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Your Position in Christ

Your Position in Christ

Sermon Transcript

What does it mean to understand your position in Christ? Join Dr. Marty Baker as he walks us through 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and helps us see the hope we have in belonging to Jesus.

From Christ’s first sermon, The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7, He lays out how His kingdom members should live in this world.  His teaching calls us to live in a fashion distinct from the non-believers and those who love the form and traditions of religion.

For instance, in chapter 5, Jesus demonstrates how it is easy to love those who love you and hate those who persecute and oppose you.  His followers should live above this by loving those who love and hate them (Matt. 5:43-48).  Additionally, religious leaders attached much pomp and circumstance to their public alms in His day, ensuring everyone knew how pious and sacrificial they were (Matt. 6:1-4).  Jesus, conversely, posited that His people should give so secretly to people in need that it would be as if their left hand had no clue regarding what the right hand was doing.  To read through and study the insightful and challenging sermon is to realize precisely how you, as a kingdom member, are supposed to live privately and publically.  Evidencing real, authentic Christian character, of course, is the challenge for each day.

Picking up on this motif, Paul turns in 2 Thessalonians 2, verses 13-17, from studying the relation of the Church to the tribulation to informing believers how to live before the Lord’s prophesied judgment.  Is this not the question for our day? Indeed.  With so much of the world descending into greater wickedness and cultural and national chaos (as prophesied; 2 Tim. 3), we all need to know how we are to function as Christ’s salt and light (Matt. 5:13-14).  Our answers emerge as we consider the question that naturally arises from Paul’s teaching in these challenging verses.

How Should We Live For Christ In Tough Times? (2 Thess. 2:13-17)

Understand Your Position (2 Thess. 2:13)

As is our method, first, let’s read the text and then offer some insight:

13 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 (2 Thess. 2).

In Greek, the plural personal pronoun, “we,” humeis (Ἡμεῖς ) is placed before the mild adversative, but, de (δὲ) to emphasize that Paul wants to focus now on how theology should impact the lives of believers.  For him personally, along with all other spiritual leaders, he can’t help but thank God for these believers.  As he thinks about the coming day of God’s wrath (i.e., the seven-year Tribulation, Dan. 9:24-27), Paul can’t help but thank the Lord for saving some, not just from this wrath (1 Thess. 4:13-5:11), but for saving them spiritually above all else.

Why does Paul head down this particular road first?  Good question.  In times of trouble, it is easy to forget who you are as God’s unique child and to think He has abandoned you, resulting in a loss of hope and joy.  Such is not the case, according to Paul.  In this one short verse, Paul packs in a major amount of theology concerning the unique position of believers.

We enjoy a special relationship with the Holy Trinity because they loved us first (“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” 1 John 4:10). When man’s sin separated us from God (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12), God’s love stepped in to provide the means whereby we, as sinners, could have the opportunity to become saints.  John 3:16 is the perfect text in this regard:

16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3).

Love moved the Father to send the Son, Jesus, to go to the cross to become our sin-bearer. At the moment of faith, we instantly pass from divine judgment and eternal punishment to divine forgiveness and eternal life.  Have you experienced and embraced God’s love as evidenced in the person and work of Jesus on Calvary’s blood-stained hill?

For those who have come to Jesus in faith, never forget His love for you.  How could One who loved you enough to leave the glory of heaven, endure the vile opposition of the godless, and bear the ugliness and pain of the crucifixion to secure your redemption ever forsake you in a time of trouble? The point is that He won’t.  He will be with you and not forsake you, as He said (Heb. 13:5).

How else did we secure this unique position as God’s children?  Answer: God chose us.  We didn’t choose Him.  The Greek word for “choose” here is not the usual one Paul employs when he teaches about the doctrine of election.  He typically uses eklegomai (a word that speaks of selection, Eph. 1:4) or proorizo (a word that denotes choosing something/someone beforehand, Eph. 1:5). Here, Paul uses an unusual word, heilato (εἵλατο). It lexically means to prefer something or someone, resulting in a choice.  Regardless of which word Paul selects, they all demonstrate how salvation originates in God’s free choice of certain people to be saved.

