November 23, 2016

November 20, 2016 - 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

Theme: The Victorious Faith
1) Blessings for us through God’s choice.
2) Stable ground for unstable people.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5 But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word.
3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the Lord's message may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen and guard you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do what we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to God's love and Christ's endurance.

Most of you know what an oxymoron is. It’s a figure of speech in which two contradictory things are spoken in conjunction. For example, some famous oxymorons are: random order, big baby, and government intelligence. Sometimes, though, oxymorons actually make sense while still sounding contradictory. For example: virtual reality, jumbo shrimp, and passive aggressive are all oxymorons that are commonly used and understood. 

Oxymorons pop-up in connection with the Bible too. In fact, our text today speaks about a glaringly obvious one – the victorious faith. From a strictly logical perspective that phrase makes absolutely no sense. Faith is extremely fragile and oftentimes very fleeting. In our culture, faith has become known as the opposite of all things certain and reasonable. Every day, faith is snuffed out or destroyed. How on earth could something like faith be deemed victorious?

This was certainly the way it was for the Thessalonians too. They were fragile Christians in an increasingly hostile world. Just prior to our verses Paul warned them of a coming apostasy from the Antichrist. This “lawless one,” as Paul calls him, would cause many to turn away from Christ. They would have plenty of moments where they felt helpless and where they would wonder what good this faith in Christ was doing for them. They certainly wouldn’t always feel victorious.  

This is the great oxymoron of Christianity. We are called “more than conquerors” through Jesus Christ. We are told that we await a “crown of righteousness” in heaven. But, we struggle so much here in the world. On top of this, the exclusive nature of salvation in Christ alone brings a whole new brand of scorn and disdain from the world. To confess and live as Jesus has taught, namely that life is only found in His name, is not a popular dogma in our world. We are not hailed as victors for being Christians.

And yet, though paradoxical in thought, the victorious faith is entirely accurate. It is because of this faith that Paul begins our section by giving thanks to God, not by bemoaning and complaining the circumstances in which we find ourselves. To give the Thessalonians hope in their victorious faith, and us, Paul describes the important, yet seemingly oxymoronic, aspects of this faith. The first is that it is ours by God’s choice.

Part 1:

If you take a moment to dissect the words Paul uses here, you’ll notice that he touches on some very deep theological concepts. He uses the words: salvation, sanctification, faith, truth, and gospel. It’s almost like Paul is running down the glossary in the back of the Catechism. These terms are not outdated, dusty doctrines, though. Rather, as Paul describes, they are the backbone of what our belief in Christ is all about. They are blessings for the believer. They make the connection between these Scriptural teachings and the individual, Paul gets personal. He says,  
·         “our gospel” v.14
·         “our Lord Jesus Christ.” V.14
·         “our word or epistle” v.15
·         “our God and Father” v.15

Faith attaches us to Christ and therefore He, and everything He has and is, become ours. We have the right before God to claim these blessings as our own, even to claim Himself as our God. This may not seem that important since we are used to having Christ, but consider the state of our nature. It is very much as Joshua described to the children of Israel when he said, Joshua 24:14 "Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! 15 "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." 16 So the people answered and said: “We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God." 19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.

What Joshua said was harsh but absolutely true. We can say whatever we want but on our own we cannot serve God. On our own, by our own power or works, it is oxymoronic to think that we can call God our own. We cannot serve Him and He is a holy God. No sinner can be in His presence, let alone claim Him. But, this is why we don’t approach God on our own. We do it through Jesus. It is through Jesus that God has “called you to our gospel” as Paul wrote. God must first call us before we can even sniff at calling Him our own.

The unique aspect of God’s call through the gospel is found in the word itself. When Paul writes in verse 13 that God “chose” them for salvation and sanctification it means that God lifted them up. The word itself really doesn’t mean a strict choice per say, that is not the primary definition. It literally means to exalt something from a lower status. But, that sense fits with God’s call. The gospel invitation lifts us up, exalts us, from the level of unregenerate sinner to the level of redeemed saint.   

