there’s a new salad topping for you right there…

The point is: We seem to be strongly bent toward making assumptions about our beliefs…about theology. The thing is though, that very often our theological assumptions are theologically full of worms, like my salad! And these worms often arise due to another strong bent we humans have…we have this theological bad habit of ‘adding and subtracting’ to and from the Scriptures. And the thing is, God knows humans have this bad habit, so that’s why in both the beginning and in the middle and in the end of the Scriptures God warned us: “Don’t do that!”

Deut 4:2- “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”

Prov 30:5-6- “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.”

Rev 22:18-19- “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” NASU

It’s pretty clear that God is pretty adamant about ‘adding and subtracting’ from His words! And just because we don’t fully understand all the divine revelations of God’s Word doesn’t give us the right to add enough human understanding to them or subtract enough human understanding from them until we do. No, don’t do that! God says what He means and means what He says regardless of how much we understand about it. In fact, Moses clearly told us that the things that God has revealed belong to us. And we are to fully believe them and then seek to obey them. But all of the secret things, or the things that we do not yet understand, don’t yet belong to us, but belong to God. Deut 30:1- “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” NASU

Did you ever notice how people tend to jump to conclusions about what they believe, but then they drag their feet about what they should obey?! ‘Just saying…’ (I heard that was a very popular exercise program, too… ‘Jumping to conclusions.’ I got that one from Roger…good one.) But think about it: Just because believers do not fully understand how the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man can be compatible does not give anyone a green light to start adding to or subtracting from the revelations of either one. The only reason that some people naturally find them controversial is because some people are controversial by nature! But remember, God said: “Don’t do that!”… and “Stop doing that!” Our part is to proclaim God’s Word as God revealed it, and to then obey it…not to add to His words or subtract from them.

I’ve always appreciated the insight of Dr. Theodore Epp on these doctrines. He’s the former President of Back to the Bible. He said: “The sovereignty of God and the free will of man are like two parallel tracks that only intersect in the mind of God.” Now certainly God will explain it all further to us when we are Home in His Kingdom with Him, just like many other miraculous things God has done that we don’t understand. As Charles Swindoll pointed out: “Remember, God is too kind to be cruel, too wise to make a mistake, and too deep to explain Himself.” That’s good! Actually, there are many wondrous revelations of God that we do not understand. How about: I don’t understand God creating the world out of nothing…but I revel in its truth. I don’t understand the miracle of the New Birth of our human spirit…but I revel in its truth. I don’t understand the miracle of the indwelling Holy Spirit…but I revel in its truth.

So when it comes to what God has revealed about His choosing, calling, and election…right alongside of His invitation to whosoever will may come, and His desire for no one to perish, but for all to come to repentance, and His knocking on the door of our hearts, wanting to be invited in… we are to simply revel in these truths and proclaim the words of our awesome God to all people.

For example…here are some revelations of God’s sovereignty in our salvation:

Eph 1:3-6- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” NASU

Rom 8:29-30- “29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” NASU

And then here are some revelations from God confirming our free will in salvation:

John 3:16- “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

2 Peter 3:9- “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

1 Tim 2:3-4- “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” NASU

It is a biblical truth. Both predestination and personal responsibility are true—God is completely in control and humanity makes choices and is completely accountable for those choices. The Bible does not present these as irreconcilable truths (as theological traditions sometimes have done and still do). Since God is great enough to be the Creator of all, then He is not stumped by the mutual existence of His sovereignty and human volition, choice, and responsibility.”1

It’s as C.S. Lewis stated that God will ultimately respect the free choice with which He has endowed His creatures. Said Lewis: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done”, and those to whom God says, in the end: “thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell (for men)2 It is also sometimes illustrated this way: There is a sign coming into Heaven that says, “Whosoever will may come”, and then when you come in and look back it says, “You did not choose Me, I chose you”. Amazing indeed!