Oh, so you believe in election? Yes, because it is clearly taught in the Bible.  It is a mystery that our finite, limited minds cannot completely comprehend, yet it is found in many verses, and those verses lead to logical questions like . . .

Question #1: How do we define election? Grudem defines it well: “Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not because of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”[1]

Question #2: Where do we encounter election in the New Testament? Here are some pivotal verses:

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13).

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Rom. 8).

It's hard to deny the doctrine of election with verses like this.  God flat-out chose a certain number of sinners to be saints.

Question #3: When did God choose sinners to become saints? Paul is quite clear on this:

4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will . . . (Eph. 1).

He chose us based on His love and nothing else. And He chose us before He even created the cosmos.  Amazing.  His omniscience informed Him that if He created the cosmos and mankind, mankind would rebel against Him.  So, before He even started the creative process, He mysteriously chose some sinners to be saints.

Question #4:  How is God choosing some and not others not unfair and capricious? Holiness called God to judge all of mankind when man fell in the Garden; however, grace and mercy moved God to save some when He did not have to (Eph. 2:8). As Paul argues in Romans, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom. 9:18).  Who are we to argue with the Holy One who lovingly decreed to same some when holiness challenged Him to do otherwise?

Question #5: Doesn’t God’s choice destroy our free will? Good question.  Let me put the answer this way: Since God is just, it would be highly unjust for Him to judge us for pre-determined responses.  The point is that God’s judgments of believers and unbelievers (1 Cor. 3:10ff; Rev. 20:11-15) are just because they are based on what we perceive as our free choice despite His foreknowledge.  All through the NT, we cannot get around the fact that we are given the real, free choice to reject or accept the person and work of Jesus.  All of the “whoever's” in the Gospels underscore this reality. For instance, “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).  The implication is that a person can fail to become a member of Christ’s family by wilfully rejecting the Father’s will for sinners to believe on the person and redemptive work of His dear Son.  Paul could not be more precise in Romans 10, verse 13, “Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.”  Again, this is portrayed as a free-will choice that you can embrace or efface.

Question #6: If God chooses some to be saints, does it not mean some sinners have absolutely no chance to be saved?  Romans 1, verses 18 through 20, make it very clear unbelievers willfully suppress the truth of God’s existence and are, therefore, without excuse before God.  Again, since God is just, it would be unjust for Him to declare these rejectors as being without excuse if their rejection was not based on their free will. Additionally, to the argumentative Jews who perpetually rejected His works and miraculous works, Jesus pointedly said, “You refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40).  It certainly appears from this statement the lost have a bonafide opportunity to turn to Christ in faith or to walk away from Him.  Again, they will be justly judged on their free will choice.

But apart from all of these questions, I must pause and say we typically get lost in all of these type of questions and forget what the doctrine of election pragmatically means on a personal level.  Yes, the Scripture teaches God chooses some to be saved out of love for them, and, yes, Scripture tells us we have free wills to accept or reject the offer of the gospel.  It is a mystery and is one our limited cognitive abilities, coupled with our limited dimensionality as opposed to God’s seemingly unlimited dimensionality, cannot completely fathom.  But it is a doctrinal reality.

The question then is this: Why does Paul speak about election in relation the eschatological end-time events?

Answer #1: Since God has chosen you based on love,  do you think He is going to forget you as you live in tough times? No.  Love remembers a child and love acts to help and defend that child.

Answer #2: Since God has chosen you based on love, He is not going to un-choose you when the going gets rough and you have rough days.  Will you have times in the toughness of what culture hurls at you when you will perform in a stellar, stalwart fashion? Indeed. When the tsunami of wickedness keeps coming at and wearing you down, will you have times when you will not fare well spiritually? Indeed.  Even John the Baptist had a brief moment of spiritual struggle while locked away in prison for his righteous stance and words concerning the sexual sin of the king (Mark 6).  Yet no matter what transpires you will always remain the Lord’s special, chosen child.