Here again, we see another oxymoron. We claim God’s blessings as our own, but not by our power or authority. God must call us to that truth. He must lift us up to that level before we can say that anything is ours. This paradox puzzles people so much that they end up changing the simple words of the Bible. It doesn’t make any sense we could own something without having to exert any effort or work to attain it, especially something as important as God Himself. You would think that if we can call these things our own, we would also be able to take credit for having attained them. But, that goes beyond the simple words of the Bible in passages like: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and it is not your own doing, but the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Or Romans 3:28, “We come to this conclusion, that a person is saved by faith, without the works of the law.”
Actually, the idea of God’s free salvation isn’t all that complicated. It’s as simple as any gift we get. A gift is given freely, not earned. The best gifts are given out of love, not pressure. The Bible also uses the word “inheritance” to describe salvation, a term which fits the same description. What makes it difficult to understand is when we put our own thoughts above God’s. For something so important, namely eternal salvation, it just seems too easy that it would come by faith alone. We naturally want to lay some claim or credit to it, because it seems like if it’s something worth having, it shouldn’t come for free.

God did not plan salvation by faith and not by works because He wanted to confuse us. He did it that way because it was the only way it could be done. “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).” Without the Holy Spirit working through the gospel call, there simply can be no ownership of God’s blessings. The personal nature of life with God is unattainable because sinners cannot be in the presence of a holy God.     

Part 2:

Another aspect of our victorious faith is that it gives us stability. Paul uses many similar phrases in our text:
·         v.15 Stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught’
·         v. 3 The Lord will strengthen you
·         v. 4 We have confidence in the Lord
·         v. 5 The Lord directs us by the endurance of Christ

These phrases all point to the stability that faith gives us. Yet, again, we see an oxymoron here. Faith is supposed to make us stable and strong in life but what we experience seems to be the opposite. So often, life is out of our control. Things change day after day. It seems like as soon as we find steady ground it immediately falls out from under us because of some catastrophe. Relationships can sour over time. Financial security and wealth can vanish overnight. Good health can become bad health in the blink of an eye. Peace so often seems to lose the battle to strife and contention, between nations, races, communities, churches, and even families. 

There’s a thought in our text that describes this instability quite well. It comes in verse 2 under the translation “wicked.” More appropriate to that word would be the translation “out of place.” The Greek word is atopos. Topos means a place or location. It’s where our English word topography comes from, literally the study of places. Atopos means to have no place or location. Think of it as the familiar expression, to “be out of sorts.”

To be out of place is to lack stability in life, whether in a physical or mental sense. When it comes to faith it means to lack confidence or assurance of the work of Christ. It’s interesting that God describes being out of place as the opposite of having faith. Faith in the Biblical sense is so much more than an inward virtue of being human. It is faith in Jesus Christ, someone who did something outside of us to achieve salvation. Biblical faith finds it source outside of the individual. Therefore, the translation of “wicked” is not entirely off-base because anything outside of reliance upon Christ is indeed wicked, for it leads away from salvation, not to it.

Those who do not have faith, do not have stability. They wander throughout life looking for something that makes sense but also something that conforms to what they want. But the thing about Christ is that He’s not here to give what we want but rather what we need. Sometimes what we need is not on our thoughts or hearts and therefore God needs to re-adjust our focus.

The world often discredits Biblical faith because it re-adjusts the sinful heart. It leads an individual to repent, not to follow every inclination of their heart. It impresses the absolute, unchanging, unshifting truth upon our hearts; confronts us directly with the facts from which no one can escape. That’s a difficult thing to honestly come to grips about and even more difficult to fully trust, so many take the much easier way out – by ignoring the truth. They believe the lies that say:

-Faith will make your life better immediately. You will transform into a new person who never does anything wrong and your actions will be the ultimate measure of how strong your faith is.
-Faith will never be judgmental. You can believe what you want and it will work out in the end. Faith does not specifically define what is right and what is wrong.
-Faith is a conscious choice you must make in your life. God will not help unless you help yourself.

If those descriptions are accurate about our victorious faith, then the way the Bible defines faith is indeed an oxymoron. Because Jesus said that faith would lead to persecution, that faith cannot exist apart from the truth, and that faith is not produced by works. Rather, the true model of the victorious faith is the heart of a small child; a heart that doesn’t have it all figured out but trusts someone who does. That someone for the believer is God.

The world may preach that it makes no sense to trust God without having answers first. Our own hearts may scream it at us from time to time. It might feel like the most blatant contradiction in the world. But, remember that your victorious faith in Jesus is not defined by others, or even by yourself. God tells you exactly what you need. You have claim to His gifts. Big things like: salvation, sanctification, trust, and truth. They are yours today through Jesus. It’s not because God hoards these blessings until we are found worthy. It’s because they only become ours when we have a perfect substitute in our place, and that’s Jesus. God isn’t holding out on you, instead He’s leading you to the only hope for heaven. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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