To think about the sovereignty of God and the free will of man in summary form, one help is to remember this: ‘Who came to whose door knocking and waiting to be invited in?’ God is the initiator! Jesus is the One who comes to the door of our heart, knocking, and convicting us of our need for His forgiveness and His gift of eternal life. But He does not knock our door down. He waits to be invited in, to be asked into our heart and life. Rev 3:20- “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him…” NASU

So now Paul turns from their standing in their salvation to their taking a stand in their sanctification. Let’s look: 2 Thess 2:15-17- “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.” NASU

Here’s a question: So in our standing firm and holding to what we have been taught, where are we to take this stand? Now, the traditions here refer of course to the teachings of the Prophets and the Apostles. But we are to take this stand wherever we walk! In other words, followers of Jesus Christ are to stand for Jesus Christ and His will and His words wherever they walk…wherever they work…wherever they live. For example: In our memory verse, even though it is very familiar to us all, what is not as familiar are the implications of this verse for both God’s people and for the culture in which God’s people live. Look again: Prov 14:34- “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” NASU

What nation? Any nation! And what kind of ‘righteousness’ is God calling for that a nation is responsible for unto God? Before we answer that, what kind of ‘righteousness’ is the church responsible unto God in calling for from a nation? Note carefully: There is one kind of righteousness that a nation is responsible to call for, and then when it comes to the Church – there are two kinds of righteousness that the church is responsible to call for. The nation is responsible for calling for and carrying out ‘civil righteousness’. And then the Church is responsible for calling for people to both ‘salvation righteousness’ and to ‘civil righteousness’. Salvation righteousness is the Gospel of how anyone becomes saved…of the need for each person to become spiritually Born Again by God’s grace through our faith in Christ. All people need to hear that the problem for all people is what the Apostle Paul revealed in Rom 3:21-23- “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (the righteous standard of God)…” NASU

And the Gospel solution of course is also from Paul’s testimony: Phil 3:9- “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” NLT No person is born with nor can make themselves righteous before God. No one can become right with God apart from turning to God for the forgiveness of their sins and trusting in Christ’s sacrificial death and sinless life to both pardon them and grant them His righteousness…salvation righteousnessright standing with God. And that is the offer of the Gospel of this Great Commission that Jesus has given to His Church to now share with people the world over! We are to take a stand for ‘Salvation righteousness’.

But we are also called to take a stand for ‘Civil righteousness’, which refers to God’s rightful rule over all people and all nations due to fact that God is the Creator and Benefactor of all people and nations. Psalm 24:1 makes God’s ownership of the Earth as clear as can be stated: Ps 24:1- “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” NASU And Ps 2 makes God’s expectations as clear as can be stated that both civil authorities and people the world over are to submit to God’s rule in their civil lives, their social lives, their national lives. Ps 2:10-12- “Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God’s royal Son, or He will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—for His anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in Him!” NLT

And it’s wonderful how when Paul was teaching in the synagogue in Antioch from Acts 13, he pointed out from this very teaching in Psalm 2 that ‘God’s royal Son’ whom David was prophesying about was not just the King of Israel, but the Messiah of the whole world! How amazing is God’s Word! But again, what this Psalm reveals to us is that God expects both civil authorities and its people to submit to God’s rule over their nation!

Again, we are not talking about the Government doing the work of the Church of proclaiming the Gospel and discipling people, for God has given that commission, that Great Commission, to the Church. But we are talking about the responsibility of the Government to do the work of the Government that God has given it to do, which is to submit to God’s authority and carry out His instructions on all things concerning civility in their social and cultural and national life…or to practice ‘civil righteousness’ in their nation. And the thing that is foremost surprising to many is that this ‘civil righteousness’ is foremost based upon the morality of God’s Words. Remember, even our first President, George Washington stated that a nation stood upon two pillars: Religion and Morality.

So, is there any question why our present nation is crumbling all around us so badly? The two pillars upon which our nation is to stand are both being attacked and are both badly damaged. America’s greatest threat is not from foreign powers, but from its own governing authorities and citizens who are living in direct rebellion against God’s Royal Son. They are tearing off the cords of God’s instructions on civility and morality for a nation, and they are tearing down the pillars of Religion and Morality.

But….but there are still those who are still standing. And yet, we need to understand that those who are the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ are now the last ones standing. Those who love the Lord and seek to submit to His rightful rule over both their private life and civilian life are the only ones left standing against a culture that is in complete rebellion against the rightful rule of the Creator and Lord of all nations. But greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world! Amen? God’s remnant has always reigned in the end and will reign in the end! God’s people will reign and will rule with the King of kings over the nations when the King returns. However, we still have the responsibility to call people the world over to both receive the Salvation righteousness of Christ for their personal relationship with God, and to also submit to the Civil righteousness of God for their public and civil life as they commit to living under God’s rule over all nations. And our daily strength and hope is found in knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself mightily loves us, and by His Spirit within us will give us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, as He daily comforts and strengthens our hearts in every good work and good word!

  1. gotquestions.org, Who Are the Elect of God?
  2. Dr. Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free, p. 48