Answer #3: Since God has chosen you based on love, how can you not love Him back with your life?  When you understand His love, your love will flow naturally back to Him and will be seen in how you live, speak, and react in this world.  Isn’t this how it works in a healthy relationship between a father and his children? Most certainly.  As they understand the love of their faith they are moved to love him in return by trusting and obeying him.  What we do toward earthly fathers is similar to how we will respond to our heavenly Father.  That love, of course, we will be great witness to the unbelievers around you.  All of this is why Paul speaks about divine election.  The doctrine is life-transforming.

And while we speak about life-transformation, let us set our sights on how Paul says this occurs.

13 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 (2 Thess. 2).

The preposition “through” here tells us how we are transformed from unholy to holy, or how we move from unsanctified to sanctified.  It all occurs by means of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus spells out the work on the Spirit in the life of the non-believer in John 16:

7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (John 16).

The Helper is capitalized because He is the Holy Spirit. According to Jesus, part of His job is to convict sinners of their sin and cause them to sense guilt for their spiritual standing and actions.  He will also convict them of their watered-down version of righteousness.  As in the case of the Pharisees, they believed they were holy because they meticulously followed religious laws, rules, regulations, and traditions they devised.  The Spirit’s job is to convict misguided, misinformed people like this, leaving them with the knowledge their religious works mean nothing to God. He is concerned with the work of His Son, not their religious works.  How about you? Do you think your version of righteousness will save you when you stand before God?  It won’t, and according to Acts 4, verses 10 through 12, belief in Jesus saves and makes you holy:

10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-- by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4). 

The Spirit guides the sinner to Christ by bringing conviction to his life.  He then shows how God’s righteousness differs significantly from theirs.  Finally, He convicts the world concerning the coming judgment of God on those who reject the gospel.

11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (Rev. 20). 

This fear of the coming judgment has moved many since the time of Christ toward faith in Christ.  When will it get your attention so you do something about it?

Those who see their sin understand they are unrighteous and unholy and are preparing themselves for God’s ultimate judgment in eternity (Rom. 2:1-3). However, when they profess “faith in the truth” (that is, faith the gospel), they are forgiven and saved eternally.  At that mystical moment, the Spirit gives them holiness they didn’t possess before:

30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, (1 Cor. 1). 

Before faith, you were spiritually bankrupt, but after faith you are spiritually wealthy.

The Spirit sanctifies you by also mystically baptizing you into the mystical, unseen body of Christ:

13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor. 12).

The Spirit makes this new relationship possible because your faith in the gospel has given you Christ’s holiness.  Now, you are a part of His holy, unseen Church.

The Spirit sanctifies you at the moment of salvation because He makes your heart, His home, or His temple, as it were.  Paul talks about this in his letter to the Corinthians:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own (1 Cor. 6). 

If a temple is anything, it is a holy place for God dwells here.  And God dwells in your temple because He has made you positionally holy as one of His chosen ones.

Sanctification by means of the Spirit is practical, too.  Writing to the Galatians, Paul tells them to yield their lives to the Spirit each day, so they will produce the fruit of the Spirit and not the fruit of evil:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Gal. 5). 

Of course, this is a free-will choice each believer faces as they live life.  Will I submit to God or give into my evil desire?  Will my character be like that of Christ, or will it be like that of my old, sinful self?  The choice is the believers because they now have the Holy Spirit to empower them to live victoriously in an evil age.  What will they do? What will you do?

How, therefore, should you live for Christ in troublesome times that will usher in the end of times?  You should remember you are a chosen child of God with the Spirit of God residing with you, and you should live in light of this unique position.  What else does our old world need than believers who live like it?

  • Their speech is different . . . it is full of wisdom and sound logic.
  • Their thinking is different . . . it is founded on truths that never change, not on crazy, illogical ideologies.
  • Their demeanor is different . . . you can’t help but sense a peace and a joy about them . . . despite what’s going on in the world.
  • Their answers to life’s issues are different . . . they speak about spiritual solutions, not earthly ones.
  • Their response to being persecuted is different . . . they aren’t fearful but have a meek courage about them.
  • Their response to being mistreated is different . . . they aren’t looking for ways to get revenge but for ways to build bridges.

So, if you are chosen by God, go out and show the world.

And, if you are a sinner today and not a saint, I think a family change is in order, don’t you?

[1] Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1999), 282/